Baltimore has its share of fantastic museums and zoos, with the Maryland Science Center, National Aquarium, and Port Discovery circling the Inner Harbor and the Maryland Zoo just a short drive from downtown.
Lots of local families take advantage of membership programs at these great institutions, enjoying perks like free admission and special events. But one perk is sometimes overlooked—reciprocal member discounts which allow you to visit other museums, zoos, or aquariums around the country for free or a reduced admission price.
Sure, it’s August, but summer’s not over yet. Before the lazy days of summer are a thing of a past, see if you can squeeze in one more vacation day and take a road trip to one of these (kind of) nearby zoos and museums. And bring along your membership card for free or discounted admission.
(cool) reciprocal museum membership discounts
If you belong to Port Discovery, check out the Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington, DE
Part of the ACM (Association of Children’s Museums), the Delaware Children’s Museum is just over an hour from downtown Baltimore. With your Port Discovery membership card, you can get 50% off admission for up to 6 people (which comes down to $6 a person). After entering the lobby, you’re greeted by the towering Stratosphere, a multi-floor circular climbing structure that invites kids to shimmy and twist their way through the sculpture. Next, kids can climb a rock wall or rock out at their own personal dance party while learning how the human body works in the Power of Me exhibit. Finally, leave time to create some art during Open Studio sessions in Studio D, which may include creating sculptures from found objects, drawing at the easels, painting, or experimenting with water beads, all depending on the daily schedule. When everyone is all played out, grab a bite at the Iron Hill Brewery just across the parking lot. There’s an impressive kids’ menu with lots of options beyond the chicken finger and great sides (including a scoop of ice cream of fro yo).
Also Nearby: The Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis, the National Children’s Museum in National Harbor, theHands-on-House Children’s Museum of Lancaster, and Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia are all part of the ACM and reasonable day trips from Baltimore.
If you belong to the Maryland Zoo, check out Zoo America in Hershey, PA
Members of the Maryland Zoo can choose from nearly 150 zoos that are part of the AZA Network (The Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Hop on 83 North and just keep driving (well, at least for 90 minutes) for half-price admission to Zoo America (which comes to $5.50 for adults and $4.50 for kids between 2-8). The zoo is manageable (word is that you can walk the entire grounds in an hour, though I dare you to try if you’re traveling with a toddler or curious preschooler). The zoo recreates habitats for more than 200 animals found around North America, including the Southern swamps, Big Sky Country, So, keep little one’s expectations realistic if they are hoping to see any of the big five—there are no elephants, camels, or giraffes at home here in this slice of Pennsylvania. Finally, the zoo is actually attached to Hershey Park (but you do not get admission to the amusement park with your zoo ticket). However, a half-day spent in the zoo should leave you plenty of time to enjoy the free activities at Hershey’s Chocolate World, including the Great American Chocolate Tour which does provide a sample which will surely leave you wanting more chocolate. So, you can use all of that money you saved on zoo admission to pick up some treats at the Hershey-themed food court.
Also Nearby: The Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Philadelphia Zoo are two other options for a reasonable road trip. And keep on eye on the Maryland Zoo’s website because they frequently offer limited-time special deals to museums and other spots around town, like the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum and Sports Legend Museum.
If you belong to the Maryland Science Center, check out the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ
Bear with us on this one. It’s definitely stretching out of the day-trip range and the “you are crazy if you think I want to spend that much time in the car with my kids” range. However, the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey is the closest large science center that is part of The Maryland Science Center’s ASTC Passport Program offering free admission to science centers around the country. The only catch with the ASTC Passport program is that your destination museum must be at least 90 miles from your home museum, ruling out some spots that are a little closer like The Franklin Institute.
But if you’re up for the adventure, the Liberty Science Center is one of the coolest—and most interactive—Science Centers on the East Coast with 4 floors and 12 galleries packed with scientific fun. Forge your own path through the steps and slides suspended in mid-air above the galleries in the modern Infinity Climber, learn about architecture and Walk the Steel in Skyscraper! Achievement and Impact, and, if you can work up the nerve, explore how we rely on touch to see while crawling through a pitch-black 80-foot long Touch Tunnel. During summer months (starting June 13 through September 7) you can channel your inner animal and brush up on your survival skills in the outdoor obstacle course at Wildlife Challenge. Need some downtime? Pay some extra to enjoy an IMAX film or just step outside onto one of the balconies for some fresh air and even views of Lady Liberty herself standing in New York Harbor.
Also nearby: The Lancaster Science Factory is within 90 miles from the Maryland Science Center, but honors the ASTC passport program. If you’re heading to the New York area, bring along your card for admission to the Museum of Mathematics or the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum Complex.