SF Galleries & Museums

Some small but cool museums/galleries around SF

Beat Museum

540 Broadway (at Columbus). Open daily, 10a.m. – 7 p.m. Admission: $5.  

Located in North Beach, the eclectic Beat Museum pays homage to the group of writers, artists, movers, and shakers that defined their generation. The Beatniks, as they were famously called by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen, helped usher in a new artistic and creative era that reflected the angst of the post World War II generation and the sexual liberation of the hippie movement. Old typewriters, vintage furniture, framed correspondence between celebratory Beats, a jacket once owned by Jack Kerouac, and an odd assortment of other artifacts make up the core of the museum’s collection. The whole thing feels like the attic of a slightly neurotic distinct relative — it straddles interesting memorabilia and fanatical obsession. The massive bookstore which houses vintage and limited-edition prints of Howl and On the Roadin hundreds of languages. The trip through Beat nostalgia can be rounded out with a peek next door into City Lights Bookstore, the publishing house that first printed Howl in 1956, and a coffee at Cafe Vesuvio, located on Jack Kerouac Alley.

Cartoon Art Museum

655 Mission Street (at 3rd). Admission: $7 / $5 (seniors and students with an ID) / $3 (children 6 to 12) / Free (children 6 and under). Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Niche, nostalgic, and relevant in a way that few museums of its size and scale can pull off, the Cartoon Art Museum is another one-of-kind cultural experience that is truly unique to San Francisco. The museum is the only one in the western United States that is fully dedicated to preserving and exhibiting cartoon art in all its forms. It houses approximately 6,000 pieces of original art and hosts traveling exhibits from famed cartoonists like the creator of Troubletown, Lloyd Dangle. And in addition to the one-dimensional classics like Archie, there’s a TV showing old-school Looney Tunes. The museum has an extensive research library and a classroom for cartoon art workshops. There’s a great bookstore on site as well, with a vast collection of interesting and eclectic coffee table books, graphic tees, and other novelty items for the kid in all of us!

Pier 24 Photography Museum

Pier 24 (at Embarcadero). Open by appointment only; call 415-512-7424 or visit theirwebsite. Admission: Free.

Available by appointment only, the little-known Pier 24 Photography Museum is “a place to view and think about photography.” The museum combines rotating exhibits with the Pilara Foundation’s permanent collection, which includes significant holdings of American photographers Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus.

GLBT Historical Society Museum

4127 18th Street. Open Monday and Wednesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission: $5 / $3 (California students).

In addition to being the birthplace of the Beats, San Francisco is also deeply tied to the GLBT movement in America. Located in the Castro District, the GLBT History Museum is the first full-scale, stand-alone museum of its kind in the United States. The museum is a celebration of the “vast queer past” of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, and of San Francisco’s pivotal role in helping to shape that history. It offers interactive exhibits and provocative programming meant to explore the breadth of the queer experience.

Center for the Book

300 De Haro Street (at Rhode Island). Open Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday, 12-4 p.m. Admission: Free.

The San Francisco Center for the Book is like that limited-edition, signed copy — it’s hard to find but worth the effort! In an effort to preserve and promote the art of creating books, the Center curates small but beautiful exhibits that display both the history of bookmaking and the modern interpretations of contemporary bookmaking artists. Located out in Potrero Hill, the Center for the Book also offers access to machinery, bookbinding workshops and artistic exhibits. Interested artists may rent studio space to work on an individual project or take a letterpress class.