On a surprisingly clear Sunday in San Francisco, we arrived at the de Young, the Bay Area’s premier fine arts museum, for Museum Hack’s exclusive new tour: de Young Fine Arts Museum: Harry Potter-Inspired Mini-Tour. Museum Hack is a unique tour guide company offering “renegade tours at the world’s best museums.” Along with its “sassy” insider stories, the intimate tours include trivia activities and even competitions where you can win prizes. Since the company’s slogan is “Museums Are F***ing Awesome,” we knew that we were in for an interesting time.
As a key element to the tour, our tour guides, Casey and Kate, made sure that every activity, game, and story related to the wizarding world. The first sign of this was when we gathered underneath the stairs to start our journey just as Harry did. For each stop during our “shopping trip around Diagon Alley,” Casey and Kate pointed out various relics from ancient societies that were reminiscent of various Hogwarts supplies. For example, the Gringotts stop consisted of a case full of small figures that were used as money.
Once at Hogwarts, and before we were Sorted, we learned about the attributes of all the Houses through art pieces that represented each one. As for the Sorting, you could either choose your House or leave it up to fate and pick from a deck of cards. Finally, we fast forwarded to our OWLs, with subjects like Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Transfiguration, and ended with a mini-Quidditch game. After each group of two received their OWL scores, the group that received the most points was awarded their top picks out of a deck of wizarding world careers they would want. As a bonus, Casey and Kate had each of us select an art piece as a “happy Horcrux” that we would place our souls into. After we offered our explanation as to why we had selected our items, Casey chose the winner and gave them a Harry Potter Mystery Mini.
I would definitely say my favorite part of the whole tour was when I caught the Golden Snitch (does this make me an honorary Puff?). This contributed to my partner and me having the most points at the end, so we got to choose our wizarding world jobs from the Outstanding group of cards. This included things like MACUSA President and Minister of Magic, but I chose to be an Unspeakable, which is probably one of the coolest jobs you could ever have. But beating everyone at the OWLs wasn’t even my favorite part. I loved walking around the de Young to see all the art and listening to the tour guides explain the background stories. Not only did they somehow connect each piece to Harry Potter, but they also included the cultural context and what these pieces meant to the people who actually created them. As someone who is a student in the Humanities Department, I was impressed by how they didn’t skip over the history of the art. I found it fascinating, and they also made it entertaining for people who don’t enjoy reading about art history. I really enjoyed the tour as a whole, and I definitely got to learn about art at the museum the best way - with Potter references. Our tour guides are obviously huge fans, which I appreciated. This whole tour was unexpected, but in the best way so.
So let me start by saying that I've been to the de Young a couple of times, and it's not my favorite. In general, I'm a fan of museums, but I'm not so much a fan of the fine arts - until you throw Harry Potter into the mix. I managed to spend six hours at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London no problem, but as soon as I step foot into a fine arts museum, I suffer from what Museum Hack calls "Museum Fatigue - a real problem where visitors get tired and bored when they visit museums."
With our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides, Casey and Kate, this was certainly not the case! These women were experts on the art they showed us, informed about the history behind the pieces, and even knew a bit about Harry Potter. 😉 It's clear why the minimum age for this tour (and indeed, most of their tours) is set at 16: The language used and topics discussed may be unsuitable for children. However, this made it very engaging and particularly good for young adults. It creates a space where art can be appreciated for something more than "this dead guy once painted this other guy who looks like a peacock sitting at a piano." The story behind James Abbott McNeill Whistler's The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor) is actually quite funny - at least as told by our tour guides.
Since we were invited to attend Museum Hack's very first Harry Potter-themed tour at the de Young, it hit the usual snag that a first performance usually would: timing. There were parts of the tour at the beginning that went on for too long and others at the end that had to be rushed. Unfortunately, we couldn't just enjoy a longer tour because it was scheduled to end 15 minutes before the museum closed. We did end up going nearly half an hour over, finishing up the last 15 minutes outside of the museum grounds. However, practice makes perfect, and the more often they're able to do this tour, the more refined it will be.
Our tour guides were what happens when you combine a Potterhead and a museum nerd into one. Kate and Casey are the most energetic guides you will ever encounter - definitely the opposite of Professor Binns when describing stories of the past. They were so good at describing the events behind various artifacts while still relating everything back to the wizarding world. My personal favorite activity was our Defense Against the Dark Arts “class.” Essentially, as groups of two, we had to select a painting in the portrait gallery, create a name for the character, say what their Dark Arts specialty was, and determine how we would defeat them. Felicia and I chose a portrait that looked suspiciously similar to a young Professor McGonagall. We described her as a distant relative of McGonagall who was excellent at the Snake Summons Spell (Serpensortia), and we would vanquish her by using Parseltongue.
The only downside to the tour, in my opinion, was that it was scheduled to finish 15 minutes before the de Young closed. So if someone wanted to explore the museum more after the tour, they would have virtually no time to do so.
The de Young Fine Arts Museum: Harry Potter-Inspired Mini-Tour is currently scheduled for three more dates only: Friday, November 10; Sunday, November 12; and Sunday, November 19. Tickets are $39 and include admission to the de Young, which is regularly $15 for adults. The minimum age for the tour is 16, and all of Museum Hack’s tours are capped at 12, something we all thought was a great idea since we had no problem gathering around a piece and getting a good view. We recommend going on this tour with a friend since you’ll be doing a lot of partner work!
Museum Hack offers tours in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Every city features the company’s signature Un-Highlights Tour, but we’re most excited for a possible upcoming Harry Potter-themed tour at the Met. Details are forthcoming, but our guide hinted that it may coincide with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’sBroadway run next year.
Hi, I'm MuggleNet's Managing Editor and resident linguist. I'm an outgoing introvert and enjoy working behind the scenes to encourage and support our staff rather than being front and center. I like watching movies and listening to the rain. Merriam-Webster is my favorite dictionary.