The Gift of Year Round Fun: The Best Family Memberships

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You agonizing over the perfect holiday gifts for the kids, only to have them unwrap them all in ten seconds flat. But what if we told you, you could get your family a gift that keeps giving all year long, keeps them busy, can be ordered online and is delivered instantly? Yep. Totally possible. The answer to all your holiday shopping problems is a membership to one of your family’s favorite LA spots. From museums and zoos, to art galleries and parks, there’s something for every budget and age. Take a look at our top picks.

photo: Meghan Rose

Descanso Gardens
Towering oaks, succulent gardens, camellia groves, and native gardens are just a few of the many colorful sites at family-friendly Descanso Gardens. And whether you’re there to bask in the shade of the trees, or let the littles run wild so they sleep better that night, Descanso is always a good bet for a day of nature-centered fun. Plus a membership gets you free admission to other reciprocal gardens like the nearby LA Arboretum, early entry for popular events like breakfast with Santa, and a sweet 10 percent off at the new Maple Restaurant.  And best of all, you get to skip the crazy long lines for our favorite event of the year: the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Family Memberships: $80/year for two adults and all children.
Location: La Cananda

 photo: Melissa Heckscher

Peterson Automotive Museum
It’s hard to miss the Peterson on the corner of La Brea and Fairfax since its recent makeover and if you haven’t visited in a while, now is the time—especially if you have a car (er, Cars or Hot Wheels) obsessed kiddo on your hands. Like the Descanso pass, a Peterson pass will grant entry into nearby reciprocal museums like the San Diego Automotive Museum.

Family Membership: $156/year for two adults and two children. $12/year more for each additional child.
Location: Miracle Mile

arroyo_sandphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Kidspace Children’s Museum
Pumpkin festivals, snow days, butterfly releases—these are all reasons you come to Kidspace every year, so why not spend a little more on an annual membership, so you can come for the little things in between.  Not to mention the openings of all their new additions; there’s always something new going on at this LA favorite.

Family Membership: $189/year (goes up to $199 in 2017) for four members of any age.  Bonus: at Kidspace, you can also get 3 or 6 month membership, if you want to test-drive the concept.
Location: Pasadena

la zoo 8/5/16photo: Los Angeles Zoo

The LA Zoo
Forget the stress of trying to cover the entire zoo in one day. Gorillas and zebras one day and giraffes and elephants the next is the name of the game once you have the ever popular LA zoo membership. And while the idea of a zoo membership is definitely not a new one, it’s one of the best in the city that gets you a discount on summer camp and special member days in the winter. And did we mention your membership pays for itself in as little as two visits a year? Now that’s a deal.

Family Membership: $140/year for two adults and all children or grandchildren under 17.
Location: Griffith Park

photo: Ben L. via Yelp

Aquarium of the Pacific
Finding Dory fans and ocean fanatics alike will love an annual membership to one of the state’s biggest aquariums. Watch sharks being fed by scuba divers, pet giant sting rays, and learn all about the inhabitants of our local coast. This time there’s no need to rush. You can come back whenever you want with a membership. Special weekend festivals and Saturday classes make this a super sweet deal and give you loads of reasons for repeat visits.

Family Membership: $129/year for two adults and all children under 18.
Location: Long Beach

Natural History Museum
Honestly, if we had to pick just one membership to have, it would be this one. Looking at all those dinosaur fossils never gets old and with new exhibits popping up year round, a membership to the Natural History Museum is a good bet for any family. Visit the Butterfly Pavilion in spring and summer, then come back in the fall for the creepy crawly Spider exhibit. Bonus? Members get into the Tar Pit Museum for free, too, plus 300 other reciprocal natural history museums through out the nation.  Not to mention special members only events and discounts on cool things like sleepovers.  And it’s one of the least expensive yearlong memberships in town.

Family Membership: $99 for two adults and up to four children.
Location: Exposition Park

little-sibs-zimmerphoto: Shahrzad Warkentin

Zimmer Children’s Museum
This is our favorite place on the list for parents of babies, or families with multiple kids under age 5. Why? The majority of the museum is located on one level, so tired parents can plonk themselves down and guard the escape hatch. No running after one kid in one direction while the other goes toddling off in the opposite way. Let ‘em explore—and you can relax. The Zimmer also offers weekly family events every Sunday and art classes and activities daily.

Family Membership: $109/year for 2 adults and all kids or grandkids.
Location: Miracle Mile, Los Angeles

Huntington Library & Botanical Gardensphoto: Meghan Rose

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Picnic concerts in the park. Playing in the Childrens’ Garden in the summer. Bringing friends to tea. Yes, membership has its privileges. This gorgeous spot is a perfect place to bring visiting family and friends, but it’s also a spectacular place for the kids to romp and explore, play and learn. And the ‘members only’ picnics and concerts in the summer alone are worth the price of membership.

Family Membership: $139/year for 2 adults and all kids or grandkids. (Senior membership is only $90, and includes all grandkids, so this is a great gift for grandparents living in the area.)
Location: San Marino

Autry National Center
We love the Autry because it’s a little off the beaten museum path, yet has loads of fabulous activities for kids. Here they can pan for gold, star in a cowboy movie (green screen and all) and explore the new California Continued exhibition. Membership means you can come day after day and play inside when it gets too hot or chilly to play outside, and you also get free tickets to the Sizzling Summer Nights Concert series.
Family Membership: $75 for 2 adults and all children or grandchildren under 18
Location: Griffith Park

Discovery Cube - Block Roomphoto: Jen Arrow

Discovery Science Cube
scene is one we promise they’re not sick of yet! Plus, you actually get two memberships for the price of one, as you’ll get full privileges to the newer LA Cube, and the original one in OC. A membership is totally worth it for the special exhibitions and events alone; we love the annual Science of Gingerbread Christmas exhibit, the Spooky Science fun at Halloween and the amazing limited exhibitions that feature everything from DaVinci to Thomas the Tank to LEGO.

Family Membership: $99 for 2 adults and up to 4 children ages 3-17 who live in the same house, or just $125 for 2 years.
Location: San Fernando Valley

The Magic of the Seasonphoto: Meghan Rose

BIG Buys
Universal Studios Hollywood
Harry Potter. Need we say more? If your little wizards haven’t been, they’re probably begging to go. Even if you just visited, chances are they want to go again (and again). There’s so much to see and do for Harry Potter fanatics and movie fans (think Minions and Spider Man) in general, once is just not enough.

Membership: $119/year per person (only $4 more than the cost of a day pass)
Location: Universal City

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-19-26-amphoto: Knotts Berry Farm

Knotts Berry Farm
A annual pass gets you into the Boysenberry festival, Knotts Spooky Farm and Merry Farm and more, plus tons of other discounts on everything from food and souvenirs to entry to the adjacent Soak City Water Park.

Membership: Starts at $90/year per person
Location: Buena Park

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-21-12-amphoto: Disneyland Parks

No list of memberships would be complete with out the big one: Disneyland. If you have Star Wars obsessed kiddos, they’ll love the new Star Wars themed attractions. And if this year brings lots of out of town guests, a trip to Disneyland is always on the to do list. Who wouldn’t be excited with year round entry to the Happiest Place on Earth?

Annual Passport: Starting at $329/year for ages 3 & up.
Location: Anaheim

Bonus Memberships
Okay, these aren’t the most exciting of memberships, but they are super practical and make excellent gifts for neighbors, teachers or family friends. They’ll use it constantly and save every day, thanks to you! Costco will keep you stocked for family parties and school lunches. Amazon Prime is pretty much a necessity at this point, with free shipping and tons of other benefits. Netflix and Hulu are great for keeping kids (and parents) occupied on long travel days, and this year HBO GO has something for every parent on your list, from PTA moms (Big Little Lies) to mothers of dragons (Game of Thrones) and even robots (Westworld).

What memberships are on your wish list this year? Tell us in the comments below.

—Christina Fiedler

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