Updated August 22, 2023.
The de Young Museum in San Francisco is a world-class, fine arts museum, located in Golden Gate Park.
Here are my local's tips on what to see at the museum, plus practical advice about visiting: tickets, hours, discounts, parking, etc.
Explore paintings, drawings, sculptures, masks, pottery, costumes, and more, from a wide variety of periods, styles and cultures.
The museum houses an extensive permanent collection, and also hosts some great traveling exhibits like the King Tut artifacts and the Orsay Impressionists.
You can buy tickets online or at the door. No proof of vaccination is required to enter and masks are recommended but not required.
The de Young Museum reopened in its new building in 2005, after being closed for five years; the original Deco-Spanish-style structure at the same location was damaged in the 1989 earthquake. The decision was made to construct a new home for the de Young, instead of trying to shore up the old one.
The new building provides an attractive setting inside for its varied collections, but the outside appearance of the museum stirred some controversy (especially the tower...didn't we seen something like this on Tatooine?).
Tuesday - Sunday:
9:30 am to 5:15 pm
17 and under
Any advantage to buying a ticket in advance? Not for general admission. There's usually no line.
Do you need a reservation? No, not for the permanent collection. It's easy to buy tickets at the door. But you do need one for the special exhibits.
Special Exhibitions cost more; typically around $21-25.
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Membership. If you plan to come often, it pays to become a member; admission is then free and includes most of the special exhibitions. And you can bring a guest.
Individuals are $119 per year and families $229. Membership in the de Young includes the Legion of Honor Museum as well.
You can visit the de Young Museum on the Go SF Card, along with many other attractions, and save money, but it's gotten bad reviews, so I don't recommend it.
The de Young has a huge collection of art from many eras: prehistoric art up to the latest fashion designs. It's impossible to list even a fraction of what they have to offer, but here's a sample:
For a taste of what's in some of the galleries...
Fascinating Mayan and Mexican ceramics from 200 B.C. until the time of the Spanish conquest.
This section also contains a roomful of murals from the Aztec capital of Teotihuacan.
This collection of American paintings and furniture spans the period from colonial times to the early 20th century, including works by Winslow Homer, Paul Revere, Mary Cassatt and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Both traditional and modern works; large collection of Inuit and Eskimo sculptures.
American and international modern art, from the early 20th century on, including works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Grant Wood, Diego Rivera, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.
I think this section is one of the highlights of the museum.
The collection of masks and other figures from Africa and New Guinea is impressive, and is presented in a very striking way. The dramatic lighting in the Oceania Gallery really enhances the eerie, other-worldly feeling.
Stroll outside the museum near the cafe and explore works by Joan Miro, Claes Oldenburg and others. Oldenburg was one of the original Pop Art guys.
The de Young Museum in San Francisco is one of the limited number of U.S. museums that get the really great exhibits that travel internationally. Very convenient for San Franciscans and our visitors!
You will need tickets for the special exhibitions and they strongly recommend advance reservations.
Check to see what on (here and at the Legion of Honor Museum) and get tickets: see special exhibits.
Bouquets to Art...
Some are annual events: one of my favorites is the delightful Bouquets to Art exhibit which takes place in the spring every year.
Florists and others artists create beautiful and strange flower arrangements to mirror specific works of art in the museum.
The floral creation is placed next to the piece that inspired it, and there are hundreds of them all through the de Young galleries.
There's always at least one special exhibition happening at the de Young.
Museum docent tours are a great deal and really enhance enjoyment of the collections. They are free and are offered at noon and 2pm, Tue-Fri and Sun.
I went on one of the Three Masterpieces in 30 Minutes tours they used to do and really enjoyed it.
Now they are called Highlights Tours and are different each time; it's up to the docent to pick the art works they want to talk about, so it's likely to be something they have some personal enthusiasm about.
Just show up at the tour sign in the main lobby. No reservations required. You just need an admission ticket for the permanent collection.
There are audio tours available at the front desk that relate to the permanent collection and the special exhibits.
Bring your own device and headphones to listen to it, or use one of theirs. If you are using your own device, they recommend downloading it before you come. $8.
There is an observation deck on the top of the tower (the tower that is so loved and hated by the locals).
The view is great and it's free to go up there (you don't need a museum admission ticket). Closes at 4:30 pm.
There is a nice cafe inside the museum with interesting globe lights and great food. Open for espressos and pastries in the morning and lunch starting at 11:00 am. Try their porchetta sandwich with a glass of wine - delicious!
The de Young Museum is located on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, next door to the Japanese Tea Garden and across from the Academy of Sciences building. See map below.
The de Young Museum is easily reached by public transportation.
The 5-Fulton bus runs along the northern edge of Golden Gate Park, and the 7-Haight-Noriega bus runs along the southern edge.
If you get off at 8th and Fulton or 9th and Lincoln, that will put you close to the entrance to the park (the Fulton bus is closer).
The Muni streetcar N-Judah comes close as well (8th and Irving or 9th and Irving.
You can catch all three downtown on Market Street. The N-Judah downtown runs under Market Street like a subway.
The Hop On Hop Off buses also stop near the de Young Museum. See HOHO bus for more info and booking.
JFK Drive used to be a good place to park, but it's permanently closed to cars now.
On busy days (sunny weekends and days of very popular special exhibits), parking is trickier. You'll have to park farther away on MLK Drive, or try the parking spots around Stow Lake nearby. Outside the park is much tougher.
There's parking garage under the de Young Museum, a bit expensive ($3.50 to $4.00 per hour), but not terrible for a few hours.
One entrance on 10th Avenue at Fulton, on the north side of the park, and another just off MLK Drive near the Academy of Sciences.
The sister museum for fine arts in San Francisco, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, also has an incredible collection.
Look there for Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh & Rodin, Andy Warhol, and lots more.
With a ticket to the de Young Museum, you can also explore the Legion of Honor for free on the same day, and vice versa (if you have the stamina for two art museums in one day!)