Children get a close-up view of the dynamic world of the intertidal in a bubble window of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Wave Crash exhibit

The Aquarium is strongly committed to providing access to all, giving everyone the opportunity to visit—regardless of income. The Free to Learn program furthers the Aquarium's mission of inspiring conservation of the ocean by offering complimentary admission to low-income children, adults and families.

New to Free to Learn?

Please review the Eligibility Requirements to see if your organization qualifies.
Apply now

Already a Free to Learn Partner?

Qualified partners may request unlimited visits.
Request a return visit

Planning Your Free to Learn Visit?

Check out our Planning Guide for answers to common questions and tips to make the most out of your upcoming visit.
Download Planning Guide (PDF)

About the Program

This program provides complimentary admission for low-income, at-risk and underserved children, adults and families through the government agencies and nonprofit social services organizations which serve them. The free admission the program provides is underwritten by generous Aquarium business sponsors and the Aquarium itself.

We encourage visiting organizations to take time to design an experience that complements, supplements or provides an opportunity to put into practice the developmental skills and behaviors that your program is seeking to foster. We provide annual orientations and webinars for the program, along with online resources for planning meaningful visits that align with your program goals.

After an applicant is determined to be eligible as a Free to Learn Partner, organizations and agencies can request to receive a complimentary Group Reservation for a specific date and time, within the following guidelines:

  • Maximum group size is 120 people.
  • Minimum of one adult chaperone for every 10 visitors ages 17 and under. You are welcome to bring more chaperones, but 1:10 is the absolute minimum.
  • Weekdays, September through mid-June—Free to Learn reservations may be requested for entry at 11 a.m. or later. The Aquarium is open until 5 p.m. during the winter months.
  • Weekdays, mid-June through August—Free to Learn reservations may be requested for entry at 10 a.m. or later. The Aquarium is open until 6 p.m. during the summer months.
  • Weekends year-round—Free to Learn reservations may be requested for entry at 10 a.m. or later.
  • Your application must be submitted at least seven days in advance of your requested visit date.
  • The Aquarium is closed on Christmas Day.
  • There is no limit, at present, to the number of times an organization can visit.

Eligibility Requirements

Who is eligible?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Free to Learn program is available to state, local and federal government agencies and nonprofit organizations whose programs specifically serve low-income children and adults, at-risk children and other underserved groups of children and adults. This includes organizations serving people with disabilities and veterans.

The Free to Learn program serves groups throughout the state of California. For organizations in the Bay Area counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma, please contact Community Access Ticket Service (CATS) to apply for Free to Learn tickets.

Please note that simply being nonprofit does not automatically qualify an agency or organization for participation in the Free to Learn program. In order to qualify, the organization or agency's programs must specifically target the Free to Learn audience.

Who is not eligible?

The following entities are not eligible to receive Free to Learn admission:
  • Individuals
  • For-profit facilities which charge for services (even if the clients served fit the Free to Learn profile)
  • Nonprofit organizations without current 501(c)(3) exempt status
  • Hospitals
  • Schools—except for after-school programs targeted at the Free to Learn audience
  • Religious organizations without a secular community designation (i.e., an organization, separate from the church or religious organization, that provides services to people regardless of their religious beliefs and does not propagate a belief in a specific faith)
    • As an example, a church would not automatically qualify for the Free to Learn program even though it is nonprofit and is located in an economically depressed area. But if it operates a program which provides social services (food, shelter, health care, child care, etc.) to the low-income residents of the area, the program would qualify for bringing the residents they serve, especially if it receives funding from the state, local or federal government.

Apply to Become a Free to Learn Partner

Complete the online application. Please be prepared to upload the following documents in PDF format:

  1. A brief letter, on agency/organization letterhead, describing the mission of your organization, the audience you serve, and how an Aquarium visit will further your program goals.
  2. A copy of your agency/organization's IRS 501(c)(3) notification letter confirming your not-for-profit status.

If you're unable to upload the documents, you may fax them instead to Bernadette Esquilin at (831) 644-7560. Your application must be submitted at least seven days in advance of your requested visit date.

If you have any questions about the Free to Learn program, please contact Barbara Meister, public affairs director, at (831) 648-4978 or e-mail freetolearn@mbayaq.org.

Apply now