A Guide to East Bay Museums On a Budget – As In Zero Budget 

Enjoy a free pass.


It's of utmost importance to patronize local museums — we should each do our part to keep them in our communities. That said, many of us are a little tight on cash. But we still deserve to see some art this summer. For that reason, we've compiled a list of opportunities to visit museums for free, with a little info on what's showing to inform your day trip decisions.

Bring a kid

For anyone who hasn't yet visited the beautiful new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, taking a trip there should be a top priority this summer. It typically costs $12 to visit. But, there are many ways to get around that. For one, all children under the age of 18 can enter for free — plus anyone who is accompanying them. So, if you don't have kids of your own, ask your aunt if you can take out your little cousin for the afternoon. If your aunt doesn't trust you, every first Thursday of the month is free for everyone. Also, if you are visiting to see a movie in the incredible new theater ($12), that ticket gets you into all the galleries for free, so you can make a day of it. Note, however, that after May 29 the galleries will be closed and admission will be free for everyone every day to use the Art Lab and reading rooms. Shows and ticketing will start back up when Cecilia Edefalk / MATRIX 261 and the annual UC Berkeley MFA show open on June 29. Sojourner Truth, Photography, and the Fight Against Slavery will open July 27. The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. BAMPFA.org.

Think First Tuesdays

At the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, located in SOMA, there are many opportunities to enter on a budget. Entry is typically $10. Although you can get in for $8 if you're a senior, student, nonprofit employee, KQED member, library card holder, or have proof you got there via public transit. But for a totally free day, go on the first Tuesday of the month. YBCA also participates in Third Thursdays, during which SOMA galleries — including the awesome Museum of African Diaspora — open their doors for programming from 5-9 p.m. (You can see the whole participant list at ThirdThursdaySF.Wordpress.com.) If you haven't already, be sure to see the crucial exhibit Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area before it closes on August 14. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco. YBCA.org.

More Free Tuesdays!

It's easy to make a day out of going to the de Young Museum, with the museum so elegantly perched inside Golden Gate Park. Typically, adult admission costs $10 (with a few bucks off for seniors and youth and free for children under 12). But it's free on the first Tuesday of the month. The catch is that the free day doesn't include "special exhibitions." So, if you want to see Ed Ruscha and the American West when in opens in July, you'll have to pay the $20 special adult admission ($10 for youth, free for 5 and under). Otherwise, you can see Paulson Bott Press: Celebrating Twenty Years, featuring works by twenty artists who have worked at the famous press since it opened in 1996, including Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, and Gary Simmons. Plus, if you really want to make the most of your day, you can visit the Legion of Honor and the Conservatory of Flowers for free on first Tuesdays as well. De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco. DeYoung.FAMSF.org.

Tuesdays are it

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is another contender for your free first Tuesday pick. Admission is usually $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and free for anyone under 18. And general admission drops to $5 after 5 p.m. on Thursdays. If you're a film fan, you won't want to miss Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition opening on June 30, which follows the director's career from his early photography to behind-the-scenes looks at his greatest movies. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco. TheCJM.org.

Asian Art Sundays

The first Sunday of the month is your day to visit the regal Asian Art Museum for free. Admission is typically $25 on weekends and $20 during the week, with discounts for youth and seniors, and a $10 special on Thursdays after 5 p.m. The massive museum easily offers a day's worth of perusal. Be sure to catch Extracted: A Trilogy by Ranu Mukherjee, a show that blurs the line between history and mythology by adding contemporary video and visual artworks to a historical exhibition in the museum's Chinese permanent collection galleries, creating an otherworldly landscape that reflects on California's Gold Rush, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the ancient text The Classic of Mountain and Seas. The Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. AsianArt.org.

Two Floors Free

In case you haven't heard, the SFMOMA recently re-opened its doors after a three-year expansion process, taking the role of the largest contemporary art museum in the country. The museum now has more than 4,000 new works in its collection and seven sprawling floors to display them. Admission for everyone 25 years and older is a$25; $19 for ages 19–24. But everyone under 18 is free. Plus, visitors don't actually need to go past the ticket counter to see some of the art. The first two floors — 45,000 square feet of space — are free for anyone to roam during open hours. That includes Richard Serra's monumental steel sculpture Sequence, Sol LeWitt's oceanic paintings that wash over one of the lobbies, and a number of iconic mobiles by Alexander Calder. SFMOMA, 151 3rd St., San Francisco. SFMOMA.org.

Another First Sunday Affair

The Oakland Museum of California offers free entry every first Sunday of the month. General admission is $15.95, with discounts for seniors and youth. But, admission goes down to $7.50 for adults and free for youth every Friday from 5–9 p.m., during the museum's weekly food truck block party. Either would be a great time to visit Oakland, I Want You to Know... which will present immersive installations mimicking various types of Oakland homes — from a classic Victorian to a contemporary loft — and use them as stages for a broad conversation about gentrification featuring the perspectives of many local artists. Opening July 23. The Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. MuseumCA.org.

Correction: The original version of this article erroneously stated that the Oakland Museum of California does not offer any days with free entry.

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