SAN DIEGO — Families looking for affordable adventures in San Diego will have the option to visit dozens of local museums, historic sites, gardens and more next month — and get it all for the price of a single membership.

The San Diego Museum Council’s Big Exchange program returns Sunday and lasts through May 18. The annual promotion allows anyone with a membership to one of the participating sites to visit all the others for free.

Participants include the popular USS Midway museum, Birch Aquarium and Japanese Friendship Garden, among many others.

If you’re already a member at one of the cultural destinations, you can simply head to one of the participating sites and show your membership card for complimentary admission.

If you are not a member at a local museum, contact one of your favorites and ask for a temporary Big Exchange membership card to start visiting other participating sites.

A girl poses on the flight deck of the USS Midway, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that’s since been converted to a floating museum in San Diego. (Photo: SDMC)

The Museum Council likens the experience to a “test drive,” granting you free access to try out a wide variety of local institutions for the cost of a single membership.

“Museum memberships are a great way to enjoy year-round access to San Diego’s world-class cultural institutions,” said the council’s executive director, Bob Lehman, in a written statement. “The Big Exchange boosts those membership benefits even further … San Diego really is a cultural playground, and we hope people will take advantage of this unique opportunity to explore and have fun – at no cost.”

Some additional notes to keep in mind: Balboa Park Explorer Passes and Go San Diego Cards are not accepted as part of the program. And each membership will operate similarly across locations, so if your original membership grants you access for one person, you’ll typically gain a single entry at another site. If you have a family membership, you might get entrance for up to four guests at another participant.

Here’s a full list of participating museums (with some caveats). A * indicates the museum is free or donation-based:

  • Barona Cultural Center and Museum *
  • Birch Aquarium (Capacity limited, reservations required)
  • Bonita Museum and Cultural Center
  • California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum
  • California Surf Museum
  • Coronado Historical Association *
  • Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House
  • Heritage of the Americas Museum
  • Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego (ICA Central) *
  • Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego (ICA North) *
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Junipero Serra Museum (part of the San Diego History Center) *
  • La Jolla Historical Society *
  • La Mesa Depot (operated by the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum) *
  • Lemon Grove Parsonage Museum *
  • Living Coast Discovery Center
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego
  • Marston House Museum and Gardens (SOHO)
  • MCRD Command Museum (Subject to base access procedures)
  • Mingei International Museum
  • Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (Downtown)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (La Jolla)
  • Museum of Making Music
  • Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) *
  • New Americans Museum
  • Pacific Southwest Railway Museum
  • San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts (Museum without Walls/Virtual Programming)
  • San Diego Archaeological Center
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum (Excludes special events, cannot combine other offers)
  • San Diego Chinese Historical Museum
  • San Diego History Center *
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum
  • San Diego Museum of Art (Not available May 1-2. Special exhibition $5/person surcharge.)
  • San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat)
  • The New Children’s Museum (Cannot be combined with other offers)
  • Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center *
  • Timken Museum of Art (Re-opening soon. Virtual programming available.)
  • USS Midway Museum (Not available May 4)
  • Visions Art Museum *
  • Warner-Carrillo Ranch House Museum (SOHO)
  • Women’s Museum of California
Kids play on the recumbent racers at the San Diego Fleet Science Center. (Photo: San Diego Museum Council)

The Big Exchange started in 2016 and more than 13,600 museum members took advantage of the program in 2019. Then the promotion went on hiatus for the coronavirus pandemic, with no program in both 2020 and 2021.

Museum Council organizers said they were thrilled to see the Big Exchange back in action.

You can learn more about the program on the San Diego Museum Council’s website.