Spending time at a museum, garden, science center or a special cultural attraction is a great way to learn about a new subject or a city you’re visiting. But with some admission prices tipping the scales at $20, the costs of being curious can add up. Especially if you’ve got a family in tow.
That’s why the always-free-entry policy at Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. is such a great draw and why, once a year, Smithsonian magazine hosts Museum Day Live!, an event in which more than 1000 museums across the country waive admission for anyone who takes the time to download a free ticket.
2017 Museum Day Live! takes place this Saturday, September 23 and includes large and small museums in all 50 states.
Visitors are permitted to download one ticket – granting access to the ticketholder and a guest – per email address. A full list of participating venues, including many with special events planned for the day, can be found here.
Here are some of the more than 1,300 participating museums to consider visiting
North to Alaska
The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center Alaska’s largest museum, is celebrating the opening of a brand new wing, refreshed galleries and several new exhibitions. A variety of media in ‘Art of the North’ offer varied takes on the Northern landscape and wilderness; the renovated ‘Alaska’ exhibition looks at the Land of the Midnight Sun through more than 400 objects; and ‘Cruisin’ the Ephemeral Coastline’ presents a quirky tour of Alaska fossils through the eyes of Alaska resident Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson (director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), who are described, respectively, as “an artist with a fondness for cheeseburgers, ratfish and trilobites” and a “a walrus-and ammonite-obsessed scientist.”
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $15 per adult
Meteorites and microbes
A ten-year participant in Museum Day Live!, Boston’s Harvard Museum of Natural History has just launched ‘World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life,’ offering a rare and often beautiful view of tiny ecosystems. Equally intriguing exhibits elsewhere in the museum include a huge Triceratops skull, three huge whale skeletons, a 15-foot giraffe, thousands of rare minerals, meteorites and gemstones and the hard-to-believe-they’re-not-real collection of over 4000 glass flowers and plants made from 1887 through 1936 by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, father and son glass artisans from Germany.
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $12 per adult.
Housed in a former Bethlehem Steel facility that is more than 100 years old, the National Museum of Industrial History is a shrine to America’s industrial history, displaying industrial artifacts from a variety of industries.
Among the items on display are a restored 115-ton Corliss steam engine that was once used to pump 8 million gallons of water a day, a 13-ton, 20-foot-tall Nasmyth steam hammer, and the Scalamandre “White House” loom that made fabric for every White House presidency from Hoover to Clinton. A temporary exhibition about baseball, “Making America’s Pastime,” shows how balls, bats, gloves and uniforms are made, and how they’ve changed over time.
“The museum opened in August 2016 and many in the community have yet to experience all that we have to offer,” said NMIH spokesman Glenn Koehler, “Museum Day Live! gives us a chance to bring those patrons into the museum and engage them in ways we might have not been able to otherwise.”
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $12 per adult.
Ten interactive exhibits and galleries at MoPOP, Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture (formerly the EMP) offer visitors a far-ranging tour of music history, contemporary pop culture, science fiction and fantasy and a variety of offbeat trends.
Beyond galleries devoted to the history and development of the electric guitar, Seattle-native Jimi Hendrix and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, current exhibitions include a photo retrospective about the of the late rock icon, David Bowie, and more than 100 artifacts and props from the ‘Star Trek’ television series and films franchise.
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $28 per adult
The Lone Star State in World War I, plus a visit from a national treasure
At the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures is currently hosting exhibits exploring the history of beer, brewers and breweries in Texas (“Brewing up Texas”); the stories and customs of more than 20 of the earliest cultural groups to settle in Texas (“Texans One and All”); and the role played by citizens from the Lone Star State (198,000 men and 450 women) in the World War I.
Museum Day Live! visitors will get a special treat: from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eva Ybarra, the Queen of the Accordion and a newly minted recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, will perform in the museum and a documentary about Ybarra’s life will be premiered.
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $10 per adult.
Not all participants in the Museum Day Live! are museums. In Phoenix, Arizona, the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden will welcome free ticket holders to explore the wildflowers, herbs, cacti, succulents and other plants on the garden’s five looped trails exploring the Sonoran Desert.
“Our Garden believes in celebrating the impact that all public gardens and museums have on their communities, and we’re so proud to have become one of the unofficial flagships for this annual event,” said, Ken Schutz, Executive Director of the Desert Botanical Garden, “In the short term, we may forego revenue on the actual day, but all the benefits that accrue over time more than make up for that.”
Savings with Museum Day Live! ticket: $24.95 per adult.
(My story about Smithsonian magazine’s 2017 Museum Day Live! first appeared on CNBC in a shorter version.)