Society of California Pioneers

Categories History

Visit the Society of California Pioneers website >>

For every well-worn story of California's defining moments – the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake, the construction of the railroad – there are thousands of tales untold. Many of these await discovery in the Presidio's Society of Pioneers museum and library, located in the heart of the Presidio on the Main Post.

Diaries, maps, artworks, and thousands of historical items are in the care of the society – which was founded alongside the state of California in 1850 – and continues to be maintained by direct descendants of pre-1850 pioneers. The members of the private society have a very public mission: to share their vast collection dating from the Gold Rush to World War II, providing a richly detailed record of life in the Golden State.

Visit the Society of California Pioneers Museum and Library in the Presidio

After years of being located in downtown San Francisco, in 2014 the Society of California Pioneers found a fitting new home in the Presidio in the historic Montgomery Street Barracks. Their new site houses the society's museum and its non-circulating Alice Phelan Sullivan Research Library, which offers primary source material to researchers and scholars by appointment.

One of the society's original aims was to "perpetuate the memory of those whose sagacity, enterprise, and love of independence induced them to settle in the wilderness," qualities that San Franciscans can appreciate to this day. Though most of the original archive was lost in the earthquake and fire of 1906, John Sutter's diary detailing the discovery of gold survived in a vault. The collection has gradually been rebuilt and includes rare manuscripts, photographs, business papers, decorative objects, and even menus, ads, and business cards. The society's curators sift through the rangy collection, mining it for stories to be told through rotating exhibitions. They also host online exhibitions.

The museum is free and open to the public from 10 am to 4 pm on Fridays and the first Saturday of the month. A suggested donation of $5 helps support education programs. Guided tours and programs for school groups are free with advance reservations.