Spoiled by the Smithsonian

When I was traveling around the country for media conferences in college, the very first thing I did upon arrival was find the aquarium, the zoo and the natural history museum, find how to get there via public transportation and go. I've been living in Atlanta for about a month now, and I haven't done any of the above.

Why? I blame money, mostly. The Georgia Aquarium, which is supposedly beautiful and engaging, is also exquisitely expensive. So is the zoo. And the art and natural history museums. We were casually planning on taking a trip to the aquarium yesterday, but including parking fees and not including lunch, we were looking at $65 for the two of us. Ouch.

But they have frikkin' whale sharks! As much as I sound like a 12 year old for saying this, I want to go so bad, but my wallet says, "We have to pay for this stuff now?"

I'm sure Atlantans, New Yorkers, San Franciscans are thinking to themselves right now, "Suck it up buddy. Who do you think you are that you shouldn't have to pay?"

I'll tell you who I am. I'm a native Marylander and honorary Washingtonian, and we don't pay for our museums thank you very much.

You see, you can literally plan an entire day in DC for about 15 bucks, the cost of your metro ticket for the day as long as you bring a lunch (because the food on the Mall sucks). The National Zoo, the US Botanic Garden and the National Museum of Natural History are free. In fact, just about all of the educational entertainment in DC is free.

When I was living in that area, we would generally make a trip to one of the museums every couple weeks or so, and I would always find something new in the larger attractions like the Zoo or the NMHN. Now it seems like our trips will be just another budgeted expense. Hoo-rah.

But as much as I complain, I'm still looking forward to exploring the city's museums in the next few weeks. I'll make sure I post pics as soon as I get them.

Whale sharks, man. Whale sharks.

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I'm a Marylander, too, and I don't see what's so unfortunate about the possibility of the Smithsonian charging an admission fee. If I benefit, I should pay, not some taxpayer in Alaska who'll never get to the Smithsonian in their life.

As for food downtown, I always take a hike five or six blocks north to a Potbelly's or Ollie's Trolley to get some lunch. But you're right, museum food is overpriced and second-rate at best.

We liked the botanical gardens in Atl when we were there. The orchid exhibit is especially nice.

I forget the cost, but it was definitely less than the aquarium. I recommend it.

I thought the Atlanta aquarium was disappointing. If you have a chance, visit the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, you have to pay for it but THAT one is worth the price...

Maybe this is too obvious for me to mention, but then as someone who has never been lucky enough to live in free-museum-land it might only be obvious to me: Most zoos and museums that charge admission also sell memberships that come with free admission to the park (and sometimes head-of-line privileges, special exhibits and educational opportunities). 30 seconds of research indicates Georgia Aquarium's annual pass pays for itself in only two visits.

Instead of budgeting for admission charges, budget for a membership to your #1 priority, then start asking any family or friends who still give you holiday/birthday presents to gift you memberships for the others. That's part of how we managed on a budget in a big city.

Also -- and this isn't meant to make a political point, just the reality of why you've been so lucky -- our admission fees for most DC attractions get paid every April 15.

"you can literally plan an entire day in DC for about 15 bucks"
You're kidding, right?
Don't you realize that Reiter's is in DC??? There's NO WAY I could safely enter the DC area and not budget a few hundred dollars, at least. Probably closer to $1000 if my wife and I were both going at the same time...

I've been to the GA twice, and will go again this year, just to sit for an hour or 3, or however long my friends let me*, and watch the ocean voyager's massive viewing window.

Well worth it, to me. I don't mind paying. It's about on par with other aquariums we've gone to.

* I just really like it. I'm strange, I guess.