Spending time at a museum, garden, or a special cultural attraction is a great way to learn about a new subject or a city you're visiting. With some admission prices tipping the scales at $20, the costs of being curious can add up — especially if you've got a family in tow.
That's why the always-free-entry policy at Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. is such a great draw. Once a year, Smithsonian Magazine hosts "Museum Day Live!," an event in which more than 1000 museums across the country waive admission for anyone who downloads a free ticket. In the process, visitors can save themselves anywhere between $10 and 25 per person, depending on the location.
This year's event takes place on Saturday, September 23, and includes large and small museums in all 50 states. Visitors are permitted to download one ticket, which grants access to the ticketholder and a guest. A full list of participating venues, including many with special events planned for the day, can be found on the Smithsonian's website.
CNBC took a look at some of the more than 1,300 participating museums.
The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Alaska's largest museum, is celebrating the opening of a brand new wing, complete with refreshed galleries and several new exhibitions.
A variety of media in 'Art of the North' offer varied takes on the Northern landscape and wilderness, and a quirky tour of Alaska fossils comes courtesy of Alaska resident Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Minerals, meteorites and microbes
Boston's Harvard Museum of Natural History has just launched 'World in a Drop: Photographic Explorations of Microbial Life,' offering a rare and often beautiful view of tiny ecosystems.
Equally intriguing exhibits elsewhere in the museum include a collection of fossils, rare minerals and the almost surreal collection of over 4000 glass flowers and plants made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, father and son glass artisans from Germany.
Housed in a former Bethlehem Steel facility that is more than 100 years old, the National Museum of Industrial History is a shrine to America's industrial history, displaying industrial artifacts from a variety of industries.
Among the items on display are a restored 115-ton Corliss steam engine that was once used to pump 8 million gallons of water a day, a 13-ton, 20-foot-tall Nasmyth steam hammer, and the Scalamandre "White House" loom that made fabric for every White House presidency from Hoover to Clinton. A temporary exhibition about baseball, "Making America's Pastime," shows how balls, bats, gloves and uniforms are made, and how they've changed over time.
Pristine props and popular culture
Ten interactive exhibits and galleries at MoPOP, Seattle's Museum of Popular Culture (formerly the EMP) offer visitors a far-ranging tour of music history, contemporary pop culture, science fiction, fantasy and a variety of offbeat trends.
Galleries are also devoted to the history of the electric guitar, and feature homages to music icons like Jimi Hendrix (a Seattle native) and David Bowie. Additionally, more than 100 artifacts and props from the 'Star Trek' television series and films franchise are on display.
At the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures is currently hosting exhibits exploring the history of beer, brewers and breweries in Texas; the stories and customs of more than 20 of the earliest cultural groups to settle in the state; and the role played by citizens from the Lone Star State in the World War I.
Museum Day Live! visitors will get a special treat: from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Eva Ybarra, also known as the "Queen of the Accordion," will perform in the museum and a documentary about Ybarra's life will be premiered.
A garden grows in the desert
Not all participants in the Museum Day Live! are actually museums. In Phoenix, Arizona, the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden will welcome free ticket holders to explore the wildflowers, herbs, cacti, succulents and other plants on five looped trails that the Sonoran Desert.