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Thursday, September 20, 2012

San Francisco's Top 10 Offbeat Museums

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:30 AM

The ever popular Craft Bar at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art
  • The ever popular Craft Bar at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art

As a local arts writer, I'm the first person friends and family go to when they want to visit a museum, but my answers often surprises them. I love the SFMOMA and the de Young as much as the next person, but there's more to this town than big museums. Nearly every neighborhood in San Francisco boasts a small museum with a highly specific focus, and here are the 10 best, offbeat, charming museums you should know about.

Plates fused together in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake at the San Francisco Fire Department Museum. - RANDY DODSON
  • Randy Dodson
  • Plates fused together in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake at the San Francisco Fire Department Museum.

10. The San Francisco Fire Department Museum

Blink and you'll miss the entrance to the San Francisco Fire Department Museum in Pacific Heights, free to the public Thursday through Sunday from 1-4p.m. Whether you're into water grenades, Lillie Coit, bed keys, Mark Twain, immigration, carriages, guns, the 1906 fire, or just like looking at old timey photographs of hirsute men, this is the museum for you.

A gallery at the Long Now Foundation.
  • A gallery at the Long Now Foundation.

9. Long Now

The Long Now Foundation is tucked away in Fort Mason Center's Building A, but it has lofty goals: to make long-term thinking more common and creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. Stop by and see the Rosetta Project, a three-inch disk which promises to preserve civilization for us all.

The GLBT Museum.
  • The GLBT Museum.

8. The GLBT History Museum

The first of its kind in the United States, the GLBT History Museum consistently produces innovative exhibitions and special programs. Open seven days a week, the museum celebrates 100 years of the city's vast queer past through exhibitions highlighting treasures culled from the archives, including two new shows opening later this month. "For Love and Community: Queer Asian Pacific Islanders Take Action" spotlights photographs and audio clips of activism. A corner gallery exhibition will focus on the modest publication, "Play Fair," which launched the gay community's sex-positive response to the AIDS crisis.

The Cartoon Art Museum
  • The Cartoon Art Museum

7. The Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum houses over 6,000 pieces and has five regularly changing galleries of exhibition space, along with exciting lectures, cartooning classes and workshops, as well as an excellent bookstore. Visit "Avengers Assemble!" to see five decades of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, including Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk.

6. The Museum of Craft and Folk Art

The exhibitions at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are constantly changing, but you have until December to catch "Fiber Futures: Japan's Textile Pioneers." The show explores new art emerging from the fusion of Japanese artisanal and industrial textile making. On the first Thursday of each month the museum works with Etsy for the Craft Bar, a wildly popular special program with just the right mix of instruction and socializing. Earlier this month, artist Suzanne Morlock taught attendees how to transform old cassette tapes into a fiber-forward fashion accessory. In October, Rebecca Burgess will lead a workshop on creating individual natural dyes using locally grown coreopsis tinctorium.

  • San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
  • A street kitchen.

5. S.F. Public Library

The San Francisco Public Library has non-circulating special collections and various exhibitions spaces throughout the building, which highlight archival treasures, including rare books, photographs, posters, manuscripts, and ephemera. The History Center serves as a repository for all aspects of San Francisco life and history, and will open an exciting new exhibition this week on the second floor. "Street Food: 1906 Earthquake Kitchens" will show "a city torn but banding together for survival and, as will be found with good food, even some pleasure in the face of disaster."

Singing the Golden State at the Society of Pioneers.
  • Singing the Golden State at the Society of Pioneers.

4. The California Society of Pioneers

Are you the descendent of a pioneer who arrived in California prior to 1850? If not, you can't join the Society of Pioneers, but you can visit. Pay the $5 admission and wander through "Singing the Golden State," an exhibition celebrating California's early musical life. James M. Keller, renowned program annotator, took time away from dual appointments at the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony to curate the show, lending many items from his personal collection. The Society is open Wednesday - Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Thursday until 7 p.m.


3. The Museum of the African Diaspora

The Museum of the African Diaspora embraces technology to teach visitors about "the scattering of people from Africa and the sowing of their cultures globally." Interactive displays and multimedia presentations are typically utilized to explore the global African experience. Permanent exhibitions cover the origins, migration, adaptation and transformation of the cultures and cultural beliefs, and practices of African descendants, including "Culinary Traditions" and the "Freedom Theater." A new show opening at the end of the month: "Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermes Collection," will feature 94 spectacular jewelry pieces.

Museum of Performance and Design.
  • Museum of Performance and Design.

2. The Museum of Performance and Design

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Museum of Performance and Design is an overlooked treasure in San Francisco. Located on the fourth floor of the Veteran's Building on Van Ness, it houses the history of the performing arts in the city. The exhibition "Toy Theaters: Worlds in Miniature" features 21 rare toy theaters dating from the 18th century to the present.

Fast passes at the Railway Museum.
  • Fast passes at the Railway Museum.

1. S.F. Railway Museum

After you've sampled everything the Ferry building has to offer, head over to the San Francisco Railway Museum, open Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is free for this sleek, miniature museum, and an employee will likely direct you to complement the visit by hopping on the F streetcar line, a historical fleet considered one of the most outstanding in the world. View urban life in San Francisco through the lens of transit history, and you won't be disappointed.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.
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