Oldest Art Museums on the West Coast

The 10 Oldest Art Museums on the West Coast

Art museums serve as gateways to cultural heritage and creative expression. 

On the West Coast, numerous institutions have preserved and celebrated art for decades. In this article, we will explore the ten oldest art museums on the West Coast. These museums have not only withstood the test of time but have also played major roles in shaping the art scene of their respective regions. 

Join us on a journey through the rich history of these cultural landmarks.

8.  Asian Art Museum

Established: 1966
Location: San Francisco, California
Notable Features: Extensive collection of Asian art, housed in a former library building

Asian Art MuseumPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Asian Art Museum, situated in San Fransisco, boasts a collection of over 18,000 artworks, some of which dates back to 6000 years.  This museum was founded by a passionate Asian art antiquarian, Avery Brundage.

In recent decades, the museum has evolved into a vibrant center for cultural and artistic exploration. 

With the leadership of museum director Jay Xu, the museum continues to foster a deep appreciation and understanding of Asian art through its exhibitions, educational programs, and community engagement initiatives. 

With its impressive collection and commitment to cultural exchange, the Asian Art Museum remains a huge tourist attraction and a notable institution in the art world. 

Did you know? 

The Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco houses the largest collection of Asian art outside of Asia.

7. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Established: 1963
Location: Berkeley, California
Notable Features: Focus on contemporary art and film, striking architecture

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film ArchivePhoto Source: Wikipedia

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California, has a unique blend of an art museum, a repertory movie theater, and an archive. With an art and antique collection of 22,000, including Chinese paintings, Indian miniatures, Barbeque paintings, old master prints, African- American quilts, and contemporary art, the museum offers a diverse artistic experiences. 

The Pacific Film Archive, a part of BAMPFA, features an extensive collection of 16,000 films and videos. 

Did you know?

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives house the largest Japanese Films collection outside its home country, Japan.

6. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Established: 1935
Location: San Francisco, California
Notable Features: Modern and contemporary art, expansion by Snøhetta

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)Photo Source: Wikipedia

San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art is a prestigious modern and contemporary art museum located in San Francisco, California. Recognized globally, SFMOMA holds a vast collection of over 33,000 works, including painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, design, and media arts. It is the first museum on the west coast solely dedicated to 20th-century art. 

Being one of the largest exhibition spaces in the US, it spans over 170,000 square feet. SFMOMA’s rich history, commitment to showcasing diverse artistic expressions, and renowned collections have solidified its status as a leading museum not just in the US but across the globe. 

Did you know?  

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has an outdoor living wall, known as the “Living Wall,” which is made up of over 19,000 plants and spans 3 stories, making it one of the largest living walls in the united states.

5. Seattle Art Museum(SAM)

Established: 1933
Location: Seattle, Washington
Notable Features: A broad range of art, iconic “Hammering Man” sculpture

Seattle Art Museum(SAM)Photo Source: Wikipedia

With its main museum situated in downtown Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum also operates the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill and the Olympic Sculpture Park on the central Seattle waterfront. 

The museum’s collections now comprise nearly 25,000 art pieces. From paintings, sculptures, photography, architecture, design, and to media arts, it provides visitors with a diverse and artistic experience. 

Did you know? 

This museum has a very striking 48-foot-tall kinetic sculpture called “Hammering Man,” which represents the continuous labor of the common man. 

4. San Diego Museum of Art

Established: 1926
Location: San Diego, California
Notable Features: Fine art collection spanning many periods and cultures

San Diego Museum of ArtPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Situated in Balboa Park, the museum houses an extensive collection with a particular emphasis on Spanish art. It features diverse artwork from 5000 BC to 2012 AD, encompassing masterpieces by renowned artists such as Murillo, Zurbaran, Cotan, Ribera, El Greco, and Goya.

The museum’s architecture, designed by William Templeton Johnson and Robert W. Snyder, incorporates influences from Spanish structures like the University of Salamanca and the Cathedral of Valladolid. With its rich collection and ongoing efforts to present art innovatively, the San Diego Museum of Art continues captivating visitors, attracting nearly half a million people annually. 

Did you know? 

A unique exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is “The Back of the Canvas,”  revealing hidden details and insights about the artworks through marketing and information on the canvases’ backside.

3. De Young Museum

Established: 1895
Location: San Francisco, California
Notable Features: Fine art collections, iconic copper-clad exterior

De Young MuseumPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The De Young Museum initially occupied an Egyptian revival building from the California Midwinter International Exposition. 

Over the years, the museum underwent several renovations and expansions, with the current building completed in 2005. 

The De Young Museum houses an extensive collection of European art, anthropological holdings, and works from various cultures worldwide. It serves as a vibrant cultural hub, engaging with the arts community through its Artist Studio residency program and promoting emerging artists.

Did you know? 

The De Young Museum features an ancient avian effigy called the “Cover Pot,” dated back to 250- 350 AD, which adds a unique and captivating element to its collection.

2. Portland Art Museum

Established: 1892
Location: Portland, Oregon
Notable Features: Extensive collection, diverse exhibits

Portland Art MuseumPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Portland Art Museum consists of over 42,000 original artworks. The museum had a massive expansion, from casts of classical structures and prints of European paintings to a wide range of global cultures and media exhibitions. The smooth running and growth of the museum are fueled by donations and bequests from individuals passionate about art, resulting in an impressive collection that represents various artistic traditions.

The museum showcases groundbreaking exhibitions, including the infamous Armory show of avant-gardeart in 1913. Today, the portland art museum continues to celebrate Pacific Northwest artists while embracing a global perspective in its exhibitions and acquisitions.  

Did you know? 

The Portland Art Museum is the oldest public art collection on the United States West Coast.

1. Crocker Art Museum

Established: 1885
Location: Sacramento, California
Notable Features: Historic Victorian building, diverse collections

Crocker Art MuseumPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Since founded in 1885, this museum houses an extensive collection of artwork encompassing various styles, periods, and cultural backgrounds. Its collection of Californian art stands out as one of its greatest strengths, showcasing works from the state’s early years to the present day. Crocker Art Museum is the oldest museum on the west coast

Notable exhibits include Charles Christian Nahl’s epic depictions of the California Gold Rush and artworks by prominent Californian artists such as William Keith, Granville Redmond, and Wayne Thiebaud. 

The museum also houses an impressive bunch of American art featuring renowned artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Henri, and Childe Hassam. 

Did you know?

Crocker Art Museum is considered to have the world’s largest collection of California impressionist paintings.


Museums are culturally safe houses. We have explored some of the oldest museums on the west coast, and it has been very rewarding both culturally and intellectually. 

From the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, these institutions house diverse collections that span centuries. Discover contemporary art at the Berkeley Art Museum, modern masterpieces at SFMOMA, and Spanish art at the San Diego Museum of Art. Immerse yourself in the cultural treasures of the Seattle Art Museum and explore the vibrant artistic traditions that define the West Coast. 

Just let go of such cultural experiences. Understanding how humans traveled and evolved in every possible way is important. 

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