The largest collection of Asian art in the United States, this stellar museum boasts over 18,000 treasures from Asian countries as varied as China, Tibet, India, and The Middle East. With items spanning a 6,000-year history, it’s also the largest museum of its kind in this hemisphere. The concept of a museum devoted solely to Asian culture began in 1960 when Chicago Industrialist, Avery Brundage, agreed to donate his personal collection of Asian art to the city of San Francisco. Over time, the collection outgrew its space in a wing of the de Young Museum, and Italian architect, Gae Aulenti (famed for the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the Palazzo Grassi in Venice), was hired to convert San Francisco’s former main library into a contemporary showcase. Skylights, glass, and concrete hold three stories of treasures sorted by country. To better understand what you’re seeing, I highly recommend taking a free docent-led tour, on which you’ll learn about the role of the elephant as the ancient SUV of India, the reason jade can’t be chiseled, and, while looking at a Koran from the 14th century, find out what the word “Koran” means. A highlight: one of the only collections of Sikh art in the world. With items of different mediums—including furniture, statues, clothing, paintings, jewelry, and sculpture—the pieces are varied and intriguing, even for kids. The collections change regularly and there is usually a visiting exhibition; the $5 audio tour is well worth the price. The museum store has handsome gifts for surprisingly good prices, and Café Asia serves a fabulous Asian chicken salad.
- Erika Lennert