Affordable San Francisco art galleries (for the whole family)

Affordable San Francisco Art Galleries

Allow me to introduce you to two affordable San Francisco art galleries (for the price of just one).

That’s right, you get to waft around feeling refined and upper classy (or if you’re like me, a level above a beret-wearing dog) all for the low price of $15 per adult. Kids under 17 get in free.

Let me explain. Paying general admission to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor will get you free entry to the de Young museum on the same day. And vice versa.

So you get two affordable San Francisco art galleries for the price of one. I was a little worried about getting “all arted out” in an hour, but I was pleasantly surprised.

If you break it up with a nice lunch and a stroll through Golden Gate Park, you’ve got it made!


Collectively known as San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums, the de Young and the Legion of Honor are two of the most visited artistic institutions in the US today.

Assessed together, they are also the largest art museum in California with about 150,000 pieces of art in their collections.

You’re probably wondering about the two galleries and how the collections are divided between them.


This museum has a gorgeous view of the water and the North Bay from its lawns, but you’ll probably be distracted by the building itself.

The Legion of Honor art gallery in San Francisco
The Legion of Honor is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in SF

Based on the neoclassical Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, the French government gave permission for the replica to be built in San Francisco in 1915. But World War I meant that ground wasn’t broken for another six years.

It opened its doors on Armistice Day in 1924 and its donors asked that it would “honor the dead while serving the living”. So it became an art gallery dedicated to the Californians who died on France’s battlefields during the war.

This is where you’ll find European art, including painting, sculpture and ancient art, spanning 4,000 years. And works from famous artists such as Rodin, Monet, and Renoir.

Address:  100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am-5.15pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days).

General Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Students (with ID) $6, Under 17s free.

Contact: +1 888.901.6645


While the Legion of Honor feels a little more refined and old-world then its counterpart, its draw card is its obvious beauty and famous works of art.

It’s also very close to Lands End Labyrinth and Sutro Baths, and the museum is situated inside Lincoln Park. By the way, you can get some great photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from the museum as well.

Rodin’s Thinker

The first stop presents itself even before you get inside the Legion of Honor. Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker, is world renowned although it was originally only 70cm tall when it was sculpted in 1880.

The Thinker sculpture by Auguste Rodin
Rodin’s The Thinker graces the Legion of Honor forecourt.

Although seemingly lost in thought, the piece was first called The Poet and was meant to represent Dante Alighieri, the Italian author of The Divine Comedy. He was said to be leaning forward to look over the circles of hell, which his epic poem focused on.

The Thinker was enlarged in 1904 and it became even more popular. Casts exist around the world, including in France and San Francisco, where it graces the forecourt of the Legion of Honor.

Special Exhibitions

While not included in the general admission price, both museums often host special exhibitions with their own entry fee.

A Garden in Italy by Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt’s A Garden in Italy, 1913.

These are well worth the visit depending on your interests and what’s showing at the time. My visit to the Legion of Honor coincided with Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter.

Set out over four large exhibition rooms, Rodin’s sculptures intermingle with Klimt’s paintings, which are on loan from European and US collections.

Gustav Klimt’s portraits and landscapes on display include the Beethoven Frieze and The Baby.

For the kids

There are lots of sculptures and paintings that will capture the attention of younger art lovers. But one room in particular seems to catch the most attention from children and it involves embalming.

Egyptian mummy Irethorrou
The mummy of Irethorrou can be viewed through CT scans.

The Mummy of Irethorrou dates back to around 500 BC and is on display complete with sarcophagus and funerary wrappings.

Irethorrou, a priest, is now displayed behind glass, but archaeologists have used CT scans of his body to create a view of ancient Egyptian funeral practices.

Using a human-sized screen, you can look at the Irethorrou’s body from any angle and see the amulets carefully placed all over his body, examine bones and teeth.

Then you can gaze right at Irethorrou’s face – a reconstruction of what he looked like in life, taken from scans and reconstructions of his skull.

Claude Monet

Framed at the end of a long corridor of art-filled rooms, hangs Claude Monet’s work.  Perfectly framed by the doorway, is the unmistakable sight of Water Lilies.

Water Lilies by Claude Monet
The famous Water Lilies by Claude Monet is perfectly framed.

It’s only fair that such a celebrated painter gets a prime position. It’s not his only work in the Legion of Honor though.

My favourite is The Gorge at Varengeville, painted in 1882, when the artist was 42-years-old.

Impressionist art by Claude Monet

How can you not love the cottage by the sea in The Gorge at Varengeville?

Despite many a search, I couldn’t find any information about this painting, so we’ll all just have to be suitably impressed with the mystery and skill involved.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Speaking of French gentlemen, we come to Auguste Renoir. His was the only painting with both a kitten and a baby in it that I found.

Mother and Child by Auguste Renoir
Smooth as a … kitten?

Well played Monsieur. By the way, it’s called Mother and Child and is one of many works of the same or similar name, created by Renoir.

Apart from that obvious win, he was well regarded in impressionist circles and related to many other famous Renoir’s, it turns out.

The Ceiling

Get yourself over to Gallery three then look up. Then pick your jaw up off the floor.

Palacio de Altamira ceiling
The ceiling has both Islamic and Christian influences.

You’re staring at a ceiling from the Palacio de Altamira, which is made from painted and gilded wood.

It’s from  a place called Toledo in central Spain and dates back to the late 1400s. The designs have an Islamic origin, but the ceiling also displays Christian motifs.

Mary Queen of Scots

If I had to pick a sculpture from the diverse collection inside the Legion of Honor, it would be Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse’s depiction of the Red Queen.

Mary Queen of Scots bust
The intricate work in this bust of Mary Queen of Scots caught my eye.

The French sculptor first trained as a goldsmith and worked in both England and Brussels.

Oh, and Rodin was his apprentice at one point.


Surrounded by the greenery of Golden Gate Park and facing the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young museum has been around in one form or another since 1895.

de Young Museum, San Francisco
The de Young Museum was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and Fong & Chan Architects of San Francisco.

What will you find there? The quick answer is “everything”. Its collection covers cultures from all over the world ranging from the beginning of known human history to today.

So you’ll find American painting, sculpture and other types of art spanning the 17th and 21st centuries. There’s a mix of contemporary and older artwork from Africa, Australasia and Polynesia.

Before we get into what’s inside, let’s pause just outside for a second. The copper-clad building is a sight to behold, especially with the twisting tower jutting up at its back.

Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am-5.15pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days)

General Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $10, Students (with ID) $6, Under 17s free.

Contact: +1 888.901.6645


The de Young is my pick for families with younger children. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t like the Legion of Honor, but the de Young collection seems to be slightly more catered to them.

From the layout of the art work, to the outdoor art area, where children can run around a small portion of the Golden Gate Park  and explore interactive pieces.

Garden of Enchantment

Your fist stop has to be the Garden of Enchantment, set over an acre of land surrounding the de Young Museum.

Untitled (Pirate) by Peter Coffin
The most San Franciscan pirate in existence was created by Peter Coffin.

Attractions with names like the Pool of Enchantment, Menagerie, Fog Bog, Stone Pine Room and Wisteria Poles, you know it’s going to be an adventure.

And there’s one decidedly shiny addition that catches the eye and puts a smile on even the most stoic faces.

It’s a sculpture by Peter Coffin called Untitled (Pirate) and features a cast aluminium swashbuckler who is a genuine site to behold.

With two hooks for hands, a parrot on each shoulder, two peg legs and both eyes patched, this pirate still seems to be a force to be reckoned with.

The most San Franciscan pirate of them all!

de Young Museum Cafe

Anyone else completely famished? All of this wandering and art-gazing has given me an appetite to rival Mr Pirate out there.

Chicken and dumplings for lunch
My lunch. Also known as the chicken and dumplings.

So once we’ve shown our Legion of Honor ticket and gotten free entry to the de Young Museum, I’m heading straight for the cafe.

It’s got all the tasty-looking salads, sandwiches, yoghurt and granola pots, pastries and coffees that you can handle.

But if you visit on a Sunday, like I did, you can also take advantage of the brunch/lunch menu.

I went with the chicken and dumplings, and felt very fancy and refined… were it not for my glass of orange juice. You can order wine though.

 Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden

If you decided to eat lunch outside you’ve already noticed the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden.

The sculpture garden at de Young Museum
Yes, that is a giant safety pin you see before you.

But if not, it’s time for a little stroll out there. And did you know that you can rent that space out for, say, a wedding?

Anyway, back to the garden. It’s got some pretty whimsical pieces, such as the giant safety pin, or more traditional pieces of sculpture.

The best part is that your little ones can run around and play around and touch the pieces.

Lots of fun for everyone!

Colourful Pieces

Gallery five was one of my favourite rooms of art in the whole museum. There is sculpture and art of every type imaginable and it’s colourful.

Colourful art pieces within the de Young Museum
A visit to gallery five comes highly recommended.

As you walk down the corridor, through the Art of the Americas, you’ll see Viola Frey’s imposing sculpture, Man Observing Series II.

When I first saw it, I thought Donald Trump was staring down at me, it was a little scary. But once you get into the room and look around you’ll see why I liked it so much.

A soundsuit created by artist Nick Cave
Doesn’t this soundsuit (centre), by Nick Cave, just scream Elton John costume?

There is a great collection of pieces like a soundsuit by Nick Cave (no, not that one), three tribal mask-like pieces by Willam Morris (definitely not that one) and a stained glass window by Judith Schaechter. I don’t know any other Judith Schaechter’s.

Native Artwork

Next door in gallery four lives the work of  the Native artists of western North America.

A bear carved from wood
This bear was carved out of wood and was probably once part of a totem pole.

This is where you’ll find intricate wood carvings, masks, woven fabrics and a pretty cool painting of the world coloured by climate.

It’s all about native artists using the resources they found around them to create works that have lasted centuries.

History through art

One of the most striking pieces hangs from the ceiling in gallery 16, in the 20th Century and Contemporary Art section.

The charred remains of an African-American church
Cornelia Park’s Anti-Mass reconstructs the charred remains of an Alabama Baptist Church.

In creating Anti-Mass artist Cornelia Parker took the charred remains of an Alabama African-American Baptist Church that was destroyed by arsonists.

The floating cube of charred wood hangs from the ceiling, suspended by wires, to create the effect of a building risen from its own ashes.

The Maori Portraits

This free exhibition was on loan from New Zealand the de Young, and it was one of the most memorable parts of my visit.

The Maori Portraits by Gottfried Lindauer
Gottfried Lindauer’s portraits (from left): Tamati Waka NenePare Watene and Eruera Maihi Patuone. Pictures: de Young Museum.

It’s made up of 31 portraits of Maori community leaders from the 19th century.

Some are painted from photographs and others sat for artist Gottfried Lindauer to be immortalised in startlingly-realistic paintings.

Lindauer was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and ended up painting the largest number of Maori portraits that exist today.

You can feel the strength and resilience in every man and woman portrayed in these portraits. Their eyes capture yours. It’s just breathtaking.

Be sure to catch the exhibition if you visit before April 1, 2018.

+ Get there early if you want to make a day of it. Especially if there’s an interesting special exhibition on.
If you want to see a special exhibition, you can book online in advance to secure your tickets and avoid disappointment.
+ Wear your comfortable shoes and clothes. You’ll be standing and walking around for most of the day.
+ Have fun!

Artists | What to do in SF | San Francisco Museums | San Francisco Art Galleries | Aussie | Expat | Things to do in San Francisco | Aussie Expat in US | #sfart | #sanfrancisco | #art | expat life


26 thoughts on “Affordable San Francisco art galleries (for the whole family)

  1. I should have read about your blog before going to San Francisco last Dec 2017. I love the museums and arts! Tourists all rushed to the Fisherman Wharf but I think the places you introduce has more value !

  2. I am so happy to learn that San Franciso is possible to be explored on a budget and that there are affordable art galleries there, Kathrine! How many days would be enough to see all the highlights in San Francisco?

  3. I have been to the De Young which is fabulous but I didnt know about the Legion of Honor. I will have to go there next time, Rodin is my favorite artist. I hope the exhibit will be on for awhile?

  4. This is amazing! I am a sucker for museums whenever I go to a new city or a new place and this is somewhere I would love to visit when I go to San Francisco someday.

  5. I love how detailed and informative this post is. This is up my streets and I will make sure to read your blog when I plan my long and overdue trip to San Francisco.

  6. Thanks for sharing a different side of the city. I am dying to visit this city. ALso the lunch looks so tempting 🙂

  7. Since my visit to Vienna I have developed a keen interest in art and when Leign of Honour also have a historical side to it, so I’ll surely give it a visit. And $15 for both the museums is quite a deal, although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cover both in single day..ha ha 😁 am such a newbie in art so knowing about these artists is really informative before I actually go. I love water lilies the colors seems so bright and if its a renowned one, I now know what to look for!!

  8. Gustav Klimt’s Painting is indeed pretty. Thanks for the information on the opening hours too, I am often lost visiting most of these Galleries as some of the Art Galleries have weird opening hours.

  9. The De Young does sound a great one with kids, and always good to get two for the price of one especially in SF. I know my daughter would like the mummies as well – she’s forever fascinated about what’s inside. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  10. Wonderful post! I’ve been to the science museum in the park but not to these art museums. I would go just for the Monet and Renoir. We plan to visit San Francisco again this year, so I’ve pinned your post for reference. I’m so excited to visit these galleries!

  11. I love San Francisco and visited its Fine Arts Museums many times over the years. I paid an entrance fee for all remember though. It has been a long time since then however. Maybe this deal that you are talking about is more recent. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  12. I have been to the De Young Museum but not to the Legion of Honor. I visited the museum as part of a different pass. I enjoy museum but do not visit often since my husband finds them boring. I need to plan a solo trip to San Francisco! Well, even if it is not a solo trip, I need to revisit the city. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. To be honest, I’m not an art galleries guy, but your post is great. I would love to see some of these galleries, for example the Maori portraits look impressive. Pin for later #TheWeeklyPostcard

  14. I’m not much of a museum person but these all surpassingly looks beautiful enough I’d consider a visit! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  15. I think I have visited all of these and The Legion of Honor is probably my favorite. I went to an after hours film screening there once and it was a really great experience to wander around afterwards in the empty museum – the building is as much as part of it as the art 😉 The rest are great too – SF is a good city for art lovers!

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