Museum of 3D Illusions: SF’s Next Instagram Spot

What to Know

  • This museum the second of its kind in the US, but there are 108 worldwide, with the first in Russia

  • The museum is located in Fisherman’s Wharf, and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

  • Tickets are $25, with VIP photographer service and tripod rentals available for extra fees

First, there was the Museum of Ice Cream, then there was Candytopia, and now the Museum of 3D Illusions is poised to be the latest social media attraction on every San Francisco visitor’s must-do list.

“They’re more than just paintings,” said Maria Velasquez, a shift leader and photographer who spoke to us as crowds of students on spring break crowded into the small lobby. “Here, people have the opportunity to become part of the paintings.”

Set in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, the museum is the second of its kind in the U.S. — Hollywood’s was the first — and if it does well, Velasquez says the next two locations will be in Miami and Orlando, Florida. But the U.S. is late to this party: there are 108 Museums of 3D Illusions all over the world, with the very first located in Russia.

Just as global as the museum itself are the artists who paint the illusions. They fly in from Europe and South America, or drive from across town, to paint each one-of-a-kind illusion directly onto the museum’s walls and floors. Every museum is different, and the art found in each one features iconic local scenery.

“It’s all handmade,” Velasquez said. “Here, we show landscapes of beautiful San Francisco, Lombard Street.”

The museum is meticulously maintained — cleaning crews were everywhere during our visit — and at least once a month, painters come to touch up the artwork. It’s a good thing, because visitors are encouraged to crawl and jump all over the paintings to get the full effect.

“Coming out to the museum is a workout,” Velasquez said. “We have a lot of customers getting out of here sweating, because it’s a lot of movement, a lot of interaction.”

Each illusion has a “camera spot” — marked with colorful icons on the floor — from which the 3D effect will look best when photographed. Some require photos to be turned sideways or upside-down after they’re taken.

With celebratory music playing, and visitors busy pretending to skydive, surf, and cling to the ledges of towering skyscrapers, it’s easy to forget about the world outside for an hour or two — but the very last painting might bring you back. It depicts a person immersed in an aquarium with a smartphone bolted onto one eye, and the icons of popular social media apps floating in the water above.

“He’s a Spanish artist,” Velasquez explained. “And he’s trying to explain how we’re drowned in social media as a society.”

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