How to Get Into the Country's Most Expensive Museums for Less
This Saturday, the long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., becoming the 19th museum in the Smithsonian Institution family of museums.
Like all Smithsonian galleries, the NMAAHC will be free. But that's a rarity among top museums, where admission for a family of four can top $100—and that's before you hit the gift shop.
Money took a look at some of the most expensive museum admissions in the country, then hunted for the best ways to score a discount. (Note: we’re not including student and senior discounts, though many of the museums on this list offer them).
Turns out there's an art to saving on art. Here's how to do it.
1. The Field Museum, Chicago
What it costs: $38 per adult for all-access pass
Why visit: At this 1893 natural history museum, you’ll see SUE, the largest (42 feet long!) and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex on the planet, and view mummies inside a replica 5,000-year-old Egyptian tomb.
How to save: Illinois residents are in luck: there are a handful of free admission days for them throughout the year; those on food assistance can visit any day for $3.
2. Madame Tussauds Hollywood, Los Angeles
What it costs: $63.95 walk-up price for the adult Ultimate Experience, which includes your very own wax hand and souvenir photo.
Why visit: Star shock moments abound here, thanks to (mostly) life-size wax figurines of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Brangelina (who've now been separated).
How to save: The Ultimate Experience is a mere $30.99 if you buy it ahead of time online, a more than 50% discount. Save even more by opting for the general admission (no wax hand) which is $20.99 online, or just $14.95 online if you’re arriving between 5 p.m. and close.
3. Museum of Science, Boston
What it costs: $25 per adult, plus $6 if you want to see the planetarium.
Why visit: Permanent exhibits at this mainstay on the Charles River include bird language lessons in a virtual tour of Acadia National Park (tweet it!) and a tropical conservatory filled with flitting, free-range butterflies.
How to save: Local residents can borrow a free pass for four people from the Boston Public Library.
4. The Mob Museum, Las Vegas
What it costs: $23.95, but oddly, you can get an annual pass for $30.
Why visit: Not even Whitey Bulger would get in for free legally at this museum devoted to mobsters, where exhibits include bone-chilling murder weapons and another devoted to wiretapping, the ploy that helped take down John Gotti.
How to save: If you buy online, non-locals can get their tickets for $19.95; Nevada residents can buy it for $13.95 at the box office.
5. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
What it costs: $34.95 per adult.
Why visit: You’ll see poison dart frogs, well, darting amid the four-story rainforest dome, and African penguins waddling in the 900-species-rich Steinhart Aquarium.
How to save: Four Sundays a year, admission is free to the general public.
6. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Fla.
What it costs: $50.
Why visit: With the average trip to the moon starting at $250,000, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center seems almost free. But in earth dollars, it adds up—though it’s worth it to meet retired NASA astronauts, strap in to a recreated shuttle launch, and perhaps see an actual rocket launch (see schedule for dates).
How to save: Local K-12 teachers get in free; active military get $4 off.
7. Newseum, Washington, D.C.
What it costs: $22.95.
Why visit: You can peek behind the curtain of journalism legends here, along with subjects themselves (the museum maintains the largest section of the 12-foot concrete Berlin wall outside of Germany).
How to save: Buy tickets in advance online for a 15% discount.
8. The Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, Calif.
What it costs: $29 including Imax.
Why visit: Silicon Valley unicorns happily pay big bucks to build and program a real robot, track their body metrics using futuristic sensors, and ride in a jet pack chair that replicates the NASA manned maneuvering unit experience, complete with compressed air jets.
How to save: If you show up in the last hour of the day, you get a discounted admission rate. Bank of America cardholders get free admission for one person on the first full weekend of every month.
9. Titanic Museum, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
What it costs: $25.
Why visit: You could hop a ferry ride for much less than tickets to this museum—but here, you’ll be able to shovel “coal” in the Titanic’s boiler room and stroll a faithful recreation of its 1907 carved oak staircase.
How to save: Teachers can get comp tickets in September.
10. National WWII Museum, New Orleans
What it costs: $26.
Why visit: This honorific ode to WWII maintains a vault with 100,000 artifacts, including uniforms, weapons, diaries, and photographs.
How to save: WWII vets get in free; members of the military for $16.50; the New Orleans Visitor’s Guide offers $2 off adult museum general admission.
11. National September 11 Museum, New York
What it costs: $24 a ticket.
Why visit: A solemn remembrance of one of the worst days in American history, with artifacts, time-lapse videos, and live stories told every Tuesday from people who were on the scene.
How to save: The museum is free on Tuesdays from 5 pm to close. 9/11 family members, rescue and recovery groups, plus military get in free. FDNY, NYPD and PAPD tickets are $12 with a valid ID.
12. Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle
What it costs: $22 per adult.
Why visit: The exterior of this 140,000-square-foot Frank Gehry-designed paean to music looks like a visual representation of Zeppelin; inside, you can perform Purple Haze on a stage in front of a screaming virtual audience and deep dive into Nirvana history.
How to save: You can register for a free pass with a Seattle library card.