Whether you hope to vacation or staycation this summer, museums are among the many easy ways you can keep costs down.
Thousands of institutions across the country offer free admission every day, or on certain days of the week, month or year. They include museums of art, history, science, culture and industry, as well as children’s museums.
Following are many of the top ways to advantage of these freebies. Museum policies may change, so call to confirm before you go.
1. Institutions that are always free
You can find museums across that country where admission is always free for everyone. Here are a few examples to illustrate the variety:
- Arizona Capitol Museum, Phoenix
- Baltimore Museum of Art
- Houston Center for Photography
- Minneapolis Institute of Art
- National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago
- New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park
- Smithsonian Institute (Admission is free at all Smithsonian museums and galleries and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; some locations require free tickets or passes for entry.)
- Texas Military Forces Museum, Austin, Texas
To find more, just do an internet search for “free museums” plus the city or state where you live or are traveling.
2. Institutions that are sometimes free
Many museums waive admission on a regular basis, such as on a certain day of the week or month. For example:
- DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, Chicago — free on Wednesdays
- The GLBT Historical Society’s museum and archives, San Francisco — free on the first Wednesday of the month
- Museum of History & Industry, Seattle — free admission to permanent exhibits on the first Thursday of the month from 5-8 p.m.
- Holocaust Museum LA — free admission on Thursdays all day and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.
To find more, search for a phrase like “free museum admission days” plus a city or state, or check the websites of the museums you want to visit. Free days are often noted on the admission or hours page.
3. Institutions that waive admission for specific groups
Many museums also regularly waive admission for specific groups, such as local residents. A few examples (check with museums to learn their ID requirements for free admission):
- Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) — always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties
- MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts — always free for Cambridge residents
- Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago — free on Tuesdays for Illinois residents
- National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis — free from 3 p.m. until closing on Mondays for Tennessee residents
- Oregon Historical Society museum and library, Portland, Oregon — always free for Multnomah County residents
- San Diego Museum of Us — free for Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples globally
Other such groups often include children, seniors, students and military members or veterans. Again, do a search for the applicable group or ask the museums you want to visit.
If you’re part of a military family, search for Blue Star Museums. Begun in 2010, this network now comprises some 2,000 institutions, all of which offer free admission to active-duty military personnel (including National Guard and Reserve) and their families from Armed Forces Day through Labor Day.
4. Bank of America’s Museums on Us program
Bank of America, U.S. Trust and Merrill Lynch credit and debit card holders get one free general admission to certain museums on the first full weekend of every month as part of Bank of America’s Museums on Us program.
Here are the institutions currently participating in the program.
Cardholders simply show their Bank of America, Merrill Lynch or U.S. Trust credit or debit card and a photo ID to get in.
5. Annual free museum days
Smithsonian Magazine hosts Museum Day each year in mid-September. Participating museums offer free admission to anyone who downloads a free ticket from Smithsonian Magazine’s website. Watch the site, starting in mid-August, for ticket availability. A Museum Day ticket provides free admission for two people.
Watch and search for annual local events offering free admission, too. For example, Austin Museum Day (on the second-to-last Sunday of September) involves free access to exhibits at museums in the Austin, Texas, area. Museums Free-for-All (in February) involves free general admission to more than 30 museums across Southern California.
6. Reciprocal membership programs
The basic idea behind reciprocal membership programs is that if you join one institution that’s part of a network, you can visit the other institutions in that network for free or for discounted admission.
Take for example the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, which boasts “more than 1,000 member institutions in six different countries.” They include arts, cultural and historical institutions as well as botanical gardens, children’s museums and science centers.
If you join one of those institutions at the NARM membership level, your benefits will include free admission to the other institutions.
Other museum-related reciprocal membership programs include the:
- Association of Children’s Museums’ ACM Reciprocal Network
- Association of Science-Technology Centers’ ASTC Travel Passport Program
- Southeastern Museums Conference’s SERM Reciprocal Membership Program
7. The Museums for All program
People receiving food assistance benefits receive free or reduced admission at over 1,000 museums in the U.S., thanks to the federal “Museums for All” program which launched in 2014. Just present an SNAP EBT card upon entry to qualify up to four people per visit.
To find a participating museum, visit the Museums For All website and use the search tool or view its full list.