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. And 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, the Hands-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 Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA

The Maryland Science Center participates in the ASTC Passport Program with free or discounted admission to science centers around the country. Our pick for a science-themed day tip from Charm City is without a doubt the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, a little under 2 hours away. Already one of the coolest Science Centers on the East Coast (hello, you can walk through a ginormous replica of the heart), the 53,000-square-foot addition that was unveiled this summer includes 30 new interactive activities, including the 2-story climbing structure in Your Brain. Don’t overlook the oldies but goodies here, including the authentic Baldwin steam locomotive, the scientific playground inspired by Newton at Sir Isaac’s Loft, and Kidscience, a scientific zone designed for preschoolers through second graders. You’ll want to spend the night and come back the next day to enjoy the IMAX films (they are an additional fee) and all of the exhibits you missed on your first visit.

Also Nearby: The Lancaster Science Factory and Delaware Museum of Natural History are not too far. If you’re heading to the New York area, bring along your card for admission to the Museum of Mathematics in New York, the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum Complex, and the Liberty Science Center just through the tunnel in Jersey City.


Image Courtesy of the Franklin Institute’s Facebook Page