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The Best Museums in Northern California
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The Best Museums in Northern California

Here are 9 of the best museums in Northern California from San Francisco to Fall River Mills.

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5 min read

February 21, 2022

Museums are always cool, but do you know where they’re the coolest? Right here in California. Today, we’ll be covering the best museums in the upper portion of the state and give you the ultimate list of impressive museums in Northern California to check out. Ready to learn, grow, and get inspired? These are the best museums in NorCal to have on your radar.

The Best Museums in Northern California to Visit Now

The California Academy of Sciences is California's oldest operating museum and research institution for the natural sciences.

1. California Academy of Sciences

Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco

The California Academy of Sciences is one of the coolest museums in Northern California. An aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum in one, this awesome spot in the heart of Golden Gate Park will impress just about anyone. 

Housing over 46 million specimens, this awesome Bay Area museum also acts as a powerful voice for sustainability, environmental education, and biodiversity research and exploration across the globe. One visit to one of the best museums in NorCal will have you feeling the contagious passion they share to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration.

2. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Location: 151 3rd Street, San Francisco

Hailed to be one of the top galleries in S.F., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) belongs on every art appreciator’s bucket list. As one of the most prominent modern and contemporary art museums in Northern California, SFMOMA features an outstanding collection of paintings, sculptures, pictorial art, architecture, design, and media arts. 

While exploring the breathtaking indoor portion of this art museum in Northern California is crucial, the outdoor sculpture garden is also a can’t-miss. What’s more? SFMOMA offers no-charge “Culture for Community” and “Free Family Days,” providing a life-changing free gallery experience you must have. 

The Aerospace Museum of California preserves the history of the former base while supporting current STEM educational standards.

3. Aerospace Museum of California

Location: 3200 Freedom Park Drive, McClellan Park

Explore, discover, and be inspired at the Aerospace Museum of California. Formerly known as McClellan Aviation Museum, this super cool space museum is one of Sacramento’s best-kept secrets. 

Find over forty artifacts and an outstanding aerospace section, experience the incredible flight simulator, and admire the many restored aircraft and NASA-supported exhibits. This air museum in Northern California will definitely inspire a newfound love for aviation with its variety of hands-on experiences. How about stopping by on your next day trip to Sacramento?

4. Blackhawk Museum

Location: 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville

Nestled in an upscale enclave in the hills of Danville, Blackhawk Museum is an awesome car museum that’ll excite visitors of all ages. Best known for an exclusive automotive collection showcasing nearly 50 classic, rare, as well as artistically and historically relevant cars from the 1880s to the 1980s, this museum in Northern California is a great experience to have with the family. 

The 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible, 1973 Datsun 240Z, and even prize-winning 1924 Voisin C4S Sport Tourisme await you on-site. Been already? Don’t rule out the Blackhawk Museum just yet. What makes this one of the best Museums in NorCal is the fact that the cars on display change regularly—you’ll have a unique visit each time.

The Exploratorium offers a variety of ways for visitors to explore and understand the magnificent world around them.

5. San Francisco Exploratorium 

Location: 15 Green Street, San Francisco

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is a public learning laboratory encouraging visitors to explore the world through science, art, and human perception. Offering something new to learn with every visit, this top S.F. museum wows you with a number of clever and interactive exhibits. 

So, what can you expect to learn at one of the best museums in Northern California? Well, to name a few, the answers to questions like how sound waves travel, how fog works, and even the mechanism behind popular magic tricks can be found here. The only way to find out is to visit this awesome museum in Northern California!

6. Fort Crook Museum

Location: 43030 Fort Crook Museum Road, Fall River Mills

History buffs will love exploring the Fort Crook Museum in Fall River Mills. While Fort Crook was established back in 1857 to protect travelers on the Shasta, the museum was only built in the 1960s. Today, this military museum in Northern California is still an active community enterprise served by members who are descendants of the first settlers in Fort Crook. Find historical documents, artifacts, and a bunch of interesting pieces that’ll take you back in time.

The California State Railroad Museum is the world-class tribute to the role of the "iron horse" in connecting California to the rest of the nation.

7. California State Railroad Museum

Location: 125 I Street, Sacramento

Having first opened its doors in 1976, the California State Railroad Museum is now recognized as one of the best museums in Northern California and the most exciting railroad museum in the nation. This awesome attraction is home to over 225,000 square feet of must-see artifacts and offers a glance at the world of operations behind the engines. Check out 21 carefully restored “iron horse” locomotives on display, marvel at the collection of toy trains on a miniature landscape, and hop aboard an authentic locomotive for a ride along the Sacramento River.

The Winchester Mystery House is claimed by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles.

8. Winchester Mystery House

Location: 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose

The Winchester Mystery House is one of San Jose’s most popular yet scariest attractions. Boasting striking architecture and a haunted history, this strange museum in Northern California is a must-visit for all lovers of the paranormal. The story goes that Sarah Winchester, the widowed wife of firearm tycoon William Wirt Winchester, designed a mansion that would confuse the ghostly guests she believed occupied the premises. 

Winchester designed a house that was so elaborate that it took 38 years to build. Over the years, she also requested stranger and weirder features to be added to the house such as spider web windows, staircases leading to nowhere, and several secret passageways. Up to experience the strangeness yourself? Pay this museum in Northern California a visit next time you’re in San Jose.

9. Bay Area Discovery Museum 

Location: 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito

Doing a museum run with the kids? You can’t go wrong with the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. The best museum in Northern California to spark your curiosity and let your imagination run wild, this incredible attraction at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge invites kids of all ages to try hands-on activities and check out interactive displays—your inner child will be jumping joy.

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