Often we see yearly memberships to museums or cultural attractions and wonder if it’s worth it to subscribe, or simply pay the cost of admission. If you aren’t a local (or visit Denver on a regular basis) or only aren’t an attraction’s repeat visitor, chances are the membership isn’t for you. But, if you have kids, like to check out the latest exhibit, or can’t get enough of that soothing blue sea life, well…maybe paying a chunk of change for the membership will save you money in the long run.
I broke down the cost of membership versus a solo ticket for 10 institutions in and near Denver. Plus, two seasonal places. Overall, are these memberships worth it? Take a look below and allow us to crunch the numbers.
With so much to see at the zoo and the residents always moving around, it’s easy to find reasons to go multiple times a year. There are seasonal specialties too, including a fall festival with pumpkin art and events, and zoo lights, where the whole venue glows for a chilly night time adventure.
The zoo proves great for kids of all ages, from babies in strollers to teens looking to sketch a real live lion. There are daily animal talks and demonstrations, plenty of places to buy a snack or meal, and new things coming all the time.
Of course seasonality plays a part for visitors, but even when it’s cold outside the zoo usually stays open, with indoor exhibits like Tropical Discovery to keep guests warm.
Ticket price: Ages 12 to 64 cost $20; ages 65-plus cost $17; kids 3 to 11 cost $14; and children age 2 and under are free. In the winter (November 1 through March 17) the price is $4 to $5 less per ticket.
Membership cost: For $65 you can get an individual membership for one named adult, or spend $95 to add a guest to each visit. Family memberships run $155 for two named adults and any named children under the age of 18. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: 4 times annually for individuals based on summer pricing. 3 times for a family of four (two adults, two kids).
Benefits: During the summer, there are members only hours that start at 8:30 a.m., compared to the general admission, which starts at 10 a.m. Each membership comes with unlimited visits for the year, as well as early release tickets to the annual Zoo Lights, which tend to sell out.
Other perks include two free train or carousel vouchers, plus discounts on tickets for these two attractions. Discounts on food and merchandise and 12 bring-a-friend-for-free days a year.
Another unsung perk, if you have kids then the visit can be made short to accommodate nap times and tantrums so severe you have to leave after an hour. Then, you can try again the next day if you want to for no extra cost.
Make it cheaper: Bring your own food, drink (in a non-glass container) and snacks.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
There’s always something new to see at this Denver institution, which has been around since December 6, 1900. The classic exhibits can be visited again and again too, especially if a dinosaur-loving kid or space junkie is in the mix.
With so much to see, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the kind of place guests can spend a day exploring and still miss things, or go each week for a two hour bite of entertainment. Find an IMAX theater, planetarium, virtual reality ride, food court, kid’s club and awesome gift shop at the museum as well.
Ticket price: General admission runs $19.95 for adults, and $14.95 for youths ages 3 to 18. Ages 3 and under are free. Save $1 when purchasing an off-peak ticket, which is a weekday between 9 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Membership cost: An individual membership costs $65 a year. Family or grandparent memberships, which include two adults and their named children/grandchildren, run $119 per year. There’s also a dual membership for $85, that includes two adults plus a guest. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: 4 times annually for a single membership. 2 times for a family membership. A of four would spend $69.80 for one visit to the museum. The dual membership, even without the plus one, would be worth getting if you plan on going at least 2 times in a year.
Benefits: Unlimited access to the museum at no extra cost. Memberships can get you into traveling exhibits early, and often for free or at a discount.
There’s also a 10-percent discount at the cafe and gift shop, and discounts on IMAX, special events, classes and more. No matter the tier, each member also gets the quarterly magazine.
Make it cheaper: Pack a lunch and/or snack and enjoy it in the park outside during nice weather, or inside the museum.
Denver Art Museum
Ever since the original Denver Art Museum building opened back up, visitors now have two areas to explore. The permanent collection covers art from modern to textile to photography, and all the subjects in between.
Rotating shows come in and out almost bi-monthly, so there’s always a reason to go back. With numerous stations to learn about and make art, the venue proves good for kids, who, thanks to Bellco Credit Union, are always free.
Ticket price: Adults are $13, and students, military and seniors run $10. Kids 18 and under are free.
Membership cost: Individual memberships run $65 a year for one named adult. Duel membership is $85 for two named adults. There’s also a family and a family plus membership, but since kids are free here it’s not an economical option so we are skipping it. Buy a membership here.
How many visits to break even: 5 times for single membership with general admission. For a dual membership the deal is better, and a couple would need to go 4 times.
Benefits: Each membership comes with two single-use guest passes, unlimited entry for card holders, 10-percent discount at the gift shop and free member tours.
Members also get access to preview events, members-only hours and discounts on special shows. Bonus, there’s the members’ e-newsletter and magazine too.
Make it cheaper: Pack a non-perishable snack to have outside the museum.
Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
This venue is just for kids and their adults. In fact, you can’t go in without a child. Even so, all adults still need a ticket. But once inside, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus is a play land of adventure.
There’s a vet’s office, fire truck, bubble room, story nook, building area, teaching kitchen and more, and that’s just inside. During the warmer months Joy Park opens up, which includes water play, a giant sand pit and Adventure Forest, a large tree-house-like structure one can see while driving down I-25.
Families could go here once a week and never be bored.
Ticket price: Under 1, free; age 1, $13; ages 2 to 59, $15; and ages 60-plus, $13.
Membership cost: A membership that includes a named adult and a named child runs $120. Family memberships are $150 and include two named adults and their named children.
There’s also a Children’s Museum and Butterfly Pavilion combo membership for two adults and two children for $195, as well as bonus tiers to each of these memberships. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: 5 visits a year for a parent and child will make the membership cheaper than individual tickets. But, if you have more than two people going, the family membership is the best deal and you only need to go 3 times a year to make it worth it.
Benefits: Access to members-only events. Each membership comes with two, one-time guest passes ($15 value each). When you come with non-member friends they get $2 off their admission (up to two friends). Expect discounts at the gift shop, for venue rentals and workshops.
Make it cheaper: You can bring your own food in and eat outside or in the cafe area. There’s also a playground right outside the museum complete with picnic tables.
History Colorado Center
Sift through four floors of artifacts, stories and art that are used to showcase Colorado and the American West. The museum is meant for multi-generational audiences and includes over fifteen exhibits, both permanent and traveling.
There’s plenty to see and do, and reasons to visit at least quarterly. Plus, not only does becoming a member get you access to this downtown Denver institution, but seven other history museums across Colorado.
Ticket price: General admission tickets are $15; and children 18 and under free at all History Colorado museums. Plus, there’s free admission for all active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their families. Veterans receive $2 off admission, and get in free with up to five people on Veteran’s Day.
Membership cost: Community memberships cost $45, and includes the named member and up to five people (but no train tickets). General membership is $65 a year, includes up to six people and all the benefits listed below. Buy a membership here.
How many visits to break even: 5 times a year for the general membership, though given train tickets run between $25 and $35 and membership includes one free ticket, the deal is even better. Three visits on the community pass pay for that yearly membership. Though, with each FREE guest you bring the membership benefits only get better.
Benefits: A year of unlimited access to all eight History Colorado museums, plus one annual ticket to the Georgetown Loop Railroad (valued at $25-$35). A subscription to the museum’s magazine is also included.
Make it cheaper: Travel around Colorado and use a membership to see all the museums.
Denver Botanic Gardens
Spring, summer, fall and yes, even winter are great times to visit the gardens and the beautiful greenhouse attached to them. There is a whole children’s garden in the summer, complete with water play, picnic areas and many nooks to explore.
Visit often to see how the landscape changes and what is in bloom. When it’s cool outside, there’s a greenhouse full of tropical plants to take in, as well as two light shows a year for Halloween and the holiday season.
Ticket price: Adults, $15; ages 65-plus and military, $11.50; children 3 to 15 and students with an ID, $11; and kids 2 and under are free.
Membership cost: Individual membership is $55 a year. Friends and family is the best tier for a family as it admits up to six people at a time for $90 per year. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: Go 4 times in a year to make the individual membership worth it. For a family of four to visit it cost $52 for one day, so going 2 times in a year more than makes a membership valuable.
Benefits: Covers both the Denver gardens and Chatfield Farms in Littleton. Each membership comes with three one-time-use guest passes. Seasonal early morning member hours.
Advance tickets to the summer concert series, Glow at the Garden and Blossoms of Light. A quarterly magazine and monthly e-newsletter. Discount on classes.
Make it cheaper: While eating around the gardens is discouraged, you can bring a snack or meal and have it in the outdoor seating area by the cafe.
Wow! Children’s Museum
Geared toward kids 12 and under, this darling children’s museum in Lafayette was founded in 1996. It includes an outdoor space with gardens, sensory-friendly events, a pirate ship, pint-sized bank, art area and so much more.
The idea is to have kids play, use their imagination, learn and figure out how things work.
Ticket price: Adults, $5; kids 1 to 11, $10; and those under 1-years-old are free
Membership cost: Family and grandparent membership is $115 per year and includes two adults and all the kids in the house. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: A family of two adults and two kids would cost $40 for one visit. Go 3 times a year and you already beat that price.
Benefits: Unlimited visits throughout the year. The museum is also updating its membership benefits, so expect more in the future.
Make it cheaper: Bring your own food and drink to have while there. Also, WOW!’s Play for All Initiative supports families in financial need by providing a discounted membership for $10 a year.
Bugs galore roam this Westminster venue, but don’t worry, they are all in displays. That is, save for the room of butterflies and Rosie the pink tarantula, who is handled by staff so guests can see her and possibly hold her.
It’s not a big place, and busy kids might breeze through in 90 minutes, especially if they head to the butterfly area first. Lucky for parents there is now a play area across from the gift shop, so after bugging out let those little beetles scurry around.
Ticket price: Adults, $14.50; ages 65-plus, $12.50; kids 2 to 12, $9.50; and kids under 2 are free.
Membership cost: Individual memberships run $50 per year. Family membership is $95 and includes two named adults and up to four named kids. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: 4 visits a year will make the individual membership worth it. A family of four will pay $48 for one visit, making a membership worth it if you go 2 times a year.
Benefits: Three guest passes to use, plus $2 off admission for each guest. Discount on birthday parties, gift shop purchases, camps and programs. Sneak peeks of new displays and early event access.
Make it cheaper: Pair this membership with one for the Children’s Museum. A family plan for both places runs $195 for a dual membership. Also, you can get cheaper tickets if you purchase online.
Museum of Contemporary Art
This small but well-curated museum caters to the older crowd. While kids are certainly welcome, free even, a lot of the material leans toward a more mature audience.
Shows rotate around four times a year, and visitors can take in the lovely view from the upstairs roof deck.
The best deal here is a dual membership so you can check out each show and spend a morning or afternoon immersed in modern art.
Ticket price: Adult, $10; ages 65-plus, and students or teachers with ID, $7; children 18 and under are free.
Membership cost: Individual membership is $55 a year. Duel membership runs $75 for the year. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: Visit 6 times a year with the individual pass. Or, for two people (with kids free) the dual membership means you need to go 4 times a year to make it worthwhile.
Benefits: The individual membership includes one guest for each visit, while the duel includes two. Discount at the MCA shop, cafe and bar. Advance notice of programs and access to special event ticketing first.
Make it cheaper: Go for one penny per person on the first Saturday of the month. Free admission for active military and their family through the summer. Free admission always to health care workers, museum professionals and SNAP beneficiaries.
Get a taste of the ocean and the natural freshwater habitats in Colorado at this small, but well curated aquarium. First timer visitors can easily spend a couple hours taking it all in.
But once you go, not much changes, and a seasoned fish lover may find it’s easy to breeze through in 90 minutes. Highlights include the fish tunnel, shark room, Sumatran tigers and stingray cove, which, for a fee, guests can feed the stingrays.
Bonus, the Aquarium Restaurant has a whole water wall filled with fish to look at while dining on classic American fare, as well as a daily mermaid show.
Ticket price: Adults, $24.99; seniors, $23.99; and children 3 to 11, $18.99. Free for those 2 and under.
Membership cost: Single membership, $95 per year; captain’s level membership for four people, $179 per year. Buy a membership here.
Number of visits to break even: 4 visits in a year for a single person. Bring the family just 2 times with the captain’s level membership, taking into account it’s for a family of two adults and two kids.
Benefits: Unlimited visits for the whole year. Half off self-parking and 10-percent off the gift shop, retail outlets and Aquarium Restaurant. The single pass includes one guest ticket (worth up to $24.99), and the captain pass includes four tickets (worth up to $99.96).
Make it cheaper: Go during lunch time to catch the mermaid show and cheaper meals. The aquarium is open late and if you come after 6 p.m. to see fish and then dine, parking is free.
The first version of the amusement park opened in 1890, and over the last century it’s moved and evolved quite a bit. But what hasn’t changed is how fun it is, especially for kids and ride-loving adults. Now there’s a whole water park too, and admission allows guests into both.
The season starts around the last week of April and goes until October, though rides and the water feature will close if the weather is bad.
Ticket price: At the gate tickets are $64.99, but online you can get one for $44.99, and kids 2 and under are free.
Membership cost: A basic season pass is $74.99 per person. Buy your season pass here.
How many visits to break even: After 2 visits the season pass pays for itself. And if you’re parking at the amusement park the season pass includes free parking, which otherwise costs $25 a day (or $30 if you’re paying cash).
Benefits: Free parking, unlimited access to all parts of the park and events, and the ability to add on a meal plan.
Make it cheaper: Look for specials and deals, the venue is always posting lower prices. If planning on coming a lot, the dining plan is worth it. At $79.99 a season, you can get an included meal from any of the vendors each time you visit, which normally run about $12 each.
Another way to save money, pack a cooler for the car and eat lunch in the parking lot. With a stamp you can re-enter anytime that day.
Slides, tide pools, splash pads and of course, a lazy river make this Westminster spot the place to be in the summer. There are 50 attractions to explore, free parking and many places to lounge. Bring your own towel, and make sure to rent a floating tube for extra fun.
Ticket price: Prices are based on the height of the person and depend on the season. General admission covers those 48-inches and above for $27.99 to $43.99; children prices are for guests 41- to 47-inches and run and $22.99 to $37.99; and kids under 40-inches are free.
Membership cost: For those 47-inches and under a Splash Pass runs $134.99. Those 48-inches and above cost $144.99. Buy your season pass here.
Number of visits to break even: Using the peak admission prices, both a child and adult Splash Pass need to be used 4 times during the season.
Benefits: Unlimited visits, 20-percent off food and merchandise and 99-cent sodas.
Make it cheaper: Read Bryan’s tips on how to save big at Water World.
Pack food in a cooler and bring it in (limit to one cooler per person, 30 quarts in size) or leave it in the car. You can have a snack and/or meal at one of the parking lot picnic tables and reenter the park.
Just keep in mind that all beverage containers must be factory sealed, and no alcohol is allowed. Also, if you buy four passes at a time you save $20.
An additional benefit is that usually a surprisingly large portion of memberships is typically tax deductible (though not as many people can take advantage of charitable contribution deduction as in the past).
Also, you mentioned the Georgetown Loop railroad as a History Colorado benefit, but that is the killer deal to highlight: you get that membership with 4 tickets to the train for the same price as 3 train tickets alone.
Thanks for the great summary on memberships. Another consideration is reciprocal usage at other like entities. For example, through Denver Botanical Garden membership, we were able to get a complimentary admittance and a discount on additional family members, for the botanical garden in Phoenix. Thus, helping the break even factor as well. Definitely worth the check of a website or a phone call to see if a discount is available at a similar site one may be planning to visit.
Thank you so much for that! And you are right, many are tax deductible, which can benefit you more if you meet the requirements! I think overall memberships are the way to go for multiple people and families!
Thanks for mentioning that! There are quite a few places that have reciprocal deals, though it’s not always easy to find. I didn’t know this about the DBG! Great to hear.
Thank you for this valuable information. Yes, the taxable benefits and reciprocal options are both valuable. But there is one thing in having a higher membership level of which you can’t put a price on—the joy of sharing that experience with others. For many years I have maintained my higher level membership at both the Botanic Gardens and the Museum Of Nature And Science simply for this purpose. Having friends with families and my eliminating the financial burden they would have in their bringing their children to these wonderful venues brings joy that you cannot put a dollar value on. So I highly recommend considering the family or a higher membership, if doable, for the excellent value it brings both to the individual as well as others.
Thank you for mentioning History Colorado! It is even a better deal than you mentioned. Children 18 and under are now free.
Families with a 4th grader receive a 1 year free membership through the History Buffs program.
Thank you so much for the updated info! It really helps us keep things current.
Pat you are so right. The benefits of supporting these institutions is worth more than just the fun of going, but allowing for others to experience the museums as well as supporting the venues mission.