Anyone who lives or travels to major cities in the United States will want to bookmark FreeMuseumDay.org. The bare-bones website is a simple user-friendly portal to many museums in large cities nationwide, specifically keeping track of their free admission days. If you're traveling on a budget or are a local looking for a cheap outing, this is a great resource to keep in your back pocket. Some free admission days are only available to local residents, while others are almost free, still asking for admission albeit at a drastically reduced rate (like $1). We've highlighted a couple favorites from each city below, just to offer a taste of what's available. Enjoy!
California Science Center
Free Admission: Daily
The California Science Center is home to the space shuttle Endeavour, which makes the trip worthwhile all on its own, but you can also visit the rose garden and California African American Museum while you're here as well. You can avoid standing in line to see the retired shuttle by making a reservation, though that comes with a cost of $2 per reservation. Or you can buy an IMAX movie ticket to get a reservation for free.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Free Admission: Every Thursday for Illinois residents
Worth a stop for the butterfly-filled greenhouse alone, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is the oldest still-operating museum in Chicago's city limits. Here you'll find interactive exhibits for the kids, dioramas filled with taxidermy, and the aforementioned butterfly haven, which boasts more than 1,000 butterflies from dozens of exotic species. Be sure to check out the daily butterfly release for a double dose of education and beauty.
Seattle Art Museum
Free Admission: First Thursday of every month, plus the first Friday is free to Seniors 62+
Featuring a broad and ranging collection of art from European masters to Native Americans to Andy Warhol, there is plenty here to ponder when you take advantage of one of the museum's free days. There's a Miró exhibit on beginning in February that's definitely worth checking out. While it's not free strictly speaking, we also have to give props to the museum's partnership with Teen Tix, which offers participating teenagers $5 day-of-show tickets to events (registration is free). Teen Tix is only available in Seattle, but we'd love to see the concept spread to other cities.
Children's Museum of Manhattan
Free Admission: First Friday of every month from 5-8pm
With exhibits that let kids be NFL officials, or that feature the wildly popular characters Dora and Diego, the kids are sure to be entertained. The Red Grooms' New York City exhibit also appeals to the grown ups.
Portland Art Museum
Free Admission: Fourth Friday of every month from 5-8pm, and first full weekend of every month for Bank of America Card holders
This is a decidedly classy addition to the list, with exhibits centered around the likes of Francis Bacon, the golden age of Venice, and the Louvre's Tuileries Garden. This would be a great spot for a cheap date.
Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
Free Admission: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-10am
Personally, I am always a sucker for a Japanese garden. The one in San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Park is particularly lovely. The tea house is also allegedly where the Americanized version of the fortune cookie was born. Time your arrival between 9 and 10am and your admission is free.
Museum of Bad Art
Free Admission: Daily
The tagline here is "Art too bad to be ignored" and bad it is. Oh so very bad, and nearly impossible to resist. "The pieces in the MOBA collection range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush," the website explains. "What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent." Admission to this guilty pleasure is always free.