Seattle may be best known for its rain, coffee, grunge music and stunning skyline, but a trip to the Emerald City wouldn’t be complete without visiting its museums, where you can find everything from Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten song lyrics to vintage pinball machines.

Here’s our guide to the eight best museums in Seattle.

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Person walking around sculptures at Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle
Walk among art at Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park © Richard Cummins / Alamy

Olympic Sculpture Park: best outdoor museum

Located on Seattle’s beautiful waterfront, the free-to-visit Olympic Sculpture Park is a nine-acre space home to more than two dozen permanent sculptures. “The Eagle” is easily the most recognizable sculpture in the park, but take your time to wander and appreciate the wide variety of different but equally impressive sculptures. 

Go on a clear day to take in the views of the Olympic Mountains, Mt Rainier and Puget Sound. The park has plenty of space to enjoy a picnic. Grab food from nearby Pike Place Market and then relax and enjoy the killer views as you eat.

National Nordic Museum: best for local history

A tribute to the Nordic immigrants who were instrumental in building Seattle, the National Nordic Museum’s main permanent exhibition “Nordic Journeys” focuses on immigration, the evolution of Nordic culture and how this culture affects Seattle now and in the past.

The museum's five galleries house its permanent collection, including pieces from Danish-American artist Dines Carlsen and thousands of digitalized oral histories. The national museums of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden often loan exhibitions and artifacts to the museum.

Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month. 

Seattle Pinball Museum: quirkiest museum

For a fun and unconventional museum experience, look no further than the Seattle Pinball Museum. The museum’s collection includes pinball machines created between 1934 and the present day. Favorites include King Tut from the 1960s, Captain Fantastic from the 1970s, Godzilla from the '90s and Stranger Things from 2019.  

The museum features more than 50 machines, and the admission fee includes playing as many pinball games as you’d like. 

Boy playing on interactive exhibit at Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington
Let the kids go wild at the Pacific Science Center © John Elk / Getty Images

Pacific Science Center: best museum for kids

The Pacific Science Center strikes the perfect combination of education and fun. A Seattle staple for more than six decades, the museum features a butterfly house, dinosaur exhibit, IMAX theater, immersive laser dome and planetarium. 

General admission includes the laser dome and planetarium shows, but tickets sell out quickly, so reserve timed entry in advance on the museum’s website.

Museum of Pop Culture: best for pop-culture aficionados 

The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) lives up to its name, with a diverse range of exhibits and activities from science fiction to horror movies to video games. 

The museum pays homage to Seattle’s own pop culture history, too, and it owns the world’s biggest collection of handwritten lyrics, instruments, artifacts and photos of Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. 

Other highlights include a guitar sculpture made from 500 instruments and 30 computers, costumes from famous movies and theatrical productions, and hands-on galleries allowing visitors to perform their own music concert for a virtual audience. 

Exterior of the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, on a cloudy day
The Seattle Art Museum is home to the city's biggest range of artwork © photo.ua / Shutterstock

Seattle Art Museum: best for an expansive art collection

Home to masterpieces by Sam Gilliam, Andy Warhol, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Rembrandt, Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is the best spot in the city to see a wide variety of art. The museum’s collection ranges from ancient to contemporary pieces, and its Native American Art gallery is especially moving.

Like Olympic Sculpture Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum is also part of SAM. Located about three miles away in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, it holds incredible work by Himalayan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Southeast Asian artists.  

If you purchase your tickets online before your visit, the museum knocks $3 off the admission fee, or go for free on the first Thursday of the month. Admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the last Friday of the month.  

Frye Art Museum: best for a quick art appreciation stop

The Frye Art Museum opened its doors in 1952 as Seattle’s first free art museum, and 70 years later, admission is still complimentary. 

This small but charming gallery primarily features paintings and sculptures from the 19th century to present day. The Frye’s daily tours are also free, and because you’re saving some money on admission, visit the museum shop to browse the work of Pacific Northwest artists and designers. 

Center for Wooden Boats: best maritime museum 

Embrace Seattle’s coastal location at the Center for Wooden Boats. Located on Lake Union, the museum honors the Pacific Northwest’s maritime history. 

Rotating exhibitions of vessels, mainly small rowboats and sailboats, can be seen at the South Lake Union museum’s Wagner Education Center and in the Floating Boathouse. Both spaces are designed to include amazing panoramic views of the surrounding lake and park. 

If viewing the boats leaves you clamoring to get out on the water, you’re in luck. The South Lake Union location offers complimentary one-hour rentals of peapod rowboats – reserve in advance. Pricier options include sailing lessons, sailboat rentals and a 90-minute charter cruise in one of the museum’s boats. 

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