How to Get in FREE to Dozens of Bay Area Museums, Science Centers, + Gardens - 510 Families

How to Get in FREE to Dozens of Bay Area Museums, Science Centers, + Gardens

Many of the Bay Area's very best museums are free at least one day each month. These recurring free museum days are often crowded, but if you arrive early enough, you’ll stand a great chance of enjoying world-class museums for $0 plus parking and snacks (and maybe a special exhibition fee here and there).

Always Free | Free on 1st Sundays | Free on 1st Tuesdays | Free on 2nd Tuesdays | Free on First Wednesdays | Free on 1st Thursdays | Free on Random Days | Free to SNAP benefits holders| Free to members of other museums | Free weekends to B of A cardholders | Free to library cardholders

Note that holidays can change regularly scheduled free days and open hours, so please check with the museums first before attending.

Monthly Free Days to Bay Area Museums

These super museums are FREE First Sundays of the month

Kids Activities at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco
Kids Activities at Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)

Sponsor

One of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art with more than 17,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years of history. Special collection surcharges may apply.
What's great for kids: First Sundays include storytimes for kids as young as three and museum kid tours. More about the family-friendly Asian Art Museum.
Location: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco
Website >

Honorable Mention: Oakland Museum of California | $5 Donation Day

OMCA specializes in collections of art, history and natural science to tell the story of California.
What's great for kids: California historical exhibits include wagons you can climb in, fur you can pet, and video stories you can stare at. Each year the Dia De Los Muertos exhibit is colorful and accessible to kids. Rotating exhibits may or may not be family-friendly.
Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Website >

FREE admission on the First Tuesdays each month

Blow Up exhibit at Bedford Gallery Walnut Creek
Blow Up exhibit at Bedford Gallery Walnut Creek | Photo: Kelly Wu, provided by Bedford Gallery

Bedford Gallery (Walnut Creek)

Enjoy free admission to Bedford Gallery and a free family-friendly art activity on the first Tuesday of every month. Gallery docents will be on the floor to lead informal tours and answer questions. This is a great after-school activity for families, or a chance to catch up with a friend over beautiful art. About the Bedford Gallery.
What's great for kids: Enjoy ever-changing, kid-friendly art activities and colorful displays. In the past, they've held exhibitions celebrating comics, food, skulls, inflatables, superheroes, and centrifugal forces.
Another money-saving tip: Ticket holders to events at the Lesher Center for the Arts (performing arts) will be admitted to the gallery free of charge on the ticketed date.
Location: 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Website >

Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco)

The CJM is fun for people of all backgrounds with dynamic programs that explore contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The architecture of the museum itself is a work of art.
What's great for kids: The Zim Zoom Family Room is open daily. Lots of family art projects and celebrations.
Location:
736 Mission Street, San Francisco
Website >

de Youngsters studio children at play
de Youngsters studio families at play | Photo provided by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

de Young Museum (San Francisco)

Sponsor

One of the most visited art museums in the country, the de Young showcases a priceless collection of American art from the 17th through 20th centuries along with art from Central and South America and the Pacific, in addition to an impressive collection of textiles. Special exhibition fees may apply.
What's great for kids: the de Youngsters Studio was built to get kids, especially ages 3 to 8, exploring art and technology & lots more places to play in Golden Gate Park.
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park
Website >

Legion of Honor Museum (San Francisco)

This exquisite building with an incredible view overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge contains 4,000 years of ancient and European art. Some special exhibition surcharges may apply.
What's great for kids: Ok, so this museum is pretty old-school and not very exciting for most children. You might need to take advantage of other nearby perks to amuse the little ones.
Location: 100 34th Ave, San Francisco
Website >

Museum of Craft and Design (San Francisco)

The Museum of Craft & Design showcases furniture, kinetic sculptures, and jewelry.
What's great for kids: MakeArt Family Day (sadly, on the First Saturday and not on the FREE Tuesday) features tactile materials for toddlers, guided activities for kids, gallery tours and in-gallery drop-in projects for families.
Location: 2569 Third Street, San Francisco
Website >

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco)

This multidisciplinary center features rotating art exhibitions, performances, and films with a focus on emerging artists. In the summertime, the garden hosts music festivals. While YBCA has a wonderful playground and cool waterfall to hide and seek, it is also next to some pretty pricey play places like the Children's Creativity Museum and that tempting carousel.
What's great for kids: The ever-changing line-up is its strength. See the SF Girls Chorus one day or view a colorful contemporary art show the next.
Location: 3rd and Mission, San Francisco
Website >

SF Conservatory of Flowers

Conservatory of Flowers (San Francisco)

We love the Conservatory of Flowers for mixed generational outings. While some of their exhibits have been more and less family-friendly over time, this wood and glass greenhouse is the oldest existing conservatory of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and features 1,700 species of rare, exotic and endangered plants from more than 50 different countries.
What's great for kids: Kids will like the scavenger hunt (ask at the front desk!) and free-range butterflies. It is also easy to combine a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers with a trip to Koret Playground in Golden Gate Park.
Location: 100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco – Golden Gate Park
Website >

Cartoon Museum (San Francisco)

Pay what you wish day

The Cartoon Art Museum has lots to see from comic strips and anime to political cartoons and graphic novels. People of all ages are welcome to wander the exhibitions and screenings and create their own comics and animation at workshops.
What's great for kids: Fun things to look at on the walls but won't keep most kids' attention for very long. It is always exciting to be in Fisherman's Wharf. Pair this trip with a ferry ride from the East Bay.
Location: 781 Beach Street, San Francisco
Website >

FREE admission on the Second Tuesdays each month

San Francisco Botanical Garden

The gardens are free daily from 7:30 to 9:30 am, the second Tuesday of every month, and on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Note: San Francisco residents are free every day.
What's great for kids: Embedded within Golden Gate Park. Storytime and family tours are every other Sunday (not on the free days!) Find more family and community activities.
Location: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco
Website >

FREE admission First Wednesdays

Watercolor painting at Bay Area Discovery Museum | Photo: Kat Choi

The Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito)

Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge on 7.5 acres of National Park land in Sausalito, The Bay Area Discovery Museum features seven exhibition spaces and six research-based daily drop-in programs.
What's great for kids: The whole indoor/outdoor location is a wonderful place to play with children, ages 6 months to 10 years. We love the Discovery Museum in Sausalito.
Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito
Website >

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

Enjoy walking through UC Berkeley Botanical Garden for free every first Wednesday of each month.
What's great for kids: Lovely for a stroller walk.
Location: 200 Centennial Dr. Berkeley
Website >

GLBT Historical Society Museum (San Francisco)

The GLBT Historical Society Museum, located in Castro District, is the first stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture in the United States. While designed primarily with an adult audience in mind, they welcome families and children. Stop by the front desk to ask for a family-friendly path through the museum (and how to avoid some of the more sexually explicit material). Hot Cookie is one block away for an after-museum treat.
Location: 4127 18th Street, San Francisco
Website >

Autodesk Gallery (San Francisco)

See how design shapes the world in all sorts of interesting ways. Free guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm
What's great for kids: Interactive exhibits for kids who like technology and making. Currently an enormous, 8.5-foot LEGO dinosaur.
Location: 1 Market St #200, San Francisco
Website >

FREE admission First Thursdays

Masako Miki exhibit at BAMPFA with docent
Masako Miki exhibit at BAMPFA with docent | Photo: Heather Flett

BAMPFA, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

BAMPFA is the visual arts center of the University of California, Berkeley. Their mission is to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through art and film. Frequently changing.
What's great for kids: So many things! Family Days, kid-friendly exhibits, hands-on art creation, and more. See our tips for enjoying BAMPFA with kids >
Another money saving tip: FREE to UC Berkeley students, faculty, staff; 18 & under; and one adult per child 13 & under.
Location: 2155 Center Street, Berkeley
Website >

Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), San Francisco

MoAD offers free entry during Third Thursdays in Yerba Buena, which has a lot going on.
What's great for kids: The museum is dedicated to sharing the art and stories of our common African heritage with audiences from around the world. Layout is stroller-friendly and families are always welcome.
Location: 685 Mission St (at 3rd), San Francisco (Ground floor of the St. Regis)
Website >

Free Bay Area Museums (Everyday)

  • Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito – scale model of the San Francisco Bay is large, fascinating, and free Tue – Sat. Run around the waterfront after your visit. Website >
  • Cable Car Museum (Nob Hill, Mason and Washington) – Learn about Free admission every day except when closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Website >
  • Maritime Museum (Aquatic Park) See the gorgeous, WPA-era murals. Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 4 pm. Website >
  • Musée Mécanique (Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf) – One of the world’s largest (over 200) collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. Prices range from 1¢ (it’s true) to $1. Most games cost 25¢ to 50¢. Free admission every day – 365 days a year. Website >
  • Presidio Visitor Center (The Presidio) – Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Website >
  • Randall Museum (199 Museum Way, The Castro) This hidden gem of a wildlife museum is usually open Tue – Sun 10 am to 5 pm. Website >
  • Rosie the Riveter Museum (Richmond) – Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. A visual and interactive way to learn about the homefront of World War II Website >
  • San Francisco Fire Department Museum (Western Addition, Presidio Ave at Pine) – Open Thu – Sun. Website >
  • San Francisco Railway Museum (Ferry Plaza, 77 Stewart St.) – Open Tue – Sun. Website >
  • SF Camerawork (SoMa) – non-profit photo gallery open Wed-Sat. Website >
  • Toilet Seat Museum (Hayes Valley, Fell & Gough) – Weird collection at Isotope Comic Book Lounge of original artwork on toilet seats by comic writers and artists from all over the world – Free admission offered daily during normal business hours (Tue-Fri, 11 am-7 pm; Sat/Sun, 11 am-6 pm) Website >
  • Treasure Island Museum (Treasure Island) – Typically open from 8:30 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Please note that construction on Treasure Island and special events can affect opening times. Website >

For visiting museums for free on other days, plan ahead for Discover & Go passes >

FREE on Special Community Days & Times

Each of the following museums or science centers recognizes special days and times to let the public in for free.

Chabot Space & Science Center Observatory Deck | Most Friday & Saturday Nights

Most Friday & Saturday nights from 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm, it’s free to visit the observatory deck at Chabot and see the telescopes in action for spectacular night sky viewing (weather permitting). Note: this program doesn’t include general admission to the museum.
What's great for kids: Star-loving kids can check out the telescopes for free. Tips for taking kids to Chabot Space & Science Center >
Location: 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland
Website >

The Exploratorium (San Francisco) | In 2020, it is only Mother's Day

The Exploratorium at Pier 15 is a museum of science, art and human perception.
2020 Free Day: Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020 — also free for teachers with advance planning.
What's great for kids: Hundreds of interactive exhibits are wonderful for kids and families. What we like about the Exploratorium.
Location: Pier 15, San Francisco
Website (schedule of community days) >

CuriOdyssey
Photo courtesy CuriOdyssey

CuriOdyssey (San Mateo) | Various Community Days

CuriOdyssey is a sweet little hands-on science museum and zoo for younger children. Its free Community Days take place on varying days, both during the week and on the weekend. Hopefully you can find one that works for your family.
What's great for kids: All. Of. It. Read our write-up of CuriOdyssey
Location: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo
Website (schedule of community days) >

SFMOMA (San Francisco) | Community Days and Family Days

The SFMOMA is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the country with over 45,000 square feet of art-filled public spaces (no ticket required). The public spaces are open daily at 9:30 am with last admission a half hour before closing.
Community Days: While the museum doesn’t have a regularly-recurring free day for the general public, the SFMOMA does have many free options: there are periodic “Culture for Community” Free Days for everyone, plus “Free Family Days” where up to two adults may claim a free tickets when accompanied by a visitor 18 and under.
Another money saving tip:
Everyone 18 and under gets free admission every day.
What's great for kids: Colorful, interesting modern art exhibitions on every floor.
Location: 151 Third Street, San Francisco
Website >

Lawrence Hall of Science | Free on Cal Day

Lawrence Hall of Science is open for FREE as part of Cal Day  (in April).
What's great for kids: Hands-on science activities for toddlers through adults. Wonderful climbing structures out front and a water feature that cools you off as it teaches on the back patio.
Location: 1 Centennial Dr. Berkeley
Website >

Walt Disney Family Museum | Free on Walt's birthday

December 2020 Date – TBA

Best suited for adults and older kids, the Walt Disney Family Museum typically only has one free day a year – to celebrate Walt Disney’s birthday on December 5th unless that falls on a Tuesday, when the museum is closed. Then it typically changes to be on December 4th. The date is usually announced and made official in August.
Location: 105 Montgomery Street, The Presidio, San Francisco
Website >

Other Free Museum Programs

Library-card holders, credit card holders, and EBT card holders have additional programs to give you free and reduced admission prices to Bay Area Museums. Keep on reading.

Discover and Go Passes via libraries

Create your own family's museum free day. Plan ahead and have a local library card, you can get Discover & Go passes for a free day just for your family for dozens of area museums.

Free Admission & Discounts for those using SNAP benefits

Lots of Bay Area Museums participate in Museums for All, offering free and reduced museum admission to those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Across the United States, 500 museums participate. Here are a few dozen Bay Area museums. The offer of free or discounted admission and how often you can use it will vary by museum.

Bay Area participating Museums For All

The Tech Interactive
Photo: The Tech Interactive

Bank of America Free Days

Called Museums on Us, holders of Bank of America credit cards and debit cards get free admission to specific Bay Area museums for one weekend each month – typically the first full weekend of the month. Museums recognizing this cardholder perk include Oakland Museum of California, de Young Museum (SF), Contemporary Jewish Museum (SF), San Jose Museum of Art (SJ), and The Tech Interactive (SJ). Find more museums around the country with this perk >

In 2020, the dates are: January 4th & 5th, February 1st & 2nd, March 7th & 8th, April 4th & 5th, May 2nd & 3rd, June 6th & 7th, July 4th & 5th, August 1st & 2nd, September 5th & 6th, October 3rd & 4th, November 7th & 8th, December 5th & 6th

Reciprocal Memberships to Bay Area Museums, Science Centers, and Zoos

Wait, there's more! Membership to one or two museums can also get you discounts and free admission to others if the museums in question participate in the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), or the Association of Children's Museums (ACM). Targeted to membership families who travel to grandma's house and can go to the zoo or children's museum both here and there, these programs might give you perks at other local Bay Area museums. The details will vary.

What'd we miss? Tell us in the comments!
Visit our calendar to find other free & cheap activities to do with your kids every day!

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