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Googling free museums near me? As a mom trying to save a few bucks here and there, I have absolutely done the same. Especially when it’s a rainy day. I don’t know about you, but there are only so many seasonal activities and crafts my kids can do before they’re climbing the walls!
The good news is, you don’t have to wait until next September for Museum Day, the annual celebration hosted by Smithsonian Magazine where participating museums around the country waive their admission fee. There are plenty of museums around the United States that don’t charge visitors anything at all, whether it’s all year long or during certain times of the week!
After a little digging, I found museums in every state across America that have free admission, which I’ve listed below. While some are classic art museums, I’ve also included living history houses, maritime institutions, facilities dedicated to fire safety and railroad history, air and space observatories, and dinosaur exhibitions where your little T-rex lover will be in fossil heaven!
While all of these attractions listed below offer free entry, some do ask for a “suggested donation” at the front desk. And it’s always a good idea to check with each museum directly before you head out to make sure that there haven’t been any changes to their hours of operation.
Have fun exploring!
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Bank of America cardholders can get free museum admission throughout the year.
Through their Museums On Us® program, Bank of America is providing cardholders free admission to over 225 museums across the U.S. General admission is free on the first full weekend of each month. To get your free general admission, present your active Bank of America, Merrill, or Bank of America Private Bank (U.S. Trust) credit or debit card, along with a photo ID for one free general admission to a participating cultural institution.
Here are the 2023 dates for the Museums On Us free admission weekends:
- Jan. 7 – 8
- Feb. 4 – 5
- March 4 – 5
- April 1 – 2
- May 6 – 7
- June 3 – 4
- July 1 – 2
- Aug. 5 – 6
- Sep. 2 – 3
- Oct. 7 – 8
- Nov. 4 – 5
- Dec. 2 – 3
Free Museums in Every State
Built out of shipping containers, the drive-thru Museum of Wonder in Searle is a modern-day cabinet of curiosities featuring art, artifacts, and oddities! They’re open 24/7, with personal tours of select sites by appointment.
Located within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in McCarthy, the McCarthy-Kennicott Historical Museum gives visitors a taste of Alaska’s mining era. Open only during the summer due to the area’s weather and terrain, the museum accepts donations and is just steps away from the historic Kennecott ghost town.
If you’re looking to give your family a traditional art museum experience without breaking the bank, the Phoenix Art Museum offers several reduced and free admission days. Every Wednesday between 3 and 9 p.m. is Pay-What-You-Wish-Wednesday, but special exhibitions will require a ticket. General admission is also free from 5 to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month as part of the museum’s partnership with the First Friday art walk held downtown each month. And on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, visitors who present a valid Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, or a U.S. Trust credit or debit card will receive free general admission.
History and military buffs will love the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal (which is the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur), the museum’s exhibits include artifacts, uniforms, documents, and more that portray the state’s military history. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
As the most-visited public observatory in the world, the Griffith Observatory is downtown Los Angeles’ gateway to the stars. The ones in the sky, that is! Known for its spectacular live planetarium shows, the Griffith Observatory also offers amazing views of downtown L.A. and the iconic Hollywood Sign.
The oldest aviation museum in the state, the Peterson Air & Space Museum is located within the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. Dedicated to Colorado’s rich aviation history (the United States Air Force Academy is just 20 miles away), the museum includes the city’s first airport passenger terminal, a memorial park, an airpark, and the Old City Hangar. Admission is free Tuesday through Friday, and tours on Saturday can be made by appointment.
On the third Saturday of every month, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield offers free admission for parents/guardians, students, and children under 12 who preregister for the Story and Studio activity. After the morning’s story time and craft activity — themed around one of the museum’s current exhibitions — you and your family can stick around to enjoy the rest of the museum!
Looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon? Spend it strolling around the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington! Admission is free every Sunday from opening to close, as well as Thursday evenings after 4 p.m. from April to December.
On the first Tuesday of every month, admission is free at the Glazer Children’s Museum in downtown Tampa from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a wonderful interactive museum for little minds, and kids will love playing in exhibits like an ice cream parlor, pizza place, children’s hospital, firehouse, and more! Due to the high volume of visitors during Free Tuesdays, groups of more than 10 people will not be permitted entry, and the museum reserves the right to limit the number of attendees.
You never have to pay an entry fee at Atlanta’s top tourist destination: The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. The tribute to America’s Civil Rights leader includes King’s birth home, the DREAM Gallery, Behold monument and World Peace Rose Garden, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was pastor, and his final resting place. Most of the park’s buildings have been reopened after COVID closures, but hours of operation could be limited due to staffing issues, so check the website for updates before planning your visit!
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The Honolulu Museum of Art houses one of the largest collections of Asian and Pan-Pacific art in the United States. Spanning over 5,000 years of history, the museum’s 50,000-plus works of art represent all of Hawaii’s cultures. On the third Sunday of every month, the HoMA offers free admission for residents, with special family-themed activities running from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
If your little one loves horses, they’ll love a visit to the Appaloosa Museum in Moscow! Dedicated to showcasing why this particular breed is so special to Idaho, the museum includes a theater, a hands-on activity center, a library, and more. Admission is free, but a small donation per family is suggested.
An urban oasis in the heart of Chicago, the Garfield Park Conservatory offers visitors more than two acres of outdoor gardens and indoor display houses. You do need to make a reservation to visit the beautiful gardens and the fern room, palm house, and other botanical exhibitions … but it’s all free!
With exhibits and artifacts that showcase the state’s role in America’s military history, The Indiana War Memorial Museum is a must-see attraction in downtown Indianapolis. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, the museum is located within the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District just steps away from other free-to-see monuments honoring Hoosier veterans who fought in World War II, the Vietnam War, and more.
Related: For those who have served, we put together a list of year-round military discounts for active-duty personnel and veterans.
Check out the earth and the stars at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium in Cherokee. Exhibits — many of them interactive — at the family-friendly museum include the history of the Native Americans who first lived in the area, fossilized remains of the animals that roamed the region during the Ice Age, and a display devoted to Iowa Astronaut Peggy Whitson.
Need something to occupy the kids during the next school break? Visit the Kansas Aviation Museum! Every Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, the museum hosts their Little Aviators program which is totally free for children ages 1 – 12 and one accompanying adult. During the session, you’ll have access to the treasure trove of aviation history in the historic airport terminal as well as the aircraft on display on the outside ramp.
See what early life was like for one of America’s icons — Abraham Lincoln — at the National Park in rural Central Kentucky dedicated to our 16th president. You do need to have a National Park Pass (or the Fourth Grade National Park Pass) to gain entrance to the park in Hodgenville, but once inside, it’s free to visit Lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood home.
On the first Sunday of every month, the majestic Longue Vue House in New Orleans hosts a free family event for Louisiana residents in the estate’s breathtaking gardens. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon soaking in the beauty of the Spanish Court’s fountains and meticulously landscaped flower beds while your children play in the interactive discovery garden. You need to register ahead of time for Free Family Sundays — and while you’re there, you can tour the historic mansion for half price.
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Looking for something to do on a Friday evening? The Portland Museum of Art in the downtown Arts District offers free admission to every guest from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday! The extensive collection of artworks housed at PMA includes pieces from American, European, and Contemporary artists, as well as local Maine artists.
The Baltimore & Ohio Ellicott City Station is the oldest surviving railroad depot in the United States — and one of the oldest in the world. The B&O Ellicott City Station Museum showcases the importance of the B&O Railroad to the area through amazing artifacts, models of the original 13 miles of track, a historic caboose, and more! Admission is free, or you can schedule an hour-long group tour for $5 per person.
The city of Boston played a leading role in the fight for America’s independence. The Commonwealth Museum brings that heritage to life with interactive exhibits and their “treasures gallery” of historic documents such as the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere’s original engraving of the Boston Massacre, and more. Admission is always free during the museum’s operating hours Monday through Friday.
Admission is always free for the Museum of Natural History located in the Biological Sciences building at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. (There’s an additional fee to view the planetarium show.) The little ones will love the dinosaur fossils and the hands-on activities in the Investigate Labs, and the museum often hosts special events geared toward teens and adults.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art is full of everything you’d expect to find at a fine art museum: Renaissance masterpieces, ancient artifacts, and contemporary paintings. Oh, and several haunted rooms! Admission is always free at MIA, and there’s a self-guided audio tour available on the museum’s website if you want to hear all of the spooky tales!
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Tucked away in the small town of Leland is the birthplace of the most famous Muppet: Kermit the Frog. According to local legend, Muppets creator Jim Henson grew up playing in the area on the banks of Deer Creek, where he met his childhood friend Kermit Scott — the inspiration for the original puppet. The Birthplace of The Frog: The Jim Henson Delta Boyhood Exhibit takes up just two rooms at the Leland Chamber of Commerce building, but the free exhibit is full of Henson family memorabilia and a nostalgic tableau of Kermie’s history.
It’s never too soon to begin teaching children about the United States monetary system — as you can do with a visit to the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City! During a self-guided tour, you can see how the bank processes currency, lift a real bar of gold, view the historic Harry S. Truman coin collection, and explore fun interactive exhibits about our country’s economy. Tickets are not required for this walk-in museum, which is open Monday through Friday.
Learn all about how the federal government converted arid wasteland to prosperous farmland at the Huntley Project Museum in Huntley. Through indoor and outdoor displays, the museum offers visitors a unique look at life during the Yellowstone River’s homesteading era as well as the farming equipment used then and now. During the spring and summer, the museum even hosts Civil War reenactments and living history of homesteader days!
The Mormon Trail Center in Omaha gives visitors a peek at what life was like for early Latter-Day Saints in the 1840s during the Great Mormon Migration. Winter Quarters was one of the group’s temporary encampments on their journey to the Salt Lake Valley, and the visitor’s center, situated in the historic location, tells the story of the settlers’ migration through interactive exhibits and reconstructed settings.
Located on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art has a mission to bring art to everyone by always offering free admission to all exhibits, workshops, lectures, and community events. Barrick’s diverse collection of artwork proudly includes pieces by artists often neglected by contemporary museums, including those from BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ groups.
Kids will love learning about New England’s marine life at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center located in Hampton Beach. In addition to a dolphin skeleton and tanks that showcase local marine life, there are several hands-on activities at the center — including a large touch tank so children can learn about different species and how to handle them! Admission to the center is “by donation.”
A stately Princeton mansion that has been the official residence of the state’s governors for decades, Drumthwacket offers free tours to the public most Wednesday afternoons. In addition to touring six public rooms used by the governor on the main property, guests will learn about the historic house museum’s architecture and history (the land was once owned by William Penn, and the Battle of Princeton took place there in 1777) and see a grand collection of art and antiques. Visitors can also walk through the ground’s grand gardens and see the 18th-century colonial kitchen of the adjacent Olden House. Advanced registration is required for all tours, including the Holiday Open Houses throughout the month of December.
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The Miniatures and Curious Collections Museum in Roswell is chock-full of tiny furniture and pottery, elaborate dollhouses, and other small items that’ll leave a big impact on their visitors. There’s even a children’s play area featuring a child-sized dollhouse! The museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and while it’s free to enter, there is a donation box.
Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of kazoos at The Original Kazoo Company factory, museum, and gift shop in Eden! The company has been headquartered in this small town just south of Buffalo for over 100 years, and the museum chronicles the instrument’s fascinating history while displaying every time of kazoo imaginable. It’s free to visit the factory and museum, and you can make your own personal kazoo for a small fee!
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Get an up close look at life in North Carolina over the past 14,000 years at the Museum of History located in downtown Raleigh. In addition to seeing an exhibit dedicated to the history of the Tar Heel state, you can explore a recreated 1920s drugstore, stroll through the Sports Hall of Fame, and check out the firearms and artifacts in the original workshop of gunsmith David Marshall Williams, who helped design the M1 Carbine.
Step back in time to the 1800s at the Fort Union Trading Post. A national historic site operated by the National Park Service, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River, where several Northern Plains Tribes peacefully exchanged goods from around the world. Every June, Fort Union comes alive again during the Rendezvous reenactment, but the living history Trade House and Visitor Center are open all year long.
The International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland is dedicated to showcasing the contributions of women in all areas of aviation and aerospace. Located in the terminal of Burke Lakefront Airport, the museum’s displays include over 6,000 artifacts representing female pioneers who worked as pilots, mission controllers, engineers, and astronauts.
Learn the history of Cherokee Nation law and order at the Cherokee National Prison Museum. Located in the historic Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah, the prison was built in 1875 to house the most hardened criminals in the territory. Today, it’s a 2-story museum where you can explore the history of Cherokee crime and punishment, see a reproduction gallows, and step inside a jail cell. There’s also a sheriff’s office, prison kitchen, blacksmith station, and more.
The Oregon Fire Service Museum in Salem is a museum, memorial, and interactive learning center full of memorabilia and antique and vintage fire apparatus — like a hand pumper that dates back to 1820!
The world’s largest bicycle museum, sales shop, and service center, Bicycle Heaven in Pittsburgh also boasts the world’s most unique collection of bikes. The shop has close to 6,000 bikes — vintage and new — including special theme bikes featuring Elvis Presley and The Beatles! Stop in to get your bike tuned up, and stick around to check out the memorabilia!
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Beavertail State Park in Jamestown offers some of New England’s most breathtaking views — and the historic lighthouse at the southern tip overlooking Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most-visited landmarks. The lighthouse is the third-oldest in America, and in addition to the artifacts on display, the museum teaches visitors about the area’s history and role in the shipping industry. It’s free to visit the museum, and the tower is open on select dates for climbing for a $5 donation.
If you’re planning a trip to McLeod Farms Roadside Market in McBee to stock up on some fresh peaches, pop next door and check out the wall-to-wall array of antiques at Mac’s Pride Farm Museum. The museum has over 20 vintage cars, antique farming equipment, butter churns, antique sewing machines, and tons more!
The Pettigrew Home & Museum has been preserved to showcase what life was like in Sioux Falls at the turn of the century and is the former residence of the state’s first senator, Richard Franklin Pettigrew. A world traveler, Pettigrew collected artifacts from around the globe, many of which are on display alongside items related to the settlement of the city.
Learn all about the state’s farming and natural history at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum located at the Ellington Agricultural Center just outside of Nashville. The 207-acre property depicts rural life in a time before electricity through two floors of exhibits, an heirloom garden, and historic cabins. The Ag Center often hosts community events at the museum, like December’s Christmas Open House and Farm Fun Days during the summer months.
If you have a kid who loves dinosaurs, then don’t pass up the opportunity to take them to the Texas Through Time Museum in Hillsboro! An engaging display of exhibits brings together prehistoric specimens to trace the state’s unique fossil record. The museum also offers paleontology-related classes and workshops for both children and adults and several hands-on activities, like a fossil dig pit.
The Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City includes three floors of exhibit space, a dome theater, and an IMAX theater. While the movies all require the purchase of a ticket, you can explore the three levels of Clark free of charge, each showcasing a different theme related to the universe. The first floor, called Earth, is all about our planet, the middle level, Near Earth, explores the space just past Earth’s atmosphere, and the top floor, Beyond, is dedicated to exhibits about our solar system. A must-see exhibit at Clark is Io, where you can “stand” on Jupiter’s closest moon!
You can’t visit Stowe and not check out the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum! Dedicated to preserving and celebrating Vermont’s rich history of snow sports, the museum displays equipment from all aspects of skiing and snowboarding. In November 2022, a special exhibit opened featuring the artwork of Vermont native Scott Lenhardt who designs graphics for Burton Snowboards. Admission to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum is free, but there is a suggested donation of $5 per adult.
Part of Richmond’s National Battlefield Park, Chimborazo Medical Museum sits on the site of the old Chimborazo Hospital, a Confederate Army convalescence camp that was largely considered to be one of the era’s best military medical facilities. The museum’s exhibits include medical displays, surgical equipment, and a look at what hospital life was like between 1861 and 1865 when the Chimborazo staff treated over 75,000 Confederate soldiers.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is actually a museum located inside the historic Cadillac Hotel building in Seattle. The former hotel was once home to the stampeders who used the city as a stopover on their way to the gold fields in Canada’s Yukon territory during the gold rush migration in the late 1890s. In addition to a movie presentation on the Klondike gold rush that is shown in the theater, the museum has mining equipment, life-size replicas of miner cabins, sleds used to climb the snowy Chilcoot Pass, and other artifacts from the era.
Related: Read these national parks discount tips before you hit the trails.
Built atop an Indian burial mound, the Ramsdell House in Ceredo has quite a history! The house was built in 1858 by abolitionist Zophar Ramsdell who sheltered and guided slaves on the Underground Railroad. Legend has it that behind a basement door was a tunnel that led to the Ohio River, where slaves could escape to freedom! The house was also used as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War and later as a community center for church services, dances, and social gatherings. Today, the home is a museum featuring documents and other historical artifacts.
Ever wonder how dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus rex evolved into birds? Find out at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, the only museum to focus on the link between meat-eating prehistoric creatures and modern-day birds. After you track this amazing transition through fossil records in the main gallery exhibit, head downstairs for a dino dig, craft station, and interactive exhibit following the journey of a juvenile T-rex excavated in Montana.
Did you know that Triceratops is the state dinosaur of Wyoming? It is! Uncover more cool dinosaur trivia as you stroll among the fossils at the University of Wyoming’s Geological Museum in Laramie. In addition to the 75-foot Brontosaurus skeleton that takes up much of the museum’s exhibit hall, there are murals and other displays that depict Wyoming’s environmental history.