Free and Discount Days at Bay Area Museums
Museum entrance fees, especially to the Bay Area’s most popular venues, can really add up. But exposing your children to art, culture and science doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out these museums on their free and discount days. Just plan ahead for possible crowds and get there early to make the most of your visit.
Bay Area Discovery Museum – Free first Wednesday of each month. East Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito. 415-339-3900.
Asian Art Museum – Admission is first-come, first-served on Target First Free Sundays, which offer special family-friendly tours and art projects. 200 Larkin St. 415-581-3500.
California Academy of Sciences – San Francisco residents can visit for free on select weekends, designated by zip code in March 2019 and in the fall. Occasional community free days are also offered. See website for details. Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Drive. 415-379-8000.
Cartoon History Museum – Pay what you wish on the first Tuesday of each month. 415-227-8666. 781 Beach St.
Conservatory of Flowers – First Tuesday of each month. 100 John F. Kennedy Drive. 415-831-2090.
Contemporary Jewish Museum – First Tuesday of each month. 736 Mission St. 415-655-7800.
de Young Museum – First Tuesday of each month. 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. 415-750-3600.
Exploratorium – “Pay-what-you-wish” on several annual Community Days. Check website. Pier 15. 415-528-4444.
Legion of Honor – First Tuesday of each month. 100 34th Ave. 415-750-3600.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park – Offers several entrance-free days annually to see the historic ships; always free for children under 16. Check website. Hyde St. Pier, Fisherman’s Wharf. 415-447-5000.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Free admission for ages 18 and younger. 151 Third St. 415-357-4000.
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive – Free first Thursday of each month and always free for ages 18 and under. 2155 Center St. 510-642-0808.
Chabot Space & Science Center – Pay $5 the first Friday of each month after 6 p.m. 1000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7300.
Oakland Museum of California – Admission is a suggested $5 donation on the first Sunday of each month. 1000 Oak St., Oakland. 510-318-8400.
Bedford Gallery at Lesher Center for the Arts – Free first Tuesday and with same-day ticket to events at the Lesher Center for the Arts; children under 12 always free. 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. 925-295-1417.
Silicon Valley and Coast
NUMU – New Museum Los Gatos – Kids under 18 are always free. 106 E. Main St., Los Gatos. 408-354-2646.
San Jose Museum of Art – Offers four free community days each year, plus $5 adult admission after 5 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. Check website.
San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles – On the first Friday of the month, except Jan. and July, pay what you can from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and free admission from 7-10 p.m. 520 S. First St., San Jose. 408-971-0323.
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Free first Friday of the month. 705 Front St. 831-429-1964.
Discover and Go – Use your local library card to get free and discounted admission to tons of Bay Area museums and cultural institutions.
Smithsonian Free Day – Free admission for two is provided to many Bay Area museums on a select September weekend thanks to Smithsonian Magazine.
Always Free Museums
Sometimes it’s hard to plan ahead and it can be tough to fight the crowds on free days at popular museums. For a more laid-back approach, these museums are always free.
Bay Model Visitors Center – A huge 3-D, working hydraulic model of San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta System. 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito. 415-332-3871.
Cable Car Museum – Watch the massive cables pulling these historic cars and learn about this San Francisco treat. 1201 Mason St.415-474-1887.
Musée Mécanique – Visit one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of antique arcade machines, including the famed Laffing Sal. Admission is free, but must pay to play. Pier 45 at the foot of Taylor Street.
Randall Museum – Includes a caboose, wild native California animals, a Toddler Treehouse, drop-in activities and more. 199 Museum Way, San Francisco. 415-554-9600.
Anderson Collection and Cantor Arts Center – Stanford’s fine and modern art museums contain a large collection of Rodin sculptures and other classic and modern works. Visit on Second Sundays for tours and family art-making. Stanford University, 314 and 328 Lomita Drive. 650-721-6055. 650-723-4177.
de Saisset Museum – Located next to Mission Santa Clara, this museum has a collection of 10,000 objects, including Renaissance, Native American and Spanish Colonial art. Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara. 408-554-4000.
Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History – Railroad museum with artifacts, displays and train layouts in an historic depot. 1005 Railroad Ave., Santa Clara. 408-243-3969.
Los Altos History Museum and History House – Learn about the history of the Los Altos area in docent-led and self-guided tours. 51 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos. 650-948-9427.
Museum of American Heritage – Visit a 1920s kitchen, an early 1900s store, 1940s radio repair shop and historic gardens. 351 Homer Ave., Palo Alto. 650-321-1004.
Palo Alto Junior Museum – The museum has hands-on science exhibits and a limited number of small animals at its temporary location. The new facility is scheduled to open in summer 2020. Free but suggested donation of $5 per person. Cubberley Community Center, 4050 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. 650-329-2111.
Triton Museum of Art – Collections include contemporary and historical works with an emphasis on local artists. 1505 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara. 408-247-2438.
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center – Contains exhibits and interactive displays on the sanctuary’s marine environment. 35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. 831-421-9993.
San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum – Features an early 1900s kitchen, as well as schoolroom and logging exhibits. 12547 Highway 9, Boulder Creek. 831-338-8382.
Santa Cruz Surfing Museum – Traces more than 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz through photos, surfboards and more. Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, Lighthouse Point, 701 W. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 831-420-6289.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.