Free Admission to More Than 1,500 Museums, Aquariums and Zoos

Photo (cc) by Sue Waters

More than 1,500 museums in all 50 states will be open free of charge on Saturday, Sept. 27, aka “Museum Day Live!” That is, they’ll be open to those who take advantage of a Smithsonian magazine offer: a ticket good for two people to any participating museum.

Register online and a ticket will be emailed to you. Then just print it out and take it to the venue of your choice. All participants also get a one-year digital subscription to Smithsonian magazine; you can opt out if you like.

That’s one sweet deal. But it’s not the only way to get in free at museums — or at zoos, aquariums, science centers and children’s museums.

Do some restrictions apply? Naturally. But still: Free admission!

The once-a-year Smithsonian deal truly is free: Just apply and print your ticket. (Don’t have a printer? Visit a public library or a copy shop that will let you download the email.) For the others, you need to belong to a specific bank or be a member at an institution that has a reciprocal agreement.

Buy at one place, visit many others – what’s the downside, exactly?

Art, culture and … cowboys?

If you’re a Bank of America customer, the Museums on Us program is good on the first Saturday of the month (and some Sundays) at more than 150 institutions in 31 states. “Customer” means those with bank accounts but also holders of B of A and Merrill Lynch credit or debit cards. Flash your card and a photo ID, and in you go.

Museums on Us has a wide variety of art venues, plus some interesting outliers like the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Motown Museum, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Others aren’t museums at all, including the Houston Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium and the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Park.

If traveling for fun or for business at the beginning of any month, use the link above to find out what’s available in the region. During a trip to New York City, I used my airline credit card, which has a B of A logo on the back, to visit the Museum of Modern Art for free. Bonus: I was also able to skip the long, long line of folks waiting to pay.

Loads of choices

A concept known as museum reciprocity made my recent trip to Austin, Texas, both frugal and culturally enriched. It’s a great idea: Buy an annual pass to an institution affiliated with a reciprocal program and get yourself free or greatly reduced admission to many hundreds of other institutions.

My membership card from the Anchorage Museum got me in the door at both the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art. Although I made donations at both places (and at MoMA in New York), I did have the option of paying nothing at all.

Free museum admission really stretches your travel dollars, and not every museum is about old masters in a dim gallery. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those!) How about the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the Surfing Heritage Foundation, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force or the American Jazz Museum?

Sound intriguing? Any time you plan to travel, check your options through these two groups:

More than just still lifes

Again, you’re not limited to the fine arts when it comes to museum reciprocity.

The Association of Science and Technology Centers is made up of more than 300 educational institutions, mostly in the U.S. and Canada. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums encompasses 156 venues in the U.S., plus one in Canada and one in Mexico.

Many of those institutions offer free admission, but some offer only 50 percent off your ticket. A third organization, the Association of Children’s Museums, lists more than 200 member sites nationwide that will give you 50 percent off admission.

A few caveats about all “free” admission policies:

  • Institutions close to one another may limit free admissions. (“Close” could mean nearby or 90 miles.) If you’re visiting from far away, your hometown museum membership card might get you in at more than one place. Call in advance, so you can prioritize if necessary.
  • You need an actual membership card, so don’t put off joining your local institution. Specifically, don’t wait until just before closing on the day before your trip.
  • A specific membership level (e.g., individual vs. family) could be necessary to get in free at some of these institutions. Check before you go, so you won’t be surprised.
  • Your free admission might not include special attractions or touring exhibits.
  • Prepare to pay for parking. There’s a limit to “free.”

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over

Buy reusable versions of these household items, and you won’t have to spend another dime on them for years.

Drivers Give These 5 Car Insurers the Highest Marks
Drivers Give These 5 Car Insurers the Highest Marks

One company claimed the top ranking in several categories.

6 Tech Gadgets That Make Your Daily Life Easier
6 Tech Gadgets That Make Your Daily Life Easier

These products on Amazon will ease your worries and simplify your routine.

11 Signs That You Chose the Wrong Place to Retire
11 Signs That You Chose the Wrong Place to Retire

Health and happiness in retirement rely on some key factors.

17 Home Maintenance Tasks That Save You Money
17 Home Maintenance Tasks That Save You Money

Here’s how to cut household costs and maintain your property’s value.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?
Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Two factors determine how much money is coming to you.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on these familiar purchases.

5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus
5 Household Disinfectants That Can Destroy the Coronavirus

You likely already have some of these products at home.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You probably don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
16 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise
America’s Most Reliable Appliance Brand Is a Surprise

Have you heard of this appliance manufacturer?

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia
Getting These 2 Shots Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

These vaccines may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40%.

9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline
9 Everyday Problems You Can Solve With Vaseline

Forget expensive specialty products. Good ol’ petroleum jelly can address many common annoyances.

19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret
19 Purchases That Buyers Almost Always Regret

Think twice before buying these things.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store
8 of the Worst Things to Buy at a Dollar Store

Not everything sold at dollar stores is a great bargain or a safe purchase. Here’s our list of products to avoid.

41 Things You Should Never Buy
41 Things You Should Never Buy

Some purchases are just plain dumb. Give yourself — and your budget — a break. Don’t spend money on this stuff.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price
9 Indestructible Products That Are Worth the Price

If you’re willing to pay a little more for these products, you may never have to shop for another again.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.