How To Decide Whether A Museum Membership Is Worth The Expense
As you have probably noticed, I’m always looking for the best ways to save money but still have fun as a family. I don’t want to cut back on family activities but sadly, we’re not made of money. Living in Los Angeles, the cost of living is high and pretty much nothing is free. Even a trip to the beach can run you $8-$10 for parking.
Just because we don’t have piles of money to burn through, doesn’t mean I’m willing to give up on fun family time. I get tickets to events and amusement parks through discount websites but am also finding that if I time things just right, some of my favorite places offer discounted annual passes.
I know an annual pass seems like it would be too expensive, but you really have to weigh the cost with use. For example, while I love taking the kids to LegoLand and an annual pass isn’t that expensive (compared to Disneyland), I know that we won’t get enough value out of our membership. At most, we would probably go twice a year, maaaaaybe three times if we push it. Since LegoLand is a two hour drive away, we would only want to go if we could stay overnight, which makes the membership even more expensive.
However, I recently bought an annual membership to the Natural History Museum, which also includes a La Brea Tar Pits membership. We have used it five times in the last four months. It is easy to get to, not too far from home and it is nice and cool, which is fantastic when the weather is too hot to be outside for extended periods. We’ve more than gotten the value out of that membership!
Perks of Museum Memberships
If you are on the fence about whether to buy a membership or just pay for a day at a museum or amusement park, here are some things to consider.
- Price Per Trip: Before you buy a membership, do the math. How much is the ticket price for attendees (is it just you and one child who would go regularly or will the entire family use the membership)? How many times would you have to visit before the membership is “free?” Will it cost you extra money to use your membership (parking, transportation, meals)?
- Extra Membership Perks: Some museums or amusement parks have reciprocal memberships with other venues so you may get a two for one deal. For example, my Natural History Museum membership is also good at La Brea Tar Pits. My son is really into fossils so he won’t get bored going to either of those locations. Some museums may not have a reciprocal relationship with anyone, but they may offer extra guest passes. Our zoo membership comes with guest passes so the grandparents can join us. Most memberships also offer discounts on dining and souvenirs. My mom has a museum membership that offers free classes – a huge perk for her!
- Entertainment Value: We let our zoo membership lapse for a while when our youngest was too young to get much out of it and our oldest had been there too many times to get excited. You don’t want to invest in a membership to a place that your kids will be “over” quickly. I chose the Natural History Museum because it is huge so I knew it would take a few visits to see everything. On top of that, my son is really passionate about dinosaurs and fossils right now so he can’t get enough of it. Even better, his younger brother has developed an interest in dinosaurs so he too can’t get enough of the museum. I opted against a membership to our local aquarium because it isn’t very big so I knew once we’d been 2-3 times, the boys would lose interest.
- Proximity: Maybe it’s just me, but if I have to drive more than 30 minutes to get somewhere, I’m definitely not doing it regularly. What is your threshold for travel time (with kids)? No matter how great the place is, you probably won’t be able to carve out an hour each way for travel time plus the actual activity on a regular basis – especially if you have older kids who have birthday parties and sports.
If all of these factors work out, I highly recommend getting a membership. Once you’ve paid off your membership cost (through visits), you have a free, fun family activity. You may even be able to bring along friends if your membership comes with guest passes.
Best Los Angeles Area Memberships
As a bonus for my Los Angeles area readers, here are my favorite memberships for families.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Did you know that children under 18 get a free museum membership that includes free admission for them and one adult? Clearly, this is the best museum membership in town!
- Natural History Museum: I mention it above but this is my new favorite membership. It includes admission to La Brea Tar Pits and you can also get into the special exhibits for free. Bonus for parents – the architecture is incredible. I love standing in the Rotunda.
- Los Angeles Zoo: Just two visits make your zoo membership worth the cost. That being said, there are frequent discounts on this membership so keep your eyes open. My brother got my family a membership as a gift for 60% off. Membership comes with guest passes and free tram rides.
- Discovery Science Cube: If you live near one of the two locations, membership is totally worth it. My family spent $51 for discounted tickets for one day. The annual membership is just $99. Unfortunately, we live over an hour away from either location so I know we’ll rarely use it.
- Knott’s Berry Farm: My kids love Knott’s Berry Farm and I love that it isn’t as expensive or as crowded as Disneyland. The membership is reasonably priced and they even allow you to pay for it in installments. Unfortunately for me, we don’t live close enough to make the most of it, but I would jump on this if we lived closer or if we weren’t that busy.