SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting

inside sfmoma
by Anisa // 32 Comments

After closing for three years for renovation, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reopened to the public in 2016.  The expansion included 170,000 square feet of gallery space including the outdoor SFMOMA sculpture garden.

I was excited to see what all the fuss was about, so Russell and I visited the museum in November 2016.  Let me share some of my favorite parts and also some tips to help you make the most of your visit.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

We were lucky SFMOMA wasn't too crowded when we went - - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans!
We were lucky SFMOMA wasn’t too crowded when we went!

My Favorite Artwork at SFMOMA

As with all modern art museums, there will be some pieces that you love and some pieces that you just don’t quite get.  At SFMOMA, there were definitely far more pieces that I loved and I even enjoyed some of the ones I didn’t quite get.  

I was happy to see pieces from many of my favorite artists – Picasso, Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and more – on display.  It’s actually not easy narrowing the list down to a few favorite pieces of art.

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“Lilith” by Kiki Smith

"Lilith" by Kiki Smith - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
“Lilith” by Kiki Smith

The sculpture of “Lilith” caught my attention and then when I read the background I was drawn to it even more. The character of Lilith appears in many different theological backgrounds, including, according to Jewish folklore, the first wife of Adam.  She refused to be her husband’s subordinate and as punishment she was expelled from Eden and Eve took her place.  I love that the sculpture  captures her rebelliousness and strength.

“Quantum Cloud VII” by Antony Gormley

"Quantum Cloud VII" by Antony Gormley - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Antony Gormley’s “Quantum Cloud VII”

“Quantum Cloud VII” shows the body as a swarm of chaotic energy.  I like how you can clearly make out the human figure but you also see the chaos.  I guess this piece spoke to me because sometimes my mind is going so fast and I have so many things I want to do.  The sculpture is a great visual representation of that and a good reminder to try to stay centered.

I loved Antony Gormley’s sculpture Sound that is on display in the crypt of the Winchester England Cathedral.  He also created “Another Place” which is an amazing art installation at Crosby Beach in northwest England.  It includes sculptures modeled after the artist which get completed covered by water at high tide.  I would like to see it for myself one day!

“Geometric Apple Core” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

“Geometric Apple Core” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
“Geometric Apple Core” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

When you enter the gallery and see a large apple, you can’t help but smile! “Geometric Apple Core” is a fun piece because it is just a huge apple.  I was impressed with the detail, simplicity, and realism.

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Morris Louis’s Untitled work

Morris Louis’s Untitled - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Morris Louis’s Untitled

I loved the colors in Morris Louis’s Untitled work which was part of his Floral series.  It is a large piece that will capture your attention.  I like how at some points the colors are very distinct and at other points, they blend together.

“Woman Shaving Her Leg” by George Segal

“Woman Shaving Her Leg” by George Segal - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
George Segal’s “Woman Shaving Her Leg”

“Woman Shaving Her Leg” is another interesting piece.  I would have never thought that I would have seen a sculpture of a woman shaving her legs.  I think that is what makes it so unique and memorable.  George Segal has a few other pieces in SFMOMA including the one pictured below in the SFMOMA Sculpture Garden.

Cy Twombly’s Untitled

Anisa with Cy Twombly’s Untitled - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Anisa with Cy Twombly’s Untitled

Cy Twombly’s Untitled was another piece that stood out to me.  It’s a large blackboard with chalk writing.  I don’t think there was any method to the madness, the writing looks like scribbles to me.  I know it sounds simple but one of his similar works went for $70M at auction.

Richard Serra SFMOMA

Richard Serra's work at SFMOMA - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Richard Serra’s work at SFMOMA

The Richard Serra SFMOMA piece is actually part of the galleries which you do not need a ticket to see.  We actually didn’t even see it until we were on our way out, but you can’t miss it.  I love how Serra’s artwork is so interactive.  I have been a big fan ever since I saw his work at DIA: Beacon.  To see the artwork, you need to walk through it.  It’s an interesting feeling – wondering what is around the next curve.

Those are just a few of the pieces that I loved at SFMOMA, there are many more I could have listed!  I should also mention that SFMOMA as a lot of nice photography as well.  We didn’t have much time to see it though as we only had about 3 hours at the museum

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SFMOMA Sculpture Garden

The old museum had a sculpture garden on the roof, but the new museum has the Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace on the third floor and another outdoor terrace on floor 7.  In the new SFMOMA Sculpture Garden, you still get some nice views of the city and there are several sculptures.  

The wall covered in ivy on the third-floor terrace is what stands out though.  I later learned that it is the largest public living wall in the United States and has more than 19,000 plants and 21 native species.

Anisa checking out the art on the SFMOMA sculpture garden. - - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Anisa checking out the art on the SFMOMA sculpture garden.

SFMOMA Oculus Bridge

During your visit, you need to make sure you walk across the Oculus Bridge.  Its unique architectural design funnels natural light through cylindrical space above into the museum’s lobby and mezzanine galleries.  You can find the bridge on the fifth floor.

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The SFMOMA app is an audio tour with a few extra features.  The app is only available on iOS so if you don’t have an iPhone you can rent a device at the Member Services Desk on the second floor.  You can download the app for free to help you plan your day at SFMOMA.    The app uses your location so that you can only play the audio tour when you are in the museum.

The app has some suggested gallery walks that you can follow or you can play the audio tour information for specific works of art that you would like to see.  Some pieces of art have special detailed audio descriptions available for those that are visually impaired.  It also has the option to sync your audio with others, that way you can all stay together.

Russell at SFMOMA
Russell at SFMOMA

In addition to being an audio tour, the app helps you to create a timeline of your visit.  You can add photos and notes to help remember what you saw and other details.  Unfortunately, I did not find out about this feature until after my visit.

Dining Options at SFMOMA

Inside the museum, you can visit In Situ, which was created by Corey Lee, chef-owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant, Benu.  You can opt for drinks and snacks in the lounge or a full meal in the dining room.  The NY Times has called In Situ the most original new restaurant in America.  Just like the museum, the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.  

If you are looking for something more informal and family-friendly, you can try Cafe 5 on the fifth floor.  The cafe’s menu features high-quality seasonal ingredients and you can even enjoy a glass of wine if you like. The museum also has a coffee shop, Sightglass, located on the third floor.

If you would like more budget-friendly options, you can find plenty of restaurants within walking distance of SFMOMA.  We went to Ayola.  The food was delicious, but there is limited seating.


SFMOMA Hours and Admission Prices

SFMOMA opens at 10 am Thursday – Tuesday.  The museum is closed on Wednesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.  They usually close the museum at 5 pm but stay open until 9 pm on Thursdays.

If you plan on visiting SFMOMA on a weekend, you may want to book your tickets online or through the SFMOMA app in advance.  Tickets are for timed entry and admission for adults is $25.  Seniors can get in for $22 and students with IDs pay only $19.  Those that are 18 and younger get in free, but must still have a timed ticket.  You can get these tickets online if you purchase in advance or the same day at the museum.

SFMOMA advises you to arrive 30 minutes before the time on your ticket to allow for time to check your coat and pick up a visitor’s guide.  Once you enter the museum, you may stay as long as you like or until the galleries close!  

Looking down on the SFMOMA lobby - "SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New Setting" - Two Traveling Texans
Looking down on the SFMOMA lobby

The museum is also part of the San Francisco CityPass and the San Francisco GoCity Card.  If you are planning to visit some of the other top attractions in San Francisco, you may be able to save some money.  Click here to get more information about the San Francisco CityPass or here to get more information about the San Francisco GoCity card.

Alternatively, if you also plan on visiting the California Academy of Sciences, you can save with this combination ticket.

SFMOMA Free Admission

Unfortunately, SFMOMA no longer has free admission the first Tuesday of the month.  Instead, they have a free family fun day about once a year.  The next family fun day will be announced soon.  Admission to the galleries on the first floor is always free.

I love the simple but bold pieces!
I love the simple but bold pieces!

How to Get to SFMOMA

Taking public transportation is the easiest way to get to SFMOMA.  You can either take the BART or the MUNI to the Powell or Montgomery Street Stations.  The CalTrain has a stop at 4th and King Streets, about a 20-minute walk from the museum.

I would not recommend driving as there is limited parking near SFMOMA.  You can try the parking garages along Third Street at either Jesse or Folsom Streets.


Yes, now you can actually text SFMOMA and they will respond back with a photo of artwork, the artist, and the date.  You just need to text “send me” followed by a keyword to 572-51.  I texted “send me rainbow” and instantly the museum sent me a picture of Frank Stella’s “Untitled (Fan Protractor Variation)” from 1967.  Of course, standard text messaging rates apply.  Try it and let me know what you get.

Have you visited the new SFMOMA? What were some of your favorite pieces?  I would love to hear what you thought.


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apple sculpture inside SFMOMA with text overlay "San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art"

Expert Tips for Visiting SFMOMA

  • Download the App and use the timeline feature to remember your visit.
  • Take public transportation to visit SFMOMA, parking close to the museum is limited.
  • Plan to spend at least 3 hours at the museum.
  • The Oakland Museum of Calfornia across the bay has an interesting collection of modern art as well.

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Last Updated on July 27, 2023

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.