Getting Free Cultural Passes + Discount Museum Admission for Children

The Japanese Garden. The Classical Chinese Garden. Portland Art Museum. The Children's Museum. The public libraries around Portland, Oregon's metro area offer a free cultural pass to each of these places with no advance reservation required. The passes are available for one day checkout and admit several family members. You might have similar cultural passes available where you live. Here's the scoop:

Experimenting with light and magnets at  Portland Children's Museum

Experimenting with light and magnets at Portland Children's Museum

You don't necessarily have to live in a particular region to get access to cultural passes. If your local library doesn't seem to have any, look into neighboring library systems. Many libraries have an interlibrary agreement that enables you to obtain a free library card for another county where cultural passes might be available.

If not, check out these options:

  • For science and technology center passes, look into the ASTC's Passport Program. If you join a participating science center or museum, you get free admission to other ASTC museums. There is a catch: your home address must be more than ninety miles from the ASTC institution for the passport to be accepted, so this program is best for families on the go or for making the most of summer vacation.
  • For discount children's museum passes, join the ACM Reciprocal Network. If you purchase a family membership that includes ACM benefits at a participating children's museum, you receive 50% off admission for up to six people at other ACM museums around the world. (I'd love to visit the Musée Pour Enfants in Quebec, for example!)
  • For zoo and aquarium passes, check out the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program. After becoming a member of your local participating zoo or aquarium, you receive 50% off or free admission at all AZA zoos and aquariums. Here's the 2013 list of AZA discounts by institution. (The majority seem to list free admission with an AZA membership!)
My son and I striking a pose at  Portland Art Museum

My son and I striking a pose at Portland Art Museum

One mom claims she was able to get reciprocal membership at zoos and science museums together by buying a membership to CuriOdyssey in California, which participates in both the AZA and the ASTC programs. This may not work locally for you, however, since many ASTC institutions ask for proof to verify that your home address is more than 90 miles from their location. The best way to find out if a CuriOdyssey membership would be honored near you is to ask your local institutions directly.

 My daughter e xamining the ear of a furry patient at    Portland Children's Museum

 My daughter examining the ear of a furry patient at Portland Children's Museum

For those of you in the Portland, Oregon metro area, here's a timely heads up about the Portland Children's Museum. Their membership prices will increase October 1st, 2013, as they revamp their membership levels and add new benefits. If you purchase a PCM membership before the price increase, your membership will be grandfathered in to the new membership tier--meaning you'll get the new benefits for the level you purchased but at the lower price. Plus, the Portland Children's Museum's new Outdoor Adventure area is scheduled to open on Earth Day (April 2014), so it's a great year to become a member. Click here to check out their current pricing and membership levels.

Which is your family's favorite museum, zoo, or cultural venue to visit? Which cultural membership would you use the most?

Disclaimer: Membership rates and admission policies vary by institution and fluctuate over time, so please call the venue you want to visit to ensure that they'll honor the membership you intend to use. I've done my best to verify the above information but can't be held accountable for any pricing or coverage discrepancies.