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11 museums to explore for free on First Thursdays (and Fridays)

Photo: Seattle Art Museum/Natali Wiseman

Once a month, on Thursday, the public gets the run of some wonderful Seattle museums. This is a great way to explore the city on the cheap, if you don’t mind things being more crowded than usual. (If your family prefers to avoid crowds, check out the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass Program for other opportunities to get a free peek at popular museums.)

Some of the museums have exhibits that are either designed with kids in mind or have obvious appeal to certain children. (If your daughter dreams of being an astronaut, the Museum of Flight is obviously a great place to be.) Some of them, particularly the art museums and some historical exhibits, are not accessible that way, but that doesn’t mean that kids can’t enjoy them. Kids can be delighted by weird sculptural forms, colorful paintings or intriguing artifacts. Take it slowly, don’t try to do too much at a time and let the kids take the lead. If you are looking at an art museum, ask your kids about what they see, and what it makes them think about. If you are looking at historical exhibits, pick an object and talk about the story behind it.


Free on Thursday:

Burke Museum

4300 15th Ave NE

Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Reserve your timed ticket in advance to get into the Burke on First Thursday. There are still a lot of crowds eager to get a look at the new galleries and exhibits showcasing Washington’s history and culture. Read more about the revamp here, and find special winter activities here.


Museum of Flight

9404 E Marginal Way S, Tukwila​
Free: 5 to 9 p.m.

Free admission and extended hours give you the run of most of the museum’s galleries and simulators. This Thursday, watch the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft (LEAF) challenge, in which teams of students design and build model electric aircraft to carry cargo around a tethered pole.


 Museum of History and Industry

860 Terry Ave N
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

December marks the 100th anniversary of one of MOHAI’s most important artifacts, the Boeing B-1 Seaplane, and there will be special activities today, including an aeronautical themed storytime is at 11 a.m. The permanent exhibits on the History of Seattle and on Maritime Seattle are always good for stirring the imagination. You can also check out the Bezos Center for Innovation for free. Prices for MOHAI’s special exhibit, “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation”: $12 adults, $10 for students, military or seniors, or free for youth under 15 with a chaperone.


  Seattle Art Museum

1300 1st Ave
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Free tickets will give you the run of the permanent collection, as well as access to the Knudsen Family room, a colorful playspace for children. The Chase Open Studio, along the grand staircase between the 1st Avenue and University Street entrance and 2nd Avenue, is open to the public all the time and is a fun place for kids to try out their artistic ideas. Tickets to the special exhibition, “Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capidomonte Museum,” are $9.99.


 Living Computers Museum + Labs

2245 1st Ave S
Free: 5 to 8 p.m.

This museum devoted to vintage and contemporary computers emphasizes hands-on activities. Exhibits with kid-friendly components include robotics, self-driving cars, the internet of things and the digital studio.


 Henry Art Gallery

15th Ave NE & NE 41st St
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This gallery on the UW Campus is devoted to contemporary art, in all its surprising variety. For those who can’t manage Thursdays, the Henry Art Gallery is also free every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


 Northwest African American Museum

2300 S Massachusetts St
Open: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

This museum explores the African-American experience in the Pacific Northwest. The permanent Journey Gallery has interactive exhibits illustrating 300 years of local African-American History. There are also temporary exhibits.


Wing Luke Museum

719 S King St
Open: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The galleries of this museum of the Asian-Pacific American experience has a wonderful permanent display called “Honoring our Journey,” which is packed with stories and artifacts. There’s also a variety of temporary exhibits. On first Thursday, a donation of your choice can get you a spot on the historic hotel tour, where you can learn more about the history of the lovely building that houses the museum.


 National Nordic Museum

2655 NW Market St
Open: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Nordic Museum marks first Thursdays with a story time and kids' activities, from 10 to 11 a.m. This month’s featured tale: “The Polar Bear Wish.” You also have free admission to the permanent “Nordic Journeys” exhibition.


Not Thursday, but Friday

Bellevue Arts Museum

510 Bellevue Way NE
First Friday hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Bellevue Arts Museum offers special talks, tours and other programming throughout their first Friday free day. The focus of the museum is on art, craft, and design.


Frye Museum

704 Terry Ave
Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This art museum is free every day, but on first Fridays it puts on Small Frye, a program for kids aged 3 to 5, offered along with Seattle Children’s Theatre. Come at 10:30 a.m. for storytelling, followed by an art-making activity. The Frye has a variety of exhibits, showing sculpture and painting from the 1800s to the present.


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