African elephant exhibit in the Rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History, which always offers free admission.
Jon Hicks/Getty Images
Harriet Baskas
September 20, 2018

Museums and cultural attractions top many “must see” lists for visitors arriving in a new city, but admission fees that can top $25 a person can keep families and thrifty travelers away. Smithsonian magazine’s 14th annual Museum Day, however, makes museum-going a budget-friendly activity.

On Saturday, September 22, more than 1,400 museums, zoos, science centers and other attractions across the country will be waiving admission fees for guests who arrive with a downloaded free ticket.

“Museum Day allows museums nationwide to emulate the spirit of the Smithsonian Institution’s Washington, D.C.-based facilities, which offer free admission every day,” said Amy Wilkins, Chief Revenue Officer at Smithsonian Media. “For museums that rely on admission fees, the annual event is an opportunity to gain visibility and be a part of something bigger than their museum. It represents a national commitment to access, equity and inclusion.”

On Museum Day only one free pass (for you and a guest) will be issued per email address. So choose carefully, buddy up, or (we’ll deny we mentioned it) use more than one email account to make the most of your free museum visits.

The full list of participating venues can be found on Smithsonian's webiste, and includes everything from Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (regular adult admission: $28) and the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles (regular adult admission: $14) to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (regular adult admission: $16), the Ice House Museum in Cedar Falls, Iowa (regular adult admission: $5 and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnez Museum in Jamestown, New York (regular adult admission: $16).

This year’s Museum Day theme is “Women Making History” and many museums will be highlighting certain exhibits and hosting events that honor women who are or were trailblazers in arts, sciences, innovation and culture.

In New York City, Museum Day falls during the four day Space & Science Festival at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (regular adult admission: $33, $19 for NYC residents). On September 22, the festival will offer a mixed reality Microsoft HoloLens experience narrated by former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison about the role and contributions (so far) of women in space.

Also on Saturday, the Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor, New York (regular adult admission: $6) debuts “Heroines at the Helm,” an exhibit celebrating women who affect change in male-defined work, from 19th-century whaling wives to contemporary female artists.

“The whaling industry was unquestionably a man's world,” said Nomi Dayan, the museum’s executive director, “The fascinating and diverse experiences of pioneering whaling wives are a little-known but significant aspect of our regional maritime heritage. The courage and endurance of these women are a source of inspiration for social hurdles present today."

At the San Diego Air & Space Museum (regular adult admission: $19.95) the “American Women of Flight,” exhibit honors contributions to the world of aviation by notable aviatrixes such as Bessie Coleman, Jacqueline Cochran, Fran Bera, Sally Ride and many others.

In Alexandria, Virginia, the National Inventors Hall of Fame (regular admission: free) shares the story of women inventors such as Beulah Louise Henry (known as “Lady Edison”), who received a patent for a vacuum-sealed ice cream freezer and American chemist Stephani Kwolek who invented the heart-resistant synthetic Kevlar fiber used in tires and bullet proof vests.

And at the Western Heritage Museum and Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame in Hobbs, New Mexico (regular adult admission: $5), visitors can learn about the life of the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court in an exhibit titled “The Cowgirl Who Became a Justice: Sandra Day O'Connor” (on loan from the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas).

This is the eighth year the Western Heritage Museum is participating in Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day program and museum curator Erin Anderson has noticed that many visitors who take advantage of free admission on Museum Day are tourists traveling through the area.

“Participation is free and easy on the part of the institution and the patron,” said Anderson. “How can you go wrong?”

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