The motto for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is "Connecting art, people, and ideas" — meaning a single visit could have your kids buzzing with a lot of new ideas for their future art projects. Its mission is to make the Jewish experience relevant for today's audiences through cutting-edge exhibitions and interactive educational programs.
What we love about the San Francisco is the vast choice of museums. Sure, there are the Biggies like the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and the SFMoMA, but if you branch out a bit, you can discover hidden charms like the Contemporary Jewish Museum, found smack dab in center of San Francisco, just across from Yerba Buena Garden.
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The 1907 landmark building was designed by a city founding architect Willis Polk, and updated in 2008 by architect Daniel Libeskind (he also designed the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen). With over a 63,000 square feet of space, there's a lot to explore here, for both you and your family. There are educational programs and dynamic exhibitions that explore the Jewish history, culture, and ideas.
What makes the Contemporary Jewish Museum (or CJM) unique is that there very few permanent collections; the museum focuses on workshops, temporary exhibits, special events, and celebrates the oral history of Jewish culture. The national oral history program is an excellent opportunity for families to take a walk down memory lane.
If you want to learn more about specific exhibits, join in on one of the the everyday free museum tours. The first tour begins at about 11:30 AM and lasts for an hour. Family Gallery Tours take place on the first and second Sundays of the month. These are especially suited for visitors with children from six to nine years of age. The Drop-in Art Making classes conducted every Sunday, and a Preschool Gallery Hour, are often linked to current exhibits. By the way, the Family Gallery Tours are interactive and make learning fun.
Bonus — The museum gift store offers a great selection of art books, modern Judaica, exhibit-inspired gifts, and jewelry
The museum's tilted, dark-blue stainless steel cube slices into the historic brick building, making a visible and dynamic statement about the relationship between old and new.
Libeskind's design preserves the integrity of Polk's old building with its brick facade, trusses, and skylights. There are thirty-six diamond-shaped windows lit from the top floor of the metal cube. It's called the Yud, and it hosts sound and performance based on the current exhibitions.
Depending on your time of visit, you may come across two to three large traveling exhibits. Most of these are multimedia displays with televisions, memorabilia, and paintings. Since these exhibits are temporary, check to confirm their schedule before visiting. A list of CJM museum exhibits can be found here….
Along with the numerous traveling exhibits at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there are also a few amazing permanent displays.
This educational exhibit provides insight about the important festivities in Jewish culture. It is laid out with an overview of each holiday or ritual along with the equipment used in the celebrations. At Judaica, you can learn more about Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Torah. This small but informative exhibit can be found on the first floor.
Do not miss the exhibit on Contemporary Jewish Museum's history. It's found in the lobby, close to the entrance. It includes images as well as an overview of this historical building. The exhibit also explains how the historic building was transformed into a contemporary museum in the heart of San Francisco.
• Daily except Wednesday — 11 AM TO 5 PM
• Thursday — 11 AM TO 8 PM
• 736 Mission Street
CJM is closed on January 1 & 2, Passover, July 4, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving. However, it is open on December 25.
Every first Tuesday of the month, admission to the Contemporary Jewish Museum is free. All visitors are welcome to view engaging films and explore current exhibitions.
Another Bonus — When you visit the Contemporary Jewish Museum, you'll find fun places nearby to roam in, like the huge playground behind the Children's Creativity Museum, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfall at the Yerba Buena Gardens, and the Carousel. All these are a stone throw away from the museum.
Wise Sons Deli uses classic Jewish recipes along with California's best ingredients to create delicious deli fare. This establishment takes pride in preparing everything from smoked pastrami to double-baked rye bread. Their matzo ball soup is made with lots of love, just like the one you would get from your Baba's kitchen. You should also note that admission into the Museum is not necessary when you just want to dine.
If you are looking for desert, Beard Papa is just next door. Don't miss the signature cream puffs.
For a nostalgic and fun experience, the Mel's Drive-In will not disappoint. Contrary to its name, this establishment is less of a drive-in and more of a diner. You'll have a blast selecting from jukebox favorites and playing with the vintage paper automobile while munching on fries and cheeseburgers in the red leather booth.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is located in the South of Market neighborhood, SOMA. From Union Square, you're just a five minute walk from the museum.
If you are arriving from Fisherman's Wharf, head along the F Street car line towards 3rd/Kearny and Market. From here, walk a block south and head right. You'll see CJM on your right at 736 Mission Street.
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• Contemporary Jewish Museum…
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