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Best Free Museums in San Francisco

By: Cityseeker
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Cable Car Museum

If you want to know how a cable car works, the Cable Car Museum is the place to learn. The world's first cable car rests here and with it a concise explanation of how those little cable cars make their way up those famous San Francisco hills. In an underground viewing area, you can look at the system's enormous cable wheels, which pull 11 miles (18 kilometers) of cable at 9.5 miles (15 kilometers) per hour. Closely examine the steel cables, gears, and pulleys that bring this city's most famous transportation to life. Don't miss the gift shop, where you can purchase your very own length of used cable!

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Wells Fargo History Museum

Get a little history of the wild wild west Wells Fargo-style, and check out the great collection of Gold Rush memorabilia at the Wells Fargo History Museum. The artifacts illustrate the impact of Wells Fargo in the development of the American West. You can view an original Concord stagecoach, strong boxes, gold nuggets, and mining tools, as well as century old photographs and documents of days gone past. The bookstore offers an excellent selection of books about the history of the area and of Wells Fargo.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Pacific Heritage Museum

This private museum, established in 1984 by the Bank of Canton, features Pacific Rim art, culture, and historic exhibits. Learn more about the Pacific Rim economic history. View sculptures and paintings by renowned and emerging artists. The 10,000 square feet of this Embarcadero District museum resides in the historic US Sub treasury Building, which was used as a U.S. Mint until 1874. Find featured exhibits that are periodically rotated as well as permanent displays. Free admission.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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San Francisco Fire Department Museum

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum showcases the history of firefighting in the city of San Francisco. Exhibits date back to 1849, when it was mandatory for each household to have an emergency bucket filled with water. You can find the various uniforms, fire-fighting equipment, fire engines, water pumps, and other essentials that have been used by the fire department over the years.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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San Francisco Railway Museum

San Francisco Railway Museum embodies San Francisco's transportation history with everything from a reconstructed portion of a Market St. Railway Co. 100-class street-car to cable car note cards designed by local artists. Enjoy pictures of the famous ferry-building street-car loop, fare boxes and a Wiley birdcage traffic signal, which allows attendees to see how intersections were patrolled over 100 years ago. Striving to be an interactive museum, knowledgeable docents give talks and answer questions while a resourceful database with an audio & video touch screen is on hand to further educate. If the J-street cars or Powell street trolley cars have always been of interest to you, then enter this museum, which explains their evolution and continues to pave their future.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Museum of Vision

The Museum of Vision aims at highlighting the importance of one of our sensory organs, the eye. From humble beginnings, with just one exhibition in 1982, this museum has come a long way to being a prominent establishment as the Museum of Vision. The exhibits at this museum captures the science of ophthalmology, right from its inception and also includes advancements in the field. Ancient surgical instruments, eye amulets, spectacles, eye masks and much more are part of the collection on display. Booking an appointment before your visit is highly recommended.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Museo Italo Americano

Part of the Fort Mason Center museums, which include the African-American Historical and Cultural Society Museum, this museum celebrates the Italian-American community by offering classes in Italian language, art and architecture. The gallery functions as a space for historical and contemporary works by Italian and Italian-American artists. Both admission and parking are free!

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Musée Mécanique

A penny for your thoughts? In addition to a melange of penny structures, this quirky, offbeat museum has a variety of interesting gadgets and knick-knacks. A must-see is the toothpick amusement park, built by San Quentin inmates. Bring a handful of quarters to Musée Mécanique so you can play some of the antique games, including the miniature pinball machines. Visiting the museum is free of charge.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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