CityPASS® Blog

Articles by City & Category

6 Reasons To Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

June 26, 2023 By CityPASS

San Francisco is both lively and laidback. It's a city that highlights nature, thought, and innovation, fueling your heart, mind, and soul. This "City by the Bay" is also a world-class hotspot for art and creativity, breathing imagination and inspiration into its buildings, structures, and inner spaces.

You don't have to go far to see street art and murals livening up your path, and colorful sculptures often make you pause and ponder. Apart from city-wide outdoor artworks, a world of indoor art is on display at museums across San Francisco. However, few can quite compare with the breadth of experiences at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Introduction to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, known as SFMOMA, has been a public favorite since 1935 when it opened its doors in the War Memorial Veterans Building. Originally called the San Francisco Museum of Art, it became SFMOMA in 1975 to highlight its modern perspective.

In 1995, SFMOMA moved to its current Third Street location with a new building offering 50,000 square feet of space. Another expansion in 2016 saw the exhibit space grow by 235,000 square feet.

From its beginnings, SFMOMA sought freedom of expression, giving artists a space to reveal their interpretations of life and everything in between. SFMOMA also helped pioneer photography as fine art, with photography exhibits starting in 1936.

Here are six reasons that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art should be on your list the next time you're in the City by the Bay.

1. The Impressive Collection

Step into this modern art museum, and you'll be rewarded with more than 33,000 pieces of art. There's so much to see that a return trip is almost guaranteed. Some artists include well-known names like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock.

For fans of modern artworks, names like Robert Rauschenberg, Imogen Cunningham, Piet Mondrian, Sol LeWitt, Alexander Calder, and Clyfford Still reveal the many ways in which art takes shape.

2. Program of Exhibitions

The museum's extensive collection gives many opportunities for regular rotation, so there's always something new on display. Plus, with the 10-story addition, the square footage has generous space for the sometimes larger-than-life artwork.

Each floor features a different exhibit, displayed for anywhere from six months to one year. In addition, ongoing exhibits from the permanent collection mean you can return anytime to enjoy a favorite piece of art.

Some previous temporary exhibitions have focused on art and technology, post-1960 German art, alternate reality video walks, contemporary furniture, and freeform abstract art.

Each year since 1967, SFMOMA also creates space for the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art's SECA Art Award winners. All recipients are lesser-known Bay Area artists. The award offers them a space to exhibit their art and give their work added public awareness.

3. Inspiring Architectural Design

As an American art museum with a global focus, SFMOMA's modern and contemporary artworks inspire locals and visitors alike. However, its architectural design is equally stunning.

The new SFMOMA, when designed by architect Mario Botta in 1995, featured sharply contrasting black and white bands with a split staircase in black granite. Outside, the exterior structure had a pyramid-like design, complete with a granite oculus that flooded the atrium with light. Its central atrium used bold colors and lines to draw the eye. Although the split staircase no longer exists, the original building's bold lines remain a striking contrast to the recent expansion.

Architectural firm Snøhetta oversaw the 2016 expansion, bringing softness and open space to the forefront. The addition's wavy structure added pockets of light and shade, while the new atrium brought lightness and a sense of community. Additional public spaces with tiered seating and an outdoor garden with a living art wall enhanced this community focus. The new addition's living wall is a key feature, helping spotlight the beauty and connection of nature and art.

4. Education and Public Programs

With a mission to foster critical thinking and cultural change, SFMOMA wants to give everyone a chance to learn. The museum offers free admission to people 18 and younger, along with 45,000 square feet of free-to-the-public art space on the ground floor and second level.

SFMOMA offers numerous programs for schools and educators, including Teen Tours for grades 9-12 and Look, Learn, Create Tours for grades 3-8.

You can also check out the public programs, which range from curator talks and video screenings to panel discussions, docent-led tours, and audio guides. Since 1935, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's curators have welcomed the public and encouraged them to bring art into daily life.

5. The Museum's Innovative Approach

Designed for free thinkers and innovation, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibitions aim to let people be individuals. The museum has a strong community focus and uses technology to invite discussion. You can see this in PlaySFMOMA, with its pop-up arcades and workshops, and in SFMOMA Lab, where community members come together to design prototypes and systems that make a statement.

Other innovative programs like Open Space bring publication into the exhibition space, helping show art in words and visuals.

6. In-House Dining Options

This contemporary art museum is also home to several dining options. For SFMOMA restaurants, head to grace on the ground floor for French-American eats or Cafe 5 on Level 5, with its rotating menu and indoor-outdoor atmosphere.

SFMOMA dining wouldn't be complete without Steps Coffee, where guests can refuel on pastries, coffee, tea, and other light fare. You can even give your phone a boost at the charging station or play a quick game at the puzzle table.

Experience SFMOMA With a CityPASS® Ticket Bundle

By now, you can see there's no easy answer to what to see at SFMOMA. The options are endless in this museum of modern art.

If you're ready to head to the City by the Bay, don't forget your CityPASS® tickets to save up to off top things to do in San Francisco, including admission to SFMOMA.

San Francisco Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in San Francisco, we recommend finding lodging near San Francisco's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header Image ©Iwan Baan, Courtesy SFMOMA

Related Articles

Get inspired. #citypass