Seattle is home to some of the finest museums in the country, so when you can take advantage of a free museum day, you do it. From Free First Thursdays, to special deals and discounts, we’ve compiled a list of affordable and free museum days you’ll want to put on your calendar. Read on to make a plan.
Editor’s note: Please check with individual museums about current free days and discount offerings, as things may have changed during the pandemic closures.
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? The new Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is housed within a 113,000 sq. ft. building which is 66 percent larger than its old facility and with it comes a lot of new changes and additions. First of all, you'll see scientist 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. New family spaces have been designed allowing your little guys and gals to climb, crawl, look, touch and ultimately learn as they explore. Here, kids can also 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." The new museum also has a new dining venue called Off the Rez, an offshoot of the local food truck (which was ranked as one of the top 25 food trucks in America by Food Network, thank you very much) featuring handmade frybread, Indian tacos, wild rice bowls, salads and espresso beverages.
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.
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 of the month from 10 a.m- 8 p.m.
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.
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.
Museums Designed for Kids
KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue)
Under age 1 always free.
Active military members (with ID) receive 20% off general admission from Armed Forces Day to Memorial Day. KidsQuest also participates in the Blue Star Museums program, granting free admission to military personnel and their families. Admission is always free for Gold Star military families.
This awesome museum received a brand-new home in January of 2017, 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!
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. The Museums for All rate is $3 per person with proof of participation in the following programs: EBT, CHIP, Provider One, or WIC.
Foster Families may also qualify for a free membership made possible by First Federal.
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!
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 always free.
Free admission every third Friday of the month from 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Every Thursday from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. admission is just $6
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.
There’s always something going on at Imagine Children's Museum. From Art Rocks to i-engineers to Cartoon Corner, your kids 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!
Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia)
17 months & under are always free.
First Friday of each month: First 2 guests free, each additional guest $2 from 5-9 p.m.
The Museums for All rate: First 2 guest free, each additional guest $2 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 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.
Editor's note: The Olympic Sculpture Park is open, although the PACCAR Pavilion remains closed.
Seattle Art Museum (Downtown Seattle)
14 & under always free.
The Chase Open Studio, Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center is always free.
Free first Thursdays from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (special exhibits are $9.99 and under)
If your kiddo 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 every month. On the first Saturday of the month, SAM hosts free events which include art, special performances, kid-friendly exhibit tours and more. (Note: Free First Saturdays are temporarily on hiatus until the Asian Art Museum reopens in 2020.) Always open family-friendly areas include the Chase Open Studio (whee you'll find everything you need to create your own piece of art inspired by major themes in SAM's current special exhibition) and the Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center (which has been considered a "launchpad to explore works of art and spark creative learning"). Check out more family fun here.
Henry Art Gallery (University of Washington)
Free 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 1-3 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.
Bellevue Arts Museum
Free first Friday 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.
$4 Get Crafty Saturdays from 1-3 p.m.
The Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) helps to engage hands and minds alike with their kids & family programs which include free family days, workshops and more. 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.
Seattle Asian Art Museum (Capitol Hill)
12 & under are always free.
Free first & second Thursdays from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Free first Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The just-opened, newly renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum is a sight to see. The reimagined museum now 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. Be sure to mark your calendars for Free First Saturdays which are ideal for families with kids ages 3-12 (although young’uns are welcome) that includes different themes and features, drop-in workshops and special performances.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (Bainbridge Island)
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.-5 p.m. Nov.-Mar.; open Wed.-Mon. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Apr.-Oct.
If your kids 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!
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.
Museums for Culture
National Nordic Museum (Ballard)
4 & under always free
As of last year, the Nordic Museum received a new location. 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.
Northwest African American Museum (Southeast Seattle)
3 & under always free.
Free every first Thursday of the month from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Admission by donation days (often coincides with our large community events like MLK Day).
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)
5 & under always free.
Free first Thursday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
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.
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! Check out their coming events section on their website for more info.
Museums About Transportation
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. Click here for additional must-see attractions.
The Center for Wooden Boats (South Lake Union & Camano Island)
Always free for everyone.
Open Tue.-Sun. from 10 a.m.-8 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 in Seattle on the first Thursday of the month from 3-5 p.m. and EVERY Saturday on Camano Island from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Other family events include Tugboats Story Times aboard the Arthur Foss, public sails and pond boat sailings. Check the calendar for current events.
Northwest Railway Museum (Snoqualmie)
The Depot and grounds are always free.
Railway History Center is $10 per adult (age 13+), $5 per child (2-12)
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. Free train rides (with a paying kid) occur for moms, dads and grandparents on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent's Day weekends. View the special events calendar online.
The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum (Kent)
6 & under always 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? 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, MoPOP and The Museum of Flight and get exploring!
—Jeffrey Totey, Kristina Moy & Erin Cranston
feature photo: Burke Museum