We have decided that we are addicted to museums.

How does one reach that conclusion? First, search your computer for family pictures. Second, realize that a shocking amount of your adventures, and subsequent pictures, have included museums. Third, make a list of the museum visits that you have documented and then realize that you have entered twice as many turnstiles without pictures to prove it and, well, you’re addicted.

Not a bad problem to have, right?

We have only been to museums in California and they have all had hands-on opportunities (you’d be surprised how many there are!). Of the museums we have been to, we have only paid full-price for the entrance to one and it was totally worth it because it turned out to be one of our favorite places to visit!

Because we have been around the ol’ museum block a time or two – or ten, and that’s being conservative – we thought it would be fun to share the list with you, along with reviews and sanity saving hacks that are specific to each museum.

But first, let’s talk about saving bones (the green ones, not the extinct ones) on your next visit.

OUR TOP FIVE MONEY SAVING STRATEGIES AT MUSEUMS:

 

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Tickets to popular museums are often available at discounted prices online, or at markets and restaurants in the area. Some museums will advertise this on their websites, but others require some creative research on your part.

Throughout this series, we will share where we bought our tickets for each museum but if you have a trip that’s coming up faster than we can type, we recommend calling the local Chamber of Commerce, searching city forums, reading Google and Yelp reviews of the museum of your choice (sometimes reviews will include little gems like cost saving ideas) and be sure to call the front desk of the hotel or RV park where you’ll be staying to get the skinny on their recommended resources.

2. VALIDATE YOUR PARKING

Though saving a few bucks on a slab of concrete might not seem like a big deal, it adds up.

Though the museums themselves, along with their gift shops, will validate parking, you might find a better discount elsewhere. When you park, pay attention to the restaurants and shops in the area. We recently paid for parking at an aquarium and stopped to pick up a couple of items at a store that was within walking distance. The aquarium gave us a $3 discount but the shop we stopped in gave us half off! If you are short on time, validating at the museum is just fine, but if you have a few minutes to spare and enjoy the thrill of saving cash, take a walk and utilize your surroundings.

Of course, the trick with this tip is to avoid spending money just to save money. If we don’t need anything from a nearby store, we don’t buy something just to have our parking validated. Better to get a small discount without spending extra cash than to splurge on unnecessary items just to save a few extra bucks.

3. PACK FOOD

Maybe you aren’t raising toddlers or teenagers, and you’re a perfectly peachy person when hunger pains come knocking on your door. For the rest of us, though, empty tummies can blow the budget out of the water. We smell the delicious food court cuisine, or stop into the museum’s restaurant for appetizers only and an hour later, we are wondering where all of our fun money went.

When possible, take food with you. We have yet to visit a museum that stopped us from carrying in our snacks and lunches. Each of our children wear a neon backpack with their food inside, along with a refillable water bottle. This not only saves money, but it will also save time. No need to stand in food lines or wait at a table for the chef to whip up a deliciously overpriced plate. When you carry your own food, all you need is a spot of grass or a bench (usually near restrooms) to plop down on.

4. DECIDE ON YOUR EXTRAS BEFORE YOU ENTER

Spend some time on the museum’s website, or call their customer service line, to research the in-house purchases. Though a lot of museums are all-inclusive, providing access to every exhibit and experience as a part of the cost of your ticket, some have extras.

Are you going during the holidays? Do you want to pay for a picture with Santa? What about that awesome 15 minute 4D video about bugs that runs $5 per ticket? Do you want to feed a rare bird in the “these animals are almost extinct so don’t miss your opportunity” corner of the museum? Prepare to cough it up and fork it over!

If you don’t plan ahead and set a budget for the extras, you might reach for the credit card halfway through your day and in our family, that’s an emergency only grab. Plan ahead, pick one or two special and affordable extras (or hey, none at all because you’re already paying to see cool stuff!) and stick to it.

5. DON’T EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

We know that it is tempting. We know that the stuffed walrus is adoooorrrrraaabbbllleee and that, in the euphoria of the moment, you will forget that your begging child already has two of those at home. If you avoid the gift shop altogether, your wallet will thank you.

On the rare occasion that we wander through a gift shop at a museum, it’s to drool over the things we want (children’s books make me weak in the knees) while whipping out our phones to search Amazon. We know, this is a cheap-y cheap-o tip and it might be a little tacky but we have FOUR HUMAN CHILDREN to educate so we have no shame in our bargain hunting game. Gift shop buyers – the people who stalk those shelves – are geniuses at finding super neat products. And then they mark the prices up. We reap the benefit of their research and buying skills, but don’t take the budget depleting bait. Santa does it at a discount.

 

 

There you have it. Five ways to enjoy a trip to the museum without taking out a personal loan for the experience.

We can’t wait to share our museum reviews with you! Leave a comment to let us know what museums we should add to our map and be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss out on a post!

 

 

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