SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Museums
Asian Art Museum 200 Larkin St./Fulton St., Civic Center. Fee. Relocated in 2002 to the 1917 Beaux-Arts building that was the city’s main library until 1994—the redesign was done by architect Gae Aulenti, who also converted a derelict Paris train station into the celebrated Musée d’Orsay—this is the largest museum in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. And with more than 15,000 objects from 40 Asian countries spanning a period of more than 6,000 years, it is the best Asian collection in the U.S. (At any one time it displays 2,500 objects in its 33 galleries representing 7 Asian cultural regions.) The museum also holds the largest collection of Indian sculpture outside India. Combining East and West, the building represents San Francisco’s past and future.
Entry to Sunday at the Museum cafe does not require paid museum admission. Daily specials feature fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu of sandwiches, snacks, and desserts includes a range of dishes from a variety of Asian traditions.
Cartoon Art Museum 781 Beach St., Fisherman’s Wharf. Fee. This museum showcases important developments in cartoon history from the early 18th century to the present, and regularly schedules exhibitions, special events, and educational programs. A reading room is packed with comics and related books. A gift shop provides interesting browsing and is stocked with items that are of interest to artists in general and comic artists in particular. One of only two such museums in the country, its aim is “to preserve this unique art form and to enrich the public’s knowledge of its cultural and aesthetic value.”
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
image copyright John Briggs
●de Young 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., in Golden Gate Park. Fee; tickets may be used on the same day for free entrance to the Legion of Honor. Housed now in a monumental new building that seems as if it grew organically right out of the park, the city’s premier museum holds a significant collection of American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th through 21st centuries, as well as the country’s best collection of American trompe l’oeil paintings from the late 1800s. The permanent collection of art from Africa, Oceania, Mesoamerica, and Central and South America features outstanding works from ancient to modern times and an extraordinary collection of New Guinea art. Some contemporary art is displayed and a sculpture garden is adjacent to the café, which serves delicious fare and has both indoor and outdoor seating. Do visit the 9th floor of the tower for a breath-taking 360-degree view.
For three days every March the museum galleries are decorated stunningly with fresh flowers. For Bouquets to Art, members of Bay Area flower clubs and professional florists design arrangements inspired by museum paintings. Some mimic the paintings, other pick up the colors or feeling; overall, they enliven the galleries.
●Legion of Honor 100 34th Ave./Clement St., in Lincoln Park, Outer Richmond District. Fee; tickets may be used on the same day for free entrance to the deYoung. Situated on a scenic knoll overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, this impressive neoclassical marble structure--a ¾ replica of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris (where Napoleon established his new Order of the Legion of Honor in the 18th century)--is the only museum in the country exhibiting primarily French art. A small glass pyramid in the entry seems to make a nod to the larger one at Paris’s Louvre, and Rodin’s earliest casting of his sculpture, “The Thinker,” greets visitors as they approach the entrance. Indeed, the museum’s collection of more than 80 Rodins is outstanding and were cast by the artist. This museum also holds the city’s collection of European and ancient art. The museum was given to the city of San Francisco on Armistice Day in 1924 and is dedicated to the memory of California men who died in World War I. Free concerts on the museum’s 4,500-pipe organ are presented in the Rodin Gallery on weekends at 4 p.m., and a cafe offers simple food with a French flair as well as a dining room and terrace with a view.
The entrance to the Holocaust Memorial, which is owned and maintained by the San Francisco Arts Commission, is on the north side of the parking circle. A semicircular stairway leads down to an area where the cast bronze, white-painted pieces created by sculptor George Segal are displayed.
For a scenic drive, leave via Lincoln Avenue, on the north side of the museum. Follow it to its conclusion at Lombard Street. This route has several vista points of the Golden Gate Bridge as it passes Baker Beach, goes through the elegant Sea Cliff residential area, and continues into the Presidio.
The Mexican Museum Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D. In addition to arts exhibitions, this small museum pressents educational programs and artist talks. Plans are in the works to build a new permanent facility in the heart of San Francisco's Yerba Buena arts district at Mission and 3rd streets.
Museo Italo Americano Fort Mason Center, Bldg. C, Laguna St./Marina Blvd., Marina District. Free. This small museum is dedicated to displaying the works of Italian and Italian-American artists.
Museum of Craft and Design
San Francisco Art Institute 800 Chestnut St./Jones St., Russian Hill. Free. The oldest arts organization west of the Mississippi, this institution trained painter Richard Diebenkorn, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and sculptor John Gutzon Borglum (he carved Mount Rushmore). The campus holds the Diego Rivera Gallery and its famous 1931 Diego Rivera mural, the Walter and McBean galleries, and a picturesque Spanish mission-style courtyard with a goldfish pond. To fit in, dress in bohemian style and include plenty of black.
For a bargain organic meal, stop in at the cafe, where a spectacular bay view is thrown in for free.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Two entrances: 151 3rd St. & off Howard St., South of Market. Located within a striking contemporary 5-story building designed by Mario Botta of Lugano, Switzerland, and closed for the past 3 years to complete a 10-story expansion by architect Snohetta that triples the gallery space, SFMOMA originally opened at another location in 1935. It was the first museum in the West devoted entirely to 20th-century art. Its collection is the world’s largest of contributed art and includes abstract art, photography (now the largest such gallery in the U.S.), and the work of acclaimed contemporary artists. Accesss to the first two floors is free. The most efficient way to see everything is to take the elevator to the 7th floor and work down. The new wing embraces an environmentally-friendly design that includes a self-watering vertical wall bearing green plants and a façade of rippling panels. Many outdoor spaces display sculpture and offer city views. Several different free tours are scheduled daily and greatly enhance a visit. And don’t miss visiting several of the colorful restrooms, which according to the designers are “works of art unto themselves . . . and look for the green flash after exiting the red restroom on the second floor, a classic example of after-image using complementary colors.” More images.
The museum gift shop purveys an array of exceptional merchandise and has a particularly noteworthy section for children. Adjacent to the previous rooftop sculpture garden casual Cafe 5 offers a lunch menu including organic salads, open-face sandwiches, and light snacks, and Sightglass at SFMOMA serves up coffee and pastries. On Collaboration: SFMOMA and Adobe Rethink the Selfie--a free selfie interactive photo booth--is set up here.
Off the 3rd Street entrance, In Situ, helmed by three-star Michelin chef Corey Lee, replicates signature dishes from famous chefs at restaurants world-wide--think Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Hisato Nakahigashi at Miyamasou in Kyoto, Japan--and is open for lunch and dinner.