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.

Reciprocal Memberships That Give you More Bang for Your Buck

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:

Boys at Free Museums near me like GR Children's Museum

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Use Your Library Card to Explore Michigan for Free with 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. Just this year, 38 new places were added to the MAP.

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:

  1. Patrons may check out one MAP pass per library card every 7 days.
  2. When you print out a MAP pass, you have 7 days from the date it was reserved to use it.
  3. 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.
  4. Photocopies of MAP passes will not be accepted at MAP destinations. Only passes printed from the MAP website can be redeemed at MAP destinations.
  5. Prior to your visit, please call ahead or check the museum’s website in order to verify hours of operation, etc.
Kids at UM Museum of Natural History is part of free museums near me

U of M Museum of Natural History

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.

Grand Rapids Kids has put together The Big list of Zoo, Museum, and Nature Center Memberships Within One Hour of Grand Rapids.  The list is great and there are pro tips to read before you plan your trip.

Did you know EBT/WIC card holders qualify for a reduced admission rate to certain museums?  They also have a list of One Thing you Must Do in Each County, and most on that list are free.

Kalamazoo Kids has also put together a great article about the Southwest Michigan Cultural Membership Exchange that describes all six organizations that participate.  Places include the Air Zoo and Kalamazoo Nature Center,  to name a few.

Air Zoo

Lansing Family Fun’s list ofFree or Affordable Fun Idea’s to do with Kids in the Greater Lansing Area has dozens of recommendations. The Capital Region is full of history and can be a great learning experience for all ages of children.  The best trips are usually when you can learn and play all at the same time.

Michigan History Center

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 the Top Free Things to do With Kids in Detroit will help you plan your next visit.

And, again always read those pro-tips, find out where those reciprocity agreements are.

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.

Detroit Institute of Arts: Residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties receive free, unlimited general museum admission.

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.

kid at Grand Rapids Art Museum at free museum day

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. 

Other Programs with Free Museum Admission

While researching we also found a list of programs that allow 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.

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.

America’s High Five

I hope this article motivates you to get out and explore the wonderful state of Michigan.  As you can see there are a lot of reciprocal admissions to museums, gardens, science centers, and zoos all over this state.  Let’s try to be like our parents and make those little road trip stops before we make it to our final destination. It’s fun to not always be in a rush, and to be making memories with the kids.

How Kids on the Spectrum can Enjoy the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

GRCM is a Sensory-Friendly Place for Kids For children with sensory sensitivities, entering the Grand Rapid Children’s Museum (GRCM) may be a very overwhelming experience. With all of the lights, noises, colors, and busyness of the other children--they may feel overstimulated and unable to focus. For this reason, some parents of special needs kids would simply avoid a visit. But Grand Rapids Children's Museum wants ALL children to be able to enjoy their wonderland of learning fun, so they set out to create a safe experience for all kids. Most [...]

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