IEC Activities San Francisco Vocabulary

Must-See SF Museums (and English Museum Vocabulary)

June 1, 2017

Is it any surprise that San Francisco is full of museums? From the fascinating, eco-friendly California Academy of Sciences to the De Young art museum, there seems to be a museum for every person’s interests. IEC@DVC often organizes trips to San Francisco and Bay Area museums: before you go on our next excursion, learn these English museum vocabulary words. Try to use these words during your next trip!

Must-See SF Museums

Visitors to the Asian Art Museum study some works from the Han Dynasty Royals collection.

Asian Art Museum

18,000 works of art, some over 6,000 years old? Wow! The Asian Art Museum is home to pieces of art from South Asia, the Persian World, West Asia, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, the Tibetan Buddhist World, China, Korea, and Japan. One of the museum’s most popular pieces is the Seated Buddha from the year 338: watch the museum’s video of this incredible statue below.

Students can view the museum’s collection online at

Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Museum Hours
Tuesday –Sunday:  10 am–5 pm
Thursday Evenings: 5 pm–9 pm
Closed Mondays


CA Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a museum, a science center, and a planetarium, and an aquarium all in one. There is so much to explore in this amazing place! Take a trip underwater with the Steinhart Aquarium: it has over 38,000 animals, a large coral reef, and adorable penguins. Then leave Earth in the Morrison Planetarium: its high definition movie takes visitors on a trip into the galaxy. Take a trip back in time with the Kimball Natural History Museum, which has an incredible exhibit of fossils. Then explore some of the Earth’s most beautiful natural places with the Osher Rainforest, which has birds, butterflies, and giant Amazonian fish!


California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr
San Francisco, CA 94118
Academy Hours
Monday–Saturday: 9:30 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm
The museum is open every day of the year.


De Young

San Francisco’s most famous art museum is located in Golden Gate Park. The museum began in 1895 and has an impressive collection of art pieces from the 17th century until today. De Young’s collection includes art from the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and photography; during the year, De Young hosts many unique exhibitions. The exhibits change, but one thing stays the same: the museum’s incredible views of the city!

De Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118
Museum Hours
Tuesday–Sunday: 9:30 am – 5:15 pm
Open Late Fridays (June 2–August 18): 9:30 am – 8:30 pm

The Exploratorium

If you love a museum with interactive exhibits, then the Exploratorium is for you! The museum has six different galleries that allow visitors to learn more about the human body, nature, technology, and more. Which one sounds the most interesting to you?

  • South Gallery: Tinkering. Do you like to learn how things work? Science, art, and technology come together in this gallery, which allows visitors to explore the inner workings of machines such as clocks and electronics like LED lights. Guests can watch the staff in the workshop as they build new machines (and sometimes fail!).
  • East Gallery: Living Systems. Learn about DNA, cells, and plant life in this biology-based gallery. The East Gallery lets visitors see different plants and animals under a microscope, learn about the San Francisco Bay’s water levels, and explore plankton (tiny ocean life). In the “Big Wood” exhibit, guests can see how artist Michael Brown took a giant fir tree that died after hundreds of years and turned the tree into an incredible experience.
  • Osher West Gallery: Human Phenomena. What does it mean to be human? In this gallery, visitors explore the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of humans. In this gallery’s unique interactive exhibits, guests learn about their personalities and preferences.
  • Bechtel Central Gallery: Seeing and Listening. Play with light and sound to understand how they work! With color and light exhibits, guests explore how color and sound affect our experiences in the world. The soap film exhibits creates beautiful works of colorful art and the monochromatic room gives the experience of a room without color. You have to see it to believe it!
  • Fisher Bay Observatory: Observing Landscapes. Take a trip outside with this gallery, whose exhibits allow visitors to learn more about the history and geography of the San Francisco Bay Area. See old maps, learn about the many sensors that measure natural activity in the area, and explore the many things that influence SF weather.
  • North Gallery: Outdoor Exhibits. Learn even more about the San Francisco Bay Area with this gallery, which focuses on how nature affects us. Guests learn about the ocean tides, the winds, and how San Francisco’s two famous bridges are constructed.

The Exploratorium
Pier 15, The Embarcadero & Green St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Museum Hours
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Open late on Thursdays: 6 pm – 10 pm
Closed Monday


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the largest museums in the United States: it has over of 16,000 mmuseum space! The museum hosts more than 33,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, photography, and exhibits about architecture, design, and the media arts. The museum itself is a work of art: check out the beautiful roof and rooftop garden during your next trip.

151 Third Street
San Francisco, California, 94103
Museum Hours
Friday–Tuesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Open until 8 p.m. on Saturdays, May 27 – September 4
Closed Wednesdays
Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

English Museum Vocabulary

Before your next trip to a museum, learn these museum-related vocabulary words. You’ll sound like a museum curator in no time!


Definition: an object made by a human, usually one of cultural or historical interest.

Example: The museum has over 18,000 artifacts and many are centuries old.


Definition: a group of artifacts with a common theme.

Example: This is the most important piece of the Monet collection.


Definition: the person responsible for the museum or exhibit.

Example: The curator told us a fascinating story about the sculpture’s artist.


Definition: the space where artifacts are displayed; often, this word is used in place of “collection.”*

Example: I really loved the large blue painting in the first gallery of the museum.

*”Gallery” is also used for art galleries where the art is sold to the public. 

Gift shop

Definition: the shop (usually near the exit of a museum) where guests can buy souvenirs.

Example: I bought a postcard in the gift shop. I will send it to my family.

Guide/Tour guide

Definition: a person who explains the history and importance of the art, exhibitions, or collections.

Example: We didn’t hire a guide, but we bought the audio guide.


Definition: a collection of art with a common theme: usually exhibits are visiting the museum for a short time and are not part of the “permanent collection.”

Example: Did you hear about the new exhibit at the MOMA? I want to see it!


Definition: another word for a work of art or a part of a museum collection or exhibit.

Example: This is one of the museum’s most popular pieces.


Definition: something people buy to remember their experience.

Example: This bracelet is a souvenir from the SF MOMA.

All photos from the Facebook pages of each museum. 

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