California Historical Society – Part Museum, Part Archive

If you want to know more about the history of California, San Francisco is the place to be. For that's the home of California Historical Society, which has been gathering stories, photos and paraphernalia and keeping the facts straight since 1871. The Society's The fine arts collection depicts the state's history from pre-Gold Rush days to the early 20th century.

Exhibits feature memorabilia, art and artifacts culled from over 300 years of California history. The photography collection holds more than 500,000 prized images, includes works by Eadweard Muybridge and Ansel Adams. After visiting the galleries, drop by the well-stocked California Historical Society gift store. In addition to the staggering permanent collection, there are also changing, temporary exhibits. Check the schedule before your visit.

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1906 Earthquake

The Permanent Collections

Early Exploration & Occupation

Get an understanding of life before the state of California existed. Read narratives by European explorers describing their settlements, and contact with indigenous peoples. Also see official records documenting life in Mexican California and art works of early fort, presidio, and mission scenes.

The Gold Rush

See powerful photographs and read diaries, journals, and letters from miners who came out west to seek their fortune. There are also many drawings, watercolors, and prints depicting the mining life.

Immigration & Migration

Learn the touching personal stories from the men and women who came to San Francisco and changed the landscape of the city. Read diaries, journals, logbooks, letters, family papers, business records, books, and photographs documenting the mid-nineteenth century migration to California.

Landscape & Geography

See one of the finest Landscape paintings collections in the state with paintings and photographs by American artists and photographers: Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Mary Park Seavy Benton (1815-1910), Arthur Frank Mathews (1860-1945), Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) and the list goes on.

Land Use & Development

Learn about Northern California water use, agriculture, conservation, logging and minining with photographs and business records.

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The Gold Rush

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Industry & Economics

Understand how the state thrived and survived economically. This collection of business records, photographs, and commercial catalogs represents lumber, mining, trade, shipping, and wine & tourism

Community Organizations

Here you learn the story of the groups that help to shape the city, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the League of Women Voters.

Arts & Cultures

Witness significant collections of photographs and works by California writers and artists like Gertrude Atherton, Ina Coolbrith, and Jack London. There are also more than 5,000 works of oil and watercolor paintings, drawings, lithographs, and decorative arts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

San Francisco & the Greater Bay Area

See detailed manuscript collections, scrapbooks, photographs, and media documenting the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Also learn about historic San Francisco information covering fai

Politics & Government

See state manuscripts, journals, letters, local property, court, vital statistics, taxes, and voting records from 1845 to 1847.

Los Angeles & Southern California

23,000 historic photographs from the Regional History Center at the University of Southern California, document the development of the Los Angeles area going back to the early 1900s.

California Historical Society Resources

  • 678 Mission Street
  • Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11 AM to 5 PM
  • Library Hours: Wednesday to Friday 1 PM to 5 PM
  • Late night every third Thursday of the month, when the gallery is open until 8 PM.
  • California Historical Society Website

More Information

California Historical Society

California Historical Society Neighborhood

The Society is in the Yerba Buena district, a dynamic downtown destination with museums, arts & cultural facilities, a 5.5 acre park, restaurants, hotels and best of SF shopping.

There are six nearby parking garages

  • Fifth & Mission parking garage @ Fifth & Mission Streets
  • Museum park garage @ 300 Third Street
  • Moscone Center garage @ 225 Third Street
  • Hearst parking center @ 45 Third Street
  • 55 Hawthorne garage @ 55 Hawthorne Street
  • St. Francis Place garage @ 1 Street Francis & Third Streets

Public transportation is via BART and the MUNI Metro at the Montgomery Street Station. MINI Buses and Golden Gate Transit also have nearby bus stops.

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