I think, like a lot of parents, I dream of having a home that is more of a cozy little landing pad for our adventures than a storage facility for our stuff. So I have been collecting up ideas for clutter-free gifts of adventure through membership to museums and other fun places.
We’ve added a few more options this year, and all memberships have been verified and updated for 2018. November and December are the time to think about memberships, because several places offer pre-holiday or end-of-the-year discounts.
Hello Grandparents – Membership is a Great Gift Idea!
If you are an out-of-town grandparent, membership gifts are ideal. Your grandchildren will look forward to your visits so you can enjoy your gift together; plus they will enjoy it with their parents the rest of the year. Furthermore, your children will tell all their friends that you are so much cooler than the grandparents who bought loud, battery-powered, plastic toys that end up in the garbage heap we call a toy box. Trust me on this.
Some of these ideas may seem a little expensive until you take a walk down the toy aisle of your favorite store and realize that these gifts last all year — not just a couple days after Christmas. Also, if you are taking advantage of any government programs (including WIC), you may qualify for additional discounts.
A few years ago, just for fun, I added up what it would cost to get a family membership for all of these places and compared it to what we were paying for satellite television. The combined memberships came out lower than the cost of television. This amount can be lowered further if you take some time to research and stack memberships properly. For instance, my membership to the Science Museum has discount perks for membership to other local museums. Membership price goes even lower if you take advantage of any needs-based programs for which your family qualifies. Realistically, I wouldn’t do more than a couple memberships in any given year, but it is fun to dream.
Here is a list of what I’ve found, in no particular order. I’m sure it is not exhaustive. Feel free to post other ideas in the comments section.
Red Balloon Bookshop in a Box Program
What it is: Get hand-selected books mailed monthly to your favorite reader. Red Balloon factors in your child’s age, reading level, and interests and keeps records of prior books sent. (So I know some people consider books clutter; but they are the best kind of clutter!). When paired with the recycled book program at Wild Rumpus, kids can keep the “book-clutter” down and get new books for super cheap!
Membership Cost: There are several programs to choose from, ranging from $22 – $280/subscription.
Membership Perks: Hand-selected books delivered to your door.
How to Become a Member: Contact Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org (Tell them you heard about this program from us.)
Minneapolis Institute of Art
What it is: Everyone should have a membership to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Why? Because you pay what you feel you can. If you you feel you can’t pay anything, you can still be a member. We visit the MIA often because we like to combine it with a trip to the Children’s Theatre. Still, I am constantly in awe at the size and scope of this museum. We can come back over and over and not be bored. Sometimes, with the smaller kids, we don’t get past the “block room”, and we love that, too.
Membership Cost: $0.00 or more.
Membership Perks: NEW points and rewards program. Ticketing privileges. Discounts – at the Store and at the Restaurants — even just for coffee. Communications. Invitations. Personal My Mia online account, and more.
How to Become a Member: Sign up at the help desk when you get to the museum. Do this before you stop for coffee, because your membership gets you discounts.
The Works Museum
What it is: The Works is a museum in Bloomington dedicated to inspiring children to become “innovators, engineers and problem solvers”. Watch for November discounts on membership.
Membership Cost: Dual – $55 (formally You & Me Membership) Two individuals; Family – $75 Up to two adults and their children; Family Plus – $125 Includes Passport program (see below); Grandparent – $65 Up to two adults and their grandkids; Homeschool – $70.
Membership Perks: All memberships are tax-deductible. Enjoy unlimited visits all year. The savings over one-day admissions add up quickly. Take 10% off on purchases in our Gift Shop. Receive $25 off birthday parties. Discounted admission to special events. For Family Plus: Visit over 250 participating science centers across the country and around the world for free or discounted admission through the ASTC Passport Program.
How to Become a Member: Online, Mail or Phone.
The Bakken Museum
What it is: The Bakken is a museum inside historic mansion in South Minneapolis with unique collections encouraging scientific exploration inside and medicinal gardens outside.
Membership Cost: Household: $65.00/year.
Membership Perks: Free Admission all year, including the popular Discovery Days, gift shop discounts, special member offers and discounted tickets to other museums.
How to Become a Member: Online
Minnesota Children’s Museum
What it is: The Minnesota Children’s Museum offers fun, hands-on and stimulating environment for children to explore and discover and to instill a life-long love of learning by nurturing the real-world skills children need to become engaged citizens in the future. It has two locations that are included in your membership – St. Paul and Rochester. This is one of the places that offers needs based memberships for qualifying income levels (200% of the poverty level). There is also a discount for foster parents.
Membership Cost: Passport ($129); Passport Deluxe ($159); Premier ($189).
Membership Perks: Unlimited admission for 12 months for two adults named on the membership and all children under age 18 residing in a single household. $2 off admission for up to six guests per visit. Discounts on programs, seasonal events. Sneak Peaks at the St. Paul location. Member Bonus Benefits featuring special member offers at local businesses and attractions. 50% off the general admission ticket price Children’s Museum across the country. Plus extras for the higher levels.
How to Become a Member: Visit the Minnesota Children’s Museum website. They also offer gift cards for a more budget friendly gift of family fun.
American Swedish Institute
What it is: The American Swedish Institute is located in a the old Swan Turnblad Mansion. Founded in 1929, it serves as a gathering place for people to share stories and experiences around universal themes of tradition, migration, craft and the arts, all informed by enduring ties to Sweden. Daily Admission is $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children 6 and up. So, depending on your family size, the membership will pay for itself in 3-4 visits.
Membership Cost: Dual: $65.00; Household: $75.00. There are also membership levels for single people, non-residents, or for sustaining.
Membership Perks: Free admission to the Turnblad Mansion during open hours. 10% discount at the ASI Museum Shop and ShopSwedish.com. Subscription to Posten newsletter. Free or discounted admission to films, lectures, concerts, dinners, and special events. Reduced tuition for classes and workshops. Reciprocal admission privileges to eight Swedish museums in the United States and Sweden (including Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia). Plus extras for the higher levels.
How to Become a Member: Join or renew here.
Minnesota Ski Pass
What it is: From the DNR website: “All cross-country skiers on ski trails in State Parks or Forests, or on State or Grant-in-Aid Trails, who are aged 16 and above must have a Minnesota Ski Pass. You must sign your ski pass and carry it with you when skiing. Your ski pass fee helps support Minnesota’s cross-country ski trail system.” Note: Ski Passes are good for State Parks. You’ll have to purchase separate passes for Minneapolis Parks or Three Rivers Parks.
Mini Rant: I’m not a huge fan of the idea that we have to purchase a pass to cross country ski. It seems counter-productive to the goal of a healthy society to put barriers in the way of exercise. I know it has been a barrier for me in the past. I understand that someone has to pay for the maintenance of the ski paths, but we don’t use that same logic for walkers, runners or bikers. However, these prices have remained steady for the 20+ years I’ve lived in Minnesota. Assuming your children are under 16, a State Park Ski Pass is one of the cheaper gifts of family fun; and it could help get your family out during the winter months.
Membership Cost: The prices below are for individual passes. However, since you do not need to purchase a pass for children under 16, a whole family could ski all winter for $40. Daily ski pass: $6 One-season ski pass: $20; Three-season ski pass: $55. Don’t forget to purchase you vehicle permit at the same time. Note that other park systems sell their own passes: Minneapolis Parks ($50 first, $25 additional, aged 12+) and Three Rivers Parks ($55/skier).
Membership Perks: Once you have your Minnesota Ski Pass, you can ski on any trail on the 135 ski pass trails in Minnesota, including 20 in the Metro area.
How to Purchase Your Pass: Passes are pretty easy to purchase. There are so many options, I can’t list them in detail here. You can purchase in person at parks, electronic licensing stations and at the DNR License Center. You can also purchase online or by phone. Details can be found HERE. Duplicate passes are available via any of the above purchasing methods. Duplicate passes are $2.50.
Wood Lake Nature Center
What it is: At first glance, the Friends of Wood Lake Nature Center Membership seems like it would be best for those living in Richfield or near enough to visit often as the main benefit is free admission to weekend programs and a few seasonal events. However, what makes it a great deal is that members can borrow skis and snowshoes for free to ski Wood Lake’s free trails. For a family who likes to cross country ski but may only get out once or twice a year, this is the best deal I’ve found in the Twin Cities.
Membership Cost: A basic family membership is $50/year and includes 2 named adults residing at the same address and their dependent children or grandchildren under age 18.
Membership Perks: Besides the free skiing and snowshoeing, enjoy Saturday and Sunday events at no charge. Special seasonal events throughout the year are also free or discounted for members.
How to Purchase Your Pass: Sign up for memberships here.
State Parks Vehicle Permit
What it is: There are 76 State Parks in Minnesota. Daily vehicle passes are $7.00. That would add up to $532.00 to visit each park once. It only takes 5 visits to earn back the cost of an annual pass. This is a good pass to combine with the Minnesota Historical Society Membership and/or the Great Minnesota Ski Pass. When we bought our Westfalia last year, we decided to go all out and get the license plate version of the permit so camping would be that much easier. If you plan to renew every year, this just saves you time.
Membership Cost: Annual Pass: $35.00 (There are discounts for disabled veterans and active duty personnel.)
Membership Perks: A year-round permit provides unlimited access to all 76 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for a full year from the month of purchase. By purchasing a permit, you help maintain and improve the natural resources, facilities, and education and outreach programs that make Minnesota’s state parks among the best in the nation. (This isn’t just a brag. I’ve been to other states’ state parks, Minnesota State Parks are amazing in comparison.)
How to Purchase a Pass: There are multiple ways to purchase a parking permit, but the easiest way to is to just show up at a park and purchase the pass the first time you visit.
County Park Vehicle Permits
What it is: Three Twin Cities counties require vehicle permits to enter their parks: Anoka, Washington, and Carver. However, they are reciprocal, so you only have to buy one and you can visit all three park systems. (Your State Park pass is NOT reciprocal.) A daily permit is $5.00 for Carver, $6 for Anoka and $7 for Washington. Five visits in a year will pay for an annual pass.
Membership Cost: Annual Pass: $25.00 for Carver and $30 for Anoka & Washington. There are discounts for disabled veterans and active duty personnel.
Membership Perks: A year-round permit provides unlimited access to all the county parks for all three counties.
How to Purchase a Pass: Purchase an annual pass at the park office the first time you visit a park.
Minnesota Historical Society
What it is: The Minnesota Historical Society consists of 26 historical landmarks all over the state — six of them are right in the Twin Cities. You can get your money’s worth without leaving the Metro area or you can use it as an excuse to explore this great state. Being a transplant from Wisconsin, I am really looking forward to doing this.
Membership Cost: Household: $79; Household Plus: $99.
Membership Perks: Free general admission at 26 MNHS historic sites and museums in Minnesota. Free or discounted tours, family activities, pub crawls, classes, and other special events. 10% discount at all MNHS museum stores, Cafe Minnesota and Mill City Cafe, on Gale Family Library services and MNHS Press purchases. Award-winning Minnesota History magazine and app, and MNHS magazine to keep you updated about upcoming events. Exhibit previews and members-only events. Discount on Minnesota History Center parking. Time Travelers reciprocal benefits at nearly 250 historical societies nationwide. A portion of your membership is tax-deductible.
How to Become a Member: Membership can be purchased online HERE.
Walker Art Center
What it is: In all honesty, I admit that since Arty Pants is no longer offered and Free First Saturdays are available, I probably wouldn’t purchase a Walker Art Center membership at this point in my life. However, the years that we have had a membership to the Walker, it has gotten used. It is a great place to bring out-of-town guests; and the films that they show are a nice alternative to going to a movie for a date night. If you are a film buff with plenty of out-of-town guests, this could be the family membership for you.
Membership Cost: Dual: $80.00; Family: $85.00. Again, there are other membership levels, but I think these are two levels that would be of interest to the majority of readers.
Membership Perks: Free gallery admission. Up to 50% off event tickets (two per event). 10% discount at the shop and dining at the Walker. Invitations to special members-only events and screeningss. Additional discounts.
How to Become a Member: Membership can be purchased online HERE or in person at The Walker.
The Science Museum of Minnesota
What it is: In the past, I have considered the Science Museum to be mostly out of my budget; but I’ve discovered memberships are really quite affordable and something we use often. The Science Museum also offers needs based discounts. If you are even on WIC or Medical Assistance, you qualify for discounted prices that bring membership down to below the price of most the other museums I’ve featured. Two perks I love about the Science Museum are 1) the discounted parking. Often when I have to attend something else in the area, the rest of the family goes to the Science Museum and we take advantage of $5.00 parking; 2) I love the Omnitheater admission. This makes for a cheap Friday night out with the family and, if the toddler doesn’t want to sit through a show (which she doesn’t), I can take her to the museum while the rest of the family catches the show.
Membership Cost: Dual: $89.00; Family: $139.00; Darwin: $225.00 (This includes your family plus two additional adults).
Membership Perks: Museum admission for all members. One Omnitheater admission for all regularly scheduled films for each member each time you visit. Discounts on special exhibitions. Free advance reservations. Discounted reservation fee when buying tickets online. Discounted parking rates. 10% discount in the Explore Store. Free exhibit admission to over 350 museums around the world. Household memberships are tax deductible. Subscription to member emails. Priority registration for youth camps and classes. Discounts on youth camp, classes, and birthday parties. Discounts on Computer Education Center classes.
How to Become a Member: Memberships may be purchased online, via phone at (651) 221-9444, or at the Box Office.
What it is: I don’t get to the Minnesota Zoo much. It is too long of a drive from Northeast Minneapolis when Como is so close. But it is always a treat when we do get there. This one of the more expensive membership on this list. However, if its something you do often, it is totally worth it once you add up parking and tickets for the whole family.
Membership Cost: Dual:$109; Household: $139; Household Plus: $159.
Membership Perks: Free Zoo admission and free parking during regular Zoo hours, plus special member events. Discounts to zoos across the country. Guest discounts. Discount on classes, camps, and overnights for named members. Discounts at Zoo store. Discount on IMAX Theatre tickets. Advance sale of a limited number of “Music in the Zoo” concert tickets.
How to Become a Member: You can purchase your membership online HERE.
Minnesota Transportation Museum
What it is: I love this museum for letting the kids explore. I can grab a cup of coffee and find a strategic place to sit and remind them not to run, but otherwise, they spend their time going from train to train playing some elaborate make believe game. The museum set up just lends itself well to that type of play. For the smaller kids, there is a toy train area. The downside of this membership is the limited hours, but because it is so laid back, it would be easy for a family to make it a regular Saturday thing. Other things to note: If you only have 2 kids, 2 Supporting memberships may be a better choice.
Membership Cost: Supporting (Dual) :$40; Contributing (Family): $100.
Membership Perks: Free admission. A family day pass for a friend. 10% off gift shop. Contributing or Sustaining Memberships also receives 2 or 4 coach ride passes for Osceola & St. Croix line.
How to Become a Member: You can purchase your membership online or at the museum.
Como Town Amusement Park
What it is: Como Town is the amusement park next to Como Zoo. If amusement rides is your family’s thing, season passes may be the perfect gift.
2018 Season Pass Prices: Regular Season Pass – $69.95; Under 40″ Tall – $59.95 As of 11/21/2018, Como Town did not have 2019 passes for sale yet. We’ll update when they do.
Membership Perks: Each Season Pass includes Two Soaring Eagle Zip Rides.
How to Become a Member: You can purchase your membership by calling 651.487.2121 ext. 106.
Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul
What it is: The Film Society brings independent and international films to the Twin Cities and hosts the annual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (which has the Childish Films series each year). If you and your family are weekly moviegoers, you could save a little over the course of a year by purchasing a membership, plus you get extras like exclusive free screenings and advance ticket sales to the annual film festival. Of course, you would have to take into account that a lot of these films are not in English or not appropriate for small children. This would be best for the family that is starting to grow out of children’s museums. Note that this membership does not limit your four underage guests to your own children – another bonus for families with teens & tweens.
Membership Cost: $130.00 for two cardholders plus up to four guests ages 17 & under.
Membership Perks: Up to 25% off tickets to year-round screenings, special series, film society merchandise, and the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Invitations to Members-only free screenings. Discounts on tickets to partner events and screenings year-round. Advance-purchase period for tickets to the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
How to Become a Member: Purchase a membership online.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
What it is: The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is always free for children under the age of of 16, but the adult admission of $15 still adds up to $30 for two adults and their children. If you plan to visit once per season as a family, you’ll get your money’s worth on a dual membership. If you plan on attending story times as a parent/preschooler activity, you only need to attend 4 times to recoup a solo membership. There are additional membership levels for families with older teens or additional adults, as well as those who want to bring their dogs.
Membership Cost: $60 Solo Membership; $100 Dual Membership.
Membership Perks: Free admission, reciprocal admissions to other gardens, free gardening and plant advice, discounts, EZ Pass Lane Admission, free magazine subscription.
How to Become a Member: Purchase a membership online.
What it is: Snapology teaches STEM concepts through play with using LEGO® bricks, K’Nex and technology. Now that they are in a permanent location, they have a discovery center and open play times. Open play is $8/visit. A membership pays for itself if you visit once a month with one child, but the savings grow with your family.
Membership Cost: $99 Annual Unlimited Play Pass (per family).
Membership Perks: Besides unlimited play, members get 10% off the price of all programs, like classes and camps.
How to Become a Member: Contact Snapology for more information.
Other Gifts of Fun to Consider From Some of Our Favorite Community Members:
- Rockin’ Jump Trampoline Park: Gift Cards available. $25 and up.
- Goldfish Swim School: $45/family – Goldfish members swim free during weekday afternoon Family Swim times.
- Wheel Fun Rentals: Annual Passes save you 50% on each rental.
- Do Good Diapers: I know diapers aren’t fun – but cloth diapers are more fun than disposables – especially if someone else is doing the dirty work. Check out these packages.
- Cascade Bay: Waterpark in Eagan – Season Pass $65/resident, $75/non-residents; Discounts for additional family members.
So, after all these options, if you still want to get your (grand)child toys for Christmas, don’t forget the Minneapolis Toy Library. You can choose your membership price between $40-$100. This gets you a year’s worth of revolving toys for your family and the knowledge that you are helping to reduce global toy clutter. That may just be the ultimate non-clutter membership gift.