10 Best Museums in Seattle

Written by Brad Lane
Oct 14, 2021

Seattle museums are a world-class repository of history and culture. Subjects on display range from cultural icons like Nirvana to the saga of Nordic peoples. Collections also include working vintage computers, dinosaur fossils, and magnificent glass sculptures. With such a wide range of subject matter, the best museum in Seattle is whichever one piques the most personal interest.

Heading to the Seattle Center near downtown is a great start for exploring the city's museums. This 74-acre campus is a central tourist destination, with more than one museum to explore. The Seattle Center is also home to other quintessential Seattle attractions, including the Space Needle.

Take some extra time when planning a visit to any Seattle museum. The high level of detail in each exhibit is a common characteristic between each institution. Another common feature of Seattle museums is the crowds that tend to gather. Advance tickets are recommended when available.

Dive deep into the culture of the city with our list of the best museums in Seattle.

1. Seattle Art Museum

Seattle Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum | Al Pavangkanan / photo modified

The Seattle Art Museum, better known as SAM, is one block from Pike Place Market downtown. It has been the central repository for fine art in the city since 1933. SAM also oversees the Olympic Sculpture Park nearby and the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

The downtown SAM offers a well-lit world of ancient and modern artworks throughout four floors of galleries. New installations rotate into the museum regularly, but the museum's massive permanent collection punctuates the first three floors. A few notable pieces of the collection include Native American art, African art, and ancient Mediterranean art. The museum also has a robust collection of modern and contemporary works.

SAM is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and experiences the most crowds on the weekends. For a better chance to enjoy the artwork alone, plan on visiting Wednesday or Thursday in the morning. This approach also leaves plenty of time to check out the many other surrounding downtown attractions.

Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

SAM also oversees the Olympic Sculpture Park, approximately a mile north on the waterfront. Several large sculptures line this free-to-visit linear park, and it's a popular locale for an afternoon picnic.

Address: 1300 1st Avenue, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.seattleartmuseum.org/

2. Museum of Pop Culture

Museum of Pop Culture
Museum of Pop Culture | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a creatively inclined institution with a prominent footprint in the Seattle Center. The building itself, a 140,000-square-foot Frank O. Gehry design, stands out with its unique shape and texture.

But the true spectacles of MoPOP are inside the museum. The facility has three floors brimming with eye-catching exhibitions and displays. Some notable permanent exhibits delve into topics like the world of science fiction, the allure of horror films, and the rise of Seattle-based grunge rock band Nirvana.

The museum also has frequent rotating exhibits, offering something new to see with each visit. Plan to spend at least two to three hours walking all three floors of the museum, if not more. Like the Sound Lab on the third floor, several areas offer an immersive experience.

Guitars at the MoPOP
Guitars at the MoPOP | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The museum also regularly hosts special events, inside and outside the museum. Check the official website for the latest happenings. The museum is open every day of the week. The weekends tend to be the busiest time to visit.

Address: 325 5th Avenue N, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.mopop.org/

3. Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass
Chihuly Garden and Glass | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Tacoma-native glass artist, Dale Chihuly, has several celebrated installations across the world. From London to Japan and Ohio, California, and Florida, thanks to his innovative and creative style, Chihuly's artworks are easy to spot. And this world-famous artist houses some of his most impressive work in Seattle.

Chihuly Garden and Glass is within the Seattle Center, steps away from the Space Needle. The flow of the museum takes guests through eight galleries, each illuminated by incredible expressions of the art form. Plan to spend some time in each gallery taking in the intricate detail of each exhibit.

The Glasshouse
The Glasshouse | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Glasshouse is the centerpiece of the museum. This 40-foot-tall conservatory houses Chihuly's largest suspended sculpture, a 100-foot ribbon of red, yellow, and orange glass petals. This stunning installation catches sunlight differently throughout the day, offering a changing perspective from dawn to dusk.

Next to the Glasshouse, the Art Plaza and Collections Café offer outdoor seating and snacks. This area is also where visitors spectate daily live glassblowing demonstrations. It also leads to the Garden, where Chihuly's nature-inspired work blends into the natural surroundings.

Address: 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/

4. The Museum of Flight

The Museum of Flight
The Museum of Flight | Cord Rodefeld / photo modified

The Museum of Flight displays an incredible showcase of space and aircraft. The museum is in the far southern end of the city, approximately an eight-mile drive from downtown. Don't confuse it with the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center up north in Everett, which is also worth visiting. The Museum of Flight is best known for the hundreds of planes and spacecraft hanging from its ceilings.

With over 175 flying vessels on display across 15 acres, it can easily take up the entire day admiring the museum's collection. A few must-sees include the tourable Air Force One in the Aviation Pavilion, and the Space Gallery, featuring interactive exhibits covering the final frontier. And visitors can't miss the three-million-cubic-foot Great Gallery, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and 39 planes hanging from the ceiling.

The museum offers several add-on experiences for any visit. Alongside "premium experiences," standard offerings include docent-led tours and virtual flight simulations. Add-on experiences are not included with the price of regular admission. The museum is open seven days a week. Advanced ticketing is available and encouraged, especially on the weekends.

Address: 9404 E Marginal Way S, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.museumofflight.org/

5. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Burke Museum, founded in 1885, is the state's oldest public museum. But that doesn't mean the educational space hasn't evolved over the years. And with over 18 million items in their collection, the museum recently found a new home on the University of Washington campus in 2019. This new home offers a first-class visiting experience.

The museum is split between three floors. The top floor is home to paleontology and archaeology exhibits, including several massive fossils and taxidermied animals. Biology and the mapping of all living things overtake the second floor. And on the first floor, native culture is examined through artifacts and several hands-on exhibits.

Unique to The Burke, the facility also acts as a fully functioning lab and research space. Visitors get a unique glance into these workstations, with at least a dozen large windows looking into the scientific activities taking place.

Exhibit at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Exhibit at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Students and faculty receive free admission to the museum. The Burke is closed on Mondays and major federal holidays. Free admission is available on the first Thursday of each month.

Address: 4300 15th Avenue NE, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.burkemuseum.org/

6. Pacific Science Center & Seattle Children's Museum

Pacific Science Center Arches
Pacific Science Center Arches | Kathy Knorr / photo modified

For younger visitors or the younger-at-heart, the Seattle Center has two interactive museums aimed to stimulate curiosity. Located a short walk from one another, the Pacific Science Center and Seattle Children's Museum are two of the most popular for family visits.

The Pacific Science Center dives into all types of STEM activities, with hundreds of hands-on experiences on-site. Exhibits and special programs change throughout the year, offering something new with each visit. A few permanent exhibits include a tropical butterfly house and a planetarium. With so much to experience and learn, the museum tends to keep adult visitors engaged as well.

The nearby Seattle Children's Museum offers a safe place to explore and interact with creative environments for the youngest family members. This 18,000-square-foot museum is designed for children up to eight years old. Adults accompanying their children are also encouraged to play along. NOTE: This museum has been experiencing some temporary closures that may extend indefinitely. Be sure to check that it is open before visiting.

7. Museum of History & Industry

Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)
Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) is on the waterfront at the south end of Lake Union. Throughout four stories of exhibits, the museum proudly displays the regional history of Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound.

Topics covered at MOHAI range from native Duwamish peoples to the booming tech industry that now shapes the city. Visitors learn about significant events in Puget Sound history, including Seattle's first white settlers and the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

The museum is a visual treat to walk through. The detailed exhibits draw the eye with extensive photographs, artifacts, and easy-to-read information. Several displays also include interactive features that enable a more hands-on experience. And a few theaters throughout the museum offer a place to sit down and enjoy an educational show.

MOHAI | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Plan to spend some time both inside and outside the museum. The surrounding Lake Union shoreline is a scenic spot to sit on a bench and enjoy the water. Next to MOHAI, The Center for Wooden Boats is also a popular community resource, with boat rentals and celebrated Sunday public sailboat outings.

Address: 860 Terry Avenue N, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://mohai.org/

8. Living Computers: Museum + Labs

Living Computers: Museum + Labs
Living Computers: Museum + Labs | Matt Kieffer / photo modified

Living Computers is a fun, interactive downtown museum just south of T-Mobile Park and Lumen Field. This technology-inspired creative space showcases the evolution and ongoing history of computing technology. The museum accomplishes this with a mix of vintage and futuristic exhibits.

The museum is home to the largest collection of fully restored and usable vintage computers. This computer collection allows guests to see these mainframes and microcomputers and experience their hums and flashes as they operate.

The museum is also home to several modern technological advancements. Topics like big data, augmented reality, and robotics are covered with interactive exhibits. Guests even have the chance to test out a self-driving car.

Another popular interaction at the museum is the Gamemakers studio, catering to future video game engineers. Similarly, an expansive digital art studio offers a creative space for developing several forms of media.

Address: 2245 1st Avenue S, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.livingcomputers.org/

9. National Nordic Museum

National Nordic Museum
National Nordic Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The National Nordic Museum celebrates the history and heritage of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. The museum also ties the culture to the U.S., especially the Pacific Northwest, where thousands of Nordic immigrants have found a second home.

The museum is on the south end of the Ballard neighborhood, near Salmon Bay and Ballard Locks. It features regularly rotating exhibits on the first floor and a permanent "Nordic Journeys" exhibit on the second floor. This multi-room exhibit follows the timeline of the Nordic region, from native Sámi people to Vikings, reform, World War II, and modern innovations.

A prominent part of the Nordic Journey exhibit displays the Nordic footprint in the Pacific Northwest. Nordic immigrants helped build Seattle and the surrounding region, and along the way, found a second home with landscapes comparable to their homeland. The museum's collection of over 80,000 artifacts helps illustrate every inch of the entire exhibit.

Viking ship at the National Nordic Museum
Viking ship at the National Nordic Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Other visitor resources at the museum include a gift shop, café, and outdoor garden with a replica Viking ship. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Address: 2655 NW Market Street, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.nordicmuseum.org/

10. Seattle Pinball Museum

Seattle Pinball Museum
Seattle Pinball Museum | Blake Handley / photo modified

The Seattle Pinball Museum is a kinetic art museum in Seattle's International District, southwest of Pioneer Square. Not only does this unique museum have approximately 50 pinball machines on display, but with an admission ticket, visitors can play these popular arcade games all they want.

Some of the oldest pinball machines in the museum date back to the 1930s, while several others display much more modern facades. Machines regularly rotate in and out of the gallery space, offering something new to play with each visit.

Vintage sodas are for sale within the museum. Interested parties can also rent out the entire space for a night of enjoyment. The museum is open starting at noon, Thursday through Monday.

Address: 508 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, Washington

Official site: https://www.seattlepinballmuseum.com/

Map of Museums in Seattle