California Historical Society

You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy the impressive collections of images, artifacts, costumes and other California-centric items found at the California Historical Society, but you may become one during your visit to this remarkable facility. This museum is often overlooked by visitors and local residents alike, as San Francisco and the greater Bay Area feature many cultural institutions with higher profiles (and larger marketing budgets.) However, if you prefer museums with smaller crowds and a layout that encourages and rewards a more leisurely pace, then this is the place for you.

The Society is more than 140 years old, but their remarkable collection features items that are much older than that drawn from California’s remarkable, turbulent, colorful and sometimes cataclysmic history. The exhibits feature plenty of items and stories from the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake, the state’s struggle for independence and other important milestones, but they also provides glimpses into lesser-known but no less important events not often found in history books.

If you’re thinking that this facility is another dry collection of pictures, artifacts and dioramas depicting life in the olden days, think again. The Society is a vibrant facility with interactive exhibits and a calendar of events that offers something for everyone on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. There are arts, crafts and storytelling events for children, which make history come alive, lectures and book events from leading historians and other scholars holding forth on a variety of topics, free tours with guest concierges on the third Thursday of each month, guided tours of other locations and much more.

In a city brimming with tech giants and surrounded by silicon valleys, it’s easy to feel a little nostalgic for the simpler days of the past. The past, though, was once both present and future for other times, and this fact is illuminated regularly at San Francisco’s California Historical Society.

From developers to architects to residents, the people of San Francisco have shared visions of what they think the structures of the city should reflect. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, their views can inspire even more futuristic visions.

The objective of the CHS is to allow residents and visitors the opportunity to incorporate history into their own present-day experiences. This mission took root in the 1870s, when a group first attempted to form what is now a thriving non-profit organization. It took several decades for the society to fully unfurl and showcase its first exhibition in 1924. The organization beckoned visitors in Pacific Heights for a time before moving to its current location on Mission Street in 1993.

Just as CHS spans many of San Francisco’s formative years, so do its exhibits reflect the ever-growing nature of the area. In 2012, the society partook in the celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary. Past exhibits have included equally localized presentations, from photographs to artwork to poetry and beyond.

In 2014, visitors can explore the rich, multicultural history of the Golden State as experienced by Juana Briones, a pioneering Californian in more ways than one. Thanks to her documentation of an extraordinary life in early Yerba Buena, or the future San Francisco, modern residents and visitors can appreciate the marbled lineage of a magnetic region.

Later next year, exhibits include a walking tour of Briones Park in the East Bay and a look at a special group of female entrepreneurs. Younger visitors can participate in the “History for Half Pints” program, which revolves arts, crafts and stories around CHS exhibits.

The California Historical Society is located at 678 Mission Street in San Francisco. They can be reached at (415) 357-1848 or via the web at The gallery and store are open Tuesdays through Sundays from 12:00 – 5:00, and the library is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 12:00 – 5:00.

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