Washington State’s Top Museums

Chihuly Glass, Bridge of Glass Tacoma
Chihuly Glass, Bridge of Glass Tacoma | © amanderson2 / Flickr
Photo of Samantha Ladwig
1 April 2018

From the Seattle Art Museum to the Pacific Science Center, Washington State is home to a rich array of interactive and observational museums. Dozens of these nonprofit organizations centered on the artwork, history, and environment that make up the Evergreen State are scattered between Spokane, Seattle, and the Washington coast. Below, in no particular order, are some of these top museums.

Washington State History Museum

Map View
Tacoma downtown with museum of History and Cable bridge.
Washington State History Museum exterior | © Washington State History Museum

The Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington, is one of two museums in the state run by the Washington State Historical Society, the other being the Capital Museum in Olympia. Its main exhibit centers on the state’s history in relation to the Pacific Northwest with a curated selection of artifacts from the Women’s Suffrage, Industrialization period, and Native American Tribes. The museum uses both observational and interactive forms of learning, making it a fun, educational experience for all ages.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Map View
Burke museum signage | © Timothy Brown / Flickr
Located at the University of Washington, sitting “on the ancestral land of the Native peoples of Washington state,” is the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Not only is it the oldest public museum in the Evergreen State with its origins dating as far back as 1979, but it’s also the oldest natural history museum west of the Mississippi River. With over 16 million objects in their collection, the museum is a host to students, researchers, and tourists from around the globe.

Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

Map View
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, Spokane | © Nick Bramhall / Flickr
Formerly known as the Cheney Cowles Museum, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture located in Spokane, Washington, is a Smithsonian Institution affiliate. Because the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is the largest museum in the Inland Northwest region, it hosts an extensive collection of items from the people and culture who occupied, and continue to occupy, the area. Alongside these collections are a number of other American, European, and Asian art and ephemera.

The Whale Museum

Map View
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor | © Jeff Gunn / Flickr

This natural history museum centered on whales was established in 1979. Deemed the first museum of its kind in the entire country, The Whale Museum seeks “to promote stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research.” From artwork to real whale skeletons, the museum is divided in such a way to not only explore the fascinating mammals as a species in the Pacific Northwest but also the environmental impact of and dangers posed by humans on marine life.

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop)

Museum, Building
Map View
MoPop | Courtesy of Visit Seattle
Formerly known as the Experience Music Project (EMP), the MoPop is a pop culture junkie’s slice of heaven. The museum has drawn attention for its infamously wonky architecture, designed by Frank O. Gehry. The museum highlights the impact and influences of pop culture on society today by exploring icons such as Kurt Cobain and cult entertainment like Star Trek. From sight to sound to touch, this museum offers its guests a full sensory experience.

Museum of Flight

Map View
The Caproni Ca.20
The Caproni Ca.20 is considered the world’s first fighter plane | Courtesy of The Museum of Flight
With over 175 air and spacecraft, “the Museum of Flight exists to acquire, preserve, and exhibit historically significant air and space artifacts.” As the largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world, the museum carries everything from the restored Amelia Earhart aircraft, the Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, to the world’s first jetliner, de Havilland Comet.

Tacoma Museum of Glass

Map View
Chihuly Bridge of Glass | © Wonderlane / Flickr

This unique Tacoma, Washington, contemporary art museum established in 2002 was created by the former president of the University of Puget Sound, Dr. Phil Phibbs, and glass-blowing extraordinaire Dale Chihuly. The museum occupies 75,000 square feet, and its most notable structure is its erect steel cone. The cone houses the glassmaking Hot Shop where students and visitors alike can sit in one of its 145 seats and observe glass-blowing demonstrations put on by one of the museum’s many visiting artists.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Map View
The Glasshouse at the Chihuly Garden and Glass
Visitors enjoy the Glasshouse at the Chihuly Garden and Glass | Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass
Dale Chihuly, famed glass artist and co-founder of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, has work scattered all around the world. His vibrant works hang everywhere from Seattle University to Halcyon Gallery in London. Sitting next to Seattle’s Pacific Science Center in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood is the Chihuly Garden and Glass, an extravagant, ongoing exhibition that opened in 2012. The museum features everything from an outdoor garden of glass-blown sculptures to the 100-foot-long (30 meters) suspended sculpture in the Glasshouse.