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Nights at San Francisco Museums

Free or Cheap Museum Nights & Nightlife in San Francisco


Where in San Francisco can you enjoy an evening of sake tasting, fashion shows, avant-garde cabaret, cooking demos, Ayurvedic head massages, making your own jewelry or learning about sex in the animal kingdom? At a museum or three.

Some of the liveliest, most inexpensive nightlife in the San Francisco Bay Area is at museums. Several years ago, a couple of savvy museums extended their hours on Thursday, with reduced admission. They gradually unwound, adding music, special programs, drinks, DJs and dancing. Most SF museums have since jumped on the nightlife bandwagon. Here's a guide to spending your nights at the museums.

Asian Art Museum - Matcha

he exterior of the Asian Art Museum is seen June 7, 2003 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Periodic Thursdays at 5-9 pm, spring and summer
Admission $10 (includes entry to special exhibitions and all other galleries)
The Asian was one of the first in San Francisco to launch museum nights, more than five years ago. Its Matcha series is named after the Japanese vibrant-green powdered tea. During the 2012 contemporary art exhibit Phantoms of Asia, summer Matchas present Trannyshack drag divas and a progressive poetry crawl, a pop-up artists' collective and a shamanism theme night. Docent tours, art-making activities, DJ music and cash bars are also offered.

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive - L@TE: Friday Nights @ BAM/PFA

Fridays after 5 pm
Admission free-$7

Expect a late night of avant garde, multimedia and multi-sensory experiences. Perhaps the quintessential installment was in April 2011, entitled "FERMENT(cheese)," which offered tastings to the sounds of cows chewing, cheese aging (!) and a dairyman telling his life story. Friday Nights in the spring of 2012 include an "avant-cabaret" performer presenting mostly wordless songs, an author reading her coming-of-age memoir (which was influenced by Stalin), and a tribute to California composer Lou Harrison on what would've been his 95th birthday.

California Academy of Sciences - NightLife

Most Thursdays at 6-10 pm
Admission $10, 12.  Ages 21 and over.
Cal Academy’s campaign to convince adults that science is, in fact, fun--or at least that fun can be had at the academy. Each week has cocktails, a live band or DJ and a theme more or less science-related. Any Nightlife involving sex—e.g, presentations about animal mating or the hormones of falling in love—tends to sell out fast. Other installments in 2012 have tie-ins to local art, mixology and the Outside Lands music festival. With the aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and rainforest to visit, too, NightLife makes for a busy night.

Contemporary Jewish Museum

Periodic Thursdays after 5 pm
Often free with museum admission

Lectures, films and art projects, often related to a current exhibit. For the 2012 Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought exhibition, about the tree in Jewish tradition, there have been talks about parklets and green city design and a workshop to make things out of recycled paper. Other evenings feature Bay Area Jewish personalities telling their life stories in six words, and a food/art session with scoops on making Jewish pastrami and the world’s first kosher-for-Passover gin.

de Young - Friday Nights at the de Young

Fridays at 5-8:45 pm, March through November.
Performances and activities free; regular admission fees for galleries
Live music and dance, artist demonstrations, art-making projects, films and talks are presented free in the lobby, and the café offers a special late Friday menu. Each evening has a theme related to the de Young's special exhibits or permanent collections. Tied to The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (which runs through Aug. 19, 2012) and to the museum's Pacific Islands collection are several fashion shows, a Haute Corset Night, celebrations of King Kamehameha Day and Bastille Day, and a milonga-tango night.

Exploratorium – After Dark

First Thursday of every month, at 6-10 pm
Free with museum admission. Ages 18 and over.
Usually over-run with kids, the Exploratorium bans them for After Dark. Live performances, films, cutting-edge technology, all of the Exploratorium's please-touch exhibits, plus cocktails to wash everything down.

Museum of Craft and Folk Art - Craft Bar

First Thursday of each month, at 6-8 pm
Generally $5 for materials and tips; museum admission separate
Crafters introduce an easy craft project designed to release your inner seamstress or glue-gun pro. Silkscreening, crocheting, making fabric bracelets and plush figures, drawing comic books--all ages can participate. If you’d rather do your own crafty thing, sit in the “Stitch and Bitch” section. The series is run in conjunction with Etsy Labs of Etsy.com.

Summer Nights at OMCA

Last Friday of the month, at 5-9 pm, April through October
Admission half-price

Talks and demos by artists and Oakland Museum of California curators, book signings and drink specials. To coincide with The 1968 Exhibit, you can watch flicks from that seminal year, board the time-traveling Magic Bus, and groove to DJs playing '60s hits.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - Now Playing

Periodic Thursdays at 6-9:45 pm
Admission half-price
"Art gets off the wall" during these sessions, SFMOMA says, with live music, films, performances and installations. Now Playing nights have included local musicians responding to an artist's multimedia work, a book launch, conversations between artists and SFMOMA curators, experimental bands, and a performance artist's cabaret tribute to David Bowie and glam rock.

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