Whether you're looking for ancient artifacts or colorful paintings, the best things in life certainly are free at the country's best no-fee museums.
The Smithsonian has the distinction of being the world's largest museum complex with 13 free museums in Washington, DC, alone. Many of the museums are located around the National Mall including the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum. The National Museum of the American Indian has a companion museum in New York City that is also free of charge. The collections in each of the Smithsonian's museums are so vast that it's impossible to narrow down the greatest hits or appreciate the full array of artistic wonders in just 1 trip. But with no charge, you can head back as many times as you would like without putting a dent in your bank account.
Los Angeles, California
The Getty Center may be one of LA's best, and cheapest, date spots because just about everything is free. In addition to free admission, visitors can check out special exhibits, gallery talks and even curator-led tours for no additional fee. The museum stays open until 9 on Saturday nights and parking is free after 5 p.m. The cool modern architecture, expansive city views and labyrinthine gardens are just as impressive as the inside exhibits of Western art including paintings, sculpture, drawings, photos, illuminated manuscripts and decorative arts by European and American artists.
Walters Art Museum
Uncover a treasure trove of art from around the globe including ancient Greek sculptures and Roman sarcophagi, paintings by the Old Masters and fabulous Art Deco jewelry. Located in historic Mt. Vernon in Baltimore, the Walters is just the right size for a day trip. Bring the kids along, too, as this family-friendly museum has free loaner strollers to explore the museum in comfort as well as a family activity center where young guests can read some art books, stage a medieval puppet show or create a masterpiece at weekend drop-in art sessions.
National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago is the country's largest Latino cultural organization with a range of exhibits depicting rich Mexican culture, both in the States and south of the border. Visitors can enjoy over 6,000 pieces in the permanent exhibits depicting life on both sides of the border with folk art including Day of the Dead masks, woven and embroidered indigenous clothing, photographs, prints, drawings and paintings. Traveling exhibits on subjects including Mexican muralists, female artists and silkscreen monoprints often make a first stop here before hitting the road to spread an understanding of Mexican culture across more borders.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is a free museum located on the campus of Columbia College Chicago. Since 1984, this museum has been the leading photography museum in the Midwest with a strong focus on offering students, educators and researchers a space to explore contemporary photography. Thought-provoking exhibits expose visitors to cutting-edge photos and explore how technology is changing the field.
San Antonio, Texas
You may only remember the Alamo from elementary school social studies lessons, but it's easy to refresh your memory on a free visit to this San Antonio icon. Join the 2.5 million other visitors who head to this complex each year to celebrate this slice of history. There are 3 buildings on the premises with a Shrine, Long Barrack Museum and Gift Museum that feature exhibits on the history of Texas and this spot's role in the Texas Revolution.
Frye Art Museum
The Frye Art Museum has been carrying on the legacy of its founders and bringing free art to the larger Seattle community since 1952. In addition to the free exhibits at the museum, visitors can participate in Art Talks with curators and educators, 1-hour interactive Guided Tours and the Magic Lantern series with screenings and talks on the art of film. For a real splurge, pay $5 for Tuesday's Tea and Tour event which includes a guided stroll through the galleries followed by some discussion over tea and snacks.
Cleveland Museum of Art
The founders of the Cleveland Museum of Art set the standard high when they established the mission in 1913 to make the museum 'for the benefit of all people forever.' You'll find rooms devoted to contemporary art, American and European painters, African art, ancient works and medieval treasures. Free daily tours help focus your attention on specific galleries and offer in-depth insight into the museum's artistic riches. The annual Parade the Circle event held each June is another of the museum's free community art ventures. It's a kaleidoscope of color and energy including spectacular costumes, skilled stilt walkers, giant puppets and artistic floats that promenade around University Circle.
Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology
New York, New York
Fashionistas can study the culture of fashion and maybe even pick up some tips from our fashionable predecessors at the free museum at FIT, Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology. There are 3 exhibition galleries, which feature visiting exhibitions and a rotating selection of the museum's permanent collection. The Fashion and Textile History Gallery changes every 6 months to offer a retrospective on the history of fashion. In addition to the exhibits, there are often free lectures, panel discussions and tours focusing on fashion and style.
Baltimore Museum of Art
The Baltimore Museum of Art has come a long way since it was founded in 1914 with just 1 painting. Today there are more than 90,000 works of art in the collection, and the museum invites visitors to check them out for free. Art fanatics are thrilled by the museum's collection of Matisse works, the largest in the world, as well as masterpieces from beloved artists including Picasso, Cézanne, van Gogh and Warhol. After exploring the galleries, take a stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden tucked into a park in the city's Charles Village neighborhood adjacent to Johns Hopkins University.