An Art Lover’s Guide To The Bay Area

Golden Dawn Bridge watercolor © Nicolas Raymond/Flickr
Golden Dawn Bridge watercolor © Nicolas Raymond/Flickr
Photo of Tony Bear
24 May 2016

The Bay Area is Ground Zero for art and culture. The visual arts are well represented in a number of world-renowned museums and galleries. Add in the smaller, homegrown galleries, and the number of places to enjoy art can be mind-boggling. A few days of prowling the Bay Area art scene might be chicken soup for the soul of any artist or art aficionado. Organize your ‘art immersion’ tour by breaking it into a week of day trips. Bring your favorite walking shoes and have fun watching your pedometer click off the miles!

Civic Center's City Hall | © Sergio Ruiz/Flickr

Chase Away the Monday Blues in the Civic Center Neighborhood

Start on the ground floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building, where The San Francisco Arts Commission has a new Main Gallery. The works of several artists are on exhibition. Across the street, in San Francisco City Hall, The SFAC displays drawings by artist Jeremy Fish that commemorate the centenary of the building.

SF Public Library | © David Goehring/Flickr

Next stop: the San Francisco Public Library. Among the art works in the Main Library are a ceiling mural, a spiral stairway, and a wall mural that rises five stories behind the grand staircase. There are many other artworks throughout the building and in the neighborhood around the Main. The Art, Music & Recreation Center on the 4th Floor has collections and information on artists who lived or worked in the Bay Area. Be sure to visit the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection on the 6th Floor.

Asian Art Museum | © angela n./Flickr

Wrap up this walking tour at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture. The most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world are located here, spanning all media. Some of the more than 2,000 artworks from all the major cultures of Asi pre-date written history. Carefully exploring everything the museum has to offer will take the better part of your day. On special event days the museum may close early so click ahead to plan your trip.

BONUS: After The Asian Art Museum, make your way over to the Harvey Milk Photo Center and check out the works of emerging and famous Bay Area photographers. You might drop in during an artist talk or the opening reception for a group exhibition.

TIP: Stay fueled between mid-town stops by dipping into Soluna Café & Lounge for a reasonably priced dose of creative California cuisine, a quaint atmosphere, and maybe a photo op with your favorite politician.

SoMa in the rain | © Ken Walton/Flickr

Tuesday: The Yerba Buena Neighborhood

South of Market district – SoMA – has transformed into a hub of the city, with a dynamic corridor of art and culture. There is a variety of world-class artworks on view at the venerable institutions of the Yerba Buena neighborhood.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts | © Anita Hart/Flickr

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a venue for visual and performing arts. The thoughtfully curated temporary exhibitions in the YBCA galleries showcase artists from the Bay Area and elsewhere. A number of national and international touring exhibits are often on the calendar, as are community-based and commissioned works. Admission is free on the first Tuesday of the month.

Contemporary Jewish Museum | © Allan Ferguson/Flickr

The Contemporary Jewish Museum is regarded by some as a San Francisco architectural jewel, reclaimed from a historic building and augmented by modern features. Inside the museum is an ever-changing collection of commissioned works and touring and ongoing exhibitions that represent the Jewish experience. There are frequent film screenings, artist talks, and workshops. The Museum observes some Jewish holidays, so plan accordingly.

Museum of the African Diaspora | © Erik (HASH) Hersman/Flickr

Much like CJM, the Museum of the African Diaspora uses art and culture to create awareness and bridge divides. Located on the ground floor of the famous St. Regis Museum Tower, MoAD’s permanent and touring exhibits feature works representing Africa and African heritage by world famous and emerging artists. In addition to the art on display, there are also frequent lectures, events, oral histories, and programs that explore the history of African-Americans.

SFMoMA | © Scott Vachalek/Flickr

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first museum on the West Coast dedicated to modern and contemporary art and is a premiere destination for art lovers young and old. The collections focus on the work of notable contemporary artists in four areas: architecture and design, media arts, painting and sculpture, and photography.

The museum will reopen May 14, 2016, after closing to undergo a major expansion of its gallery, public and support spaces, library, and more. While closed, SFMOMA On the Go presents a range of off-site exhibitions and programs around town, and an artist’s gallery in Building A at Fort Mason Center.

TIP: When taking a break from or wrapping up your SoMA art walk, dip into Metreon for lunch or dinner. Metreon is a mall at 4th and Mission Streets with a range of eateries, a 16-screen movie theater, and a fantastic rooftop event center. You might talk your way into a fashion show, disco party, or maybe crash a high society wedding.

de Young Museum | © Jenny Huey/Flickr

Wednesday: Visit the Grand Dames of the Left Coast

The de Young Museum is in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This landmark fine arts museum showcases priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, textile arts, and the art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The de Young underwent a state-of-the-art renovation in 2005, and the result is a multi-faceted facility that will take the better part of a day to experience. The architecture of the space, the special exhibitions, and the programs (such as artist talks and live musical performances) are sure to engage.

Legion of Honor | © Anna Fox/Flickr

Leave time in your day to venture over to The Legion of Honor, San Francisco’s most beautiful museum. The collections of classic sculptures, prints, drawings, paintings, and antiquities are awe-inspiring.

TIP: Wrap up your trip to the left coast by dipping into Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant for a decadent pastrami sandwich and a view of the Pacific Ocean.

Geary Street Art | © Nathan Guy/Flickr

First Thursday: Leave Your Artsy Heart in San Francisco

The San Francisco Art Dealers Association organizes the First Thursday Art Walk. SFADA member galleries stay open late and often provide hospitality and entertainment to encourage visitors. Some First Thursdays feature special events, artist talks, and more. Non-SFADA members and non-profit arts organizations also plan receptions and exhibits on First Thursdays.

An important stop along the First Thursday tour: Geary Street. Nestled among the choice retail shops is a grouping of galleries where you can enjoy a little party vibe while cramming in tons of art viewing.

49 Geary Art Galleries is a multi-floor venue where upwards of two-dozen free galleries welcome visitors. The building is a popular stop on First Thursdays. After leaving 49 Geary, poke your head into some of the neighboring galleries, and grab a bite from the food trucks parked along the way.

Some regard White Walls and its sister space, the Shooting Gallery, as two of the premiere urban and contemporary art venues in the Bay Area. The 5,000-square-foot space is one of the largest galleries on the west coast.

San Francisco Art Exchange Art Gallery specializes in works by and about music icons and Hollywood celebrities. You’ll be tempted to plunk down your black card and snatch up some paintings by John Lennon or a rare, classic photo of Marilyn Monroe or Steve McQueen.

TIP: Get to Geary Street while the sun is still up and stop at One Kearny, an office building at the intersection of Market, Kearny, 3rd, and Geary. Tell the lobby attendant you’d like to visit the public rooftop garden and terrace. Access is limited to business hours and subject to close for special events, so call ahead and check on availability. Bring your camera!

Galleries at Oakland Art Murmur | © Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

TGIF in Oakland

The Oakland First Friday Art Murmur evening gallery walk is a rain or shine monthly event. Most of the Oakland Art Murmur member galleries stay open well into the evening. The occasional wine tasting helps mellow out visits. Click over to the Oakland Art Murmur website and plan parking/transportation, your starting point, and your route. A separate but coincident event, Oakland First Fridays, is a popular, ‘weather permitting’ street fest along Telegraph Avenue. Oakland First Fridays attracts a variety of vendors, street performers, information booths, food trucks, and outdoor cocktail bars. Many of the art venues, restaurants, and storefronts in the neighborhood participate in First Fridays by opening their doors, handing out samples, and staying open late. Special art installations on the street are often a highlight of the festival. Oakland First Fridays takes a Winter break, so plan accordingly and keep an eye on The Weather Channel.

TIP: Wind down and digest your First Friday experience by dipping into the mellow atmospheres of Picán or Mua to kick back into the wee hours with drinks and interesting cuisine.

New Parkway Theater | © Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

First Saturday – An Easy Afternoon Hanging Downtown

The Saturday Stroll was created to give more serious art lovers access to many of the First Friday galleries, minus the festival atmosphere. The Saturday Stroll is actually a weekly event that encompasses many galleries all over central Oakland, beyond the Uptown area. Venues that participate in the stroll often host artist talks, film screenings, and more. There is also a special guided tour every third Saturday. Click over to the website to filter the tours by neighborhood and learn about gallery hours and special Saturday events.

TIP: End your stroll by dipping into The New Parkway Theater, where you can grab a beer, some creative upscale bar food, and relax on the couches while taking in an artsy indie film. Check the online calendar, call the hotline to find out what’s playing, or just drop in and be surprised.

By Tony Bear!

T. Bear! is a Northern-Californian-by-way-of-Arizona and a multimedia personality who also writes for his blog, The Celebrity-free Zone. When he’s not crafting blogs or videos, you’ll find him on a street photography safari or trying out recipes to add to his Big Oven page.

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