U.S. Museums with Free or Pay-as-You-Wish Entry

by  Christine Wei | Jan 30, 2014
Guggenheim Museum
Guggenheim Museum / tinnaporn/iStock

We're big fans of museums, wherever we go. And we'd never begrudge an amazing exhibit due support, particularly at smaller institutions that could use the help. But there's no reason why travelers shouldn't take advantage of free nights at various museums across the country. And there are more museums that offer suggested, donation-based entry than you might think.

Two notes before jumping into our roundup of free and pay-as-you-wish museum programs: First, this is not a definitive list, though we do plan on updating it regularly. Second, if you're a Bank of America credit or debit card holder, don't forget to check out the Museums on Us program. Flash your card (and ID) at 150 museums and cultural institutions across the country and you'll get in free on Saturday and Sunday during the first full weekend of every month. 

New York, NY

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Main Building
Pay what you wish (suggested $25)

American Museum of Natural History
Pay what you wish (suggested $22; general admission only)

Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Cloisters
Pay what you wish (suggested $25)

The Museum of Modern Art
Free on Fridays, 4-8 p.m. (otherwise $25)

Guggenheim Museum
Pay what you wish on Saturdays, 5:45-7:45 p.m. (otherwise $22)

Frick Collection
Pay what you wish on Sundays, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (otherwise $20) 

Boston, MA

Museum of Fine Arts
Voluntary contribution on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. (otherwise $25)

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
Free on Thursdays, 5-9 p.m. (otherwise $15)

Harvard Museum of Natural History
Free on Sundays year-round, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. (otherwise $12)


Washington, D.C.

Most museums here are free. This includes the National Gallery of Art, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, though advance reservations may be required during peak season.


Los Angeles, CA

The Getty Center and the Getty Villa

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Free every second Tuesday of the month (otherwise $25)

California Science Center

Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena)
Free on first Fridays of the month, 6-9 p.m. (otherwise $10)


San Francisco, CA

de Young Museum and Legion of Honor 
Free on first Tuesdays of every month (otherwise $10)

California Academy of Sciences
Free on one Sunday every quarter of the year (otherwise $29.95)

The Museum of Craft and Design
Free on first Tuesdays of every month (otherwise $8)


Philadelphia, PA

Institute of Contemporary Art

The Barnes in Philadelphia 
Free on first Sundays of every month, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. (otherwise $22)


Seattle, WA

Seattle Art Museum
Pay as you wish (suggested $19)
Free on first Thursdays of the month

The Museum of Flight
Free on first Thursdays of the month, 5-9 p.m.

St. Louis, MO

Saint Louis Art Museum

Saint Louis Science Center 


Hanover, NH

Hood Museum of Art


Pensacola, FL

National Naval Aviation Museum

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