Museums in Michigan Offer a World of Learning Right in Your Backyard
I grew up in rural Michigan and going to a museum or zoo wasn’t an option when there was a farm to run!
While I miss the country, growing up in Grand Rapids means my kids have dozens of high-quality museums, zoos, and other attractions to explore.
Over the years we’ve had memberships to John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, and Frederik Meijer Gardens. We have visited the Grand Rapids Art Museum, UICA and more.
There are exciting learning opportunities spread across West Michigan, and if you know how to access them, ways to get into these attractions and museums for free.
Air Zoo 6151 Portage Road, Portage, MI 49002
The Air Zoo is a highly charged, multi-sensory aviation and science museum that goes beyond anything you’ve ever seen. It’s like no place else on Earth! With over 50 historic and rare aircraft & spacecraft, amusement park-style rides, interactive exhibits, flight simulators, a 4D theater, and much, much, more, there’s truly something for everyone! Admission is FREE for children 4 and under.
269-382-6555 Website |Our Review
Air Zoo, Kalamazoo Michigan
Averill Historical Museum of Ada 7144 Headley Street, Ada, MI 49301
The Ada Historical Society operates the Averill Historical Museum of Ada in an 1870s farmhouse and barn owned by Ada Township. AHS displays collections in exhibits about the area’s original inhabitants, Rix Robinson and the fur trade, Ada’s military history, life in a farming community, the business of Ada, children’s toys, the railroad in Ada, and local schools. Admission is FREE, but donations are always welcomed.
The Bailey Museum 903 S Bailey Ave, South Haven, MI 49090
The Bailey Museum is located on the Liberty Hyde Bailey homestead. Built in 1858, it’s one of the oldest homes in South Haven and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the historic home, the museum features both permanent and rotating historical exhibitions, a series of horticultural gardens, a nature trail, and South Haven’s historic Blacksmith’s Shop. The main exhibit features many artifacts original to the story of Liberty Hyde Bailey’s life and work and tells that story through a series of interpretive exhibit rooms. Admission is FREE, but donations are always welcomed. 269-637-3251
Coopersville Farm Museum 375 Main Street, Coopersville, MI 49404 The Coopersville Farm Museum was built in 2001 with the primary purpose to “honor farming and rural life.” The continually changing exhibits include collections from residents all over West Michigan, tractors, feed sacks, tools, and art from many very talented people. Special events and classes throughout the year. FREE for age three and under.
Curious Kids’ Museum 415 Lake Boulevard, St. Joseph, MI 49085 The Curious Kids’ Museum believes in providing unique, engaging experiences for children of all ages and abilities. Exhibits include a farmer’s market and vet clinic, simple machines, bubbles and more. Toodle Farm is a special gated area for children fours year old and under which is designed like a 1940s farm. It even has a cow to milk! Nursing nook and baby changing stations are here as well. FREE for children 12 months and under.
The Dekker Huis/Zeeland Historical Museum 37 E Main Ave, Zeeland, MI 49464 The Dekker Huis was built in 1876 by Dirk Dekker, one of Zeeland’s prominent early residents and businessmen. The house was restored to its original style in 1979. Explore rooms filled with artifacts and replicas of Zeeland’s history, particularly clocks and clock making. Admission is FREE, but donations are gladly welcomed.
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum 547 East Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824 Opened in 2012, the 46,000-square-foot museum was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid. The museum has mostly temporary exhibitions, instead of a permanent collection. This means that every time you come, you can expect to see something very different. The displays are always changing, and are very unusual. Since modern art is so conceptual, you probably won’t know what you’re looking at unless you get an explanation from a guide. They provide docent tours if you want to pin down the concept behind the piece. FREE to visit.
517-884-4800 Website | Our Review
Broad Art Museum, East Lansing Michigan
Engine House No. 5 Museum 6610 Lake Michigan Dr, Allendale, MI 49401 Engine House No 5 Museum is displays the heritage and traditions of firefighting through the stories, pictures and artifacts. Visitors can see buckets, uniforms, and helmets dating as far back as the early 1800s. Other artifacts include engines, hose carts, and fire extinguishers. FREE for children age two and under.
Forever Curious Children’s Museum 202 E Main St, Fennville, MI 49408 This Michigan museum aims to provide a welcoming, accessible play and learning environment for rural families and schools. Exhibits include a vet clinic and fire truck exhibit. Forever Curious Children’s Museum also put on several different kinds of programs including STEAM challenges, Toddler Time, and Family Yoga. Admission is FREE for children under age one and they also offer FREE days throughout the year.
Gerald R. Ford Museum 303 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
This Grand Rapids museum will teach you and your kids everything you need to know about Gerald R. Ford, whose boyhood home was in Grand Rapids. Learn about Ford’s early life and unusual road to the Presidency. There is a replica of the Oval Office and other White House features. Don’t miss out on the Betty Ford exhibit. Admission is FREE for kids age five and under.
616-254-0400 | Website | Our Review
Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids Michigan
Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives 87 Monroe Center, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 Spend a day at GRAAMA and learn about African American culture and life in Grand Rapids. Or take a FREE interactive tour of Grand Rapids’ Civil Rights history on a two-mile walking tour through downtown. Stops on the tour include Fountain Street Church and Crescent Park. GRAMMA also hosts many events throughout the year.
Grand Rapids Art Museum 101 Monroe Center NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
The Grand Rapids Art Museum is constantly changing. Its small size is perfect for little legs to explore. The first and third floors have permanent exhibits and the second is rotating. There are magnifying glasses available for guests to get a better look at – and truly engage with – the art around them. Drop-in studios are offered every Saturday. Admission is FREE for children age five and under.
616-831-1000 Website | Our Review
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum 11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is full of amazing new discoveries for kids of all ages. Kids will love the permanent exhibits that include bubbles, Legos, and Little Grand Rapids. Family favorite rotating exhibits include Kidstruction and To the Rescue. Reduced admission on Thursday nights. FREE for children age one and under.
616-235-4728 Website | Our Review
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids Public Museum 272 Pearl St NW, Grand Rapids MI 49504
Another one of the popular Grand Rapids museums is the public museum. Step back in time as you walk the streets of Old Grand Rapids and go for a spin on the carousel. Catch a show at the planetarium or learn about Michigan habitats. There is so much to explore at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
616-929-1700 Website | Our Review
Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Michigan
Holland Museum 31 W 10th Street, Holland, MI 49423
Learn about the history of Holland and the Dutch at the Holland Museum. Must-see artifacts include: dog butter churner, medal of honor interactive display, and Indonesian guardian statues. The museum has more than 90,000 artifacts and archival materials that includes everything from art, books, coins, dolls, stamps and quilts. Admission is FREE for children age five and under.
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts 314 S Park St, Kalamazoo, MI 49007
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is packed with gorgeous artwork. Featured exhibits spotlight local artists – including elementary school children. The Kirk Newman Art School, a community-based non-degree art school, features classes on ceramic, jewelry, sculpture and more. FREE for children age 12 and under as well as active duty military.
Kalamazoo Valley Museum 230 North Rose Street, Kalamazoo, MI 49007
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is three levels of interactive, learning space. Exhibits change frequently and are loaded with play-based activities and learning tools for all ages. Be sure to catch a show at the planetarium. FREE for ALL ages.
269-373-7990 Website | Our Review
Kingman Museum 175 Limit St, Battle Creek, MI 49037
Kingman Museum has a natural history collection, three floors of exhibits, and Digistar Planetarium. They work to provide a hands-on experience at every age. Enjoy scavenger hunts for all ages. Don’t miss one of 20 planetarium shows. FREE for all ages on weekends.
Lakeshore Museum Center 430 W Clay Ave, Muskegon, MI 49440 The Lakeshore Museum Center has two full floors of exhibits to explore. Permanent exhibits explore over 400 million years of Michigan history. Discover artifacts, photographs, historic dioramas, and videos that share the history and unique stories of the Muskegon area. The Historic Sites division of the Lakeshore Museum Center includes five historic structures: the Hackley House, Hume House, City Barn, Fire Barn Museum, and the Scolnik House of the Depression Era. The main museum is FREE for Muskegon County residents and both are FREE for children age 2 and under. 231-722-0278
Lowell Area Historical Museum 325 W Main Street, Lowell, MI 49331 The Lowell Area Historical Museum has permanent, temporary and traveling exhibits on Lowell history topics. This includes exhibits dedicated to the history of Lowell. One of the changing exhibits features a different topic in Lowell history every two years. FREE for children age five and under, $10 family maximum.
Michigan History Museum 702 W Kalamazoo St, Lansing, MI 48915 The Michigan History Museum offers five levels of permanent and changing exhibits that tell the story of Michigan’s past. It’s made for kids and adults to interact and participate as they learn about Michigan’s history. Some staple exhibits haven’t changed in over 30 years. However, they have a first-floor exhibit area that rotates throughout the year. There is a kid’s room filled with interactive experiences. FREE for children age five and under. FREE Sundays for all ages. 517-373-3559 Website | Our Review
Michigan History Museum, Lansing
Michigan Maritime Museum 260 Dyckman Avenue, South Haven, MI 49090 The Michigan Maritime Museum has something for every Great Lakes enthusiast. Learn about life as an early Michigan sailor. There are five different structures to explore including a workshop to learn about boat-building as well as maritime skills and a fleet of period and replica vessels. FREE for children age five and under.
MSU Museum 409 W Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824 Lansing families fondly refer to the MSU Museum as the “Dino Museum.” The giant, grizzly animals set in habitats, and cultural exhibits are some favorites. You can take their guided tour through headphones as you walk through or do their scavenger hunt packets for students. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, visit on a day when Beaumont Tower allows the public to tour the Carillon bells in action.
Muskegon Museum of Art 296 W Webster Avenue, Muskegon, MI 49440 The Muskegon Museum of Art strives to provide an engaging experience that fosters both creativity and critical thinking. Look deeper, question more and think bigger! Exhibitions include student artwork, glass, and a trek through the past 100 years. FREE for children age 16 and under.
Tri-Cities Historical Museum 200 Washington Ave, Grand Haven, MI 49417
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum works to create connections to local history. Permanent exhibits include Native American history, fur traders, local industries, and the US Coast Guard. Exhibits are being updated so visit often. Admission is FREE, but donations are welcome.
Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) 2 Fulton West, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 UICA features multiple gallery exhibitions of work from regional, national and international artists throughout the year. UICA also hosts a range of events including concerts and performance art. The movie theater shows independent, international, and documentary movies. UCIA is temporarily closed until 2021. 616-454-7000
USS LST 393 Veterans Museum 560 Mart Street, Muskegon, MI 49440 Tour a real WWII ship in Muskegon. The USS LST 393 has been restored to its WW II days. Visitors will experience the technology and living conditions WW II soldiers used and experienced. FREE for children age 4 and under.
USS Silversides Submarine Museum 1346 Bluff St, Muskegon, MI 49441 Muskegon is also home to a real WW II submarine, USS Silversides. Learn about science, technology, and underwater robotics as well as military history. Groups can even spend the night on board! FREE for children age 4 and under as well as active duty military.
LOWER PENINSULA MICHIGAN ZOOS
Binder Park Zoo 7400 Division Drive, Battle Creek, MI 49014 Binder Park Zoo is an exciting place to spend the day. Animals include Australian Wild Dingo, Chinese Red Panda, Grant’s Zebra, and Red Kangaroo. Don’t miss out on purchasing lettuce to feed the giraffes. Other experiences include Binda Conservation Carousel and Z.O. & O. Railroad. Visitors can choose to walk the entire zoo or take the tram to the African area in the back of the zoo. Admission is FREE for children 2 and under.
269-979-1351 Website | Our Review
Boulder Ridge 8313 Pratt Lake SE, Alto, MI 49302 Enjoy a different kind of zoo experience at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park. This zoo is filled with hundreds of interesting animals that you don’t see at your typical zoo, including antelope, bison, yak, lovebird, and horned frog. Visitors can feed the budgies and buy lettuce or carrots to feed giraffes, camels or kangaroos. Hop on the safari bus to head out to the back of the site to see more unique animals that you otherwise can’t see. The zoo is paved and flat which makes it perfect for strollers and wheelchairs. Admission is FREE for children 2 and under.
616-868-6711 Website| Our Review
John Ball Zoo 1300 W Fulton St, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 John Ball Zoo is more than just animals. In addition to some pretty cool ones like bears, otters, tigers, and meerkats, there is also a lot to do. Kids will love the huge playground outside the zoo and the climbing rope courses throughout the zoo. Adventurous visitors can soar on the zipline. Kids can ride a camel or head into the petting zoo and brush a goat. The zoo was recently renovated to be easier to walk with a stroller or wheelchair. Admission is FREE for children age 2 and under.
616-336-4300 Website | Our Review
Potter Park Zoo 1301 S Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing, MI 48912 Potter Park Zoo is the place to be for year-round fun. Exciting animals at the zoo include black rhino, gray wolf, tiger, lion, rattlesnake, and bald eagle. Spend time on the giant playground and picnic area outside the zoo. Kids can ride a camel or head into the petting farm inside the zoo. Visit in the fall for Zoo Goes Boo and in December for Wonderland of Lights. Admission is FREE for children under age 3. City of Lansing and Ingham County Residents are admitted on non-holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon for FREE. 517-483-4222 Website | Our Review
WEST MI SCIENCE CENTERS
Impression 5 Science Center 200 Museum Drive, Lansing, MI 48933 This children’s science center is filled with hands-on learning opportunities for young learners. Build with giant blocks, shop in the grocery store, make bubbles, and so much more. Children age 4 and under have a special air-conditioned toddler play area in an enclosed room. Play options here include a play structure and water table. Admission is FREE for children age 1 and under. 517-485-8116 Website | Our Review
Impression 5 Science Center, Lansing, Michigan
MSU Department of Entomology Bug House Natural Science Building, 288 Farm Lane Room 147, East Lansing, MI 48824
Located on the ground floor of the Natural Science Building, The Bug House features stunning specimen displays and a menagerie of live insects and arachnids — including beetles, tropical cockroaches, and tarantulas. Open for pre-arranged tours only.
W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Bird Sanctuary 12685 East C Avenue, Augusta, MI 49012
Explore 3 miles of trails and experience a variety of habitats surrounding Wintergreen Lake, the heart of the Sanctuary grounds, all year long. Visitors will see a variety of birds including waterfowl, gamebirds, and raptors. The Sanctuary is a great place for birding, nature photography or simply enjoying a walk outside. Pack a picnic lunch and spend the whole day. Admission is FREE for children age 2 and under.
GREATER GRAND RAPIDS GARDENS
Blandford Nature Center 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Explore nature year-round at Blandford Nature Center. Many of the animals live at Blandford permanently due to injuries. This includes hawks, owls, turtles, and Elsa the American Mink. Blandford offers many classes for elementary aged children and story time for younger kids.
616-735-6240 Website | Our Review
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park 1000 East Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525 There is so much to do at Frederik Meijer Gardens. With breathtaking landscaping, thoughtful sculpture art and hands-on children’s activities indoors and out, it’s easy to spend an entire day. Visit the children’s garden, backyard farm, sculpture walk, Japanese garden, and greenhouse. Special events throughout the year. FREE for children age 2 and under.
888-957-1580 Website | Our Review
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids
MSU Horticulture Gardens 1066 Bogue Street, East Lansing, MI 48824
MSU has over 14 acres of gardens for plant lovers of all ages to appreciate and enjoy. There are six different garden areas within the MSU Horticulture Gardens. Kids can learn while they play at the 4-H Children’s Garden. Enjoy the newest annuals at the The Amien Carter Annual Gardens or ever-changing perennials at The Judith A. DeLapa Perennial Garden. Explore Japanese Gardens and more at The Clarence E. Lewis Landscape Arboretum. Watch bees in action at their bee hotel in The VIP Garden (Vegetables and Insect Pollinators) and marvel at the roses in The Frank’s Nursery and Crafts Rose Garden. Most gardens are FREE to visit and donations are appreciated.
Windmill Island Gardens 1 Lincoln Ave, Holland, MI 49423 Windmill Island Gardens is the perfect place to experience natural beauty wrapped up in an historic, educational opportunity. Each garden has photo cards of the different flowers so kids and adults alike can learn something. Take a self-guided tour of the only working authentically Dutch windmill in the United States. FREE for children age 8 and under as well as for Holland residents.
616-355-1030 Website | Our Review
Windmill Island Gardens, Holland
W.J. Beal Botanical Garden 412 Olds Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824 The W. J. Beal Botanical Garden is an outdoor laboratory for learning about plants. Visitors will find different areas dedicated to different kinds of plants including landscape plants, wetlands, useful, and endangered. Admission is FREE and donations are gladly welcomed.
FREE MUSEUM VISITS
Exploring Michigan Museums, Science Centers & Gardens Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
When you think about family time, what comes to mind? Some might say playing board games or attending sporting events together. Heck it might even just be dinner together – every family is different.
To us, museums and other permanent public exhibits are our go-to for family together time. And, when we travel around Michigan, we often find ourselves researching new places we can visit.
We have had some of our best family moments exploring museums, hiking through gardens, and watching science experiments.
I am always checking for the best deal. Below are the different ways my family and I explore all the wonderful opportunities in Michigan, without paying an arm and leg.
1) Use Reciprocal Memberships
I absolutely love receiving memberships to local museums, gardens, and zoos as gifts. It’s a gift your family can take advantage of year-round, rain or shine.
Being a family of five, this usually means we have to go to a museum at least three times a year to get our money’s worth, but that is easily accomplished within the first six months.
Usually, memberships also come with other reciprocal memberships and/or discounts to other places around town, which makes this mom more excited.
Most of the time when buying these memberships, we are only thinking of local places to go, but did you know that there are reciprocal memberships all across Michigan?
If your kids are older, or if you are adventurous enough to not let toddlers stop you from traveling, let this article be your guide to planning your next journey.
In Michigan, there are a few memberships that I would highly recommend buying, giving you access to multiple locations across the state where the reciprocal admissions are available:
And usually larger cities like Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids, have local Cultural or City passes.
2) Use Your Library Card to Access the Michigan Activity Pass
If you think that you have seen most of your city, and your kids are starting to get a little bored with the “usual” places, you might want to start exploring a little farther around the state. The Michigan Activity Pass is the perfect place to start.
The Michigan Activity Pass (MAP) is a seven-day pass you can check out using your library card for one of Michigan’s cultural attractions, state parks, or recreation areas. This pass gives you so much more to offer than just museums. We are talking fish hatcheries, railroads, and lighthouses.
There are 470 MAP destinations right now, and that means there is truly something for everyone in your family. And, each year it gets better.
The MAP website is a great resource to use to find places to explore. It is set up for you to type in your home city, local library, how far you want to travel, and then you can check any specific destinations you are looking for. Once you hit enter, a list and map will display your possible adventures.
Here are five simple tips to remember before you check out a pass:
Patrons may check out one MAP pass per library card every 7 days.
When you print out a MAP pass, you have 7 days from the date it was reserved to use it.
Please note that if you choose to print your MAP pass on a library printer, you may be charged the regular fee that is assessed by the library for printing.
Photocopies of MAP passes will not be accepted at MAP destinations. Only passes printed from the MAP website can be redeemed at MAP destinations.
Prior to your visit, please call ahead or check the museum’s website in order to verify hours of operation, etc.
U of M Natural History Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan
3) Find Your Local Free Museum Day
There are so many museum options in Michigan, and we encourage all of you to research if your local museum has any “free days.” When researching, we found many museums have discounts for county residents or once-a-month sponsored free days. So research around your town, and let us know what you find! Below are some options we found:
Here is a list of museums:
Henry Ford Museum: Active U.S. military get free admission year-round to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village.
Grand Rapids Art Museum: Meijer Free Tuesdays and Meijer Free Thursday Nights are made possible by The Meijer Foundation. This gift supports free admission for the public from 10 am – 5 pm each Tuesday and free general admission Thursday Nights from 5 pm – 9 pm.
Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Flint Institute of Arts: Huntington celebrates the Flint Institute of Arts by providing everyone access free of charge every Saturday. Also, thanks to the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage, Genesee County residents receive free museum admission every day at the Flint Institute of Arts.
4) More Free Museums Admission Options
Additional programs that provide free museum days:
EBT Card Holders: Those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free (up to 4 persons) or reduced admission to more than 300 museums throughout the United States simply by presenting their EBT card. Click this link to find out which museums in Michigan participate.
Bank of America Museums on Us Program: Museums on Us® offers one free admission to more than 220 cultural institutions nationwide during the first full weekend of every month. There are eight locations throughout Michigan.
Other Ways to Find Free Museum & Cultural Center Fun Around Michigan
We all know kids are expensive, but we love them so dearly, and we want to give them the best childhood ever, right? I constantly feel the need to take them to events all over town. Or when we are camping for the weekend, we need to explore the nearby town.
There are a few resources I use to find where we can get in free or at a discounted price by using our existing memberships.
Let’s not forget about Motown. LittleGuide Detroit is Metro Detroit’s guide for family fun. Here you will find classes, events, and activities taking place on the southeast side of the state. Their list of theTop Free Things to do With Kids in Detroitwill help you plan your next visit.
And, again always read those pro-tips to find out where those reciprocity agreements are.
Get out and Explore
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has the Recreation Passport available to buy, which will then get you into state parks and campgrounds, recreation areas, state boat launches, and state trail parking lots. The pass is relatively cheap, and the pass is good for a whole year.
Most people think just about using the pass in the summertime, but the wintertime is also great for using the pass. There are trails that are designated for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and let’s not forget about ice fishing. Take advantage of where we live and plan your next outing literally outside.
Senior Editor. April is a stay-at-home-working-mom hybrid who balances her time between managing a household and using her editor brain to find all the typos in her friends’ emails. In her occasional free time she enjoys reading, quilting, antiquing, and photography. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and three children.