Seattle has a reputation for being a bit of a quirky community, so it only stands to reason that the museums around the Emerald City would be the same way. Here are some of the best museums to enjoy when you’re spending time in the area.
Seattle’s Official Bad Art Museum of Art
Located on Roosevelt Way, this museums is already a play on words. Take the first letters of its name and you get OBAMA.
It’s located within Cafe Racer, so it’s more of a place to grab a bite to eat than it is a place to wander about.
When black velvet drawings are mixed with some recreations of classic paintings, but in very bad ways, the corned beef sandwich seems just a bit tastier. Beer and espresso are also available.
And just to make sure that everything is fair and balanced, there’s a museum of good art on the other side of the cafe as well.
The Robot Hut
You’ll find a world of robots at The Robot Hut, which is run by one creative man out of a barn on his private property. It’s closer to Spokane than it is Seattle, but the day trip is worth the adventure.
The museum is run by John Rigg, who continues to work on robotics on Hollywood shows to this day. Some his most famous works have been seen on the SeaQuest series. You can even purchase some of his robots if you pay the right price.
If you plan on visiting this museum, you’ll need to send John an email from his website to plan the trip. If you love classic sci-fi, don’t miss this opportunity when you visit the Seattle area.
Living Computer Museum
You’ll find the complete history of computers presented behind the doors of this museum, including some of the oldest computers that are still operating on the planet today. Collected by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, you’ll be able to interact with some of the earliest personal computers that ever hit the market.
The museum staff is working in the background as you tour, restoring the dinosaurs back to their magnificent best, so be sure to thank them for your chance to work on some programming code on the Apple II that’s on display.
The oldest computer on display right now dates back to 1971. You know – back in the time when a state-of-the-art computer took up a room the size of a 4 bedroom house.
The Seattle Pinball Museum
Located between King and Weller, this growing collection of pinball machines covers several decades of the pinball game’s history. Unlike other pinball museums, however, you’re also invited to play many of the games that are displayed at the location. You’ll find titles that range from Galaga and Baby Pacman to Funland from 1968. Some models date all the way back to 1934, but are not always on display to play.
The Seattle Pinball Museum may be one of the youngest options to visit, having opened in June 2011, but it is also one of the most fun and affordable options. Don’t forget to grab a commemorative t-shirt!
Last Resort Fire Department Museum
This fascinating little museum is located just off of Pioneer Square at the headquarters of Seattle’s Fire Department. Hours are limited to just one or two days per week from 11-3, so plan your trip accordingly.
The reward is a chance to see 6 classic rigs that the SFD has used over the years to protect the city from flames. The collection includes a horse-drawn steamer, a K-tractor from 1916, and an incredible end-stroke hand pumper manufactured by Hunneman in 1834 called the Sacramento.
There are also several photographs and firefighting relics on display within the building that are perfect for those who love the firefighting journey. The best part? Admission is always free.
Giant Shoe Museum
Located just off the waterfront between the Seattle Aquarium and Pike Place Market, this museum promotes itself as having the largest collection of large shoes in the world today. Inspired by Robert Wadlow, who is documented as being the world’s largest man thanks to his 8′ 11” in height, a man named Danny Eskenazi learned his grandfather owned one of Wadlow’s shoes and tried to find it. He couldn’t do it and offers anyone $1,000 for the shoe, but in the meantime you can seen a large collection of huge shoes.
It takes a $1 to see every shoe that is in the collection. Some say it’s a waste of money, but there’s something intriguing about seeing a pair of shoes that are as big as your entire leg and picturing the person who had to wear such a thing.
Washington Banana Museum
Washington is known for apples, right? Not at this museum. There are over 6,000 pieces of banana memorabilia that has been collected by owner/operator Ann Lloyd. You’ll find everything from stamps to teapots to wax fruits that date back to the 19th century. Ever wanted to see an image of four women in the Victorian era discussing the pros and cons of holding a peeled banana in their hands? This is the placed to do it.
This museum is located in Auburn, which is just a short drive south on I-5 from Seattle. Take the Highway 18 exit toward the Supermall and then make your way downtown to this antique shop/museum combination. Hours are changeable, so call ahead if you plan to visit.
If you have a passion for seeing nuts get cracked in creative ways, then this is the museum for you. Located in Leavenworth, you’ll notice the Bavarian atmosphere of this community immediately.
Many of the buildings in the downtown area, where this museum is located, are replica chalets and half-timbered homes. The oldest known nutcracker is on display here and if you’re lucky enough, they might even let you touch it. One of the best activities is the Nutcracker scavenger hunt. Find them all and you’ll get a commemorative pin.
Leavenworth is on the other side of Steven’s Pass through the Cascade’s, so plan for this to be a full day trip. Take Highway 522 out of Seattle to connect to Highway 2 and then follow it into town.
Marsh’s Free Museum
Long Beach, WA is one of the world’s largest sandbars. You’ll find long stretches of ocean beaches, amazing seafood, and this entertaining museum that has been free to visitors since 1935. It’s a 6 hour trip from Seattle to reach this museum, so plan an overnight stay to enjoy all that the area has to offer. You’ll find plenty of old games to play, old-fashioned snacks, and those old-fashioned love meters that let you know whether you’re burning and out of control or a cold fish.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop down on the Seattle waterfront has many of the items you’ll find here, so only plan on visiting this museum if you want to see the real ocean instead of Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. It’s also a great stop if you’re doing the Highway 101 trip around the Olympics. Many businesses on Long Island are cash only, so take some extra cash along with you.
SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention
A 2 hour drive north to Bellingham puts you within reach of one of the neatest museums you’ll find in Western Washington. It features interactive exhibits which trace the development of electricity all the way back to the 16th century.
You’ll find some early wireless inventions, a reproduction of the radio room from the Titanic, and an early working Theremin that can actually be played. This museum is also home to a low-powered radio station that broadcasts daily to the community.
If you can catch a show, then make time for the Tesla showcase that is presented from time to time. It will literally make your hair stand on end.
Puget Sound Navy Museum
It’s just a short ferry ride to Bremerton to catch this museum, which is located right next door to the ferry loading station. Exhibits tend to rotate throughout the year and always have a naval focus, but you’ll definitely find some quirky subject material featured.
From the nautical meanings behind tattoos that sailors get to experiencing the daily life of a sailor aboard the John C. Stennis, this family friendly museum also offers a comprehensive film area for documentary films about the Navy and the region.
Make sure that you also take time to tour the USS Turner Joy while on the other side of the water. It’s technically a different museum, but you can still walk there from the Bremerton ferry terminal. You’ll want to plan for about 2 hours to tour the ship and 2-4 hours for the naval museum and then coordinate this with the ferry schedule.
The Triangle of Power
Although not technically museums, there are three state parks that are essential to visit if you wish to learn about the history of Seattle and the surrounding region. These are Fort Warden, Fort Casey, and Fort Flagler. Each of these forts was outfitted with anti-ship guns to protect the entrance to Puget Sound at the Admiralty Inlet during World War I and World War II. Although they didn’t see any official action, the outposts were well-manned with 6-8 inch guns [and sometimes larger].
You can see some of the gun placements still in their original location. The old concrete bunkers can be toured at all three sites as well. Each state park has beach access. Fort Warden has a secondary museum that offers interactive exhibits featuring local sea life, while Fort Casey offers the chance to tour restored bunkers. All three parks have a lighthouse. You can visit all 3 parks in the same day for $10.
The Whale Museum
You’ll need to drive a couple hours north to Anacortes and then hop onto the ferry to Friday Harbor to experience this intriguing museum. This ferry run takes reservations, which are highly recommended. You’ll find different artifacts and artwork that take a look at the local ecosystem. It is known as the first museum opened in the US that was dedicated to a live animal species in the wild and the goal is to education visitors about the importance of the local orca pods.
Make sure you get out on deck when taking the ferry, especially if your visit to Seattle is May-August. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to see one of the local orca pods as you travel across the water to this fun little museum. If you have extra time, be sure to take some time to wander through the large lavender fields on the island for an amazing view.
Located in Forks, the Timber Museum is the perfect compliment for those families who want to see the actual areas of the Twilight series of books. You’ll see what it was like to work as a logger in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Numerous artifacts from the industry, from giant saws to firefighting equipment, are on display to view. It’s one of the most thorough looks at pioneer living on the Olympic Peninsula.
Take the Bainbridge Island ferry from Seattle and then follow Highway 3 to 104 and then 101 to get to this museum. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy their outdoor eating area. Or, if you prefer, stop at the local grocery store for some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have in your life. Admission is just $3.