Museum and Zoo Memberships: Are They Worth It?

Family outings to museums and zoos can get costly, especially when you add in parking and special exhibits. While admission and donations often go towards improving the organizations, most of us are still looking to get the most bang for our buck! Many museum memberships will pay for themselves after two or three visits, but some take longer. We’ve compiled a list of kid-friendly destinations with memberships in the city and suburbs. Are they worth the splurge?

museum and zoo memberships

Prices were checked in spring 2019 and are subject to change. Many spots also offer senior, military, educator, and other discounts that may not be listed here, so check before you buy.

Museum and Zoo Memberships: Are They Worth It?

Brookfield Zoo Memberships

Brookfield Zoo
8400 31st Street 
Brookfield, IL 60513
(708) 688-8000

What a Brookfield Zoo Membership Costs

A Basic Membership to Brookfield Zoo costs $117/year for up to two adults and all their children or grandchildren, plus four one-time-use guest admission tickets, and free parking at the main entrance. 

The Plus Membership costs $142/year and includes admission for two adults and their children or grandchildren, plus one free guest each visit, six one-time-use guest admission tickets, eight one-time-use attraction tickets, admission to the Hamill Family Play Zoo, and parking at the main entrance.

And the Family Unlimited Membership costs $225/year and includes admission for two adults, their children or grandchildren, one free guest each visit, eight one-time-use guest admission tickets, plus unlimited admission to the attractions and parking at either entrance. 

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $21.95 ($20.95 online)
  • Seniors: $15.95 ($14.95 online)
  • Kids ages 3-11: $15.95 ($14.95 online, kids under three are free)
  • Parking: $14

Is a Brookfield Zoo Membership Worth It?

In most cases, yes! Admission for two adults and two kids with parking costs $89.80 total, without even counting attraction tickets. In two visits, you would pay more than the Plus Membership just in parking and admission. 

However, if your kids are younger than three, or you tend to bring them without another adult, run the math. A visit for one adult plus parking costs $35.95, so you’d have to visit Brookfield four or more times for the membership to make financial sense. 

My favorite deal was when my kids were ages 3, 2, and 1. I bought the Individual Unlimited ($144), which gets only one individual in (no children on this pass), but you get one free guest each visit and unlimited access to attractions. That year, my three year old was my “guest” and my other two kids were free at the time. It was a great way to save and we ended up at the zoo 1-2 times a week that year! We now have the Family Unlimited since my kids are older. It is the most expensive, but if you go a lot and love all the attractions ($3-$5 each person each visit), it is worth every penny. 

Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn Memberships

Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn
5100 Museum Drive
Oak Lawn, Illinois 60453
(708) 423-6709

What a Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn Membership Costs

The Family Membership cost is $105 for two adults and up to five children. This includes admission, 10% off in the store, and discounts on special events and programs. There is also the All in the Family Membership for $135 which allows you to add an adult caregiver to your membership.

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What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults and kids one and up: $9 (kids younger than one are free)
  • Seniors 55+: $7
  • Parking: free (5th floor of parking garage)

Is a Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn Membership Worth it?

If you plan to visit often, yes! Depending on the number of children you have, if you’re only going a few times, you may be better off paying per visit. The Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn partners with the CLIMB (Chicago Area Local Increased Membership Benefits) Network, so for $150, you can get access to six different museums (three mentioned on this list) in the area for up to six people as well as half off admission to many children’s museums around the country. 

DuPage Children’s Museum Memberships

DuPage Children’s Museum
301 N Washington Street
Naperville, IL 60540
(630) 637-8000

What a DuPage Children’s Museum Membership Costs

Basic one-year memberships cost $125 for one child and one adult, $150 for two adults and four children, $175 for three adults and five children, and $200 for four adults and six children. Additional discounts include 10% off at the S.M.A.R.T Café and the DCM Explorer Store and $5 discounted admission for up to four guests.

The Dupage Children’s Museum also partners with the CLIMB (Chicago Area Local Increased Membership Benefits) Network. With the family memberships and up, you can get access to six different museums (three mentioned on this list) in the area for up to six people as well as half off admission to many children’s museums around the country. 

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults and kids one and up: $12 (kids younger than one are free)
  • Seniors: $10
  • Parking: Free

Is a DuPage Children’s Museum Membership Worth it?

If you plan on visiting regularly, or you have a bigger family, yes! If you’re bringing one or two kids a couple times a year, then you’re better off paying per visit. The CLIMB Network membership included with all but the one-child membership is a big bonus if you go to numerous children’s museums, too.

KidsWork Children’s Museum

KidsWork Children’s Museum 
11 S White Street 
Frankfort, IL 60423
(815) 469-1199

What a KidsWork Membership Costs

The Family Membership costs $100 and includes unlimited general admission for 2 adults and their children plus four guest passes. You will also receive invitations to special Members Only events and 10% off purchases in the Museum Store. 

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults and kids one and up: $7 (kids younger than one are free)
  • Seniors 65+: $6
  • Parking: Free

Is a KidsWork Membership Worth it?

Depending on the size of your family, the membership may not pay off for you unless you are a frequent visitor. For my family of six, one visit would be $42, so in three visits, we would pay it off. But, if you’re a stay at home parent who is looking to visit often and for short times only, the membership could be beneficial.

KidsWork recently joined the CLIMB (Chicago Area Local Increased Membership Benefits) Network, so for an upgraded $150 membership, you can get access to six different museums (three mentioned on this list) in the area for up to six people as well as half off admission to many children’s museums around the country. 

Morton Arboretum Memberships

Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074

What a Morton Arboretum Membership Costs

Basic one-year memberships are priced based on the total number of people, including kids and adults. You’ll pay $60 for one, $95 for two, $145 for four, $180 for six, and $300 for eight. The membership perks include a 10% discount at The Arboretum Store, 15% discount on education programs, everyday access for bicycling (your own or discounted bike rental), free admission to the Children’s Garden, free general admission 365 days a year, and free parking as well as guests $5 per person when accompanied by member in the same vehicle or two cars, “bumper to bumper.”

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What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $15 ($10 every Wednesday)
  • Seniors 65+: $13 ($9 every Wednesday)
  • Kids 2–17: $10 ($7 every Wednesday, kids younger than two are free)
  • Parking: Free

Is a Morton Arboretum Membership Worth it?

It takes about four visits for most of the membership options to pay off. Morton Arboretum is huge, with tons to explore and new things to see in every season, so it’s got great revisiting value.

Field Museum Memberships

Field Museum 
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-9410

What a Field Museum Membership Costs

A Family Membership is $150 and includes admission for two adults and their children and a Family Plus Membership is $180 and includes two adults, their children, plus one guest each visit. 

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $24.00 General Admission, $32 General Admission + one ticketed exhibit or 3D movie, $38 General Admission + all ticketed exhibits and one 3D movie
  • Children (ages 3-11): $17.00 General Admission, $23 General Admission + one ticketed exhibit or 3D movie, $27 General Admission + all ticketed exhibits and one 3D movie
  • Seniors 65+: $21.00 General Admission, $28 General Admission + one ticketed exhibit or 3D movie, $33 General Admission + all ticketed exhibits and one 3D movie

Is a Membership Worth it?

For a family of 4, the basic general admission (no additional exhibits) would be $82. The membership would pay itself off in two visits and would include discounts to all of the exhibits as well as discounts in the stores and restaurants. If you’re planning more than one trip, the membership is worth it. 

Before you buy any tickets, The Field Museum does offer free general admission for Illinois residents on select days throughout the year!

Museum of Science and Industry Memberships

Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago
5700 S Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 684-1414

What a Museum of Science and Industry Membership Costs

A Family Membership is $195 and includes admission for two members, one guest, and all kids under 18. Perks include free parking, unlimited discounted passes for special exhibitions, ten free Giant Dome Theater tickets, one free tour, 50% off admission to various local museums in Illinois and Wisconsin, and free admission to 300+ science centers and museums around the country.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $21.95 ($19.95 online), not including tours, special exhibits, or Giant Dome Theater tickets
  • Kids 3–11: $12.95 ($10.95 online), not including tours, special exhibits, or Giant Dome Theater tickets (kids younger than three are free)
  • Parking: $22 in the underground garage (You can park elsewhere for cheaper, but it’s a long walk to the museum campus from most spots)

Is a Membership Worth it?

It’s a little complicated, because the extra add-ons really are valuable.  And a visit to the Giant Dome Theater is a great break from walking around. If you can swing it, visit on free days and simplify things! Or buy your tickets online for a discount! 

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Normally, two adult tickets, two children’s tickets, and parking will run you $91.80 before any extras. If you’re just planning on visiting once, or it’s just you and one kiddo going a couple times, you’re likely better off buying individual tickets. Note that the attractions are discounted (not included) with the membership. 

If you plan on going more than once, the membership is likely worth it, especially if you want to hit all the extras. And if your family loves exploring science museums on vacation, it’s definitely worth it for the free and discounted admission at other museums in the program!

Shedd Aquarium Memberships

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 939-2438

What a Shedd Aquarium Membership Costs

Family memberships cost $195 and include access for two adults and any number of kids age 18 and under in the household. They include access to all exhibits, as well as daily aquatic shows, Jazzin’ at the Shedd events, and discounts at on-site restaurants and shops.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $39.95 for General Admission ($19.95 for Chicago residents)
  • Kids 3–11: $29.95 for General Admission ($14.95 for Chicago residents)
  • Kids younger than three are free

Is a Membership Worth It?

The membership is definitely beneficial to big families. Two adults and four kids break even on one visit—so why not go for the membership and get future visits free? But even if your family is smaller, membership pays off quickly. One adult bringing one child will have to visit three times for the membership to pay off, but as soon as you add a second child, you break even at two visits.

But before you buy any tickets, the Shedd does offer free general admission (or discounted upgraded admission) for Illinois residents on select days throughout the year!

Other Ways to Save

CityPASS

This nine-day pass includes tickets to five Chicago attractions including the Shedd and MSI. Adult passes are $108, while kids 3 -11 are $89. It’s a total of 50% off, but that’s if  you visit all five attractions and take advantage of the “extras” included at each. The limited time frame (9 days) makes this option very different from a membership. It’s a good deal if you’re planning on being in the city for a few days and touring most of the hotspots—otherwise, you’re better off going a la carte.

Museum Adventure Pass

Check out a Museum Adventure Pass from your local library to enjoy discounts at certain museums and zoos in the area. Discounts include free admission or buy one/get one free or 50% off. 

The CLIMB (Chicago Area Local Increased Membership Benefits) Network

This membership includes the children’s museums below and costs $150 for up to six members. If you frequent children’s museums, this is a great deal that can be purchased at any of the mentioned museums. 

  • Children’s Museum of Oak Lawn
    5100 Museum Drive, Oak Lawn, IL 60453
  • Discovery Center Museum
    711 N Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103
  • KidsWork Children’s Museum
    11 White Street, Frankfort, IL 60423
  • Kohl Children’s Museum
    2100 Patriot Boulevard, Glenview, IL 60026
  • Wonder Works Children’s Museum
    6445 W North Avenue, Oak Park, IL 60302
  • DuPage Children’s Museum
    301 N Washington Street, Naperville, IL 60540

Still unsure and want to get a preview before you purchase? Be sure to check out our listing of the 2019 Chicago Area Museum Free Days!

About the Author

Claudia Coyne
Having grown up in Palos Park, Claudia has a great love for the southwest suburbs and the hidden gems of the area. Claudia currently lives in Tinley Park with her husband and four children (two girls, ages 6 and 4 and two boys, ages 3 and 1). Cabin fever with four children can get rough, so they’re always looking for new and exciting adventures outside of the house! During the warmer months, you’ll find her and the family at the pool, out on nature walks, grilling in the yard, or at the zoo. And pick a park, any park… Claudia’s kids possess a magical super power of being able to detect the nearest park within a 5 mile radius, so there’s always a stop off on the way home to discover new playgrounds! When the cold comes, they like to craft, hibernate at the library or indoor play places, and play in the snow. In her tiny sliver of free time, Claudia enjoys sewing, photography, and baking.

3 Comments on "Museum and Zoo Memberships: Are They Worth It?"

  1. I LOVE this breakdown of memberships!!! Thank you!!!

  2. I can’t believed the value of reciprocal memberships was not included in the MSI and the Arboretum breakdowns! We travel a lot and have gotten in all over the country for free at botanic gardens/arboretums and museums. A weekend in Milwaukee made our MSI and Morton memberships pay for themselves, after getting into the Milwaukee Science Academy and the Milwaukee Public House and then two gardens (including the cool one with the domes….I forget what it’s called). That is a huge value right there!

  3. Karen L Boylan | May 8, 2018 at 4:13 pm | Reply

    Great article just a few more helpful hints. For Brookfield zoo if you are typically bringing kids under three and you usually go alone. A family membership may not be worth it as you said but they offer Individual and Individual plus Memberships (which allow you bring one adult guest with per visit. We did this until our son reached 3 and then upgraded.) And for the Arboretum – Reciprocal value alone can not be overlooked for this one it adds a ton of value as it has an agreement with over 300 places, including several that are two hours or less from the Western/Soutwest Burbs. Including: Talltree Arboretum (near Valpo, IN) this is a must if you have a little train fan. Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glenview (technically free but parking is $35 and your Morton membership offers you free parking and the opportunity to use the members line at the parking lot saving tons of time.) Just visiting Morton and these two paid for our membership plus we took it on vacation and visited gardens in the Berkshires and Connecticut.

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