It’s literally one of the Bay Area’s best kept secrets: an incredible freebie that is still under the radar to many, but one that will completely change your cultural life. The program is called Discover & Go, and it gets you and your kids in free to some of our most popular museums and attractions at a cost of precisely zero, zilch, nada. All you need is a local library card — the Berkeley, Contra Costa County and Oakland public libraries are all part of the Discover & Go network — and a printer.
The only catch is that you can’t just show up — it does take some planning ahead. Simply log in to the Discover & Go link on your library’s web site, select the date you want to go (same day passes are a cinch too), and then choose the venue from a list available for that day. Print out the passes and you’re ready to go.
Some of the places my family and I have successfully used Discover & Go free passes include the California Academy of Sciences, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Botanical Garden at UC Berkeley, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, and the Pacific Pinball Museum and USS Hornet Museum in Alameda. The new Exploratorium on Pier 15 is also now on the Discover & Go network.
A couple of important caveats:
- There are a finite number of free passes for each venue, so sometimes you will have to search a bit for available dates.
- Each library card holder has a limit on the number of times per year that they can print a Discover & Go pass — for high-demand venues such as the California Academy of Sciences, for example, you can go for free once a year.
- Some passes are good for a family of four; others are for one adult and one child. It varies from venue to venue.
- Passes can’t be issued on smartphones — they must be printed (I checked) — and you must bring ID.
Discover & Go was created by the Contra Costa County Library as a way to attract new library users, and went live in January of 2011. Currently the Discover & Go online network includes more than 20 city and county libraries across the Bay Area. Plans are afoot to bring the program into Southern California, according to a press release from the California Library Association.
Seriously, as if we needed one more reason that the Bay Area is the best place to raise kids, Discover & Go is it!