Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

first Thursday museums

Enjoy art for free on First Thursdays at Seattle Art Museum and other Seattle-area facilities. (Photo: Jen Au / Seattle Art Museum)

Seattle-area museums to explore for free on First Thursdays

Free days are back (but not everywhere). Find out where and how to plan a cheap family excursion.

First Thursday museums update, 2021: First Thursday is back at several Seattle-area museums!

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.

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 a draw 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.

A few things are different right now: Masks are required in all indoor public spaces. And most museums, like many other attractions, require (or recommend) admission via timed ticket secured in advance online, and this is often still the case even on First Thursdays, when that ticket is free.

Free first Thursday museums:

first Thursday museums

At MOHAI, the scavenger hunt has items to locate and questions to answer. (Photo by Jasmin Thankachen)

Museum of History and Industry

860 Terry Ave N
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.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. Some special exhibits require an additional tickets.  Here’s the scoop on free first Thursday. And here’s how one family enjoyed their recent MOHAI excursion.

Seattle Art Museum

1300 1st Ave
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

Free first Thursday tickets will give you the run of the permanent collection and special exhibitions these days. SAM is always free for kids 14 and under, discounted for teens and students and free for seniors on First Fridays. See also: 4 easy art projects inspired by a visit to Seattle Art Museum

Burke Museum

4300 15th Ave. N.E. (UW campus)
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Check out the new galleries and exhibits showcasing Washington’s history and culture. More information: New Burke turns the museum inside-out. And here’s what it’s like with masking and no hands-on activities (hint: still great).

National Nordic Museum

2655 NW Market St., Ballard
Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

The Nordic Museum offers free admission on first Thursdays (last entry time 4 p.m.; ticket required).  Admission to the permanet galleries is free, and special exhibits can be seen with a $5 ticket. Explore 12,000 years of history and learn about the unique history of people from Scandinavian lands who settled in the Pacific Northwest.

A different free day:

Seattle Asian Art Museum

Volunteer Park, 1400 E Prospect St.
Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday

This newly renovated museum in Volunteer Park has a limited schedule, so its free day is the last Friday of the month. And children 14 and under are free all the time. What to see: 7 things to show your kids at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Open, but no free Thursdays for now:

Museum of Flight
9404 E Marginal Way S, Tukwila​
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

This facility is fabulous for anyone with an interest in aviation, travel, science, history or any number of other areas.

Wing Luke Museum

719 S King St
Open: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

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. The museum also offers neighborhood tours and other programs.

Henry Art Gallery

15th Ave NE & NE 41st St.
University of Washington

This gallery on the UW Campus is devoted to contemporary art in all its surprising variety. It is currently open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only, and admission is free through Oct. 1, 2021. Last admission 4:30 p.m.; tickets by walk-up only; no online ticketing.

Bellevue Arts Museum

510 Bellevue Way NE
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday

Bellevue Arts Museum has temporarily suspended its first Friday (not Thursday!) free day but offers Student Sundays, free admission on the second Sunday of each month. Here are other ways to get discounted admission.

Free every day

Frye Art Museum

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

This art museum is free every day and has a variety of exhibits, showing sculpture and painting from the 1800s to the present. The Frye also offers youth-oriented programs.

Olympic Sculpture Park

2901 Western Ave., Seattle

Part of the Seattle Art Museum, this is an outdoor, walk-through experience that is perfect for kids and families. The 9-acre site is also the largest greenspace in downtown Seattle and is within walking distance of the waterfront and many other attractions.

Not open: 

Northwest African American Museum

2300 S Massachusetts St., Seattle

The physical museum remains closed, but it has an active online presence with information and events. 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.

Living Computers Museum + Labs

2245 1st Ave S
This museum devoted to vintage and contemporary computers closed during the pandemic. Check its website for updates.