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En español | Hold on to your tickets for Free Museum Day — an event that features more than 1,000 museums, historic sites and zoos nationwide offering complimentary admission — because coronavirus has canceled its original Saturday, April 4, date this year.
Smithsonian magazine, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is nixing the April date that involves both public and privately financed sites because all Smithsonian sites in the Washington area and New York City are being closed starting Saturday, March 14. Don't worry; animals at National Zoo will continue to be fed.
But public events, gatherings and programs are off the table until at least May 3. Smithsonian museums and zoo officials will be deciding each week whether it's safe to reopen in general, and they have not decided whether to reschedule Free Museum Day or totally cancel it for 2020.
The usual way Free Museum Day works: A limit of one free ticket for two visitors is sent to an applicant's email address. Museums weren't limiting the total number of tickets they issued, but they reserved the right to limit the flow of guests coming in when a venue reached capacity.
Free admission day was celebrating 15th year
The promotion allows visitors to take advantage of some of the most popular — and expensive — galleries in the nation, such as the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which normally charges a $30-per-person entrance fee, $28 if purchased online. For a family of four adults, that's a savings of at least $112.
"The spring museum day will drive approximately 650,000 museumgoers on that single day,” Amy P. Wilkins, chief revenue officer of Smithsonian Media, said in February when ticket availability was announced. “We shared those that garner high ticket downloads in the past as they are popular museum choices."
Free Museum Day is hoping to celebrate its 15th anniversary this year.
San Francisco's Museum of Craft and Design had more than 300 visitors during last year's Free Museum Day, almost three times a normal Saturday, said JoAnn Edwards, the museum's executive director. Its regular adult admission is $8.
"The Grammy Museum saw great results from participating in last year's Smithsonian Free Museum Day,” said Michael Sticka, president of the Los Angeles music museum, where a regular adult admission costs $15. “Some who were visiting the museum for the very first time that day left as new members."
In the fall, more than 100,000 tickets were downloaded for the Sept. 21, 2019, Free Museum Day, Wilkins says.
Other free days might be happening elsewhere
To avoid the urban gridlock, visitors might consider some of the quainter sites in rural settings and make a weekend of it. Antique shops, rolling hills and romantic bed-and-breakfast inns surround the Bucks County Civil War Library and Museum in pastoral Doylestown, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles north of downtown Philadelphia.
Oenophiles can combine a day trip to the finest vineyards in the world with a tour of the Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, California.
"Museum Day often sparks curiosity about museums people have never been to before — in some cases, museums they may have never heard of before,” Wilkins says. “It's our intention with this event to drive attention to nonprofit museums coast-to-coast."
Here are 10 museums among the many that were participating in 2020's Free Museum Day. Because of the rapidly changing news around coronavirus, visit a museum's website or call before heading out for a visit:
Editor's note: This story, originally published Feb. 20, 2020, has been updated to reflect recent developments related to coronavirus.
In search of bargains?
Free Museum Day isn't the only way to score a discount on museum admission.
• Time your visit. Many institutions offer free or discounted admission during off-peak hours on certain days.
• Look for your niche. AARP members and other seniors, members of the military, students or veterans may be given a special discount all the time on the regular admission price.
• Check online. Purchasing tickets online saves an average of $2 per admission compared with paying upon entering. Discounts also sometimes can be found on Groupon and other internet ticket sites.
• Be aware: Entrance to planetariums and Imax theaters may require additional fees.