The Coolest Museums in Seattle
From art to boats, there’s something for everyone.
Seattle has a longstanding reputation as a hub for music (Brandi Carlile; Soundgarden; Pearl Jam), fishing (Pike Place Market), and coffee (ahem, Starbucks), but it’s time we pay proper attention to its art. Across the city, a thriving network of museums, galleries, and artist pop-ups provide Seattleites with access to incredibly powerful and important work, created by both rising stars and already-iconic figures alike. From visiting exhibits to permanent shows, there’s an ever-evolving menu of cultural experiences to be had in this city. But where to start? Ahead, the best museums in Seattle for art, culture, history, and lots more.
Here’s the deal with the Frye: While the gift shop is so good it needs no introduction, the art itself is even better. Currently on view? A stunning show of prolific artist Romare Bearden’s abstract work, featuring works created between 1952 - 1964 and fittingly titled “Romare Bearden: Abstraction”. There’s only a month left to see the exhibit, so catch it while you can, along with “Jeremy Shaw: Liminals” (on view until October 9), plus others.
What to know before you go: The museum is open Wednesday - Sunday, 11 am - 5 pm, and admission is always free. There’s also free 30-minute guided tours on second Saturdays and second Sundays, which meet at 1 pm in the Rotunda. Lastly, Café Frieda is (sadly) still closed.
South Lake Union
Just next door to MOHAI is The Center for Wooden Boats (otherwise known as CWB), a museum dedicated to preserving the PNW’s rich maritime heritage. CWB is very hands-on; once you visit an exhibit about, say, historic small craft, you can go check out the museum’s active fleet of boats right outside on the waters of Lake Union.
What to know before you go: In addition to the museum exhibits, CWB has lots of free and paid opportunities to get on the water, like sailing lessons, boat rentals, and charter cruises. Hours vary depending on the season (check here) and admission is always free.
SAM is our first rec of what is a three-location museum trifecta, which also includes the Olympic Sculpture Garden and Seattle Asian Art Museum. On this first stop, check out “Anthony White: Limited Liability”, a show featuring some souvenirs (and critiques) of late capitalism, and sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s show “Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure”, on view until January 29 and October 9, respectively.
What to know before you go: SAM is open 10 am - 5 pm everyday except Monday and Tuesday. If you purchase a ticket online in advance, you save $3—meaning you pay $19.99 instead of the day-of price of $22.99. (Reserve your ticket here.) Also, though masks are no longer required, the museum has set aside time exclusively for mask-wearing visitors on the third Saturday of every month from 9 - 10 am.
The Henry holds the title of Washington State’s very first art museum, having first opened its doors in 1927. Since then, it’s quadrupled in size, added a permanent James Turrell immersive sculpture titled Light Rein, and played a vital role as the destination for arts and ideas on the UW campus. All that to say, it’s high time you pay this museum a visit, like, ASAP.
What to know before you go: Admission is on a sliding scale of suggested donation, from $0 - 20, and free on the first Thursday of every month. The café is open Tuesday - Friday, 9 am - 4 pm and Saturday - Sunday, 11 am - 3 pm.
A new-ish addition to the arts landscape on Capitol Hill, Museum of Museums opened its doors in 2020. MoM’s building, however, has been around since 1946, and is now home to two formal exhibition spaces, three additional on-site museums, rotating installations, weekly art classes, and more. Oh, and if you’re into thrifting—check out Mobile Mall Seattle, which hosts semi-regular vintage malls in MoM’s basement, amongst other places.
What to know before you go: Advanced tickets cost $10 a pop. MoM is open 5 - 10 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 12 - 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 - 6 pm on Sundays. If you’re an artist interested in showing work at the museum, check out their open calls page here.
Nestled in a 1930s art deco building in Volunteer Park, Seattle Asian Art Museum is actually housed in SAM’s original home, which moved locations in 1991. Now, the building is entirely dedicated to their extensive Asian art collection; currently view is a group show titled “Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms.” The museum also hosts tours and talks at the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas.
What to know before you go: The museum is currently open 10 am - 5 pm, Thursday - Sunday, but will be closed on Thursdays beginning September 1. Tickets cost $14.99 when purchased in advance or $17.99 at the door. Parking is free at Volunteer Park.
Seattle has a rich Scandi history so it should come as no surprise that there’s a whole museum dedicated to historical and contemporary Nordic culture. While the permanent exhibit will educate you on 12,000 years of Nordic history, featuring all five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), the rotating shows vary widely – currently on view is a climate-change focused exhibit titled “Across the West and Toward the North: Norwegian and American Landscape Photography.”
What to know before you go: The first Thursday of every month is free; otherwise, tickets will set you back $20 each. Visiting hours are 10 am - 5 pm everyday except Monday.
South Lake Union
With items like Boeing’s first commercial plane and Rainier’s 12-foot-tall neon “R” permanently on display, the Museum of History & Industry, AKA MOHAI, is both a time capsule and a picture of our present day. Two photography exhibits currently on view make this museum a must-visit: “Ansel Adams: Masterworks” and “Perspectives on Place: Photographs from Here,” the latter of which is a group show in collaboration with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State.
What to know before you go: Buying your ticket in advance is recommended; you can do so here. MOHAI is open 10 am - 5 pm everyday.