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En español | More than 1,500 museums across the country will open their doors to visitors for free on Saturday, Sept. 21. That's no small deal when some charge $30 or more for entry.
Sponsored by Smithsonian magazine, a membership publication of the Smithsonian Institution, Museum Day has been an annual event since 2005, when it was launched to celebrate the magazine's 35th birthday.
Amy P. Wilkins, chief revenue officer for Smithsonian media, says the program was conceived as a kind of gift to readers. “There is a portion of our members who live in Washington, D.C., and can go to museums for free, but most people don’t, and [we thought] wouldn’t it be cool if we can invite museums to make themselves available on one day to really celebrate art and culture and science and history?”
After you choose one participating museum at Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day website, you will be emailed a free pass that you and a guest can use on the 21st. (Select “Get a Ticket” at the top of the page, then select your state to narrow your search.) Some museums will allow you to show your ticket on your smartphone, others want it printed; the ticket will note whether a printed ticket is required.
The long list of participating museums, historic sites — even zoos — includes hugely popular spots. The hottest tickets are for places like the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle (normally $27-$30) and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City (usually $33).
You can also snag free passes to world-class art museums such as the Frist Art Museum in Nashville and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, while more quirky picks include California Surf Museum in Oceanside and the National Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa, N.Y.
It might seem odd that some of the participating museums are already free (Virginia’s National Museum of the Marine Corps for instance) but Museum Day is still useful for lesser-known places, says Wilkins: “It’s an opportunity to introduce them to people who may not be aware of them. We find a lot of people will go to museums they’ve never been to before. It’s kind of great to see that.”
More than 100,000 tickets have been downloaded so far, but there is no limit to the number of available tickets — they won’t run out, in other words. Be ready for crowds, though, if you choose one of the biggies: “If a museum reaches capacity,” the website warns, “the museum has the right to limit guests until space becomes available.”
So go early – or consider a less-buzzy destination. Never been to San Francisco’s American Bookbinders Museum or the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Okla.? Now’s the time.
Editor's note: Updated to reflect current prices and statistics.