Contemporary Jewish Museum

Downtown, Civic Center & SoMa

That upended blue-steel box miraculously balancing on one corner atop the Contemporary Jewish Museum is appropriate for an institution that upends conventional ideas about art and religion. Architect Daniel Libeskind designed this museum to be rational, mystical and powerful: building onto a 1907 brick power station, he added blue-steel elements to form the Hebrew word l'chaim (life). But it's the contemporary-art commissions that truly bring the building to life.

Rotating exhibits offer compelling explorations of Jewish ideals and visionaries such as writer Gertrude Stein, rock promoter Bill Graham, cartoonist Roz Chast and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, along with everything from Anthony Discenza's spiritual road signs warning of 'Wafting Music' ahead, to Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor's giant trickster golem (monsters), built of scavenged rags and packing crates.

Stick around for events such as desert filmmaking with Star Wars set designer Erik Tiemens, Bay Area artists discussing the impact of AIDS activism, and interpretive dance for elders with choreographer Joe Goode. Artistic and theological debates are further fueled by respectable pastrami, served on-site from 11am to 2pm during the week, and to 3pm on weekends, by SF's own Wise Sons deli.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Downtown, Civic Center & SoMa attractions

1. 49 Geary

0.12 MILES

Pity the collectors silently nibbling endive in austere Chelsea galleries – at 49 Geary, First Thursday art openings mean unexpected art, popcorn and…

2. Lotta's Fountain

0.13 MILES

Lotta Crabtree made fortunes as San Francisco's diminutive opera diva, and she never forgot the city that paid for her trademark cigars. In 1875 she…

3. Museum of the African Diaspora

0.14 MILES

MoAD assembles an international cast of characters to tell the epic story of diaspora, including a moving video of slave narratives told by Maya Angelou…

4. Yerba Buena Gardens

0.14 MILES

Breathe a sigh of relief: you've found the lush green getaway in the concrete heart of SoMa, between Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Metreon…

5. California Historical Society

0.15 MILES

Enter a Golden State of enlightenment at this Californiana treasure trove, featuring themed exhibitions drawn from the museum's million-plus California…

6. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

0.17 MILES

When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expanded in 2016, it was a mind-boggling feat that nearly tripled the institution's size to accommodate a…

7. I Magnin Building

0.17 MILES

When Timothy Pflueger’s radical design was revealed on Union Sq in 1948, SF society was shocked: San Francisco’s flagship clothing store appeared…

8. SPUR Urban Center Gallery

0.17 MILES

Cities are what you make of them, and urban-planning nonprofit SPUR invites you to reimagine San Francisco (and your own hometown) with gallery shows that…