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The Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its holdings include nearly 15,000 treasures spanning 6000 years of history, representing cultures throughout Asia. Renowned architect Gae Aulenti oversaw the dramatic transformation of the building: it now features 40,000 square feet (3716 square meters) of gallery space, allowing the museum to better fulfill its mission of leading a diverse global audience in discovering the unique material, aesthetic and intellectual achievements of Asian art and culture.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art houses a permanent collection of over 15,000 works, including 4,700 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and 9,000 photographs. Originally opened in 1995, the museum has exhibited the works of Henri Matisse, Richard Diebenkorn, Dorothea Lange, Paul Klee, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and many contemporary artists. Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the space itself is a wonder to behold. After a major renovation completed in 2016, the SFMOMA now boasts seven floors of art along with exciting new features including a living wall, sculpture garden and impressive views of Yerba Buena Gardens.
The first thing you will learn here is that the fanciful polychrome paint jobs on San Francisco's Victorians are a recent invention. This turreted-and-gabled gingerbread fantasy is a uniform and authentic shade of gray. Inside, this large house still feels like the family home that it was from 1886 to 1972, with rooms covered in expensive wood paneling, embossed wallpapers and featuring marble fireplaces. Guided tours leave every 20-30 minutes and last about an hour.
Located across from Ghirardelli Square and housed in a 1930s building that resembles a ship, this museum chronicles maritime history with photographs and interesting displays. However, the real attraction here are the WPA-era murals that have been recently restored. Visitors will be delighted by the historic and vivid artwork. Hours vary with the different attractions within the park. The Visitor Center is located at 499 Jefferson Street and the Maritime Museum is at 900 Beach Street.
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.
Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the greenest buildings in the city and has a platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The museum features the newly renovated and expanded Steinhart Aquarium, complete with a hands-on tide pool and the well-known alligator swamp. Other exciting features are the Morrison Planetarium, the four-story rain-forest dome, and the Hall of African Mammals. In addition to these educational gems, the museum features other natural history exhibits as well as exhibits about global warming. The Academy Cafe offers international cuisine, while the elegant Moss Room restaurant is the only dining option available in the park past museum closing time.
Acting as a major cultural destination since 1895, the De Young Museum reopened in October 2005 in a facility designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco. The building is magnificent and from the observation tower you can get a great view of the park. It is open, airy and massive. It also has a perforated and embossed copper facade which goes very well with the greenery around the museum. The museum houses the world-renowned American Painting and Sculpture collection, dating from the 17th to the 20th Centuries. Primitive Art is highly represented with extraordinary pieces of Native American Art (from the ancient Teotihuacan City), African Art (statues and potteries) and Oceanic Art (shields, dance dress and masks). Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.
The Legion of Honor houses more than 87,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and tapestries. Some pieces date back 4000 years. The main floor is dedicated to the museum's permanent collection, much of which features the works of Rodin. European and ancient art are also on display at the Legion of Honor. The lower garden level features temporary exhibitions, ranging from Andy Warhol to Francis Bacon. Take a break in the museum cafe, which features light snacks and meals and has outdoor seating. The gift shop, though small, has a nice selection of postcards, books, posters, jewelry and some reproductions from this and other fine arts museums. Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.