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.
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.
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.
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.
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.