The 10 Best Free Museums in the US
If you’re an avid museum-goer intent on seeing every last sarcophagus and decommissioned spaceship America has to offer, those admission costs can add up quickly. But getting a regular dose of culture doesn’t have to put a strain on your wallet or upend your schedule as you chase free museum days. Some of America’s best (and weirdest) museums are 100% free, 365 days a year. Check out our list of the country’s top free museums, and you can learn about everything from fine art to fake vomit without spending a penny.
Minneapolis Institute of Art | Minneapolis, MN
A Celebration of World Cultures
Every day is free museum day at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Featuring nearly 100,000 pieces from around the world, it’s home to some of the largest collections of Asian, African, and Native American art in the country. Visitors can expect a variety of mediums, including paintings, sculptures, and some ancient pieces that are 40,000 years old.
Pro Tip: The museum offers free Family Days—hands-on art projects and tutorials—every second Sunday of the month.
CDC Museum | Atlanta, GA
A Museum Dedicated to Disease Prevention
The Center for Disease Control is America’s first line of defense against infectious diseases, and this museum commemorates the history, founders, and accomplishments of that vital organization. The free museum has thorough exhibits on public health and epidemics, and it’s a great place to take young science-minded students, as it offers educational programs for kids.
Pro Tip: Because of the organization’s sensitive nature, the museum is the only part of the CDC that’s open to the public.
Art Car Museum | Houston, TX
See Some Works of Automotive Art
Who knew cars could be transformed into actual works of art? The vehicles on display at Art Car Museum aren’t your typical restored beauties, but they have their own charms. Instead of hot rods, you’ll find bicycles made of bones, bejeweled drag racers, and even a Ram truck molded to look like a monster—with the driver’s seat right in the beast’s mouth.
Pro Tip: Check the museum’s schedule for special events, including their open call exhibits, which feature pieces submitted by local artists.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum | Washington, D.C.
The History of Aviation
The Smithsonian houses the foremost collections of historic airplanes and spacecraft in the world—not bad for a free museum. Here, you’ll find at least one landmark craft from every era in the history of flight, from Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which flew reconnaissance missions during the Cold War. If you’re in the mood for more learning after your visit, consider taking a landmark bus tour to explore the historic sights of D.C.
Pro Tip: Science enthusiasts of any age will enjoy the Smithsonian’s awe-inspiring collection of lunar vehicles from the Apollo missions.
Waterworks Museum | Boston, MA
The Interesting Side of H2O
Fans of science and history will enjoy this unique museum, perched on the site of Boston’s Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station. Visitors learn about the city planning of Boston, and most notably, the steps that engineers took to ensure clean drinking water for its citizens. The museum is located near Coolidge Corner Clubhouse, where visitors can re-hydrate after all that talk of water.
Pro Tip: Walking tours and all-day bus excursions further explore the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the engineering work that made Boston the city it is today.
The Mmuseumm | New York City, NY
A Curated Collection of Oddities
Ever want to see a carefully curated collection of fake vomit? What about toothpaste tubes from around the world? If you’re a normal, sane person, the answer is probably “No,” but sometimes we don’t know a great thing until we see it. Case in point: The Mmuseumm in New York, one of the world’s smallest, strangest, and best free museums in the US. The collection here is constantly changing, but the crown jewel—the shoe thrown at President George W. Bush in 2008—is always on display.
Pro Tip: Visitors can call into the Mmuseumm’s audio guide on their phone for more information on the displays and their artists.
The National Museum of the American Indian | New York City, NY
Explore Native-American Culture
Dedicated to the diversity of the Native American nations spread across North, Central, and South America, The National Museum of the American Indian hosts rotating and touring exhibits throughout the year. Artifacts run the gamut from headdresses to intricate jewelry, and one ongoing exhibition features a study of traditional dances.
Pro Tip: Battery Park—home to a variety of educational and cultural experiences, including the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage—is just a short walk away.
The J. Paul Getty Museum | Los Angeles, CA
Striking Architecture, Classic Works
The Getty is both a cultural and physical landmark, clearly visible from its perch above Interstate 405’s Sepulveda Pass. Visitors here can explore celebrated artworks hailing from both sides of the Atlantic and dating back to Antiquity. The ancient Greek and Roman works will put you in a Eurocentric mood, so use the cash you saved on free museum tickets to pick up some Belgian chocolate nearby.
Pro Tip: The Getty’s Impressionist collection rivals the world’s best. Don’t miss Monet’s The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light.
Museo Italo Americano | San Francisco, CA
Preserving Italian-American Heritage
This charming free museum was created to highlight the work of Italian and Italian-American artists, and it features rotating exhibits that showcase the influence Italian art has had on the world. Visitors can also learn about Italian immigration to California through the museum’s Historical Archive Project.
Pro Tip: Walking through this museum will make you crave an authentic Italian meal. Afterward, stop by Gaspare’s to grab some lasagna or chicken al forno.
Frye Art Museum | Seattle, WA
Eclectic Modern Art Collections
The Frye Art Museum is perfect for those interested in modern art, but uninterested in waiting for free museum tickets. One of the museum’s focal pieces is a recreation of Charles and Emma Frye’s home salon, with more than 140 paintings hung floor to ceiling. Once they’re full on modern art, visitors can find excellent food and drink options in Seattle’s downtown district, including great pasta dishes at Luigi’s Italian Eatery.
Pro Tip: Shop for one-of-a-kind gifts at the museum store, which features work from Pacific Northwest artists and designers.