MOHAI will deliver looks of awe this weekend, just with more masks.

It's like Black Friday, only there's a gift shop at the end. Smithsonian magazine's 17th annual Museum Day takes place this Saturday, offering free admission at participating organizations across the country. "Pre-Covid, it was absolutely our busiest day of the year," says Museum of History and Industry's Melanna Kallionakis, director of visitor services.

More than a dozen Washington museums are taking part, from MOHAI to the farther-flung Polson Museum in Hoquiam and Lakewold Gardens south of Tacoma. Free admission tickets must be obtained through the Smithsonian website in advance. 

At a time when cramming into an exhibit hall with a bunch of strangers is specifically unappealing, there are ways to make Museum Day a little less...superspread-y. Though the big-name museums—MOHAI, Museum of Flight—are guaranteed to be busy, several smaller spots are taking part, like the Edmonds Historical Museum. Seattle's Connections Museum, dedicated to the weird and wonderful history of telephones, is closed Saturday and so shifts its Museum Day to Sunday.

And given that the Smithsonian-provided tickets may run out, it's worth finding free ways to visit our local temples of art and history at other times. Kallionakis notes that MOHAI has an access pass program that grants entry "for any reason, for any need," a program launched in April of this year. Passes can be reserved in advance.

Tacoma's Museum of Glass, a participant in Museum Day, lists several fee-free ways into the museum, including free Third Thursdays and a pass that can be checked out from the Tacoma Public Library. The National Nordic Museum also does free first Thursdays, and reduces admission prices to visitors with any form of public assistance identification card. Oh, and that quirky Connections Museum? It's actually free year-round.