Museum and Zoo Memberships: Are They Worth It?

museum and zoo memberships

Family memberships to places like the Brookfield Zoo and kid-friendly museums not only help support the organizations—they’re also a great way for families to save money. Some pay for themselves after a couple visits, while others take longer. We put together a list of kid-friendly destinations in the city and Western suburbs to find out: are these memberships really worth it?

Prices are current as of summer 2016. Most spots also offer senior, military, educator, and other discounts that aren’t listed here, so check before you buy.


Brookfield Zoo

What a Brookfield Zoo Membership Costs

A basic membership to Brookfield Zoo costs $105/year for up to two adults and all their kids or grandkids, plus one free guest per visit. You also get free parking, eight attraction tickets, and six guest tickets.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $17.85
  • Kids: $12.50 (kids under three are free)
  • Parking: $11

Is a Brookfield Zoo Membership Worth It?

In most cases, yes! Admission for two adults and two kids costs $71.70 total, without even counting attraction tickets; for one adult and two kids, it’s $53.85. After just two visits, you’ve saved significant chunk of change in the first case and pretty much broken even in the second.

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 $28.85, so you’d have to visit Brookfield four or more times for the membership to make financial sense.


DuPage Children’s Museum

What a DuPage Children’s Museum Membership Costs

Basic one-year memberships cost $90 for one child and one adult, $110 for two adults and two children, $130 for two adults and four children, and $150 for four adults and six children. Additional discounts include 10% off at the S.M.A.R.T Café and the DCM Explorer Store.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults and kids one and up: $12 (kids younger than one are free)
  • 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.


Morton Arboretum

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, $90 for two, $130 for four, and $165 for six.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $14 April–November, $9 December–March and every Wednesday
  • Kids 2–17: $9 April–November, $6 December–March and every Wednesday (kids younger than two are free)
  • Parking: free

Is a Morton Arboretum Membership Worth it?

It takes about four peak-season 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.


Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

What a Museum of Science and Industry Membership Costs

A Household + Kids membership is $155 and includes admission for two members, one guest, and all kids under 18. Perks include free parking, four discounted passes for special exhibitions, 10 free Omnimax tickets, and free admission to 300+ science centers and museums around the country.

What an Individual Visit Costs

  • Adults: $18, not including tours, special exhibits, or Omnimax tickets
  • Kids 3–11: $11, not including tours, special exhibits, or Omnimax 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. Who could pass up the LEGO exhibit running through February? And a visit to the Omnimax is a great break from walking around. If you can swing it, visit on free days and simplify things!

Normally, two adult tickets, two children’s tickets, and parking will run you $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. Most attractions are discounted (but 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

What a Shedd Aquarium Membership Costs

Family memberships cost $195 and include access for two adults and any number of kids 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: $8 for general admission; $39.95 for a Total Experience Pass ($2 off online)
  • Kids 3–11: $6 for general admission; $28.95 for a Total Experience Pass ($2 off online, and kids younger than three are free)

Is a Membership Worth It?

First, is the upgraded ticket worth it? Basic tickets only include admission to three exhibits, so they’re best if you’re just stopping by as part of a bigger trip to the city. But if you’re making a day (or even an afternoon) of it at the Shedd, you’ll probably want all the extras.

The membership is definitely a boon 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) on select days throughout the year!


Other Ways to Save


This nine-day pass includes tickets to five Chicago attractions including the Shedd and MSI. Adult passes are $98, while kids 3 -11 are $82. It’s a total of 53% off, but that’s if  you visit all five attractions and take advantage of the “extras” included at each. The limited timeframe 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.

Online Sales

Brookfield Zoo occasionally posts promo codes and discounts on their Facebook page, and the other spots featured here have all previously run Groupon deals. These online deals don’t crop up often, so if you see one, snag it.

About the Author

Rachel Matuch
Rachel is a writer and mom of two boys who lives in Woodridge. She recently moved from Downers Grove and grew up in Naperville, but she and her husband have been discovering new things to do now that they’ve got a toddler and baby in tow. Rachel loves cooking, playing board games, and regularly raiding the Woodridge library. She also volunteers with teens at Four Corners Community Church, which makes her feel like an old geezer.

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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.