15 Things You Can Only Find in Seattle Museums

Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases Dale Chihuly’s work
Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases Dale Chihuly’s work | Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass

Seattle is home to more than grunge music and delicious coffee. The Emerald City is also famous for its museums and cultural experiences. In February the city celebrates its annual Seattle Museum Month, partnering with museums to offer thrilling exhibitions at half the price. Here’s our guide to the exhibitions and highlights worth visiting.

The Sunday Public Sail at The Center for Wooden Boats

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Wooden boats
Find tranquility in the middle of the city by renting a wooden boat for an hour | Courtesy of Visit Seattle

The Center for Wooden Boats isn’t just a great place to learn about Seattle’s maritime history; you can actually rent a classic boat of your own to explore Seattle’s sights from a totally different perspective. There’s no better way to get around the city’s shoreline than at the helm of one of these beauties – and if you line up early enough on a Sunday, you can bag a spot for a free sail around the city with the museum’s skippers and crew. Sign-up opens at 10am, and it’s first come, first served.

Sound Lab at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)

Museum, Building
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MoPop | Courtesy of Visit Seattle
MoPOP is an entertainment junkie’s slice of heaven. The exhibitions range from the Marvel Universe of Superheroes to Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film and the Indie Game Revolution. The Sound Lab is a multimedia installation allowing visitors to practice their instrumental skills, learn mixing and record their own song to download and share. The spotlight awaits.

The Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass

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The Glasshouse at the Chihuly Garden and Glass
Visitors enjoy the Glasshouse at the Chihuly Garden and Glass | Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass
Acclaimed Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly has sculptures hanging all over the world. Luckily for locals and tourists alike, Chihuly Garden and Glass is the best place to experience his work. Explore the outdoor sculpture garden and Glasshouse including one of Chihuly’s largest suspended sculptures.

Retro games at the Seattle Pinball Museum

Museum, Bookstore, School
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Seattle Pinball Museum. Photo by Alabastro Photography.
The Seattle Pinball Museum is good fun for kids of any age | © Alabastro Photography/Seattle Pinball Museum
The Seattle Pinball Museum is a truly unique institution where, once you’ve paid the entry fee, you can play more than 50 pinball machines to your heart’s content. With playable models dating as far back as the 1960s, nostalgic games include everything from Atari’s 1979 Asteroids to Bally’s 1993 Twilight Zone – and even the refreshments at this local and tourist hotspot are a blast from the past.

Blast off at the Pacific Science Center

Museum, Theater
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A robotic arm playing tic tac toe at the Pacific Science Center, Seattle, North America.
A robotic arm plays tic-tac-toe at the Pacific Science Center | © Ronald Karpilo / Alamy Stock Photo

Fascinated with physics or blown away by biology? Then the Pacific Science Center is for you. This museum has plenty to ignite the passions of science lovers including tricking the senses with immersive virtual reality, watching nature come alive at the impressive IMAX cinema, spending an afternoon under the stars at the Willard Smith Planetarium and so much more.

True Northwest at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)

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The Museum of History and Industry
Learn about Seattle’s role in World War I and other subjects at the Museum of History and Industry | Courtesy of MOHAI

The True Northwest exhibit at MOHAI is a multimedia experience that traces the area’s rich history. It’s hands-on and visual and explores the political, cultural and environmental factors that built the city to showcase how Seattle became what it is today. No other institution combines the expansive array of artifacts that MOHAI does to create a complete historical picture of the Emerald City.

Living Art of the Bonsai at the Pacific Bonsai Museum

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Visit the Pacific Bonsai Museum for a close look at the startling beauty of bonsai trees
Visit the Pacific Bonsai Museum for a close look at the startling beauty of bonsai trees | © Chris Hornbecker Photography for Pacific Bonsai Museum

The Pacific Bonsai Museum sits just outside Seattle. It’s filled with over 100 bonsai trees native to countries like Japan, Korea and Canada. The Living Art of Bonsai project takes a microscopic look at the bonsai by exploring its design elements like shape, color and texture. Nature enthusiasts won’t want to miss this stunning natural display.

The Vintage Collection at Living Computers: Museum + Labs

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Living Computers was founded by the late Paul Allen
Living Computers was founded by the late Paul Allen | Courtesy of Visit Seattle

Founded by the late, great Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, Living Computers: Museums + Labs is a journey through the history of computing. Get up close with vintage microcomputers and play old-school machines like the Atari 400 and Apple II computer in the Vintage Collection on Level 2 – or explore the present day and future of robotics on the main floor gallery.

In This Imperfect Present Moment at the Seattle Art Museum

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Seattle Art Museum
© John Elk III / Alamy Stock Photo

The Seattle Art Museum is the city’s cathedral to the arts and has several exhibitions running throughout Museum Month. Check out In This Imperfect Present Moment featuring works from 15 artists including photography from South African artists David Goldblatt, Pieter Hugo and Mikhael Subotzky. Covering topics as varied as AIDS, bees and technological waste, it’s an exhibition that will leave its mark.

The Bruce Lee Exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum

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Photos by Brandon Patoc of Alan Alabastro - A Dragon Lives Here exhibit
‘A Dragon Lives Here,’ at The Wing, highlights Bruce Lee’s ties to Seattle |  © Alabastro Photography/The Wing Luke Museum

Known for his ties to Hong Kong and California, martial artist Bruce Lee also spent a handful of formative years in Seattle. He is, after all, buried on Capitol Hill alongside his son, Brandon. The International District’s acclaimed Wing Luke Museum – which is also affiliate of the Smithsonian – highlights those Seattle years in its A Dragon Lives Here exhibition. Visitors take a visual tour of the institutions that influenced Lee to emphasize the impact he had on the city.

Nordic Journeys at the Nordic Museum

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Fjord Hall in the Nordic Museum; design by Mithun, image by MIR | Courtesy the Nordic Museum

The brand new Nordic Museum, which opened in 2018, celebrates Scandinavian settlers to the Pacific Northwest with its permanent Nordic Journeys exhibition, featuring more than 100 items that tell the stories of migrants who came to America from the early 19th century onwards. The museum itself is a sight to behold, borrowing Scandinavian influences in its sleek modern design.

BAM! Glasstastic at the Bellevue Arts Museum

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Bellevue Arts Museum
Bellevue Arts Museum focuses on art, craft and design | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

Since 2010, the Bellevue Arts Museum has celebrated arts, craft and design at its finest with the BAM Biennial – a juried exhibition showcasing the work of emerging and established artists, makers and designers from the Northwest. The fifth edition focuses on glass in all its forms, and will be the museum’s last biennial using a medium-based theme, so it’s not to be missed. On until April 14.

Self-guided tours at the USS Turner Joy

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Pacific Northwest Sailors and Marines aboard USS Turner Joy to observe the museum's annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Pacific Northwest sailors and Marines observe Memorial Day aboard the USS Turner Joy | © AB Forces News Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Get a first-hand look at one of the country’s most impressive battleships, a decommissioned Forrest Sherman-class destroyer that saw action during the Vietnam War. Visit the USS Turner Joy near the Bremerton Boardwalk and imagine what life would have been like for those onboard while exploring all 418 feet (127 meters) of the ship including many of the rooms inside.

The Caproni Ca.20 at the Museum of Flight

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The Caproni Ca.20
The Caproni Ca.20 is considered the world’s first fighter plane | Courtesy of The Museum of Flight
The largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world, Seattle’s Museum of Flight is truly one of a kind. There are over 175 air and space artifacts, some of which are unique to the institution, like the Caproni Ca.20, considered the world’s first fighter plane, displayed almost entirely in its original condition.

Classic cars at LeMay America’s Car Museum

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Le May America's Car Museum
Le May America’s Car Museum is a beacon for car enthusiasts the world over | Courtesy of Le May America's Car Museum

Just south of Seattle is Tacoma’s LeMay America’s Car Museum featuring cars from every decade and from all over the world. Get up close with some of history’s most exciting and innovative cars at exhibitions like Heroes of Bavaria – 75 Years of BMW Motorsports and Route 66 – Dream of the Mother Road.

Looking for the perfect place to stay in Seattle?

The Edgewater Hotel

Boutique Hotel
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The Edgewater Hotel
The Edgewater Hotel Lounge | Courtesy of The Edgewater Hotel

The chic Edgewater Hotel is a convenient base for exploring many of the Emerald City’s must-visit museums and attractions, as it’s located downtown along the Elliott Bay waterfront. Taking its look and feel from woodsy cabin lodgings, the hotel’s rustic decor is both charming and chic, with river-rock fireplaces, raw wood fixtures and wilderness artwork bringing a touch of Northwestern nature indoors. Dining and drink options are just as inspired; the in-house Six Seven serves creative seafood dishes, as well as the rock’n’roll-themed cocktail Back in the USSR – a nod to when The Edgewater famously hosted The Beatles in 1964. Or there’s Hotel Max, which is an excellent budget option for those looking to make their money go further. For more information or to find other hotels taking part in Seattle Museum Month, visit seattlemuseummonth.com.

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