Far from the stuffy, sterile elitism that the word “museum” traditionally evokes, San Francisco is home to some of the most vibrant, interactive and – dare we say? – fun museums around. For decades, SF’s museums have focused on accessible engagement with art, science, discovery and history. The recent closing of the Museum of Craft and Folk Art inspired us here at Flavorpill SF to look hard at the treasure trove of cultural life our museums offer every day. As with all accessible art and culture, museum exhibits and programming are possible only through patronage. Of course, we encourage you (and remind ourselves) to integrate a habit of visiting our local museums regularly, just to surround yourself with art or to sit and breathe – but sometimes it’s helpful to have a particular reason to go, too.
So here are seven reasons to visit our museums and pay a little love. From cocktails to food trucks to priceless masterpieces, San Francisco’s museums have got it goin’ on.
Friday Nights @OMCA
Everyone’s favorite food truck extravaganza, Off the Grid, brings a fleet of food on wheels to the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) every Friday night. And we’re not just talking dinner – we’re talking a weekly Makers & Tasters series featuring local brewers, coffee roasters, and farmers; live music; interactive activities with local artists and makers; a night market atmosphere; and extended OMCA hours ’til 9 pm with half-price admission. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to take in OMCA’s breathtaking new exhibit, Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu. And for even bigger adventures, work a stop at OMCA into an Oakland Art Murmur/First Friday night.
NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences
We can’t recommend NightLife enough. In and of itself, the Cal Academy of Sciences is an Alice In Wonderland-like kingdom full of curiosities and micro-universes: sabertooth tigers and lynxes, a four-story rainforest, a simulated earthquake, swirling galaxies in the Planetarium, a T-Rex skeleton, an otherwordly rooftop, an 87-foot-long blue whale, a half-million-gallon aquarium, and live ostriches, to name just a few of the things you’ll encounter there. Then add NightLife, the Cal Academy’s weekly Thursday night party for grownups, and you also get specialty cocktails on every floor, live bands and DJs, and a different theme every week – basically, a party at one helluva party venue.
Friday Nights at the de Young
A Friday evening at the sumptuously beautiful de Young Museum inherently feels like a gala. Make a night of it: dress up fancy (for some reason, sequins seem to feature prominently at the de Young), grab a cocktail or two at the de Young Cafe, and take your time perusing some of the world’s great masterpieces – including, until June 2nd, Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, whose gem is Johannes Vermeer’s enigmatic Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Exploratorium’s Opening Gala and Afterparty
The Exploratorium is made for play. It’s a “21st century learning laboratory” complete with a sprawling mad scientists’ workshop where Exploratorium tinkerers continually build new exhibits for the public to oooh and ahhhh over. These days, the Exploratorium is in the midst of some growing up – after 40 years, it’s outgrown its old location at the Palace of Fine Arts and is moving to the waterfront at Pier 15. If you can wrap your mind around what an endeavor it might be to uproot the Exploratorium’s 600 exhibits, 100 machines and 40 types of living organisms and transplant them across town, then you’ll understand why this grand opening is one big reason to celebrate. The Opening Gala itself is sold out but you can still join the Afterparty, succinctly described in event details as “dancing, cocktails, and dessert buffet.”
Think of the YBCA:You program as a gym membership to beef up your aesthetics rather than your muscles. For a flat rate of $15 per month, you get free admission to all of YBCA’s programs, opening night parties and special events (more than 350 of them), PLUS a “personal art coach” to help you navigate the sometimes overwhelming number of cultural events to check out at YBCA and elsewhere. It’s like getting the greatest deal on a personal coach, ever.
Thursday Night Programs at the Asian Art Museum
Maybe you saw those fliers posted around town last month advertising a lost warrior. Described as “2,112 years old, 5’ 5” tall, mud-colored, and not speaking a word of English,” the Asian Art Museum claimed that he was one of the ancient terracotta warriors scheduled to appear in the imminent China’s Terracotta Warriors exhibit, and that he had somehow become separated from his fellow warriors en route from China. The “Lost Warrior” adventure is reflective of the Asian Art Museum’s general stance on art and discovery – that, though there’s a place for reverence of art and tradition, there’s also room for fun and partying. Hence Thursday nights at the Asian Art Museum, when the museum is open ’til 9 p.m. and you have the opportunity to check out stuff like Artists Drawing Club, when a local artist is essentially in charge of creating an audience experience using the museum as platform and backdrop.
Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA
“I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs,” Garry Winogrand is known to have said, and he had a profoundly prolific creative life to support his curiosity. At the time of his death in 1984, he left behind 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, and his total collection was comprised of hundreds of thousands of negatives and slides. Considered to be one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Winogrand was primarily concerned with photographing American social issues and people of the 1960s, and did so with a street photographer’s rapid panache. SFMOMA’s current Winogrand exhibit is the first comprehensive Winogrand exhibit in 25 years – and it’s one amazing steal to see it on an SFMOMA free admission day, the first Tuesday of each month. On this upcoming free Tuesday, April 2, there’s a lecture about the photographer at noon.