My toddler is not like me. He is not content to stay home, ever. We must leave the house every single day to avoid his tiny toddler rage, and he wakes up each morning asking what kind of adventure we will have that day! Luckily, three days a week the answer to that is “a preschool adventure,” but that still leaves me with four open days to fill with activities.

During a big portion of the year we are able to make our own adventures at the playgrounds and parks in our area, but for about five months the summer sun is too hot to allow us to stay outside (without shade, misting systems and pools) for any length of time. That means from May through September we try to keep our adventures indoors, and we get our outside time done at preschool or in the early morning hours before the bright sun hits our yard. Because of that, we have multiple annual indoor-venue memberships. Last year we had two different children’s museums and the zoo, and this year we are doing the aquarium, indoor Legoland, and the science center.

Checking groceries at the Children's Museum.
Checking groceries at the Children’s Museum!

Besides supporting your local businesses and cultural centers, you are also able to have fun, affordable adventures all year long. Since we spend so much time doing indoor activities, I have figured out a few ways to really maximize the benefits of buying museum and local attraction annual memberships, and I wanted to share a few tips here!

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1. Be strategic with when you buy your membership.

Right around the holidays, just as summer starts, and back to school time are all good times of year to buy an annual membership to a museum, children’s center, or zoo. Museums often offer discounts and incentives during these times, such as a free extra month or a percentage off the entire yearly rate. Back to school month is especially good for these deals, since older kids are going to be in school all day so parents don’t tend to purchase memberships for them, and museums are looking to entice members.

2. Wait for the renewal offers to roll in.

Once you are about halfway through your annual memberships, the museum or children’s center will likely start e-mailing you incentives to renew. Our zoo sends out free passes for the holiday light shows (over a $100 value) if you renew around that time of year, and the children’s museum offered me a 25% discount if I renewed my pass before my first year was up. These little extras really help me decide when to renew.

3. Don’t buy a membership before your first visit.

I once made this mistake, and it ended up being a waste since we only went once or twice for that year. The location ended up being too far and there were not enough toddler activities. Wait to buy your membership until after your first visit. Most places will even allow you to apply your day admission ticket price to the cost of a full year membership, so it’s a can’t lose situation!

4. Check for online coupon deals often.

The science center that we frequent sells annual passes on online deal sites all the time. We were able to get a family membership for less than half the regular price this way, and I see it pop up again every few months. While those daily and weekly emails can be annoying, it does pay off to get on a few mailing lists when you are able to get such a great deal.

5. Look for reciprocal benefit programs before signing up.

Several of my local museums are on a reciprocal, or “passport program.” Meaning, if you buy a membership to one place, you can get free admission to dozens of other museums, zoos, or centers around the state or country. Any time we go on a trip, I check to see which museums in the area will be free for us, and I can usually find one or two to check out! If you don’t live super close to one single location, it can also be beneficial to compare the costs for memberships at different places that are all on the sister site list. Sometimes it makes sense to buy an annual pass to the venue that may not be closest to you, but which offers the most incentives.