City museum cafes offer a palette of dining options

Visitors enjoy the outdoor dining at the de Young Cafe. Photo: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The city is home to a wealth of museums. Some, like the California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium, are geared toward families with children, and others like SFMOMA cater to more sophisticated art-goers. But all of the city’s museums have one thing in common: museum cafes. Whether you need a quick cup of coffee and a snack, a kid-friendly lunch, or an elegant dinner complete with wine, you’ll find these and more at museum cafes.


Along with its modern design, SFMOMA offers several stylish dining experiences. Those seeking a premium cup of coffee or an espresso drink and a pastry can stop by local coffee purveyor Sightglass at SFMOMA (Thursday–Tuesday 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.).

For a family friendly yet au courant menu, there’s Café 5 adjacent to the museum’s sculpture garden. Dishes range from creamy penne pasta with spring peas, bacon, and mushrooms ($16) to grilled salmon, quinoa, and preserved lemon salad ($17). Vegan and gluten-free items are marked, and each dish has a recommended wine. Pastries and desserts ($6) include Valrhona chocolate croissants with churru sugar, and a peanut butter and chocolate chunk cookie duo (Friday–Tuesday 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m.– 8 p.m.).

For an exquisite dining experience, visit chef Corey Lee’s Michelin-star-rated, gorgeously designed In Situ. Lee has created a menu inspired by chefs and restaurants from around the world. Dishes change based on the ingredient availability and substitutions cannot be made. Small plates currently feature caramelized carrot soup ($7) and Mexican-inspired tapioca and cheese fritters ($14). Medium plates offer dill-brined cabbage ($14) and a wasabi lobster with mango jelly and Thai vinaigrette ($28). Large plates include wild John Dory with cabbage, turmeric, and mango-apple compote ($42) and faro risotto with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, smoked-and-dried ricotta, and sorrel ($16). Desserts at In Situ are equally inspired. The restaurant adds a 20 percent service charge to each bill and takes reservations (Friday–Tuesday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.).


The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco include both the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park near Land’s End. Both are San Francisco landmarks.

The cafes at both museums offer dining options created by McCall’s Catering & Events. The de Young Cafe has views of both the park and the Barbo Osher Sculpture Garden with indoor and outdoor seating. Guests can select from coffee, tea, and other beverages, including wine and beer, and there is a selection of grab-and-go items like fresh salads and sandwiches as well as snacks. The more formal menu, which changes seasonally, includes a soup of the day ($10), and a favorite entrée: spring vegetable and mushroom risotto with asparagus, fava beans, English peas, cheese, and truffle oil ($17). A delectable array of pastries and desserts is available all day.

The Cafe at the Legion of Honor, with its view of the park and an outdoor patio as well, has a similar menu with fewer prepackaged items. Hot and cold beverages — including coffee, wine, and beer — are available along with an assortment of pastries, cake, and tarts. There are salads and entrées with clever names that reflect the Legion’s most current exhibitions; for example, during the current Casanova exhibition that runs through May 28, there is The Charlatan Insalata with albacore tuna salad served with lemon oil, capers, herbs, onions, Dijon potato salad, green beans, an organic hard-boiled egg, Kalamata olives, and cherry tomatoes ($17.50), and the Casanova, grass-fed beef meatballs cooked with tomato sauce and topped with onions, roasted bell peppers, and parmesan cheese ($17).

Both cafes open Tuesday–Sunday 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; hot meals available 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m. only.


The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is the only place in the world to house an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum along with educational programs, all under a domed, living roof. It is also home to two cafes: The Academy Cafe and The Terrace. The cafe serves everything from breakfast sandwiches and burritos ($2–$7) to house-made soups, hot sandwiches, salads and wraps, pizza, burgers, and sushi ($9–$18). The kids’ menu includes all-natural hot dogs and chicken nuggets ($8). Vegan and gluten-free op-
tions are available (Monday–Wednesday 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursday 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. and 6–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; full meals 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m.).

The Terrace offers farm-to-table shared plates, including an Asian chicken salad ($12), chicken confit with baby lettuces, Meyer lemon, radish, and mustard ($16); and a luscious chocolate pot de crème ($7); wine and beer is also available (Monday–Wednesday 11 a.m.–4 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m.–4 p.m. and 6–10 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.).


The Exploratorium on the Embarcadero is a place where science is intertwined with education. The experiments and exhibits are all created by the museum itself, in a large, airy space where adults and kids alike can experience hands-on learning and fun. Its cafe, Seaglass, opened in April 2013 with chef Loretta Keller at its helm. The interior and patio offer superb views of Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. Seaglass’s frequently changing menu offers creative pairings as well as a full bar, local beers on tap, and wine. Soup and salads from Caesar to kale are available ($8–$11.50); added chicken is $3.50. Expect to find sushi rolls, nigiri, sashimi, and poke ($7–$15), and entrées like a chicken and rice or five-spice pork bowl ($13.95); pork or vegetarian tacos ($10.50–$12) are available on weekends. A Niman Ranch all-beef hot-dog is $9 and an order of seasonal veggies is $5. Desserts are plentiful and include Strauss Dairy soft-serve ice cream (Monday–Wednesday 11 a.m.–3 p.m., Thursday 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6–9 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.).

The Seismic Joint is located next to the entrance of the museum and offers snacks, coffees, and other beverages plus a changeable pop-up menu, currently salads, burgers (including plant-based Impossible Burgers), and a fried chicken sandwich ($8.50–$15). Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m.–5 p.m.


The Contemporary Jewish Museum, recognized as San Francisco Landmark Number 87, and once a power substation with a classic red brick and cream-colored terra cotta exterior, houses an outpost of the popular Wise Sons Deli. There, with a large patio that spills onto Jessie Square Park, visitors can find Jewish classics like matzo ball soup ($8) to which you can add rye or challah toast for an extra $1.50; and house-made bagels and bialys ($2) with traditional toppings like smoked salmon with cream cheese, red onions, and capers ($10–$13), or try the less traditional pastrami crusted smoked salmon with scallion shmear ($10.50-$13.50). Wise Sons makes all its own deli meats from natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free brisket. Deli lovers can find classic hot pastrami or corned beef sandwiches on house-made double-baked Jewish rye ($14–$15.50); additional toppings like chopped chicken liver and cheese cost a few dollars more. Sweets include a slice of chocolate or cinnamon babka, or sweet yeast cake ($4), or a chocolate, cinnamon-walnut, or apricot rugelach ($1.25). There’s a take-home menu, too. (Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; the walk-up takeout window is only open Wednesdays, and whenever the museum is not open to the public).


The Walt Disney Family Museum in the scenic Presidio features contemporary, interactive galleries and exhibits narrated in Walt Disney’s voice alongside early drawings, cartoons, films, a model of Disneyland and more. The Museum Cafe operated by Taste Catering offers light, seasonal fare. Guests can sit indoors or outside overlooking the Presidio’s parade grounds. Sandwiches, salads, and kids’ choices rule: There is a grilled chicken sandwich with pepper jack cheese and a tuna salad sandwich, both on rolls ($10); and a popular pulled pork sandwich on a bun served with apple coleslaw ($10.50). Salads come in two sizes ($5 and $10) and range from a chicken salad with sumac, dried apricots, toasted almonds, and more on a bed of greens with tomatoes to a quinoa salad with apples, roasted carrots, and cauliflower with an apple cider vinaigrette.

Kids can choose from a turkey and cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread, a grilled cheese sandwich, or macaroni and cheese ($7$8). Sumptuous cakes and cookies complete the menu. And one fun note: Beef chili topped with crème fraîche, cheddar cheese, and scallions ($8) is always on menu because it was Walt Disney’s favorite (Monday and Wednesday–Friday 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m.).


For yet another choice, head to the Asian Art Museum’s refurbished and revitalized cafe (set to open this month), Sunday at the Museum, a takeoff of chef Dueki Hong’s Sunday Bird pop-up in the Boba Guys tea shop on Fillmore Street. Look for a seasonal menu of traditional Asian favorites like bahn mi, dosa, soup dumplings, jianbing (Chinese breakfast crêpes), and other specialties from Asian-American home kitchens.

Come for the art and take time to nosh and nibble, too, with these menus geared to enhance your museum experience.


Correction 4/4/18: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect closing date for the Casanova exhibition. It is May 28, not May 8.



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