The Go-To Guide: Memberships to Columbus Attractions Offer Bonus Perks
Everything’s different right now, but your kids (and you) need some things to be the same.
Fortunately, the major institutions in Central Ohio that offer experiences for families are finding ways to reopen with safety in mind. So, you can not only get some needed out-of-the-house time but also have a fun, educational experience while checking out an old favorite or exploring something new.
Visiting these destinations frequently, though, isn’t always financially feasible when you add up single-day admission, parking and the like. If your crew has a favorite spot, a family membership might make sense. Members can return as often as they want and usually get discounts on parking, food, souvenirs and more. The upfront cost can be high, but it will save money in the long run if you visit often—and reciprocal privileges provide access to other venues as well. And now, perhaps more than ever, that kind of flexibility is especially valuable.
Reciprocal privileges, though not well known, offer discounted or free admission to other science centers, museums and attractions around Ohio and/or the U.S. Generally, guests just need to present a membership card and photo ID.
We’ve compiled membership information and reciprocity details for the top Central Ohio family attractions. Costs and benefits are subject to change, so go online or call ahead to verify details before making a purchase.
The guide also includes the number of visits a family of four (two adults and two school-age children) need to make to recoup the cost of the membership.
AHA! A HANDS-ON ADVENTURE
1708 River Valley Circle S., Lancaster
Membership cost: A $100 family or grandparent membership includes up to two adults as well as all children in the immediate family (including foster children) who are younger than 18. The $125 premium membership includes reciprocity. Additional family members are $15; premium add-ons are $20 each.
Reciprocity details: AHA! members get $1 off admission to The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology in Newark. Premium members get half off admission at 200 sites in the Association of Children’s Museums reciprocal network. That list includes COSI and six other Ohio venues. For more information, go to childrensmuseums.org.
Payoff threshold: Four visits for either membership
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COLUMBUS MUSEUM OF ART
480 E. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A family membership, which does not provide reciprocity, costs $100; a reciprocal membership is $150. Both provide free admission for two named adults and all children younger than 18, as well as free parking.
Reciprocity details: CMA participates in three reciprocal networks: the 14-member Ohio Reciprocal Program, which includes the Wexner Center for the Arts; the Art Museum Reciprocal Network, an eclectic collection of art spaces in places including Boston, Des Moines, Nashville and Pittsburgh, as well as numerous Washington, D.C., museums; and the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, which offers free admission to more than 1,000 member venues of various types. Other Central Ohio participants are the Ohio Craft Museum, the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center of Worthington, the Wexner Center for the Arts and The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology. (Note that NARM benefits do not apply to other institutions within a 15-mile radius.)
Other notable NARM institutions include: Cincinnati Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, National Constitution Center (Philadelphia), National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati) and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland). For more information, go to narmassociation.org/map.
Payoff threshold: Two visits for a family membership and three for a reciprocal membership
COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM
4850 Powell Road, Powell
Membership cost: A standard family membership is $119 for residents of Franklin County, $139 for all others. There is a $5 discount for online purchases, as well as discounts for renewals. Membership includes two named adults in the same household plus either dependent children or grandchildren (not both) up to age 21. A membership also provides free parking and priority registration for most programs, as well as discounts on membership to The Wilds and admission/season passes to Zoombezi Bay.
Reciprocity details: Members get free or reduced admission to participating facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has 240 members in the U.S. and Canada. Most offer a 50 percent discount, matching what the Columbus Zoo offers members of other AZA venues. Reciprocal institutions in Ohio are: African Safari Wildlife Park (Port Clinton), Akron Zoo, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (Dayton), Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Toledo Zoo & Aquarium and The Wilds (Cumberland).
Other AZA members include: Buffalo Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Memphis Zoo, National Aviary (Pittsburgh), Oglebay’s Good Zoo (Wheeling, West Virginia), Philadelphia Zoo and Zoo Miami. For more information, go to aza.org.
Payoff threshold: Two visits with children 10 and older, three visits with children ages 3-9
333 W. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A basic family or grandparent family membership, $179, covers two named adults and dependent children or grandchildren ages 18 and younger. Other levels also are available.
Reciprocity details: COSI participates in the Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport Program, which provides free or discounted general admission at more than 360 venues (excluding special exhibits, planetariums and large-screen theaters). Note that the perk excludes any institution within 90 miles of either COSI or a member’s residence. In Ohio, this rules out Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (Dayton), SPI-SPOT (Mount Vernon) and The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology (Newark), but these museums routinely offer each other’s members a discount.
Ohio institutions where COSI members get free admission include the Cincinnati Museum Center, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland), Imagination Station (Toledo) and the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum (Canton).
Notable out-of-state ASTC museums include: Adler Planetarium (Chicago), Adventure Science Center (Nashville), Buffalo Museum of Science, Carnegie Science Center (Pittsburgh), Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, The Field Museum (Chicago), Franklin Institute (Philadelphia), Kentucky Science Center (Louisville), Michigan Science Center (Detroit) and Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago). For more information, go to astc.org.
COSI’s premium and ultimate family members also can participate in the Association of Children’s Museums reciprocal network.
Payoff threshold: Two visits
FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS
1777 E. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A family membership, $135, includes two named adults (parents or grandparents) and children or grandchildren in the same household who are younger than 18. Members also get discounts at local gardens and greenhouses and for ProMusica Chamber Orchestra performances.
Reciprocity details: The conservatory is part of the American Horticultural Society, so members receive reciprocal benefits at more than 330 facilities, including: Chicago Botanic Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis), Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (Milwaukee), National Aviary (Pittsburgh) and West Virginia Botanic Garden (Morgantown). Gardens within 90 miles may not provide full reciprocity. For more information, go to ahs.org.
Payoff threshold: Two visits with children 13 and older, three visits with children ages 3-12
THE KING ARTS COMPLEX
867 Mount Vernon Ave., Columbus
Membership cost: A family membership, $60, covers two adults and all children younger than 18 living in the same household.
Reciprocity details: The King Arts Complex does not currently participate in any national reciprocity programs.
Payoff threshold: Varies. Membership includes gallery admission, three free performance tickets, and discounts on workshops/classes and tickets, the cost of which differs by event.
OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION
Ohio History Center, 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus
Membership cost: A household membership, $65, includes two adults and all children or grandchildren 18 and younger in the immediate family. Members receive free admission to more than 50 historic sites and museums around the state that are operated by the Ohio History Connection.
Reciprocity details: The OHC participates in the nationwide Time Travelers program, which provides free or discounted admission to more than 200 places such as: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, Illinois), Brooklyn Historical Society (New York City), Historic Zoar Village (Zoar, Ohio), The National Civil War Museum (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums (Fremont) and The Star Spangled Banner Flag Museum (Baltimore, Maryland). For more information, go to timetravelers.mohistory.org.
Payoff threshold: Varies based on site. The Ohio History Center in Columbus, for example, would take two visits.
WEXNER CENTER FOR THE ARTS
1871 N. High St., Columbus
Membership cost: A household membership costs $150. In addition to free gallery admission, this level provides two free film/video passes and reciprocal benefits.
Reciprocity details: Like the Columbus Museum of Art, the Wexner Center participates in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association. Additionally, Wex membership includes reciprocal benefits through the Modern and Contemporary Reciprocal Membership program (86 institutions in the U.S. and Canada, including the New Museum in New York City and Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center), the Museum Alliance Reciprocal Membership program and the Ohio Museum Reciprocal Membership program.
Payoff threshold: Varies. Gallery admission is always free to students (with ID) and anyone younger than 18. Additionally, the Wex offers free admission during specific hours each week.
THE WORKS: OHIO CENTER FOR HISTORY, ART & TECHNOLOGY
55 S. First St., Newark
Membership cost: A family membership, $90, covers two adults plus all children in the same household younger than 18. A grandparent membership, $80, covers two adults in the same household and all grandchildren younger than 18.
Reciprocity details: The Works participates in the Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport Program, the Smithsonian Affiliate Reciprocal Membership Program (for Explorer level membership, $150) and the Time Travelers program. Though the ASTC limits reciprocity if a member lives within 90 miles of another program, COSI gives The Works members 50 percent off admission. For more information, go to astc.org, affiliations.si.edu and timetravelers.mohistory.org.
Payoff threshold: Three visits
Some Central Ohio destinations offer a courtesy discount through the Columbus Member Advantage program.
Participants include Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Ohio History Center and Ohio Village, and Wexner Center for the Arts.
Through a collective agreement, these venues extend buy-one-get-one-free reciprocal admission to each other’s members. Restrictions apply. For more information, see each institution’s website.