Free Admissions to Museums

Saving on Museum Admissions

Museums are great places to get to know the country or the city you are visiting. You can learn a lot about history, culture, art, or nature and escape heat, cold, or rain. Museums can be pretty expensive, but most offer some type of programs or other ways to save money. Let’s take a look at 7 tips of how to visit museums without spending too much:

1. The Museums on Us Program
If you are Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card owner, you are invited to visit many museums free for the entire first weekend of the month. There are about 150 locations all over the country, including such gems as Museum of Fine Arts, Boston or National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma. The list changes every year, so make sure you check the museum you are planning to go to.


2. Multi-attraction booklets and City Passes
Booklets are collections of coupons that apply to major attractions. You can find great discounts for attractions, restaurants, and museums. City Pass is the most popular option. It offers a few prepaid tickets to top attractions in major cities, like New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many others. You will save not only money, but also time, as you won’t have to wait for tickets in long lines. Smart Destinations and All-inclusive Inclusion Pass are two other popular options available in many cities.

3. Pay as you wish
Many museums will take any donation you will feel like donating. They do have a suggested amount, like $25, but if you feel like paying $1, nobody will look at you twice. Some museums always operate like that; some have certain days for optional donations. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are always optional pay, while The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers “Pay as You Wish” program on the first Sunday of every month.

4. Free or reduced days/nights
Some museums have special monthly or weekly events when visitors are invited for free or at very reduced admission. Many museums are open for all on certain first nights of the month. For example, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has Fridays after Five events; New York City’s MOMA is also open on Fridays from 4-8 pm. Other museums around the country open doors for free on first Wednesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays of the month. All you have to do is find out those special days.
There are some museums that are always free. The most famous such collection is Smithsonian Portfolio museums in Washington DC. You can also visit The Getty Center in LA and Saint Louis Art Museum at no charge, just the parking fee.

5. State Residency
Some museums want to encourage locals to come and learn something new, bring guests, and just enjoy the expositions for free or almost free. Free resident days usually happen once or so per month and require ID to get in. San Francisco Zoo offers such deal for SF residents once a month, while Chicago’s Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Museum of Science and Industry invite Illinois residents free a few times a month. Some facilities offer such deal just once a year, so again, you have to find out.

6. Sponsored programs
Target is known for sponsoring a wide variety of programs all around the country in participating institutions, so this is one good way to get in for free and soak up some culture. Smithsonian Magazine has Museum Day Live program, which invites families of two free to many participating museums in late September. Blue Star Museum Program sponsors military personnel and their family members’ trips to various museums all summer long.

7. Tourism bureau discounts
City tourism bureaus and state visitor centers can offer you some significant discounts and free stuff wherever you go. Nashville’s Music City Total Access Pass will open the doors to four free attractions and gift an admission to Parthenon. New York City’s New York Pass is a card you can buy that will give you access to various free attractions and even tours for as many days as you purchase, for example 80. Make sure you check the city you are going to for similar programs and deals.


There are some truly spectacular gardens here in sunny California. Some of them even offer free admission on select days.

The Arboretum Admission free on the third Tuesday of the month (No tram on these days) Parking is free.

Balboa Park in San Diego. Free Tuesdays in the Park. Official site

As a public service Park organizations offer free admission on a rotating basis throughout the month.

First Tuesday

  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
  • Centro Cultural de la Raza

Second Tuesday

  • Museum of Photographic Arts
  • Museum of San Diego History
  • Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center

Third Tuesday

  • San Diego Art Institute
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Mingei International Museum

Fourth Tuesday

  • San Diego Aerospace Museum
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • San Diego Hall of Champions
  • House of Pacific Relations International Cottages

Fifth Tuesday

  • Normal museum prices in effect.
  • The Timken Museum of Art is always free.
  • Veterans Memorial Center is free, donation requested.


Recently relocated from its Malibu home to a mountaintop in Brentwood, the multi-billion dollar endowed Getty is drawing rave reviews for its collection of priceless artwork. It’s also packing ’em in with turn-away crowds. It easily eclipses the other area art museums such as the Norton Simon in Pasadena; the L.A. County Museum of Art on Wilshire; and the Gene Autry Museum in Griffith Park…all of which charge a hefty admission.

Admission is free but you need a parking reservation. Parking is $5. You can also arrive without a reservation via bus or taxi (or any other mode of transport) but you are not guaranteed admission if the crowds are heavy. Call (310) 440-7300 for parking reservations.


The brand-new California Science Center in Exposition Park is another smashing success story. Replacing the aging Museum of Science and Industry, the Science Center is sparkling new with great interactive exhibits to keep kids & their parents busy for hours.

Admission is free but their is a separate charge for the IMAX theater, the Museum of Natural History, and parking. Check out the very historic L.A. Colosseum right next door while you’re here used in the 1928 and 1984 Olympic Games.


The premiere auto museum in L.A. is the Petersen Museum on Wilshire Bl. at Fairfax. A great place and well worth the visit & admission charge but there are two other, little known, auto museums in the area that are also extraordinarily significant in the field and absolutely free.

The Penske (as in Roger) Racing Team Museum is located in the basement of Longo Toyota in El Monte and open Monday through Saturday. Dedicated to the racing legacy of Team Penske, this small museum hold many of the team’s Indy winning cars, pace cars, and other momentos of the team’s history that includes such drivers as Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Rick Mears, Emmerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Rusty Wallace, and more. This is a must-see stop for any racing fans…especially Indy fans! Located off the 10 (San Bernadino) Freeway at Peck Road North.

The Justice Brothers Racing Museum in Duarte is a magnificent showcase of local and national racing lore as seen through the eyes of Ed Justice, owner of the Justice Brothers Automotive Additives Company and the Justice Brothers Racing Team.

Ed has used a considerable portion of his fortune in assembling this collection that will just blow your socks off. Open Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00. Take the 210 Freeway east to Irwindale Ave. Go north on Irwindale to Huntington Dr. and turn left to Las Lomas. Make a u-turn at Las Lomas and park in the Justice Brothers parking lot.


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