de Young Museum exterior, image

The exterior of the de Young is as captivating as the exhibits inside. The view from the tower provides a sweeping panorama of San Francisco.

de Young Jolika gallery, image

The stunning Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art is a permanent exhibit.

The de Young Museum: Drama in the Park

Road Journals Blog—You gotta love a museum where you can see a 19th-century house altar from Indonesia, a Frank Lloyd Wright window, an ancient Mayan jade sun god carving, a vintage Christian Dior gown, and paintings by Grant Wood, Mary Cassatt, and Diego Rivera. And all that in a stunning building designed by one of the world's top architectural firms and set in a huge, verdant park.

The de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park has one of the most diverse collections in the Western United States. You'll find paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts from the United States, as well as the art of Africa, Oceania, and the rest of the Americas. The museum is also especially strong in textiles from around the world.

I've visited the de Young for years. In its earlier incarnation, occupying what had been a building from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, it was a nice place to spend an hour or two. The old building was demolished in 2001. With the opening in 2005 of a new one—designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and enigmatically cloaked in a perforated copper screen, with a
tower that torques skyward—the de Young took a quantum leap forward. The comfortable old shoe became a sexy stiletto. The de Young is now the fourth most-visited art museum in North America.

Even if you're just passing by the museum and don't have time for a proper visit, go inside and take the elevator to the top of the tower. It's free, and your reward is a grand view of San Francisco and the bay.

Although I know zip about the art of Oceania, I'm especially drawn to the de Young's world-class collection of extraordinary works from New Guinea. Feathered capes, spirit figures, fearsome masks, and other artifacts are dramatically lit. I guarantee it: The gallery will give you chills.

Photography courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

This blog post was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.