Best Museums in Seattle

Up Your Knowledge Quotient at Seattle's Institutions of Art, Industry & Beyond

Lucky for visitors who are also keen to learn, Seattle is home to a host of curious folks who support citywide museums that cover topics from art and automobiles to music and cultures ranging from Nordic lands to those a little more local (like at the Burke Museum of History and Culture). Many of these fascinating, treasure-filled venues can be found in the bustling downtown area, while others find homes in sleepier, tree-lined zones that expose patrons to some of Seattle's beautiful outlying neighborhoods. Sometimes, the green, serene museum grounds are worth the visit alone. Most museums charge entrance fees, though many operate solely on a donations-based system. Additionally, countless venues offer several days each month when certain groups (seniors, teens, etc.) can enter and explore free of charge. Museums install permanent exhibitions that loyal patrons can visit time and again, while visiting exhibits of global acclaim often also make their way to Seattle establishments. Also of note, many Seattle museums feature cafes with impressive menus and gift shops full of their own treasures, meaning you should allow extra time to explore after wandering the cases and walls of the main attraction. If you're up for a day trip, consider also checking out museums father afield in Tacoma or other nearby locales.


Calling all car fanatics! One of the world's largest auto museums is right in downtown Tacoma, less than an hour drive from Seattle, displaying vintage, classic and modern cars on a nine-acre campus. The four-story museum building is the centerpiece of its campus. and the museum foundation lists its mission as "a non-profit organization chartered to preserve and interpret the history and technology of the automobile and its influence on American culture." The venue sometimes hosts private events, meaning that guests get to sip cocktails amid an atmosphere oozing with innovation and indulgence. This recently-arrived museum is one of the hottest in the Pacific Northwest region.

Recommended for Museums because: LeMay-America's Car Museum thrills lovers of the automobile in Tacoma. The venue is impressive--and its treasure even more so!

Corinne's expert tip: Check the website for special events, like a drive-in-movies series.

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Nordic Heritage Museum
Photo courtesy of National Nordic Museum

The Nordic Heritage Museum is an internationally-recognized museum dedicated to the heritage of Seattle's Nordic immigrants, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish Americans. It was founded in 1980 and can be found in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The museum has plenty of artifacts and genealogy-focused literature for one to trace back their Scandinavian ancestry. The Nordic Heritage Museum is located on 68th Street between 30th and 32nd Avenues NW. The museum is accessible by Metro bus for those not arriving by car. The Ballard neighborhood is also home to a couple of Nordic shops and bakeries for those who care to continue their cultural tour.

Recommended for Museums because: The Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard is a fascinating cultural center inspired by the values, traditions, art and spirit of the Nordic peoples.

Corinne's expert tip: Children's programs include "Nordic Stories" the first Thursday of each month from 10 to 11 a.m.

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Henry Art Museum

Art comes in all shapes and sizes, and this venue will appeal to those who often least expect it. This university museum specializes in contemporary art. Permanent and temporary exhibits ensure that there's always something fascinating to peruse, and informational displays and workshops teach children and adults alike about artistic styles and techniques. Guests who want to learn more about the artwork can take a guided tour or drop in on the lectures provided. The 40,000-square-foot museum also features a 154-seat auditorium, a multi-media gallery, cafe, bookstore and sculpture court. Artists whose works are on display include Stuart Davis, James Turrell and Lionel Feininger, among many other notable talents.

Recommended for Museums because: The Henry Art Museum is a haven for contemporary art located on the University of Washington campus.

Corinne's expert tip: Located on the University of Washington campus, the contemporary art center features innovative programming, public education, diverse film and lecture series and exhibitions. After touring its galleries, head to the edge of campus for nearby waterfront dining at Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club.

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Museum of Flight

Hands-on informational and historical exhibits distinguish this museum, which appeals to aspiring pilots and to those whose feet have never left the ground. Displays in the Red Barn, where Boeing's first planes where constructed, chronicle the history of flight up to the late 1930s. In the six-story Great Gallery, more than 20 planes hang from the ceiling and cause guests to gape in amazement. Additional sights include a mock air traffic control center, an early Air Force One presidential plane, and a Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. Furthermore, the outdoor airpark lets visitors explore some of the museum's largest planes. Other amenities include complimentary guided tours, a variety of free films, a cafe and a museum store.

Recommended for Museums because: The Museum of Flight offers hands-on and historical exhibits that dazzle crowds of all ages. Wander a massive outdoor airpark, too.

Corinne's expert tip: Admission is free after 5 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. (Any day, discounted tickets are available for those with AAA, Boeing employees and active military members.)

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On display in this museum you'll find informative hands-on and voice-activated exhibits concerning the history and culture of the region. One of the permanent displays, "The Life and Times of Washington State," includes unique dinosaur exhibits, including casts of the 40-foot long Elasmosaur and the actual skeleton of a 140 million year old carnivorous Allosaurus. A second exhibit, "Pacific Voices," focuses on the 35 Native American tribes common to the Pacific Northwest, along with other cultures that have influenced the region. Exhibits dealing with archaeology, zoology, herpetology, and geology are also popular. Don't forget to drop by the cafe for some coffee and a snack; the Museum Shop carries a wide assortment of books and gifts to commemorate your visit.

Recommended for Museums because: The Burke Museum of History and Culture explores the Pacific Northwest region in a casual, pleasant atmosphere right on the edge of University of Washington campus.

Corinne's expert tip: Craving a cozy place for a pit stop? The Burke Museum Café features 18th-century French pine paneling and an assortment of pastries, sandwiches and salads, as well as juices, teas, coffee and espresso drinks.

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Pacific Science Center

The Pacific Science Center is a great place for the entire family to learn about the natural world in an entertaining way. Children love games and demonstrations about physical science; exhibits displaying dinosaurs, insects, computers and robots, and the human body will bring science and natural history to life right before your eyes. Animal exhibits, which tend to be everyone's favorite, let visitors watch animals such as the naked mole rat, which is the only known cold-blooded mammal. In the butterfly house, museum-goers are surrounded by thousands of butterflies, which often land on those wearing bright colors who stand very still.

Recommended for Museums because: The Pacific Science Center provides family-friendly fun in an educational atmosphere. Enjoy exhilarating hands-on exhibits plus IMAX films.

Corinne's expert tip: Calling all film buffs! The Pacific Science Center is a great spot to catch IMAX films (arrive early, though; the Center has a no-late-seating policy for both theaters).

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Museum of History and Industry
Photo courtesy of MOHAI

The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is the largest private heritage organization in Washington state, devoted to teaching and preserving the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and the country. Its new venue recently opened in South Lake Union. If you count historic photos and artifacts as art, MOHAI's permanent exhibit "Essential Seattle" is a must-see on any Emerald City arts tour – from both a photographic and historical perspective. A fun and informative way to learn about Seattle, the display documents the city's history from the day Captain George Vancouver's ship first sailed into Elliott Bay in 1792 to the present, taking visitors through key events that shaped the modern city, with a focus on the fascinating and diverse people and characters that helped shape this unique region.

Recommended for Museums because: The Museum of History and Industry preserves the diverse history of Seattle and the Puget Sound region. A stunning lakeside setting wows visitors.

Corinne's expert tip: Spend an entire day wandering the lakeside region where this museum is located; if the weather's nice, go for a paddle at the neighboring Wooden Center for Wooden Boats, or grab lunch at nearby waterfront restaurant (like Cask & Trotter or Duke's Chowder House).

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Seattle Asian Art Museum

This museum houses an extensive collection of pan-Asian art, focusing especially on works from India, Japan and Korea. Paintings, sculptures and textiles offer a cultural perspective on diverse traditions, and numerous displays (a meditating Buddha, Hindu deities) illuminate the significance and reach of Asia's many religions. The museum store offers Asian merchandise and books. The museum's website lists several days each month that offer free entry, like the first Saturday of each month when families maybe enter at no cost. The venue's hilltop setting in Capitol Hill features much green space and a Zen setting that visitors may enjoy wandering before or after exploring the museum.

Recommended for Museums because: Capitol Hill's Seattle Asian Art Museum focuses on works from India, Japan and Korea. The museum features a serene setting and rich gift shop.

Corinne's expert tip: The Seattle Asian Art Museum takes part in the Capitol Hill art walk called Blitz, meaning free admission from 5 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month.

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If you're ever going to visit a venue dedicated to the magic of music, Seattle is THE place to do so. This intriguing museum celebrates the history of rock and roll. Over 80,000 American music mementos are showcased in the ultra-modern Frank Gehry-designed building, which resembles a smashed guitar. Among the displays are Janis Joplin's floral bell-bottoms and a leather jacket once worn by Elvis Presley. Sky Church, a performance arena erected to host concerts by world-renowned musicians, is also part of the complex. After viewing the exhibits, guests may unwind in the museum's Turntable restaurant or Liquid Lounge bar.

Recommended for Museums because: The Experience Music Project features a fun, funky building and fascinating exhibits highlighting the city's musical past, present and future.

Corinne's expert tip: Warm up those music-playing hands; interactive exhibits here at the EMP (what locals call the site) allow patrons to practice their own tunes in mock studios and even on a simulated concert stage.

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A 48-foot Hammering Man sculpture marks the outside of this vast museum, and adjustable steel panels flank the glass walls and allow light to enter the innovative front space known as the Brotman Forum. Upon entering, visitors encounter an extraordinary display of nine sculpted white cars hanging in the air at different angles. The galleries house displays of Native American, African and European art. To showcase particular events, each gallery within the spacious building is given an identity corresponding to its specific exhibit. Along with the wealth of art available for perusing, visitors also have the opportunity to enjoy regularly-scheduled lectures, classes and live performances. Two museum shops are available, and they stock perfect NW-specific gifts for friends, family or yourself.

Recommended for Museums because: The Seattle Art Museum is a downtown hub for well-curated collections of Pacific Northwest Native American and Asian art (and touring exhibitions, too!).

Corinne's expert tip: Called simply SAM by locals, the museum is known for its extensive and well-curated collections of Pacific Northwest Native American and Asian art. SAM also has been known to land exclusive international touring exhibitions, including Monet and Gauguin. Check out the website for no-charge entry days--like the first Thursdays of each month, which are free to all.

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Meet Corinne Whiting

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's...  More About Corinne