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No surprise, San Francisco is an expenisve city and museums are no exception, generally charging admission of $10 or more, plus special exhibition fees. However, they are not entirely budget savaging. A few worthwhile museums around the city are free, and, with some clever planning, many of the "big name" institutions can be friendlier to your pocketbook.
The Cable Car Museum is one of the freebies and a wonderful way get a look behind the scenes at San Francisco's moving monuments. The museum houses a few ancient cable cars as well as various mechanical tools to teach you how the system works. Head downstairs to see a the cable line running under the building.
In the center of the Financial District, the Wells Fargo History Museum could be mistaken for a bank if you don't know where to look. On the site where Henry Wells and William G. Fargo first offered banking and express services to Gold Rush pioneers, this free museum is an immersion in California's 49er past, with an old Concord Coach used in the 1860s and a display of gold dust and ore from California's gold country. A free audio tour is also offered.
The Legion of Honor and de Young Museum make up San Franciosco's Fine Arts Museums and are the city's premiere art destinations,welcoming high caliber international exhibitions. Normal admission price is $10 but come on the first Tuesday of the month, admission is free at both venues.
San Francisco's modern art Mecca, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is a must for lovers of the genre, but entry is $18 dollors a pop for adult entry. However, entry on the first Tuesday of the month is free. Also, kids under 12 are always free as are active U.S. Military members. If Tuesday can't work, try Thursday night after 6pm when entry is half-price. UPDATE: MoMA has closed for renovations until 2016.
While most museums in San Francisco have a free day or two a month, there’s a surprising number that are free all the time. The best free museums in the Bay Area include the Cable Car Museum in Nob Hill, which is devoted to the preservation of San Francisco’s unique street cars and the Wells Fargo History Museum in the Financial District, which revives the days of the wild west and transporting gold by stagecoach. The Italo Americano Museum at Fort Mason works to preserve Italian heritage in the region with events like film screenings, art exhibits, and lectures on Italian travel and culture.
The best kept secret in San Francisco is the amazing private museum Pier 24 Photography. Pier 24 Photograhy is comprised of the private colleciton of the Pilara Foundation, with a space created to enchance the viewing and appreciation of photographic works by masters such as Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, William Eggelston, Robert Frank and many more. Book online or call for a free appointment. By reservations only, this affords a quiet, contemplative environment to enjoy the exhibits. www.pier24.org.
From the Legion of Honor to the Exploratorium, San Francisco has it's fair share of exceptional museums. Although the majority of them charge some sort of admission fee, the best museums are open once a month for free. The aforementioned Legion of Honor is free every first Tuesday of the month as is the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. The Exploratorium is free only five days a year: on September 29th Engineering Day, October 13th Founder's Day, February 2 Groundhog Day, March 14th Pi Day, and Mother's Day. The Conservatory of Flowers is free on the first Tuesday of the month as is the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Yerba Buena Center for Arts. The Asian Art Museum is free on the first Sunday of the month. In 2013, the California Academy of Sciences is free on one Sunday per quarter and also June 2, September 29th, and December 8. Also worth noting: the SFMoma is closing on June 3, 2013 for a three year renovation.