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.
We’ve rounded up top tips to help you take 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
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s museum and gold vault, New York City
- Houston Center for Photography
- Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
- 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 in Washington, D.C., and the National Zoological Park and at the American Indian Museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City.)
- 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 Museum of African American History, Chicago — free on Tuesdays
- GLBT Historical Society’s archives and museum, San Francisco — free on the first Wednesday of the month
- MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts — free on the last Sunday of the month (except July and August)
- Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles — free on New Year’s Day (the museum’s Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus in L.A. is free everyday)
- Museum of History & Industry, Seattle — free admission to permanent exhibits on the first Thursday of the month
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 — always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties
- Museum of Contemporary Art 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 — always free for Multnomah County residents
- San Diego Museum of Man — free on the third Tuesday of every month for San Diego County residents
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 Memorial 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
Mark your calendar for:
- Museum Day (next happening on Sept. 21): Smithsonian Magazine hosts this event. Participating museums offer free admission to anyone who prints 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.
- Art Museum Day (every May 18): The Association of Art Museum Directors sponsors this event. Its website will list participating museums as the date approaches. Some participating museums offer free admission, others may offer discounts.
- Local museum days: Watch and search for annual local events offering free admission. For example, Austin Museum Day (next happening on Sept. 22) involves free access to exhibits at museums in the Austin, Texas, area. Museums Free-for-All (in February) involves free general admission to museums in 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 describes itself as “one of the largest reciprocal membership programs in the world.”
Over 1,000 institutions are part of NARM’s network. They include arts, cultural and historical institutions as well as botanical gardens, children’s museums, and science and technology 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
To learn about other freebies for your summer vacation or staycation, check out “9 Travel Freebies You Can Enjoy in 2019.”
What’s your favorite free museum, or your favorite way to visit museums for free? Share your thoughts in a comment below or at MoneyTalksNews on Facebook, where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.