Even when the kids submit lists the size of a phone book — remember when those were a thing?  — it can still be mind-numbing to come up with realistic gift ideas for the little ones. Emphasis on realistic. Exotic pets, magical unicorns, life size Jetsons-like robots and shoes that make them fly won’t make it under the tree, but how about a membership to a favorite museum or zoo? Read on for some of our favorites that keep the family togetherness going long after the holidays have bid adieu.

photo: Morton Arboretum Passport Europe Festival

For the Lovers of the Great Outdoors: Morton Arboretum

The Membership: Membership is $130 a year and $250 for two years for up to 4 people (any combination of adults and children). Another option is paying $165 for one year and $320 for two years, which gets you admission for up to six people, children or adults. Memberships are very flexible and can include children and adults not living in the house.

Compare That To: Daily general admission for adults is $9-$14 (discounted admission on Wednesdays). For kids ages 2-17, it's $6-$9. Those under 2 are free.

The Biggest Perk: You receive special admission privileges to more than 300 horticultural organizations across North America. You'll also receive a 10% discount at The Arboretum store, a 15% discount on educational programs and free admission into the Children's Garden.

4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle
630-968-0074
Online: mortonarb.org

photo: Shedd Aquarium via Maria Chambers

For Under the Sea Adventurers: Shedd Aquarium

The Membership: The family/household membership is $195-$249 a year and includes two adults and any number of children living in the house. It also offers an Advocate membership for $250 a year, which includes access for 2 adult cardholders, 2 adult guests and any number of children in the household.

Compare That To: Daily general admission for Chicago residents is $19.95/adults and $14.95/ages 3-11 and non-Chicago residents pay $39.95/ adults and $29.95/ages 3-11.

The Biggest Perks: Members get free admission to all exhibits and can skip the long line and go straight to the members-only line. They also score free tickets to the daily aquatic show and seasonal Stingray Touch Exhibit, receive discounts on the 4D shows and at the onsite restaurants and stores and enjoy reciprocal benefits at select aquariums and zoos. 

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
312-939-2438
Online: sheddaquarium.org

photo: Lincoln Park Zoo

For the Animal Lovers: Lincoln Park Zoo

The Membership: A "household" membership is valid for everyone under your roof and is $90 for a year. This membership is not about free admission (the zoo is always free), but about the extra perks and purpose.

Compare That To: This membership comes with two free parking passes — parking is $35 for four hours or more, so this is a sizable savings!

The Biggest Perk: Along with the two parking passes, "household" members get invitations to special Members-Only mornings, Zoo Lights night and other activities; a 10% discount at zoo shops, $9 discounted parking; Park Place Cafe, Cafe at Wild Things and the Patio at Cafe Brauer; 15% discount on educational programming; 50% off stroller rental; access to the members-only lounge at ZooLights; free or discounted admission to more than 100 zoos nationwide and more.

2001 N. Clark St.
Lincoln Park
312-742-2000
Online: lpzoo.org

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

For a Kid-Focused Museum: Chicago Children's Museum

The Membership: For a family of up to 4 people, membership is $145 a year or $260 for two years. For a family of up to 6 people, you can pay anywhere from $185-$500 a year depending on if you want extra perks like priority invitations to exhibit previews and special events.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $14/person.
The Biggest Perks: $3 parking discount in the Navy Pier garage, 50% off general admission at almost 200 participating children's museums through the ACM Reciprocal Program, 10% discount at the gift shop and access during members-only hours.

600 E. Grand Ave.
Navy Pier
312-527-1000
Online: chicagochilddrensmuseum.org

photo: Field Museum

For the Natural History Buffs: The Field Museum

The Membership: The family membership is $145 for one year and $275 for two years. It includes general admission for 2 adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 17 living in the same household. The Family Plus membership is $175 for one year and $335 for two years, and includes admission for 3 adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 17 living in the same household.

Compare That To: Daily adult admission varies from $22-$45, depending on what you want to see. For kids ages 3-11, it's $15-$25.

The Biggest Perks: Free reciprocal admission to 200-plus science and technology museums, a 10% discount at The Field's restaurant and museum stores, free coat check, invitations to members-only events, plus discounts on all education programs and 3D shows.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
312-922-9410
Online: fieldmuseum.org

photo: Adler Planetarium

For the Star Gazers: Adler Planetarium

The Membership: A family membership is $129/year and includes 2 adults and all children up to age 17 living in the household. The Family Plus membership is for up to 4 adults and all children up to age 17 and is $189 a year.

Compare That To: Daily general admission is $12/adults, $8/kids. To upgrade to the Basic Pass to see a show, admission is $24.95/adults, $19.95/kids.

The Biggest Perks: Members have access to a coat check, free tickets to the Atwood Historic Sphere and a fast members-only line. There is also free general admission at participating ASTC science centers and museums nationwide, a 15% discount at The Adler Store and 10% discount in Café Galileo’s. With the Family Plus membership you score four free Adler After Dark passes and discounts on camps, overnights and birthday parties..

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
312-922-7827
Online: adlerplanetarium.org

photo: Peggy Notebaert

For the Nature Lovers: Peggy Notebaert

The Membership:  A family membership is $60 for one year or $110 for two years and includes admission for 2 adults and any children in the same household. A Premier membership is $130 for one year or $200 for two years and offers admission for 4 adults, any children in the same household.

Compare That To: Daily adult admission is $9. For children 3-12, it's $6; and those under 3 are free.

The Biggest Perks: Free coat check and stroller rental, discounts on summer camps and paid programming, a 10% discount in the Gift Shop and Cafe, a 50% discount to popular regional museums and reciprocal free admission to more than 300 museums worldwide, 4 free guest passes for Premier members and an invitation for a behind-the-scenes tour.

2430 N. Cannon Dr.
Lincoln Park
773-755-5100
Online: naturemuseum.org

Do you have a favorite family membership? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments below!

— Maria Chambers