The Barbra Streisand Museum may be long gone, but SF has a great tradition of small, neighborhood-focused and niche museums, some zanier than others, dating back to the late 1960's when physicist and sometime cattle rancher Frank Oppenheimer (brother of atomic bomb maker J. Robert Oppenheimer) decided to create a museum in San Francisco devoted to the oddities of science and human perception, which became The Exploratorium. You may want to hit our city's larger cultural institutions when you've got guests in town, but if your guests have more specific interests, you may want to consider some of the odder attractions below.

The Beat Museum
San Francisco will forever be associated with certain things — fog, cable cars, and earthquakes all come to mind. Near the top of that list sits the Beat movement, which in 1950s San Francisco was centered in North Beach. The Beat Museum, open since 2003, seeks to "[spread] the spirit of The Beat Generation" and is home to letters, manuscripts, and other memorabilia from the writers associated with it. It aims to be both a place for the well-studied Kerouac fan and someone just hoping to figure out what the hell their parents keep talking about. There's both a free and a paid section of the museum, and both provide a peek into 1950's and early '60's San Francisco — for that alone it's worth the visit. — Jack Morse
540 Broadway at Romolo Place


Cable Car Museum
We all ride Muni so frequently that it's perhaps easy to forget the public transportation system's storied past. And with the cable car, which at the Cable Car Museum you will discover had its first run in 1873, the process of learning about the transit system is really the processing of learning about San Francisco's history. Here you can see photographs of historic cable cars alongside the genuine article — think antique cars dating to the 1870s. For those curious as to how the cable cars actually work, the museum also allows the opportunity to see the engines and wheels that actually pull the cables (see the above photo). It's a one-of-a-kind museum and a treat — just like riding the cars themselves. — Jack Morse
1201 Mason Street at Washington Street

Image courtesy of The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium
Probably the funkiest, oddest, and most psychedelic museum experience you'll have in SF apart from the LSD Museum mentioned below, the 47-year-old science, art, and human perception museum known as the Exploratorium makes for a great date night, or a stoned adventure with friends, or even a sober adventure with friends — but bear in mind it is often full of kids, and might best be enjoyed on Thursday evenings for their adults-only After Dark events, from 6 to 10 p.m. Enjoy the longtime favorite Tactile Dome, learn about tides in the Bay, and check out newer pieces like artist Leo Villareal's Buckyball, a giant geodesic dome of LEDs. — Jay Barmann
Pier 15 at Embarcadero and Green

Photo: Lenore Chinn/Facebook

The GLBT History Museum
Founded in 1985, the Castro-based GLBT History Museum is world-renowned as one of the oldest and richest collections of cultural artifacts and art, much of it donated and bequeathed to the GLBT Historical Society by gay, lesbian, and trans people who lived and died in San Francisco. The small museum on 18th Street has rotating exhibits as well as monthly events, and currently they're showing a collection of erotic art from gay porn magazines through the ages, and an exhibit about groundbreaking defender of gay and transgender peo­ple Dr. Magnus Hirsch­feld, who visited San Francisco 85 years ago this year. — Jay Barmann
4127 18th Street between Castro and Collingwood

Good Vibrations' Antique Vibrator Museum
Those high-tech buzzers and wands sold today at Good Vibration sure aren't your grandmother's vibrator. Nope, these are: Tucked in the back of Good Vibes' Polk Street store, the Antique Vibrator Museum is a blast from the past. It's free to peruse the recreational (and clinical) devices of yesteryear, and staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen and her team of docents provide monthly tours to contextualize devices that were cleverly and vaguely billed in stores and catalogues. "Almost like a miracle is the miraculous healing force of massage when rightly applied," reads one ad, "Relieves All Suffering. Cures Disease," reads another bit of copy. —Caleb Pershan
1620 Polk Street between Clay and Sacramento Streets

The Institute of Illegal Images, a.k.a. The LSD Museum
Out of his home on Mission Street, Mark McCloud runs a free museum of blotter art, i.e. the often elaborate art that has been printed on sheets of LSD since the rise in the drug's popularity in the late 1960's. McCloud's collection has twice been seized by the FBI and dragged into court, but he insists that the framed and archived sheets have either never been dipped in the good stuff, or the chemicals have all been neutralized by UV rays and exposure to air over the years, and all they are is art now. The collection, some 33,000 sheets strong, is rumored to be larger than the DEA's own of confiscated sheets, and McCloud says he's just doing the good work of preserving this important form of folk art. Try to make an appointment to check out, but don't expect any regular hours or strict schedules, man. (Mark's email: [email protected].) — Jay Barmann
2475 Mission Street

Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Art Museum
Lyle Tuttle's 85-year-old, thoroughly-tattooed skin might be the most interesting "piece" of all in his museum and shop. There, his team does contemporary tattooing in the traditional style, making them one of SFist's best tattoo shop picks, and Tuttle has a thousand-and-one tales to tell and artifacts to show off from a lifetime of tattooing rock royalty like Joan Baez to Janis Joplin. —Caleb Pershan
841 Columbus Avenue between Lombard and Scotland Streets

Photo via Yelp.

Museum of the African Diaspora
The Museum of the African Diaspora is one of the only museums in the world exclusively to focus on the cultural heritage of both Africans and their descendants. It opened in 2005, and since that time has addressed everything from ghost ships to the work of Grace Jones. The museum itself is small, which both lends an intimacy to the galleries and somehow makes them feel even more powerful. Also, the museum recently underwent a renovation, so the physical space itself is beautiful. And if you've been before, you know that exhibits change frequently — so there is always a reason to come back. — Jack Morse
685 Mission Street, between New Montgomery and 3rd Street

Photo of the Barber Shop Quart at the Musée Mécanique by Krista Kennedy

Musée Mecanique
Though you have to get past Pier 39 to get there, SF's Musée Mecanique is a must-visit for locals and tourists alike. The place is like a crazy curio shop dedicated only to antique arcade games and coin-operated musical instruments, all of which are in working condition. Some of the games — no doubt salvaged from Playland By the Beach — date from the early 20th Century while others are from the 1980's, like a vintage Whack-a-Mole game. It is, for real, a seriously cool place, it's open 365 days a year, and it's free to enter. — Jay Barmann
Pier 45 near Taylor Street

Photo: Facebook

The Tenderloin Museum
The city's longtime seediest, most rough and tumble neighborhood, The Tenderloin, has also been home over the years to famed jazz clubs, speakeasies, and countercultures, including some of the earliest LGBT hangouts in the city. You'll learn about Wally Heider Studios, the recording studio where the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young all recorded seminal albums, and check out the rich collection of photographs from the neighborhood. Also, if you want the full experience, the museum offers walking tours. — Jay Barmann
398 Eddy Street at Leavenworth

Honorable Mentions:

The Walt Disney Family Museum, which will appeal to families and Disney fans and contains stuff from Walt Disney's life, including tools and equipment that Disney developed in service to that art.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum, with its Yud Gallery and its thirty-six diamond-shaped skylights.

Related: San Francisco's 10 Best Museums

Photo via Yelp.