11 Cheap and Free Museums for the Whole Family

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A day at the museum can be a relaxing and educational outing for a family, but many have entrance fees of $15 or more per person, even for children, and it adds up quickly. For families looking for free or cheap entry beyond the traditional visit to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. -- which offers free access to national treasures such as the National Air And Space Museum and National Museum Of Natural History -- here are 11 interesting and unique museums across the country that charge admission of about $10 or less.

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Entry is always free at this expansive arts center in Los Angeles. There's something for everyone here, from fine art collections and impressive architecture to graceful gardens that change seasonally. The Getty offers tips for planning family visits and houses a special room for kids with hands-on learning activities.

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Indulge a sense of the astonishing at this out-of-this-world museum in Roswell, New Mexico, the town famous for an alleged alien crash site and extraterrestrial research. The museum, which doubles as a nonprofit education center, provides as serious a glimpse as can be imagined into the possible government cover-up of a crashed alien flying saucer. Sights include moving, life-sized models of aliens. Daily admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children.

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Danville, Kentucky, is home to the nation's largest collection of tiny houses. The elaborately detailed homes, complete with tiny figurines that populate the rooms and yards, tell the story of early Americans and their lives. This charming combination of craft, history, and whimsy also features a dense woodland fantasy land with fairies and elves. Daily admission is just under $8 for adults and $6 for children.

Photograph of the Charles Street entrance to the Walters Art Museum
Photograph of the Charles Street entrance to the Walters Art Museum by Dylan k (CC BY-SA)


The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, is home to one of the most extensive collections of artifacts from the ancient world. Free general-admission exhibits include glimpses into lives and artistic cultures from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance. Its family arts center provides a place for children to unwind while expressing their creativity, and the museum offers free strollers on a first-come, first-served basis.

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This museum offers hours of outdoor, hands-on history. The 4.2 acres hold a number of structures, including the site where a band of Texas men held up under attack for 13 days. Free admission for everyone includes exhibits that recount Texas history, the battle of The Alamo and its cultural significance, as well as gardens to stroll. Be sure to read the "Rules of Reverence" to uphold the respect of Texas traditions when inside the Alamo complex.

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This small-town museum in Ekalaka, Montana, has been home for decades to important paleontological artifacts and research. Impressive fossils and complete bone structures of dinosaurs are on display, along with educational materials for adults and children. Admission is free for all ages and includes all rotating exhibitions, giving in-depth looks at paleontology, regional natural and social history, and artifacts from Native American civilizations.

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This museum in Salem, Massachusetts, focuses on the terrifying witch trials of 1692, when 20 people were condemned in a panic over witchcraft and hanged or pressed to death with stones. The $10.50 adult and $7 child admission price includes access to 13 exhibits illustrating the trials, accompanied by narration that transports each guest into drama-filled colonial courtrooms. The second part of the visit is a guided examination of how perceptions of witches and real-life witchcraft have evolved through the ages.

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The Cable Car museum has been offering an inside view of San Francisco's iconic mode of transportation since 1974. Located inside the cable car barn, the observation deck provides a bird's eye view of the large engines, while ground-floor access offers up-close views of the large wheels that keep the cables in motion as they enter from underground. Free admission also includes a display of three antique cable cars from the 1870s, as well as many historical photographs.

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This fun, relaxing museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, is dedicated to America's most famed potato-growing state. The museum is populated with colorful images showcasing the history of the potato, highlighting its nutritional importance and the role it played in American agriculture and industrialization. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children and includes an irresistible photo op with the giant baked potato out front.

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This quirky and colorful museum in Mecca, California, makes for a fun family destination. Every inch of the small space is packed with banana-themed memorabilia, toys, and cosmetics, among other oddities. Many items are for sale, and pictures are encouraged with items in the permanent collection. Indulge in one of the tasty banana-flavored treats at the banana snack bar. Entrance is free with any purchase, or $1 per person.

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Located in Asbury Park, New Jersey, this museum and arcade has a sprawling collection of pinball machines and video games -- and all games are free, no coins required, with admission based on time increments. Daily rates are $7.50 for a half-hour or $10 for an hour, with other daily specials and all-day passes available with deeper discounts.