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The return of Blue Star Museums

Get ready to tour Washington state and Oregon museums for free!

The Pacific Bonsai Museum is a 2018 Blue Star Museum. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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Blue Star Museums 2018 kicks off Memorial Day and runs through Labor Day. The program is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and a variety of museums in all 50 states.

Since 2010, the Blue Star Museums program has offered free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families, including the National Guard and Reserves.

Highlights in Oregon include the High Desert Museum in Bend; the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, which holds the famed Spruce Goose; and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum. All three are great destinations and perfect for a weekend trip from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In Washington state, plan to check out the Burke Museum and the Museum of Flight in Seattle; in Tacoma, try the Museum of Glass and the Washington State Historical Society. All are great locations for a day trip and are located in areas where there is more to explore. If you are planning on spending any time in California this summer, make sure to check out the list of Blue Star Museums in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Here are some tips from the Blue Star Families Museum Parent Tool Kit, which you can access at This site also includes a map with the Blue Star Museums in each state.

  • Choose wisely -- Pick a museum that is appropriate for your child. The Museum of Glass is not a good fit for an active toddler, but the Washington State Historical Society, with its many hands-on activities, is perfect for children.
  • Reconnaissance -- Check out the museum's website in advance for some fun activities. Do you know you can tour a Space Shuttle Trainer Crew Compartment at the Museum of Flight? This is usually a costly add-on, but with free admission it is a good time to check it out.
  • Time of day -- Use common sense and don't go to a museum right before nap time. High-energy kids may need some playground time to help settle down before venturing in.
  • Check out the logistics -- Before you go, find out the museum's hours and parking situation, and determine if strollers and bags are allowed. Find out if food is available and plan accordingly.
  • First thing's first -- Stop at the Welcome Desk when you arrive and show your military I.D. to gain free admission through the Blue Star Museum program. For a large museum, let the staff help you plan your tour.
  • Museum manners -- Remind children to "look with your eyes, not your fingers!" and ensure they don't run or use loud voices.
  • Military discounts -- Often, add-on features like an IMAX movie are an additional cost, but these may have a military discount, so make sure to ask.

Museums are a nice way to get out of the summer heat. Take advantage of this great benefit before it's too late because Labor Day comes around way too soon and you will have to wait another year.

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