Thousands of schoolchildren visit the Discovery Museum Science and Space Center each year, but for thousands of other Sacramento-area residents it remains one of the region's hidden treasures.
Beth Callahan, the center's marketing and communications director, looks forward to introducing first-time visitors to the its many offerings – including space travel simulations, a planetarium and a robotics lab – during Saturday's 15th annual Sacramento Museum Day.
The Discovery Museum is among 28 museums throughout the Sacramento region that will offer free admission Saturday. Two other venues, the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, will offer half-price admission.
Sponsored by the Sacramento Association of Museums, the event is all about discovery. By offering free or discounted admissions, organizers hope to introduce residents to museums they might not have known existed, said Delta Mello, Museum Day coordinator.
Visitors should expect crowds and long lines, especially at such popular venues as the California State Railroad Museum and the Crocker Art Museum.
The goal is to whet people's appetite for local culture.
"We hope they'll come back for a richer experience," Mello said.
"A lot of times, people just want to see inside to see if it catches their fancy," Callahan said of Museum Day visitors to the Discovery Museum, tucked between Auburn Boulevard and Interstate 80 in the Arden Arcade area.
On Saturday only, the Discovery Museum will offer a six-month membership for a family of five for $30, Callahan said, noting that it includes admission to other science museums in California and the United States.
Seventeen of the Museum Day venues are in downtown or midtown Sacramento.
The others are within a 20-mile radius, and include the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Arts Museum on Florin Road in south Sacramento, the Sacramento Children's Museum in Rancho Cordova, the Folsom History Museum on Sutter Street and the Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland.
Two additions this year are in Roseville: the Maidu Museum and Historic Site, and the Roseville Utility Exploration Center.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are expected to participate.
The California State Railroad Museum typically draws the biggest crowd, with the Aerospace Museum of California at McClellan Park running a close second, followed by the Sacramento Zoo, Mello said.
But all museums typically report a surge in the number of visitors on Museum Day.
Shonna McDaniels, executive director of the Sojournor Truth Multicultural Arts Museum, said she expects about 2,000 people to view the center's 2,000 square feet of murals as well as other exhibits on Saturday. Museum Day, she said, has played a huge role in acquainting the public with the museum's offerings.
Organizers advise choosing two or three museums to allow time to enjoy the experience and travel between sites.
Mello encourages visitors to sample often overlooked venues such as the California State Capitol Museum.
"One of my favorites is the (Sacramento Historic) City Cemetery," Mello said. "It's an outdoor museum. It has history and art in the tombstones, beautiful gardens and wildlife."