karen portrait circle

By Karen

Updated December 14, 2023.

The Legion of Honor Museum
San Francisco

Tips for visiting the California Legion of Honor Art Museum

In the northwest corner of San Francisco is one of the most beautiful museums in the city: The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, a museum of fine arts.

The setting is gorgeous, as well... woodsy views of the Golden Gate and entrance to San Francisco Bay.

View from Legion of Honor Museum in SFView from the Legion of Honor Museum

This stately building was a gift to the city from the Spreckels family in 1924, to honor the Californians who died in World War 1.

Front view of Legion of Honor Museum San FranciscoEntrance to the Legion of Honor

It was built as a replica of the Legion d'Honneur in Paris.

Rotunda of the Legion of Honor Museum San FranciscoSpacious galleries open off the domed rotunda.

A larger-than-life cast of Rodin's "The Thinker" greets visitors at the entrance.

Inside the museum are three galleries with over 100 of Rodin's sculptures.

(That glass pyramid looks like it was borrowed from the Louvre.)

Rodin's Thinker greets visitors to the Legion of Honor Museum, SFThe Thinker, by Rodin

Special Exhibitions at the Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor in San Francisco puts on lots of special shows, some with works visiting from other museums, and some put together from their own collections.

They often have lectures and musical performances (free with entry) associated with their special exhibitions as well.

Check their website for the current exhibitions (it has de Young Museum schedule also).

The Legion of Honor Permanent Collections

The Legion of Honor San Francisco museum houses a vast collection of European painting, sculpture and ceramics from the 16th century to the early 20th century.

You can also see their collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome.

Portrait gallery at the Legion of Honor Museum SFSerene Galleries

Works by many of the Big Names of European art are here in plenty:

Renoir, Monet, Picasso, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Hals, Rubens, van Gogh, Cezanne, Gainsborough, El Greco and more.

Monet paintings at the Legion of Honor in San FranciscoWorks by Monet

Decorative art also: Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique, and artists serving the European royalty of the 17th and 18th centuries.

And downstairs is a collection of porcelain dishes and figurines from the well-known ceramic factories of Europe: Meissen, Sevres, Worcester, and others.

The Legion of Honor also houses a huge collection of graphic art (90,000 items, the largest collection in the Western US) and a large photography collection which includes many early photographs of San Francisco and California.

Different selections of the museum's collections are displayed at different times, so the art on exhibit varies all the time.

European Painting

Painting of St. Cecilia, by Waterhouse, at the Legion of Honor Museum in SFSt. Cecilia, Waterhouse, 1895

There are rooms and rooms of beautiful paintings by European artists covering several centuries.

The Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical, Impressionist, and Post-impressionist styles are all well-represented here.

The Candlelight Master, French painting from 1620, in the Ledion of Honor MuseumThe Candlelight Master, French, 1620
The Russian Bride's Attire, Makovsky, at the Legion of Honor SFThe Russian Bride's Attire, Makovsky, 1887

An unusual painting, in a fitting frame: Fairies in a Bird's Nest, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1860.

Fairies in a Bird's Nest, by Fitzgerals, Legion of Honor MuseumFairies in a Bird's Nest, Fitzgerald, 1860

Sculpture Galleries

The Rodin Collection

Statue "Call to Arms" by Rodin, Legion of Honor Museum SF"Call To Arms", Rodin

The Legion of Honor has a large collection of Rodin sculptures, including "The Kiss" and "The Three Shadows", and of course, "The Thinker".

All three of these works are independent casts of figures originally contained in the The Gates of Hell, a massive, 20-foot sculpture located in the Orsay Museum in Paris, with casts in a number of other locations, including Stanford University.

The work illustrates scenes from Dante's Inferno.

Originally, "The Thinker" may have represented Dante, pondering the fate of humanity in his Divine Comedy (some believe it's meant to be Rodin, or Adam).

Gates of Hell, by Rodin, Zurich"The Gates of Hell", Rodin, Zurich

Other European Sculpture

The Legion of Honor's sculpture collection covers a wide range, from ancient Greece and Rome, up to the early 20th century.

Columbus as a Boy, Monteverde, at the Legion of Honor SF"Columbus as a Boy", Monteverde, 1872
Statue of The Orator, Picasso, Legion of Honor Museum SF"The Orator", Picasso

The Antiquities Collection

The Ancient World is also on display: Egyptian sarcophagi and scarabs, Persian carvings, Assyrian artifacts, Greek and Roman statuary, and more.

Egyptioan tomb relief, Legion of Honor SFEgyptian Tomb Relief, 660 B.C.

From an exhibit at the Legion of Honor, reconstructing Greek statues with what is believed to be their original coloring.

Greek statue reconstruction, warrior, Legion of Honor MuseumGreek warrior
Reconstruction of statue of Greek woman, Legion of Honor SFGreek woman

The Porcelain Gallery

Fanciful tea pot in Legion of Honor porcelain gallery

Delightful assortment of cup, plates, fanciful teapots and Commedia dell'Arte figurines.

Porcelain bowl, Legion of Honor Museum
Porcelain cup, Legion of Honor Museum
Porcelain artichoke, Legion of Honor Museum
Porcelain tea pot, Legion of Honor Museum

Furniture and Decorative Arts Collection

Loads of finely crafted French furnishings, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, including some pieces belonging to Marie Antoinette.

 Marie Antoinette's litter, Legion of Honor MuseumNo Need to Walk
Inlay work on table, Legion of HonorInlay Work on Table

Things to do at the Legion of Honor

Docent's tours

There are a number of free docent's tours most days at the Legion of Honor, including Highlights of the European Collection.

See docent tours for their current schedule.

Concerts at the Legion of Honor

Free organ concerts on Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. in The Rodin Gallery.

The organ is a 1924 Skinner organ, and 4500 pipes are hidden behind the canvas ceiling that is painted to look like marble. More pipes are concealed in other areas of the museum.

Now called the Spreckels organ (the donors), it's designed to imitate the sounds of the various instruments of an orchestra, including percussion.

There's another Skinner organ at the National Cathedral in Washington D. C.

Occasional full scale classical music concerts are given at the museum.

I went to one by the Philharmonia Baroque there... beautiful music, beautiful setting and easy parking!

See organ concerts for current schedule.

Check with the Legion of Honor website for the current calendar of events and exhibitions.

Legion of Honor Hours and Fees

Museum Hours

Tuesday through Sunday: 9:30 am to 5:15 pm

Closed Monday

Admission Prices

Adults:  $20

Seniors: 65+  $17

College Students:  $11

17 and under: Free

The entry fee is for general admission; special exhibitions often have an additional fee, unless you are a member.

No ticket is required for the gift shop or the museum cafe.

Lots of ways to get free admission to the Permanent Collection galleries.

After 4:30 pm, admission is free for everyone for the Permanent Collection.

Saturdays are free for Bay Area residents.

First Tuesday of the month is free for everyone.

Visitors with disabilities free on certain days.

Free admission for Medi-cal and EBT card holders.

Bank of America card holders free on first full weekend of the month.

See free and reduced admission for the current ticket rules.

Save Some Money

Muni ticket: show your Fast Pass, BART ticket, or a Muni transfer and get $2 off the entry fee.

Become a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Free admission for you and a friend, or get a family membership. Individual memberships start at $119 per year.

Also, with a ticket to the Legion of Honor San Francisco, you can also get free admission to the de Young museum for the same day. And vice-versa.

There are some multi-attraction passes that include the museum, but there have been complaints about their ease of use, so I'm not recommending them at this time.

Food and Shopping

There is a cafe on the lower level as well as a museum store with all sorts of attractive art-related things to spend money on.

Getting to the Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor art museum is located at the edge of the wild and beautiful Lands End area in the northwest corner of the city.

By Bus:

The 18-46th Avenue bus stops right in front of the museum, the best choice.

Two other buses (1-California and 38-Geary) come within a block or two of the entrance to the park at 34th Ave and Clement St. From those stops, you can walk to the museum (about 20 minutes) or transfer to the 18 bus which gets you right to the front door.

By Car:

34th Avenue in the Richmond District heads into Lincoln Park at Clement Street, and winds through the park to the museum.

Parking Heaven! The Legion of Honor is one of the few attractions in San Francisco that has plenty of free, convenient parking in their own parking lot. The only time the lot tends to fill up is at the beginning or end of a popular special exhibition.

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Hop On Hop Off Buses

You can also get out to the Legion of Honor museum on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour. See Hop On Hop Off tours for more info and booking.

Map of the Legion of Honor San Francisco

Map of the Legion of Honor San Francisco
(Map data (c) OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA)

More to Explore...

Check out San Francisco's other fine arts museum, the de Young Museum, or hike the beautiful setting for the Legion of Honor Museum, Lands End.

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