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10 CA Museums in San Francisco Bay Area that Always Have Free Admission

Updated on October 30, 2012
Old coach at Wells Fargo History Museum
Old coach at Wells Fargo History Museum

There are many, many museums to enjoy in the San Francisco Bay Area. A majority of these museums have free days or cheap days. However, there are actually some museums in the area that are always free. These are good to keep in mind for a rainy day!

Cantor Arts Center:
328 Lomita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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Free art history museum at Stanford Campus

Chinese Cultural Center:
750 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA

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Hearst Museum of Anthropology:
Kroeber Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

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Hyde Street Pier Visitor's Center and Museum:
499 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA

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A San Francisco museum about the area's maritime history

Marin History Museum:
1125 B St, San Rafael, CA 94901, USA

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Learn about the history of the North Bay

Museo ItaloAmericano:
Fort Mason, 38 Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

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The nation's only museum devoted entirely to the history and culture of Italian Americans

Cable Car Museum:
1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

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San Francisco Fire Department Museum:
655 Presidio Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA

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Takara Sake Museum:
708 Addison St, Berkeley, CA 94710, USA

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Explore the history of sake-making in America at this one-of-a-kind free museum.

Wells Fargo History Museum:
420 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA

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Here are ten free museums in the San Francisco Bay Area:

1. Cantor Arts Center. This is a free art history museum located at Stanford. The collections here span approximately four thousand years of history so there is a lot of cool informative art education here. There are also beautiful gardens here including a Rodin Sculpture Garden. This museum is open Wednesday through Sunday with evening hours available on Thursdays and yes, it is always free.

2. Chinese Cultural Center Gallery. This gallery contains artworks and sculptures related to the Chinese culture. There is also a gallery shop here with fascinating books, teapot sets and other things that are enjoyable to browse through. The center also has various programs, events, film screenings and other things to enjoy and learn from. Notably, this gallery is located on the third floor of the Hilton Hotel, which has a very pretty internal and external architecture for you to enjoy during your visit.

3. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. This cultural museum was established back in 1901! As described on the museum’s website:

It “houses the oldest and largest anthropological collection in the Western U.S., preserving and interpreting a global record of material culture as represented by more than 3.8 million catalogued objects.”

The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays. It is free although for a couple of dollars you can enjoy a docent-led tour to learn more about the items that you are seeing inside of the museum. This museum is located on the Berkeley campus where there are many other things to see so it’s great to plan a whole day for the visit here.

4. Hyde Street Pier Visitor’s Center and Museum. This museum is located at the entrance to Hyde Street Pier, an attraction on the bay where you can see historic ships that are docked. Tours on the ships cost money but it’s free to see them from the pier. The visitor’s center is also a museum for the San Francisco Maritime National Park. It’s a great place to learn about the maritime history of the Bay Area.

5. Marin History Museum. Many people are interested about Marin, the area just north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. However, they don’t really know where to learn about this area. This free museum is a great starting point. It has been open since 1935 and gives a lot of insight and information into the North Bay. There are also museum archives that you can check out for research purposes but this area of the museum does cost $5. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday as well as some Saturdays.

6. Museo ItaloAmericano. The Italian American influence and history in the Bay Area is huge. Little Italy (North Beach) is a very popular San Francisco neighborhood that pays tribute to that. However, if you really want to learn about it then you should check out this free San Francisco museum. According to the museum’s website it is actually “the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to Italian and Italian-American art and culture.” This museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays and on Mondays by appointment. In addition to the museum’s free exhibits, there are fee-based language classes, lectures and various other activities.

7. Francisco Cable Car Museum. The cable cars are such an important part of the transportation history of San Francisco. You can learn so many things about the city by exploring the history of the cable cars. It costs $5 to ride them one way but it’s free to visit the museum. You can see how they operate, take a look at some historic cars and explore many different exhibits about them. This museum opened in 1974 and is open every day except for certain holidays.

8. San Francisco Fire Department Museum. San Francisco’s history is dotted with fires. Of course, there were the terrible fires that ravaged the city after the 1906 earthquake. Even before that, awful fires did a lot of damage around the city. They were announced with a huge bell that can be seen at the museum. There are fewer problems associated with this today but of course the city’s firefighters still play a crucial role in San Francisco’s safety. This museum celebrates the firefighters and shares their history. This museum is open limited afternoon hours Thursday through Sunday.

9. Takara Sake Museum. Takara is a sake company located in the East Bay. There is a free museum here where you can learn about the history of this fascinating alcoholic beverage. You can learn all about how sake is made and what its history is in America. This is a very unique museum and, according to the museum’s website, there is no other museum like it in the nation. The free museum is open every day. For a small fee you can also enjoy a sake tasting while you are here.

10. Wells Fargo History Museum. There are more than half a dozen different Wells Fargo history museums throughout the United States. This one is located on the business site where Wells Fargo first opened way back in 1852! Some of the exhibits that can be seen here are an old Wells Fargo coach from the 1860’s, a gold dust display celebrating the area’s Gold Rush history and information about Black Bart and other stagecoach robbers. In addition to the museum itself being free, it’s possible to enjoy a free audio tour here.


Submit a Comment
  • PiaC profile image


    7 years ago from Oakland, CA

    I love the Wells Fargo history museum. The best thing about it, I think, is how secret it is. You could walk right past the museum without thinking it was anything but another Wells Fargo bank. I'll try to visit the other museums you've listed. The Hearst Museum sounds especially wonderful to me.

  • hazelbrown profile image


    7 years ago from Central PA

    This is great, I'm going to Berkeley in about a week! Yay!!

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 

    8 years ago from London, UK

    So many museums in one town and you done a grand job putting them well together. Thank you for a fantastic read.


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