When vacationing in a new city, taking in new exhibits, museums, cultural centers is a non-negotiable affair for arts and culture lovers. Enter Seattle, a city with a vast and varied collection of museums and amazing arts and culture deals to boot. Whether you get your joy from old games or new art, if you like your history to come in flyable or drivable form, if you want to see animals behind glass or made of it, the Seattle area’s museum collection covers art, science, history, and so much more—offering just the right exhibit to get every type of person (and everyone in the family) excited. And if that wasn’t enough, February is also Seattle Museum Month, when guests at participating downtown Seattle hotels receive half-price admission to some of the city’s best museums. In other words, it’s a perfect time to visit.Read More
15 Seattle museums to please every family member
For the musician: Museum of Pop Culture
Though the name has been changed from the Experience Music Project to the Museum of Pop Culture since its founding two decades ago, this Frank Gehry-designed building remains firmly rooted in Seattle’s storied sounds. Entire exhibits are dedicated to the city’s most famous musicians, like the collection of Nirvana memorabilia and oral histories, Pearl Jam’s instruments and artifacts, and a whole hall dedicated to Jimi Hendrix’s four years in London. But there are also other worlds (literally) to explore: The pop culture umbrella brings in exhibits on the Marvel comic universe, indie gaming, and more, and the building is also home to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
For the aesthete: Seattle Art Museum
A classic art museum, but certainly not a standard one: Seattle’s destination for fine art brings world-renowned artists to its light-filled space in the center of the city. Before they even enter the building, visitors are greeted by the iconic Hammering Man out front. Inside, the museum features works by contemporary artists like Kehinde Wiley and displays vast collections of Northwest Native and Mesoamerican and Andean art, along with other works from famous names like Georgia O’Keeffe. Pieces like Nigerian and Congolese masks, Egyptian statues, and 14th-century Chinese camels help the museum connect visitors to beautiful works from across the ages and around the world.
For the tinkerer: Pacific Science Center
Under the iconic arches at Seattle Center, the Pacific Science Center holds a butterfly house, insect village, two IMAX theaters, a planetarium, and—most importantly—all kinds of engaging activities, from learning about innovative ways to move water, to riding bikes and building robots. At the Tinker Tank, staffed by Makers-in-Residence, daily challenges encourage visitors to design anything from a spinning top to a rocket. They can learn how to operate animatronics by taking control of the Pneumoferrosaurus in the dinosaur exhibit, or explore Titan, the largest moon of Saturn as they give virtual reality a try. Everything inside the museum—and the playgrounds and activities just outside it, too—is designed for hands-on learning, ready to engage kids of any age.
For the future tech entrepreneur: Living Computers Museum + Labs
Show the kids what computers were like back in your day, further back, or even what they might be like well into the future. Started by someone who knows a bit about them—Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen—this museum holds everything from room-sized computers that can do a tiny amount to tiny computers that can do almost anything. And in the lab, you can learn how to use a computer for all sorts of programs—whether it’s digital art, video game design, or even 3-D printing self-driving cars.
For the frequent flyer: The Museum of Flight
Too much of that Up in the Air life can jade a tired traveler from the true joy and impressiveness of humans flying. This museum will restore that with its collection of airplanes from the first presidential jet to cars with detachable wings. Fly (simulated) planes, travel to the moon through virtual reality, tour the Space Shuttle Trainer, check out a model World War I plane, or learn about how pilots of planes like it took their skills to Alaska as bush pilots after the war. Climb into the cockpit (of a spy or fighter plane) and remember just how impressive it is that we can just take off at any point.
For the naturally curious: Burke Museum
The University of Washington’s recently remodeled natural history museum has all the wonders and exhibits you’d expect from one of the largest mammal collections in the Pacific Northwest, but it has also reimagined the entire museum experience. Nearly all the archives and artifacts have been pulled out of storage and put on display, as have the folks who tend to them: The museum includes a dozen labs and workrooms so that visitors can see how the research and curation of a museum happens. Watch artists at work before touring the Northwest Native art and see how dinosaur fossils get prepared for display so you can truly marvel at one of the best-preserved T. rex skulls in the world.
For the gamer: Seattle Pinball Museum
Show the kids a favorite game from your childhood or just relish the chance to play unlimited pinball on more than 50 machines here at the brainchild of passionate collectors who wanted to share the joy with other pinball fanatics. The oldest machine in the collection dates from 1934, and it goes right up to the current era—though the entire stock doesn’t fit on the floor at one time, so the games on display change all the time. Look for anything from a 1979 Space Invaders version to a 2019 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
For the cultural food explorer: Wing Luke Museum
Every visit to this museum in the Chinatown-International District includes a tour of the historic hotel in which it’s housed, including the model version of Yick Fung Chinese Import Store, an actual market that was built back in 1910. But the museum also offers a series of Chinatown Discovery Tours that allow you to have a unique culinary learning experience, using dumplings, noodles, rice, or chicken wings to tell the story of how various Asian immigrants and cultures created a home in Seattle. Even if you miss one of the food tours (they sell out quickly!), you can always get the information from the galleries and exhibits, then walk yourself around the many great restaurants nearby.
For the animal lover: Seattle Aquarium
Sea creatures can be serious subjects, but the Seattle Aquarium uses its position on the Elliott Bay waterfront to add a touch of whimsy to its work. The mission-driven aquarium is among the biggest in the country and uses that to inspire conservation of the marine environment—but its interactive, exciting programs and engaging exhibits use fun to capture visitors’ attention. That means touch pools, the opportunity to talk to divers in the tanks, and special events like diving Santa and Valentine’s Day lessons on the “romantic tendencies” of certain aquatic creatures.
For the trivia lover: Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)
From its perch on the Lake Union waterfront, just a quick look around the view from Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry gives you a bit of perspective on the city. Inside, it covers everything you could ever want to know about Seattle, told through interactive exhibits of everyday objects, photos, videos, and historic artifacts. The permanent gallery covers a general history from the first contact between Native American tribes and Europeans, but rotating exhibits show the same story through different lenses or focus on specific subcultures like “Beyond Bollywood” on Indian Americans or “Maritime Seattle” on the city’s close relationship with water.
For the Vikings among us: National Nordic Museum
Simply adding to the list of noteworthy Seattle museums, the city is also home to the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to the history of Nordic immigrants, the National Nordic Museum. There, visitors can explore the culture of the five Nordic countries both at home and how they changed and evolved in the United States, shown through artifacts, photos, and videos. You’ll even find a fully functional 1910 sauna in the museum garden, which an immigrant built to recreate their favorite aspects of home here in the Northwest—just a few feet from a Viking boat, also out back.
For the next Danica Patrick: LeMay — America’s Car Museum
Few people who love cars have ever been satisfied with just admiring them from nearby, so this collection of more than 300 cars makes sure to have plenty of ways to touch, drive, and race the historic and modern cars. Covering everything about the automobile, there are racing simulators to drive, a four-lane slot car track, and tons of rotating exhibits spread around the 165,000 square feet of this Tacoma museum.
For the aspiring photographer: Chihuly Garden and Glass
Long before Instagram was a thing, glass artist Dale Chihuly created the kind of stunning, colorful glass sculptures and objects that sent people clamoring for a camera that could capture the creativity. At this long-term exhibition designed to present his work, every gallery and exterior space offers the kind of delightful visuals that keep you staring. The 40-foot tall Glasshouse—with its 100-foot-long sculpture, reminiscent of floral reds, oranges, and yellows—is particularly fascinating for the way it changes with the outside light through the day and night.
For the visual learner: Museum of Glass
To see more Chihuly masterpieces (including his stunning Bridge of Glass) against the work of other master glass artists along with emerging ones, head to the Museum of Glass. Dedicated to contemporary glass art, it has live glass-blowing demonstrations daily in the Hot Shop—that’s the big metallic cone-shaped piece of the museum that catches eyes from the outside—and regular workshops where visitors can learn to blow their own glass. In addition, it has 13,000 square feet of gallery space dedicated to the best of glass art.
For the art lover: Tacoma Art Museum
A small museum with an outsized collection of art, including one of the largest collections of Japanese woodblock prints on the West Coast, as well as big names like Cassatt, Renoir, Degas, and Wyeth. About two-thirds of the collection comes from Northwest artists, including Jacob Lawrence, Morris Graves, and (of course) famed local Dale Chihuly. But whether displaying legendary European art, the works of local jewelers, or portraits of Native Americans by their own tribe, the Tacoma Art Museum works to put it all in the context of art in the Pacific Northwest.