Friday, April 4, 2008

Family Fun Friday: Cheaper Ways to Visit the Chicago Area's Attractions

We were lucky enough to be guests of members today at the Shedd Aquarium. Sharing museum memberships with friends -- I'll invite you to mine if you invite us to yours -- is a frugal idea in itself. But the trip brought to mind several other tips I've picked up for frugal ways to visit the Chicago area's otherwise pricey attractions:

  • Chicago Public Library's museum passport program. We used this all the time when we lived in the city. You ask at the library check-out desk for a museum pass. They pull out a small box of passes to area museums, including the Art Institute, The Shedd, Brookfield Zoo, The Field Museum (which has a new children's area), Science and Industry, The Chicago Children's Museum, The Notebaert Nature Museum, and a few others. You get to keep the pass for a week, and it gets four people in (for most places, that wouldn't count your free babies).

  • Free days, free weeks, even free months. These mostly happen in winter, but they are out there. Check the museum's Web site.

  • Free parking. Today we got into the museum for free, but we blew $15 in the parking garage, most unlike me. But my friend was wise enough to get there by or before 9 a.m., and she actually parked on the street RIGHT AT THE MUSEUM CAMPUS IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO. It sounds crazy, but there is free parking near so many attractions even in this big city if you know where to look. Drive around your destination before you allow the signs to shunt you like a cow at the slaughterhouse into the paid parking. At the Brookfield Zoo, there is tons of free parking on residential streets near the rear entrance. At the Lincoln Park Zoo, the smaller, picnic-area entrance is also the end to look for street parking. At Science and Industry, free parking is all over the place. And, please don't hate me, Mommylu, but the cheap meter she found today near the Shedd was on Adler Street.

  • Pack your lunch and snacks. You know how expensive this stuff is at destinations. Don't hesitate to bring a stroller to the museum just to push around your heavy lunch bag. Or get a locker.

And yes, memberships can be a good deal if you use one. A friend recently turned me on to a GREAT program that could be the only membership you have to buy for an entire year of family fun:

  • Boston Children's Museum. Huh? Why would Chicago-area people sign up for the Boston Children's Museum? Here's why: Most children's museums and for that matter other museums belong to organizations that allow their members free admission to other museums in other cities. For example, we belong to Oak Park's Wonderworks, and our pass gets us into the Kohl Children's Museum, the Chicago Children's Museum, the Dupage Children's Museum, and when we went to San Francisco last month, we got into the Bay Area Discovery Museum.

But why Boston? Because, for the price of $125 ($15 more than I paid at Wonderworks) that museum's members get access to not only all the children's museums in the Chicago area, but ALSO the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport Program -- which gets you into Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, The Field AND the Notebaert.