If you’re a super-fan of a particular museum, play space or attraction, maybe it’s high time you became a card-carrying member. Along with scoring sweet perks like access to special events, discounts and free parking, you’re helping an awesome family destination thrive. Often in the case of some of the biggies, after just two visits, the museum membership has paid for itself — and you can avoid those long admission lines. Here is the scoop on memberships your gang should consider having.
The Membership: A family membership is $165/year and includes 2 adults and 4 children. The Family & Friends membership is for up to 4 adults and 6 children up to age 17 and is $240/year.
Compare That To: Daily general admission is $19/adults, $8/ages 3-11. To upgrade to the Museum +1 to see a sky show, admission is $28/adults, $17/ages 3-11.
The Biggest Perks: Perks include free coat check, unlimited sky shows, free tickets to the Atwood Historic Sphere, a fast members-only line, free general admission at participating ASTC science centers and museums nationwide, a 15% discount at Space Shop and 10% discount in Cosmic Cafe, and discounts on Adler After Dark, summer camps and birthday parties.
1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: adlerplanetarium.org
The Field Museum
The Membership: The family membership is $150 for one year and $285 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 $180 for one year and $345 for two years and includes admission for 3 adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 17 living in the same household. Discounts are currently available online.
Compare That To: Daily adult admission varies from $24-$38 for IL residents, depending on what you want to see. For kids ages 3-11, it's $17-$27.
The Biggest Perks: Free reciprocal admission to participating science and technology museums, a 10% discount at the Field's restaurant, museum stores and birthday party packages, free coat check, invitations to members-only events, plus discounts on all education programs and 3D movies.
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: fieldmuseum.org
Museum of Science and Industry
The Membership: A Family membership is $195/year for 2 adults, all household children and one guest.
Compare That To: Depending on what special exhibits or shows you want to hit, adult daily admission is $21.95-$49.95 and children are $12.95-$29.95. Discounts for admission are available online.
The Biggest Perks: Free parking for members, 10 free Giant Dome Theater tickets, discounted passes for special exhibitions, an invitation to the annual member holiday breakfast and reciprocal admission benefits at select museums.
5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park; Online: msichicago.org
ART & HISTORY
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Membership: There are three levels of membership and each includes all children living in a household. The Member membership is $105/year and includes admission for two adults. The Member Plus membership is $150/year and includes admission for 4 adults. Member Ambassador is available for $200/year and grants access for up to 4 adults and invitations to premium exhibition events.
Compare That To: Adult daily admission is $25 for Illinois residents and $20 for City of Chicago residents. Children under 18 years old are always free.
The Biggest Perks: $5 off parking in Millennium Garages (this is for the Member Plus and higher levels only). Member-only classes, lectures, workshops, events and more. The museum also offers special programs and camps for kids. The Member Ambassador option includes reciprocal privileges to 15 art museums around the country and an invitation to private exhibition celebrations.
111 S. Michigan Ave., The Loop; Online: artic.edu
Chicago History Museum
The Membership: A family membership, called Household, for up to four people is $100/year.
Compare That To: General daily adult admission is $19; Free for Illinois residents 18 & under; City of Chicago residents receive $2 discount
The Biggest Perks: You'll like the 10% discount on all purchases made at the Museum Store and North & Clark Café. You'll also get access to the Members'-only events and previews of new exhibitions.
1601 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: chicagohistory.org
Museum of Contemporary Art
The Membership: A Household membership is $85/year and is valid for two adults and as many children under the age of 18 as you have. (Always, member or not, kids under the age of 18 enter the museum for free.)
Compare That To: Daily general admission is $15/ages 19 & up. Students and seniors are $8.
The Biggest Perks: Enjoy invitations to all Members’ Previews of major exhibitions, savings of up to 20% off tickets to MCA performances and lectures, a 10% discount in the MCA Store and discounts at Marisol Restaurant and Bar and a $5 discount on parking.
220 E. Chicago Ave., Downtown; Online: mcachicago.org
The Membership: A family membership is for 3 or more people and is $110 a year. While this isn't a typical admission-entry spot, membership offers discounts on classes and camps, plus more.
Compare That To: Prices vary by class, but members typically get a $5 discount.
The Biggest Perks: Discounts on classes, workshops and camps; discounts at participating museums and art supply stores; invitations to special events and lecture series; 10% off gallery purchases.
4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ravenswood; Online: lillstreet.com
Chicago Botanic Garden
The Membership: Admission to this natural paradise is free, but there is a charge for parking, which is taken care of once you're a member. Garden 1 Year membership costs $99 for one year, and includes a pass for one vehicle.
Compare That To: Daily parking rates (covered in your membership) cost $25/car.
The Biggest Perks: In addition to the parking, members get a 10% discount at the Garden Shop and a discount coupon for The Garden View Café; discounts for the Model Railroad Garden, Butterflies & Blooms exhibition and tram tours (usually ticketed attractions); discounts on camps for kids; and free admission to 300 botanic gardens and arboreta nationwide.
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; Online: chicagobotanic.org
The Morton Arboretum
The Membership: Membership is $145 for one year and $280 for two years for up to 4 people (any combination of adults and children). Another option is paying $180 for one year and $350 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 $10-$15. For kids ages 2-17, it's $7-$10. Those under 2 are free. Wednesdays have discounted admission.
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; Online: mortonarb.org
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
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 20% 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; Online: naturemuseum.org
Chicago Children's Museum
The Membership: For a family of up to 4 people, membership is $190 a year or $340 for two years. For a family of up to 6 people, the rate starts at $240 a year depending on if you want extra perks like priority invitations to exhibit previews and special events.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $14.95/person.
The Biggest Perks: Free parking 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; Online: chicagochilddrensmuseum.org
DuPage Children's Museum
The Membership: Memberships start at $125/year for one adult and one child, $150/year for two adults and 4 children, $175/year for 3 adults and 5 children, $200/year for 4 adults and 6 children.
Compare That To: Daily admission rate for adults and children older than one year is $13.
The Biggest Perks: Enjoy members-only events, a 10% discount at the museum’s café and store, a $5 discounted admission for up to 4 guests per visit and discounts on birthday parties. Family memberships receive 50% off general admission at ACM reciprocal network participating institutions for up to 6 people.
301 N. Washington St., Naperville; Online: dupagechildrens.org
Kohl Children's Museum
The Membership: A PlayKCM membership is $165/year and includes admission for 4. There is also the PlayKCM Plus option, which is $170/year for 6 guests.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $14 for adults and children 1 year and older.
The Biggest Perks: Members-only hours and admission lines and discounts on birthday parties, rentals, purchases at the onsite cafe and 50% off 6 admissions at more than 200 children's museums nationwide.
2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview; Online: kohlchildrensmuseum.org
The Membership: The Family membership is $120 for one year or $230 for two years, and includes admission for up to 4 people, plus grandparents. The CLIMB membership is $175/year and includes the same as the basic membership plus free admission for six people + grandparents to the CLIMB Network Museums and half-price admission for six people to the complete ACM network of reciprocal museums. You can add extra children to each membership for $20/year per child.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $9/person, no matter if it's an adult or child.
The Biggest Perks: Free admission for grandparents under each family membership option, plus discounts on classes and party room packages.
6445 North Ave., Oak Park; Online: wonder-works.org
ZOOS & ANIMALS
Lincoln Park Zoo
The Membership: A Household membership is valid for everyone under your roof and is $95 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, and discounted parking for each additional visit. 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, ZooLights night and other activities; discounts at zoo shops, restaurants and on stroller rentals; access to the members-only lounge; free or discounted admission to more than 100 zoos nationwide and more.
2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: lpzoo.org
The Membership: The zoo’s membership plans are separated into three categories. The Family Basic is $130 for one year and includes admission for 2 adults and any children living in the household, plus 4 guest passes for the year. The Family Plus package is $158 for one year and includes 2 adults, all children living in the household and one free guest each visit, and 6 guest passes for the year. The Family Unlimited membership is $243 for one year and includes two adults, all children living in the household and one free guest each visit, and 8 guest passes for the year.
Compare That To: Daily admission for adults is $24.95. For kids ages 3-11, it's $17.95.
The Biggest Perk: Members score free parking for one vehicle at the main entrance and discount parking at the south entrance. The Family Plus and Family Unlimited memberships include free admission (limited amounts per year with the family plus package) to zoo attractions like the carousel, Hamill Family Play Zoo and special animal exhibits.
Other Covid-Friendly Gift Ideas: Families can choose to participate in the Animal Adoption program. Choose your favorite animal and donations to the program help provide expert care and feeding of an animal for one year.
8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield; Online: brookfieldzoo.org
The Membership: The family/household membership is $195 for one year and includes two adults and any number of children living in the house. Shedd 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 is $39.95/adults and $29.95/children ages 3-11, discount available to Chicago residents.
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 the seasonal Stingray Touch, discounts on the 4D shows and at the onsite restaurants and stores, and invitations to members-only events.
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: sheddaquarium.org
Little Beans Cafe
The Membership: For $600/year, families with one child (crawlers or older) have unlimited access to open play at this play space. It's $400 for each additional child. Younger infants enter free with an adult beverage purchase. Adults get free admission.
Compare That To: A daily open play pass is $17, $12 for the first sibling and each additional sibling is $6. A 5-visit pass is $65 for one child, $50 for the first sibling and $25 for each additional sibling.
The Biggest Perks: This place could become your home away from home, with unlimited open play and coffee shop discounts to keep you going.
1809 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park & 430 Ashbury Ave., Evanston; Online: littlebeanscafe.com
Purple Monkey Playroom
The Membership: An annual unlimited membership to this infant- and toddler-friendly play space costs $600. Add sibling and the total is $900.
Compare That To: Daily open play admission is $18/child and $10 for a sibling. Ages 0-7 months are $8. There are also 5- and 10-visit passes available, plus a monthly unlimited pass for $95 for one child and $180 for the child plus one sibling.
The Biggest Perks: Breeze past the check-in desk and focus on what matters: good, old-fashioned fun.
2040 N. Western Ave., Bucktown; Online: purplemonkeyplayroom.com
The Membership: The Single Class Membership is $99/month and allows for 4 classes/month.
Compare That To: Drop-in classes are $28/class. Admission to the playspace for non-members is $15/visit.
The Biggest Perks: Membership gets you discounts on birthday parties; free access to the playspace with passes; access to events and concerts; and first dibs when new class schedules are released.
1030 W. North Ave., Lincoln Park; Online: kidville.com
x— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon