There may be no such thing as the proverbial free lunch, but there are plenty of freebies when it comes to viewing world-class art, sculpture, science and cultural exhibits at Bay Area museums.
And with all this freedom, you’ll definitely be able to afford lunch.
Here are just a few:
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The biggest news on the free front comes from the FAMSF, which operates the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. They already offer free First Tuesdays every month for the general public at both institutions. But beginning April 6, they’ll add Free Saturdays for San Francisco residents — not just once a month, but every Saturday going forward, saving city dwellers the usual $15 a pop for general adult admission. Special exhibitions are not included in the free deal; de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive; Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., San Francisco; www.famsf.org.
Asian Art Museum. On Target First Free Sundays, general museum admission is free every first Sunday of the month. On Thursday nights from mid-February through August, general admission is reduced to $10 after 5 p.m. and kids under 12 get in free. Community Access Tickets are available for social service agencies and nonprofit groups that serve disadvantaged communities, schools and youth groups. To apply for these tickets, visit the website; 200 Larkin St., San Francisco; www.asianart.org.
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The visual arts center at UC Berkeley offers Free First Thursdays with gallery admission for everyone. And on any day, go with a kid and get in free — children 13 and under get in free and can bring a grown-up with them. Or if you’re a current Cal student, faculty or staff, flash your ID for free admission; 2155 Center St., Berkeley; www.bampfa.org.
Chabot Space & Science Center. Each $5 First Friday at Chabot offers hands-on activities and live demonstrations that are fun for the whole family. Some activities have limited capacity and are first come, first serve; 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland; www.chabotspace.org.
Contemporary Jewish Museum. The First Tuesday of every month admission is free, and it’s always free for visitors 18 and under. The First Thursday of the month offers a reduced general admission of $8 after 5 p.m.; 736 Mission St., San Francisco; www.thecjm.org.
Exploratorium. All visitors can “pay what you wish” on a first-come, first-served basis during the science museum’s several Community Days held each year. The next one up is Community Pi Day on March 14, followed by Community Mother’s Day on May 12. Visitors with disabilities can visit the museum at a reduced rate. And there’s free admission for California public school teachers by completing an online form. At the weekly After Dark events every Thursday night at 6 p.m. (for those 18 and over), there are themed events, music, demonstrations and activities and general admission is reduced to $19.95; Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, San Francisco; www.exploratorium.edu.
Oakland Museum of California. From 5 to 9 p.m. every Friday, the Oakland Museum stays open and puts on a fun, family-friendly street fair for its Friday Nights @ OMCA event. There are Off the Grid food trucks, adult and non-alcoholic beverages, food demos, art talks, drop-in art activities, storytime for kids, music, performances and more. The street fair is free and adult admission to museum galleries is half-off, with youth 18 and under getting in free. And don’t miss the monthly First Sundays @ OMCA, where general admission is a suggested donation of $5; 1000 Oak St., Oakland; www.museumca.org.
San Jose Museum of Art. Check out the museum’s Third Thursdays event each month when admission after 5 p.m. is just $5. The museum also offers Facebook First Fridays, staying open until 9 p.m. or later on the first Friday of each month with free admission to all exhibitions and programs after 5 p.m. with access to art and artists, music, a cash bar, food and more. And SJMA offers three free community days each year: El Día de los Muertos in October or November, Lunar New Year in February and Maker Day in June; 110 S. Market St., San Jose; www.sjmusart.org.
SFMOMA. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art occasionally offers free family days, but has no regular program of free admission for non-members. Visitors 18 and under are always free. An Educator Pass offers teachers from San Francisco Unified School District the chance to register for free admission. And professional personal care attendants accompanying a paying visitor who requires care will not be charged admission; 151 Third St., San Francisco; www.sfmoma.org.
The Tech Museum of Innovation. This family-friendly, interactive science and technology center in downtown San Jose offers a “last-hour” discount — if you arrive during the final hour before closing, you’ll get a discounted rate on general admission. You can also get discount combo tickets if you’re attending a convention downtown when you present your convention badge at the ticket desk. In addition, the museum has an open-access policy. If you cannot afford the full admission fee, see a staff member at the ticket counter; 201 South Market St., San Jose; www.thetech.org.
Other ways to get in on the cheap
Many Bay Area museums participate in one or more of the following programs. Restrictions apply, so check first at each institution before you go:
Bank of America: Museums on Us. People with Bank of America, Merrill Lynch or U.S. Trust accounts with a valid bank card and photo ID can get one free general admission to select museums on the first full weekend of every month. Cardholders only; guests are not eligible for free admission. Excludes special exhibitions, ticketed shows, and fundraising events; www.bankofamerica.com, search for Museums on Us.
Blue Star Museums. Blue Star Museums offer free entrance for all active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year. The complete list of participating museums is available online at www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.
Discover & Go. Got a library card in California? You can get free general admission during normal museum hours with a valid library card. Redeem online for a Discover & Go museum pass before visiting; www.discoverandgo.org.
Museums for All. Many museums participate in this national program, which offers individuals and families free or reduced admission when they present an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, and a valid form of photo ID; www.museums4all.org.