The Ultimate Guide to Seattle’s Free (& Cheap) Museum Days

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Seattle is home to some of the finest museums in the country. But you know what makes them even better? When you can find free or cheap museum days. With summer days in full swing, now’s a great time to get the kids out of the house and save money, too. From Free First Thursdays and Third Thursdays to special deals and discounts, we’ve compiled a list of affordable (read: free or cheap) museum days you’ll want to put on your calendar. Read on to make your next playdate plan at one of our favorite local museums.

Children’s Museums

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue)
Children ages 1 and younger always get in free.
Active military members (with ID) receive 20 percent off of general admission from Armed Forces Day to Memorial Day. Admission is always free for Gold Star military families.

Within this awesome museum you’ll find a water gallery with a toddler specific splash zone, an “On the Go” gallery with a big rig semi-truck cab, a “Sticks and Stones” outdoor gallery, a story tree gallery, a two-story climber, an art studio and a special place for kids up to age 3 to explore, complete with a quiet nursing area. We apologize if you have to drag your kids away at closing time, and remember timed ticket entry is still SOP here.

Seattle Children’s Museum (Seattle) 
Children ages 1 and younger always get in free.
Show your qualifying military ID for a $2 discount.
The Museums for All rate is $3 per person with proof of participation in the following programs: EBT, CHIP, Provider One or WIC.
Passport 2 Play program gives qualifying families free or reduced admission.

Located in the shadow of the Space Needle, the Seattle Children’s Museum boasts more than 18,000 square feet of play space for kids ages 10 months to 10 years. There you can find plenty of hands-on exhibits to explore as well as daily educational programs, story times and art activities that are free with the cost of admission. 

Kids Discovery Museum (Bainbridge Island)
Free first Friday Art Walk from 3-7 p.m.
Children ages 1 and younger always get in free.
The Museums for All rate is $3 per person with proof of participation in the following programs: EBT, CHIP, Provider One or WIC or foster families.
KiDiMu also offers a special Museums for All membership for just $30 annually. 

This small but mighty kids’ museum rocks a giant Lite Brite, Mission to Moon, Rigamajig, Nature Microscope, and all the around-the-town exhibits kids can’t seem to get enough of like a grocery store, bank and and vet clinic. Plus it’s fun to get there by taking a ferry from Seattle. Downtown Bainbridge is also just steps away, as well as the always free Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, so you can easily make a day of it.

Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett)
Editor’s note: This museum is closed for renovations through August. Keep an eye on the website for the reopening date.

Children ages 1 and younger always get in free.
Receive free admission every third Friday of the month from 5:30-9 p.m.
The Museums for All rate is $3 per person with proof of participation in the EBT program.
Military families receive free admission on various dates throughout the year.

Come to the Imagine Children’s Museum where your kids can find fun activities like Art Rocks, i-engineers and Cartoon Corner to keep them busy. If that’s not enough, send them exploring throughout Imagine’s two floors that come complete with a rooftop playground and a treehouse. It’s totally tops.

Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia)
Children ages 17 months and younger always get in free.
Pay just $1 to play on the first Friday night of the month.
The Museums for All rate allows the first two guests in free (pay $2 for each additional guest) with proof of participation in the EBT program.
For qualifying families who want the benefits of Annual Membership, Hands On offers an Access Membership Program for $25.

With more than 150 hands-on exhibits spread over two floors and an Outdoor Discovery Center, you can’t really go wrong at this Olympia museum. Little museum-goers might never want to leave once they spot the Built It! center, Fabulous Forest and the Tides to Trees Climber. And if that’s the case, here’s how to make a weekend out of it in Olympia.

Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Take advantage of pay-as-you-will admission that’s always offered when the museum is open to the public (10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:30-4 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays.) Member-only hours are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m on Mondays and from from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

In a space along Tacoma’s museum district, this bright and cheery museum boasts a large (and very clean) water table, a fantastically fun art studio, a climbable vessel reminiscent of an airplane-treehouse-fort with a total steam punch vibe and a new arty climber that’s challenging for older kids. Check out their low-sensory hours on Fridays, from 1:30-4 p.m. for a quieter playtime if you’ve got kids with sensory sensitivities.

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Museums About History

Burke Museum (University of Washington)
3 & under are always free.
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Do you dig fossils? Then you’ve gotta check out the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. First of all, you’ll see scientists at work—they’re actually on display. Little white boards posted at the large windows will tell you what they are up to and in same cases, you’ll be invited inside. Plus family spaces allow your Littles to climb, crawl, look, touch and ultimately learn as they explore. Kids can climb on an orca whale, investigate a large log, explore a tide pool, board a Northwest Indian canoe, check out a research tent and dress up like animals and see how well they blend in at the “camouflage corner.” When hunger strikes, head to Off the Rez for handmade frybread, Indian tacos, wild rice bowls, salads and espresso beverages.

The Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI (South Lake Union)
14 & under are always free with a paying adult; maximum 5 youth admitted per adult.
Free every first Thursday from 5-8 p.m.

Bring the kids to South Lake Union to learn about the area’s history at MOHAI where all the permanent exhibits are free on First Thursdays. Grab an Exploration Pack (designed for kids ages 3-7) filled with activities, puzzles, books and more or an Innovation Pack (designed for kids ages 7-10), filled with gear, to help kids use creative thinking as they explore the museum. Both are free with adult museum admission, so this means they’re totally free for kids. Don’t forget to hit up the Kid-Struction Zone when you visit. It’s tops with toddlers. Psst… the free Lake Union Photo Scavenger Hunt is happening this month too.

Klondike Gold Rush Museum (Pioneer Square)
Always free for everyone.
Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. During the summer, from mid-June through Labor Day, the Visitor Center opens one hour earlier, at 9 a.m.

If you have a family of history buffs, you don’t want to miss this little nugget (see what we did there?) of a museum located in Pioneer Square and close to the International District and its plethora of restaurants. Not too crowded, with Park Rangers ready to answer your questions—this is a fun little museum run by the National Parks (who knew?) right in our backyard.

Art Museums

Seattle Art Museum (Downtown Seattle)
Children ages 14 and younger always get in free.
The Chase Open Studio and Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center are always free (Editor’s note: these spaces remain closed).
Free first Thursdays are from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

If your kid has a complete art library of their own, The Seattle Art Museum is where you’ll want to take them. The museum hosts a variety of family events, although many remain paused due to Covid. Outdoor programs like Summer at SAM give families the opportunity to explore art and nature together. But we know your kids will love the Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure on display through October.

Henry Art Gallery (University of Washington)
Free first Thursdays are from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Every Sunday is free from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
UW students, faculty and staff along with students and kids are always free.

The Henry stokes imagination by introducing kids and families to contemporary art and culture through interactive art experiences. Inspired by current exhibitions, the museum offers family programs that are especially designed for adults and children to consider new ways of thinking while learning and creating together. 

Bellevue Arts Museum
Children ages 6 and younger always get in free.
Students get in free each second Wednesday of the month using the online coupon.

The Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) helps to engage hands and minds alike with their kids & family programs that include free family days, workshops and more. Imagination Stations are located throughout the museum, allowing you to get hands-on with your own arty ideas. 

Seattle Asian Art Museum (Capitol Hill)
Children ages 14 and younger are always free.
Free last Fridays are from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

The recently-reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum groups art by theme, rather than country, and offers guests expanded exhibit areas, education spots and a lovely walkway that connects this impressive Art Deco building to Volunteer Park’s many other amenities. Don’t miss the public programs at its Garden Center, which shares a range of artistic expression through performances, films and events with visual artists. 

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (Bainbridge Island)
Always free for everyone each day from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

This awesome museum is located on beautiful Bainbridge Island, just a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle and a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal. The museum offers group visits, lectures and panel discussions as well as a film series, publications and hands-on art experiences for a range of ages and audiences. BIMA has a small but growing Permanent Art Collection including various media such as painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glass, wood, artist’s books, fiber and jewelry art.

Olympic Sculpture Park (Seattle Waterfront)
Always free for everyone each day.
Park is open 30 minutes prior to sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.
PACCAR Pavilion is open each day from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. during spring and summer.

If your kids get squirrely in museums, take them to Seattle’s coolest outdoor art exhibit. OSP is home to awesome sculptures, giant art and interactive beauty. It’s also a great way to get your tykes appreciating art without needing to shush them every two minutes. Plus, the unparalleled view (and lots of room to spread out a picnic blanket) is reason in itself to plan a visit. 

Frye Art Museum (First Hill)
Always free for everyone, Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Check out the Museum’s Human Nature, Animal Culture: Selections from the Frye Art Museum Collection, which examines how we use animals to nourish our bodies, carry our belongings and become our companions. While we look at science for solutions to address the climate change that impacts them, we also turn to art to understand our past, present and future relationships with our fellow creatures.

Museums for Culture

National Nordic Museum (Ballard)
Children ages 4 and younger always get in free.
Free First Thursday of the month from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

If there’s a Viking in your family, check out the Museum’s Nordic Journeys exhibit which is a hands-on, kid-friendly display about the immigration story from the “old country” to the United States, then Seattle and to Ballard. 

Northwest African American Museum (Southeast Seattle)
(Editor’s note: Until further notice, the museum is operating virtually and in pop-ups only until it reopens its onsite operations.)
Children ages 3 younger always get in free.
Free every first Thursday of the month from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Offers admission by donation days (often coincides with our large community events like MLK Day).

The exhibits and programs at this museum feature the visual arts, music, crafts, literature and history of African Americans in the Northwest. Together with the community, the museum presents and preserves the connections between the Pacific Northwest and people of African descent and investigates and celebrates Black experiences in America. Be sure to keep an eye on their events calendar for special events and programs throughout the year for families, such as interactive storytime and the Knowledge is Power Book Giveaways.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (International District, Seattle)
Children ages 5 and younger always get in free. 
Museums for All discounts offer free admission for up to five guests with an EBT card.
Show your qualifying military ID for a $2 discount.

Visit this museum to connect with the dynamic history, culture and art of Asian Americans, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders through storytelling and experiences meant to advance racial and social equity. Youth ages 10 to 14 years old should check out the free art program Teensway, which explores heritage and community through various art techniques led by teaching artists and museum staff. And keep an eye on the events calendar for upcoming family-friendly events.

Insider tip: Most of the kids’ exhibits feature interactive elements such as videos, sounds and games, sure to please your whole brood.

MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) (Seattle)
Children ages 4 younger always get in free.
The Museums for All discount is available with proof of EBT participation.  
The museum is also a Community Access Partner, which offers free or reduced-cost entry.

MoPOP is an ever-changing museum offering insights on everything from music, video games, movies, sports and more. While there is something for everyone here, we recommend MoPOP for families with older kids who can appreciate Sci-fi wonders and Fantasy worlds. Just about every kid (and parent who wished that they had become a rock star) will love the Sound Lab where they can actually learn to play different band instruments in a matter of minutes. We think everyone will love the Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design exhibit that just opened in late June. 

Transportation Museums

The Museum of Flight (Boeing Field)
Children ages 4 and younger always get in free.
Receive free admission the first Thursday of each month from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Discounted tickets are available for active military and veterans, Boeing employees and AAA members.

Check out the Museum’s Apollo 17 Lunar Module Ascent Stage Mock-up exhibit where you can land the Apollo lunar module, or walk through a full-sized replica of the International Space Station’s Destiny Research Lab. Weekend Family Workshops offer hands-on experiences exploring science, engineering and aerospace topics for the whole family on Saturdays and Sundays. The Museum of Flight Tower at Boeing Field is always a hit with future airplane pilots, and hearing the King County International Airport air traffic controllers in real-time is pretty darn awesome, too. But the current draw at this area favorite has got to be the Walt Disney Studios & WWII retrospective that will delight both parents and kids.

The Center for Wooden Boats (South Lake Union & Camano Island)
Always free for everyone.
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Believing that everyone should have access to maritime heritage, The Center for Wooden Boats’ Floating Boathouse Gallery (Seattle) highlights four unique and historic wooden boat designs that enjoy a permanent place in the CWB collection. Toy Boat Building classes for kids and adults are offered at the Cama Beach location each Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And we’re all hoping the tugboat storytime and pond boat rentals return to Seattle soon. While we wait, consider renting a free pea pod boat with the kids.

Northwest Railway Museum (Snoqualmie)
The Depot and grounds are always free.
Railway History Campus is $10/adult, $5/child, ages 2 to 12.

In 1981, the Northwest Railway Museum rehabilitated and restored the Snoqualmie Depot back to its 1890s appearance giving kids a better idea on what travel was like for their grandparents. If you want to go for a ride, Scenic Train Rides take place during special events in July, October and December and on weekends April through October. Moms, dads and grandparents can take advantage of free train rides (with a paying kid) on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day weekends. View the special events calendar online.

The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum (Kent)
Children ages 6 and younger always get in free.

Kids love to watch the hydros during Seafair, but did you know they can visit them anytime? Climb into an actual hydro or just check out all the cool boats and memorabilia on display at The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum, our nation’s only public museum dedicated solely to powerboat racing.

Good to Know

Did you know you can get free museum passes with your Seattle Public Library card or your King County Library card? You can! Print out your totally free passes to places like SAM, MoPOP and The Museum of Flight and get exploring. And don’t forget, Smithsonian Magazine is celebrating its 18th annual Museum Day next month. Families can get in for free at 12 museums around the state.

—Jeffrey Totey, Kristina Moy & Erin Cranston

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