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How to Get Free Admission to Monterey Bay Aquarium With Your EBT Card

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Visitors take photos and view various fish and shark species in a 1-million-gallon tank exhibit depicting the open ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, on April 6, 2015.  (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

For the first time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is offering free admission to anyone receiving food assistance — also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits or food stamps, and called CalFresh in California.

Starting Memorial Day (May 27), anyone with an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card can use this as proof of their eligibility at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ticketing desks to get free tickets for up to four people, as part of the nationwide Museums for All program. There’s no application process, and you don’t have to reserve your free tickets in advance.

Currently, tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium cost $59.95 for adults, $49.95 for youth ages 13–17, $44.95 for children ages 5–12 and $49.95 for seniors age 70 and over (although children 4 and under can always visit the aquarium for free). Using an EBT card means a group of two adults and two children can save well over $200 on admission.

Keep reading for what to know about using your EBT card for free admission to the Monterey Bay Aquarium — plus more ways to save even more money on your visit. And if you’re not an EBT holder, remember: You still have several ways to find free museum tickets around the Bay Area.

(Don’t currently receive SNAP benefits but think you could be eligible? Find out how to apply for CalFresh.)


Tip #1: Know what you need to bring to get free aquarium admission

If you’re using an EBT card to get free aquarium admission for up to four people, the holder of the EBT card needs to be part of your group.

As well as their physical EBT card, that person also needs to have a valid photo ID with a name that matches the name on the EBT card.

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Once you’ve got those things, all you have to do is go to the ticket desk at the aquarium with your group, show your EBT card and ask for “Museums for All tickets.” Remember, no reservation is required, and free tickets are available whenever the museum is open.

Tip #2: Once you’re in Monterey, you can use a free trolley car to get around

Starting Memorial Day weekend and running through Labor Day, the City of Monterey and Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) operates a free trolley car that serves Downtown Monterey, Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium — which you can use to avoid higher-cost parking garage fees closer to the aquarium.

The free MST Trolley will run 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily and connects the downtown parking garages (where all-day parking is $12) with the aquarium.

Tip #3: Time your aquarium visit according to what you want to see

Because your free admission with an EBT card isn’t restricted to particular times or days, you can choose to visit on a schedule that works for you — and offers you what you want to see.

In addition to exhibits including deep-sea creatures, sea otters, the Giant Pacific octopus and a kelp forest, the aquarium also offers daily talks, screenings and public feeding demonstrations for the animals. Look at the Aquarium schedule beforehand to ensure you don’t miss an event you want to catch.

Tip #4: The aquarium isn’t the only place offering free admission for EBT holders in Monterey

The Museums for All program offers free or reduced admission to 1,300 museums around the United States — so the aquarium is by no means the only place an EBT card can save you a lot of money as a visitor.

In Monterey, the following paid museums offer free or low-cost admission for up to four people with an EBT card, for you to visit before or after the aquarium:

When asking for Museums for All tickets, remember that sometimes a staff member might be newer or hasn’t received their training on the Museums for All program yet and could be less familiar with the discount. If this happens when you arrive, we recommend staying patient and showing the staffer museum’s listing on the Museums for All site on your phone.

Tip #5: Remember you can use your EBT card for free museum tickets around the Bay Area too

Back in the Bay, many local museums are participating in the Museums for All program, including:

San Francisco also has its own local version of the Museums For All program, which covers over 20 museums and cultural spaces and offers free or reduced admission to SF residents who are Medi-Cal recipients, as well as to EBT users.

See a full list of all the Bay Area museums participating in the Museums for All program, and read more about using your EBT card to get free museum tickets.

This story contains reporting by KQED’s Jasmine Garnett, Sarah Mohamad and Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí.

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