Editor’s note: Given the persistently high COVID-19 case count, COVID protocols and other details for events are subject to change. Please check your event’s website for COVID requirements and the latest information, and heed local health authorities’ safety recommendations as they’re updated.
The Seattle area has a ton of fabulous museums for all interests, from art to history to science, as well as a wide assortment of other arts and cultural offerings. Here, we’ve compiled a small sampling of ways you can experience them for free or on a budget, so you have no excuse not to get a little culture on.
Admission is always free at the Frye Art Museum on First Hill, the Klondike Gold Rush museum in Pioneer Square and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington is offering free admission through Oct. 1. (Normally, the Henry is free every Sunday and on First Thursday.)
You can reserve a rowboat for free at the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union.
Admission to the Children’s Museum of Tacoma is always by donation (pay as you will).
Museum regular free days
First Thursday, also known as the most awesome day of the month, is the day you can enjoy free admission to many museums. The list includes the Museum of History & Industry (5-8 p.m.), the Burke Museum and the National Nordic Museum. Most places require reserving your tickets in advance online. Many other museums have suspended their free days because of COVID-19.
The Seattle Art Museum is free on First Thursdays and the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park is free on the last Friday of each month. SAM’s third location, the Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, is always free.
The Tacoma Art Museum is free from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday.
Library museum pass programs
It takes a little planning, but snagging tickets through the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program is like striking gold. The program was temporarily suspended, but now some of the museums (not all) are back on for free tickets. The tickets are released a month in advance at 9 p.m. each evening. The key is to set the alarm on your phone for 8:59 p.m. and be poised to pounce the instant the clock rolls to 9 p.m.
You can snag two free tickets to the Wing Luke Museum, the National Nordic Museum and the Burke Museum. (Try for Burke tickets on a Sunday, when parking is free in all the UW lots and garages.) You can get four tickets (two adults, two children) to MoPOP, the Museum of Flight and the Seattle Aquarium. Considering that aquarium tickets can run nearly $40 for adults and $30 for kids, that’s a lot of dough you’re saving.
Aquarium parking tip: You can park for free in the garage directly across the street from the aquarium. It’s labeled with a giant sign: “P, Pike Place Market.” Before you leave the aquarium, stop by the gift shop to pick up a voucher for 3 hours of free parking, saving you an additional $12.
The King County Library System offers free passes for the Washington State History Museum, Bellevue Arts Museum, MOHAI, KidsQuest Children’s Museum, Seattle Aquarium, MoPOP and the Museum of Flight. KCLS tickets are released at 2 p.m. each day, and all you need is a library card.
Bank of America’s Museums on Us program
On the first full weekend of every month, all Bank of America cardholders and employees can get free admission to the Seattle Art Museum, the Wing Luke, the Bellevue Arts Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum. Just bring your bank card and a photo ID.
Museum of Flight’s Connections program
You can reserve Museum of Flight passes through the library, or even better, join the museum’s Connections program. To become a Connections member, you have to attend one of the museum’s educational programs. Once you’re in, it’s essentially a free membership for a kid plus an adult until the kid turns 19.
Performing arts on a budget
In terms of other arts, if there’s a performance you really want to see, check the website of the organization and sign up for emails. In pre-COVID-19 times, we relied on $10 day-of tickets and pay-what-you-wish dress rehearsals to see shows for cheap.
Performing arts groups are planning a very cautious fall season and many theaters won’t start their seasons until this winter. But there will be discounted tickets available. Intiman Theatre, for instance, has a limited number of “free for everyone” same-day walk-up tickets, including for its Homecoming Performing Arts Festival Sept. 18-19. Seattle Rep will have a pay-what-you-choose option, and other ways to save, for live shows starting in January. Pacific Northwest Ballet sends email notifications for $15 tickets, half-price tickets and ticket giveaways when you sign up for its Pointe program.
If music is your jam, student performances have traditionally been a great way to catch concerts for free. The University of Washington’s ArtsUW calendar is a good place to check. As of press time, however, the pickings are looking slim; even outdoor concerts are being canceled because of the surging delta variant.
Teenagers (13 to 19 years old) can sign up for a free TeenTix pass that lets teens buy $5 tickets at a number of arts organizations around the area, including museums.