The 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC are famously free to visit and you're probably already aware of them, so I haven't included them on the list. Instead, this list of 8 of our family’s favorite FREE museums includes lesser-known treasures that I think you'll love.
Picture a huge building made of pink marble with Art Deco details with a magnificent staircase leading to the entrance, an inviting wading pool out front, and sculpture gardens throughout the grounds. That’s the Joslyn Art Museum... and that’s just the outside! Inside you'll find gallery after gallery of works by some of the world’s most famous artists. Add in an amazing hands-on children’s creative space and you have a museum that will have you asking, “How is this free?!” again and again.
This museum is amazing. It is full of hands-on interactive exhibits that showcase the innovations and inventions that have aided the blind. We loved writing and typing our names in braille, navigating with canes, and solving puzzles only by touch. On certain days of the week, you can also tour the factory where braille books are created. We were there on a Saturday and the factory was closed, but the museum kept us entertained for hours.
The Arizona Capitol Museum is a two-fer: you can tour the Capitol and visit the museum housed in the Capitol and never pay a penny. Both are full of interesting artwork, artifacts, and more from Arizona history. Step outside and stroll through the Wesley Bolin Plaza and Park to see memorials honoring prominent figures and events from Arizona history.
In 2017, we paid $30 for our family of three to visit the outstanding Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska. A few months later, we visited the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware and paid nothing. The two museums were similar in content and we thoroughly enjoyed them both. We’d definitely recommend paying to visit the SAC Aerospace Museum, which makes it all the more impressive that the Air Mobility Command Museum is free.
Everyone likes money, right? Watching money being made and learning about its history is so interesting... and it doesn't cost any money to do so! Our family loved touring the mint in Philadelphia, but the one in Denver, Colorado is excellent as well. (P.S. Independence National Park, that includes Independence Hall and the Liberty Center and a dozen other buildings, is free to visit as well, but it doesn't fit my criteria of lesser-known museums. The Mint barely does. Definitely visit both.)
The main portion of the Toledo Museum of art is awesome and well worth a visit on its own, but it's the glass that puts the museum on my Top 8 list. The collection of glass objects (housed in glass exhibit halls) is one of the most comprehensive in the world. It's beautiful, historically important, and absolutely fascinating.
This museum is small but awesome. From their website: "Washed Ashore builds and exhibits aesthetically powerful art to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in oceans and waterways and spark positive changes in consumer habits." The artwork is absolutely amazing. Artwork is displayed indoors and out, with plenty of activities indoors as well. Go to Washed Ashore.
The West Virginia State Museum is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited and the fact that it is free is remarkable. It is fully immersive; you actually feel like you are walking through history as you move from room to room. There are 26 different discovery rooms, each with lots to do, see, and experience. Allow plenty of time at the West Virginia State Museum!
What do you think? Any free museums you've visited that should be added to my list?