Seattle has a plethora of fantastic museums displaying everything from a giant pink toe truck and a vintage tugboat to dinosaur bones, a replica of the International Space Station and amazing art. But let’s face it, taking the whole family to visit some of these mind-blowing museums can put a big dent in your pocketbook. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of free and affordable museum days, so you can get your culture on without breaking the bank. Scroll down to get started.

photo: Burke Museum

First off, did you know you can get free museum passes with your Seattle Public Library card or your King County Library card? Yes, you can do more than put the Frozen soundtrack on hold for the 50th time. Click here to get the deets for the Seattle Public Library program and here for the KCLS program. Then, print out your totally free passes to places like SAM, the Burke Museum, MoPOP and The Museum of Flight and get exploring!

Museums Designed for Kids

Kids Discovery Museum (Bainbridge Island)
Free first Thursdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
12 months & under are always free.
Active duty military families are free as part of the Blue Star Museums program from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

This small but mighty kids’ museum rocks a giant Lite Brite, an indoor “sand” box, a kid-sized grocery store and more, plus you get there by taking a totally awesome ferry from Seattle. Downtown Bainbridge is also just steps away, as well as the always free Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. Make a day of it!

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue)
Under age 1 are always free.
Active military members (with ID) and their families receive $1 off general admission.
Gold Star military families free.
Active duty military families are free as part of the Blue Star Museums program from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
$3 admission for Museums for All members (up to 4 people with proof of participation).

This awesome museum received a brand-new home in January of 2015 and along with the new digs comes new exhibits. Experience a newly re-imagined Water gallery with a toddler specific splash zone, an On the Go gallery with a brand new 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 ages birth to age three to explore, complete with a quiet nursing area. We apologize if you have to drag your kids away at closing time!

photo: Jennifer B. Davis

Seattle Children’s Museum (Seattle) 
Infants under 12 months are always free.
Military discount with qualifying ID.
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 over 22,000 square feet of play space, designed for kids ages 10 months to 10 years, and is where 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. Check out the Museum’s daily calendar—it’s jam-packed with fun programs that are always new and changing!

Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett)
12 months & under are always free.
Free admission every third Friday of the month from 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Every Thursday is half price admission from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.
$3/person admission for Museums for All members.
Military families receive free admission on various dates throughout the year.

There’s always something going on at Imagine Children’s Museum. From Art Rocks to i-engineers to Cartoon Corner, your kiddos will find something fun to keep them busy. Not to mention the regular awesomeness (can you say two floors, a rooftop playground and a treehouse?) that is Imagine!

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia)
Babies 23 months & under are always free.
Gold Star military members free.
First Friday of each month is pay what you can from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Free admission for mothers and grandmothers on Mother’s Day.
Free admission for fathers and grandfathers on Father’s Day.
Free admission for grandparents on National Grandparents’ Day.

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

Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Always pay as you will admission.
Member-only Mondays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

In a space along Pacific Ave., 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 and much more. Check out their small Café Play when the Littles get hungry or mom just needs a pick-me-up of the caffeinated variety.

tacoma children's museum_play-to-learn2

photo: Rachael Brandon

Artsy Museums

Seattle Art Museum (Downtown Seattle)
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (special exhibits are half price).
12 & under always free.
First Fridays of the month are free for Seniors (special exhibits are half price).

On the first Saturday of the month (Oct.-May), SAM hosts free events which include art, special performances, kid-friendly exhibit tours and more. Always open family-friendly areas include the Knudsen Family Room (think: blocks, dress up and drums), the ACE Project (interactive exhibits along the Art Ladder, which is the grand staircase where Sammy the Camel lives) and a chance to get the wiggles out or create a masterpiece in the Chase Open Studio. During the winter months, Kids’ Saturdays in the Park gives little artists the opportunity to explore the Olympic Sculpture Park, get creative with drop-in art activities and have fun learning with community partners—all for free! Check out more family fun here.

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Bellevue Arts Museum
Free every first Friday on the month from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Ages 6 & under are always free.
Free for students every second Wednesday of the month using the online coupon.

Imagination stations are located on floors 1-3 of the museum which will allow you to get hands-on with your own arty ideas. Get Crafty Saturdays take place on Saturdays and include a fun art project directly connected to the exhibitions. The cost is included with your admission or kids (ages 4-10) can drop in for $4 (which covers the material fee). Plus, you can request a free docent-led tour at any time or check out their Family page for ideas for your family’s visit or view upcoming Free Family Days.

Bellevue Arts Museum - crafts for kids; Photo by Derya San Photography

photo: Bellevue Arts Museum

Seattle Asian Art Museum (Capitol Hill) – Reopening in 2019
Free for everyone on the first Thursday from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Free every first Saturday for families from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Free every second Thursday from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
12 & under are always free.

The Seatte Asian Art Museum is currently undergoing a renovation, with plans to reopen in 2019. When the museum does reopen, mark your calendars for Free First Saturdays which are ideal for families with kids ages 3-12 (although young’uns are welcome), and includes different themes and features, drop-in workshops and special performances to learn more about the world cultures represented at SAAM.

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art
Always free for everyone, 7 days a week from 10 a.m.-6 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.
Park is open 30 minutes prior to sunrise ’til 30 minutes after sunset.
PACCAR Pavilion open Wed.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov.-Mar.; open Wed.-Mon. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Apr.-Oct.

If your kiddos get squirrely in museums, check out Seattle’s coolest outdoor art exhibit. Home to awesome sculptures, giant art and fun, interactive beauty, OSP is a great way to get your tykes appreciating art without needing to shush them every two minutes. Future events include free outdoor yoga, free public tours and more. Plus, the unparalleled view (and lots of room to spread out a picnic blanket) is reason in itself to plan a visit. Psst…during the winter months, Kids’ Saturdays in the Park gives little artists the opportunity to explore the Olympic Sculpture Park, get creative with drop-in art activities and have fun learning with community partners—all for free!

cody at sculpture park2

photo: Allison Rasmussen 

Henry Art Gallery (University of Washington)
Free every first Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Free every Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
UW students, faculty and staff along with students and kids are always free.

Check out their monthly ArtVenture program (from 1 p.m.-3 p.m.) for art-related fun for the whole family. ArtVenture encourages families to think about art in new ways and takes big ideas and explores them through playful and experimental activities. Or hit their annual Arty Party which usually takes place in the spring. Tour the galleries, make art with local artists and more.

Frye Art Museum (First Hill)
Always free for everyone.
Public tours of Frye exhibitions led by trained gallery guides are available Tues.–Sun. at 1 p.m. and Tues., Sat. and Sun. at 11:30 a.m.

Check out the Museum’s Small Frye: Storytelling + Art, which bring local actors and musicians to present fun and inspiring performances for the littlest art lovers. Other activities include counting, recognizing sizes, shapes, colors and patterns as well as enacting animal activities and identifying weather The program is designed for kids ages 3-5 and their caregivers and occurs on the first Friday of the month from 10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Note: Seating is limited and attendance at storytelling is required for art activity; reservations are recommended. Admission is free.

Classic and contemporary children’s stories are brought to life. Presented by the Frye Art Museum in partnership with Seattle Children's Theatre.

photo: Frye Art Museum

Museums for Culture

Northwest African American Museum (Southeast Seattle)
Free every first Thursday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Admission by donation days (often coincide with our large community events).
5 & under are always free

The exhibits and programs at this awesome 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 through exhibitions, programs and events. Be sure to keep an eye on their events calendar for special events and programs throughout the year for families.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (International District, Seattle)
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
5 & under always free.

At this fantastic museum, explore Pacific American history, art and culture. Be sure to check out KidPlace, the Museum’s dedicated gallery to kids and families. And keep an eye on their events calendar for Family Fun Days where teaching artists lead a day of fun and art for the whole family. Psst! Most of the kids’ exhibits feature interactive elements such as videos, sounds and games, sure to please your whole brood.

wing luke museum via facebook

photo: Wing Luke Museum Facebook page 

Nordic Museum (Ballard)
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
4 & under are always free.

The Nordic Museum has a brand-new location, and 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. Or for your preschooler, he or she will delight in the free Nordic Stories programs which involves a Nordic story and a related craft. Check out more fun events here.

Museums About Transportation & Technology

The Center for Wooden Boats (South Lake Union)
Always free for everyone.
Open Wed.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (Apr. 30 through late Aug.). Winter hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

First Thursdays at the Center for Wooden Boats offer Toy Boat Building for $3/child from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. and the Virginia V and Tugboat Arthur Foss are open for tours from noon-5 p.m. (located at the dock behind MOHAI). Second and fourth Thursdays offers a free Tugboat Storytime aboard the Arthur Foss for kids ages 1-8 at 11 a.m. followed by open ship exploration from 11:30 a.m.- noon. There’s also a free public sail every Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and free Pond Boat Sailing on Sat. & Sun. and Sun. from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. April through September. Check the calendar for current events.

The Museum of Flight (Boeing Field)
Free every first Thursday from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Discounts available for active military members and veterans.
Boeing employee and AAA member discounts available for adults, seniors and kids.
4 & under always free.

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 and see interactive features and new artifacts including the Saturn V F-1 engines brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by Bezos Expeditions. 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.

photo: Alaina Weimer

Northwest Railway Museum (Snoqualmie)
Always free for everyone.
Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day)

The Snoqualmie Train Depot is open to the public and always free. There’s a free History Hunt at the depot where kids can learn more about the site and the Railway Museum offers free guided tours starting in May. 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. Free train rides (with a paying kid) occur for moms, dads and grandparents on Mother’s, Father’s and Grandparent’s Day weekends. View the special events calendar online.

The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum (Kent)
6 & under always free.
Open Tues.- Sat. from 10 a.m-4 p.m. Open ’til 8 p.m. on Tues. and Thurs.

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.

Living Computers Museum + Labs (SoDo)
Free every first Thursday from 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
Senior, student and AAA discounts available.
5 & under always free.

Have a budding Bill Gates on your hands? Then this is the place to get your geek on. The Museum expanded in 2016 and transformed into a fantastic new space where you can get your hands on all the latest technology. From robots and self-driving cars to digital art and games, everyone in your crew will have a blast exploring (and learning) about today’s tech. Exhibits at this hands-on museum include working vintage Teletype, Commodore and Apple computers and little gamers can play games like Pong or Pac-Man on an original Atari system. If your kids love to build, they can also create to their heart’s content in the Museum’s Maker Space. Let’s get programming!

photo: Living Computers Museum + Labs 

Museums About History

The Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI (South Lake Union)
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m- 8 p.m.
14 & under are always free with a paying adult; maximum 5 youth admitted per adult.

Every first Thursday, MOHAI has a theme, be it related to one of their current exhibits or to an independent, Northwest-related theme. Activities, events, demonstrations and more will all revolve around the theme and are always family-friendly. Or grab an Exploration Pack (designed for ages 3-7) filled with activities, puzzles, books and more or an Innovation Pack (designed for 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! Check out all of MOHAI’s family friendly events here.

Burke Museum (University of Washington) – Temporarily closing after Dec. 30, 2018 
Free every first Thursday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
4 & under are always free.

Calling all little archaeologists! Explore the natural history and cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest and beyond with the Burke’s current exhibits. Throughout the year, the Burke hosts a number of programs and special events to inspire kids and families with unique, hands-on learning experiences that highlight the rich cultural and natural heritage of Washington state. Be sure to keep an eye on their events calendar for upcoming events including Archaeology Day, Dino Days, Fossil Fridays, Bug Blast, Artifact ID Day and more.

Good to Know: From Dec. 26-30, 2018, families can celebrate the final days of the current Burke Museum before the Museum closes its doors to move collections and prepare exhibits for the New Burke Museum (opening fall of 2019). During this time, enjoy free admission and gallery activities for all ages.

photo: Carol Swales for the Burke Museum

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.

—Kristina Moy & Erin Cranston

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