Cloudy, overcast, rainy days can sometimes be the norm in Seattle, making it one of the best places to spend time museum-hopping! Staying dry on rainy days is important for locals and tourists alike, so museums tend to be one of the go-to activities. But even on sunny days, a trip to a museum or two is great fun. For additional options, read our guide on free things to do in Seattle.
The best museums in Seattle range from breathtaking sculptures to the history of Indigenous cultures to aviation history and Seattle’s role. Breathtaking glass art created by Washington native Dale Chihuly is a highlight you do not want to miss, so be sure to check it out. Learn about the Asian-American immigration to Washington, especially Seattle, and stroll through one of the biggest pop culture museums on the west coast.
No matter what grabs your attention, there are several of the best museums in Seattle that you will want to check out. Leave your things in a Seattle luggage locker while you are exploring the museum scene and be sure to check out each museum's gift shop for interesting purchases and souvenirs.
Seattle Art Museum
Considered to be the most prestigious museum in Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum, or SAM, is located near the Seattle Center and offers a wide array of special exhibitions throughout the year. Because of the ever-changing special exhibits, you can visit this museum often and see new things instead of the typical permanent exhibits.
You never know what you are going to see when you visit from Impressionism to African masks to masterpieces by Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Rembrandt, Jackson Pollock, and Mary Cassatt. The Native American Art gallery inside SAM is an absolute must-see when you visit. SAM also encompasses the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
Instead of standing in line and paying full price, you can purchase your tickets online for a discounted price. SAM has free general admission on the first Thursday of each month. The first Friday of each month is free for seniors and the second Friday is free for teens. You can visit the Seattle Asian Art Museum for free on the last Friday of each month.
Address: 1300 1st Ave, Seattle, WA
Pacific Science Center
This museum came into existence during the 1962 World’s Fair and has since been continuously redesigned to incorporate new scientific breakthroughs. The exhibits are created to tickle your inner scientist and make you ask questions and think about what you are seeing. The interactive exhibits are the most fun for the kids.
The animatronic dinosaurs are a big draw for young and old but the science playground is for the kids. The giant insect village is interesting and showcases insects from around the world. Check out the IMAX theater where fun and thought-provoking movies are shown. The special exhibits are entertaining, especially the ones that offer interactive displays for the kids to play.
For those not bothered by butterflies fluttering around your head, step inside the butterfly house and watch these amazing creatures float through the air and gently land on you. Then head over to the planetarium and the laser dome, both are fabulous for everyone. General admission tickets include entry into the planetarium and laser dome shows.
Address: 200 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA
Museum of Flight
Many people may not realize that Puget Sound is one of the biggest aerospace capitals in the United States and is home to the most expansive air and space museums in the world. The Museum of Flight is home to more than 80 aircraft, including a retired Air Force One, the first ever 747, a Concorde supersonic airliner, and many more.
Relax inside the theater and watch short films highlighting aviation history. Photos, videos, blueprints, and so much more are also on display for you to enjoy. Be sure to sign up for a tour of the retired Air Force One and see first hand how the President of the United States travels. Visit on the first Thursday of each month for free admission.
Address: 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, WA
Museum of Pop Culture
Also known as MoPop, the Museum of Pop Culture was once called the EMP Museum. The museum opened in 2000 inside a rather unique building that draws tourists almost as much as the museum. It is one of the most interesting of the Seattle museums on the list. People of all ages love the interactive exhibits that give you an unforgettable experience.
Paying homage to the pop culture of Seattle MoPop is home to the largest collection of handwritten lyrics, artifacts, instruments, and photos of Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. It is one of the biggest draws to the museum. The museum offers free admission on the first Thursday of each month from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
In 2004, MoPop added the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. You can purchase a general admission ticket that includes both MoPop and the Science Fiction Museum. The history of horror movies, sci-fi, and even video games is outlined, and is a fabulous place to visit. The guitar sculpture that was created using 30 vintage computers and 500 instruments is a great backdrop for photos.
Address: 325 5th Ave N, Seattle, WA
Seattle Pinball Museum
One of the quirkiest museums in Seattle, this unconventional but totally fun place has pinball machines from the 1930s to the present day. Their crowning glories include Captain Fantastic (1970s), Stranger Things (2019), Godzilla (1990s), and King Tut (1960s); all are in great working order.
There are over 50 different pinball machines and a general admission ticket including getting to play as many of the pinball games as you can while here. This is a true hands-on museum where you can play to your heart's content. Grab your teens and show them some of the best pinball games that you grew up playing, they will be hooked before you leave.
Address: 508 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, WA
Olympic Sculpture Park
It is free to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park which sits on the waterfront and has some of the best picturesque views. In the nine-acre outdoor museum, there are over 24 permanent sculptures. Most people immediately flock to Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle”, the most recognizable sculpture in the park, but you may want to stroll along and see the others before you head that way.
If you happen to visit on a clear day, the views of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier are absolutely amazing. Bring a picnic or grab some takeout for an impromptu picnic at Olympic Sculpture Park. Meander through the paths, relax along the beach, and spend a lazy afternoon enjoying this peaceful park.
Address: 2901 Western Ave, Seattle, WA
Center for Wooden Boats
Plan a trip to Lake Union and visit the Center for Wooden Boats, a unique museum that is dedicated to the Pacific Northwest and its maritime history. The museum is located inside the Wagner Education Center of the South Lake Union Museum. Many sailboats and rowboats are on display here or in the Floating Boathouse.
When you visit, you will be surrounded by panoramic views of the park and lake. After visiting the museum, you can even reserve a peapod rowboat and head out on the lake for an hour. If sailing is your thing, you can take sailing lessons or rent a sailboat at the South Lake Union. The museum even offers a 90-minute chartered cruise in one of its own boats.
Address: 1010 Valley St, Seattle, WA
Museum of History and Industry
This history museum is also located in the South Lake Union neighborhood and is the place to go to discover what makes Seattle so great. With almost four million archival materials, artifacts, and photographs that focus on Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region, it is the biggest private heritage organization in the state.
While not all the four million items in their collection are on display at once, there is still a large number of cool things to see. Of course, coffee is showcased since Seattle is best known for its local roasters but there are other fun, unique, and exciting items to see when you visit the Museum of History and Industry.
Address: 860 Terry Ave N, Seattle, WA
Frye Art Museum
The Frye Art Museum offers free admission all the time and while it may not be one of the greatest Seattle art museums, it is still a wonderful gallery to visit and check out some amazing art. Their permanent collection of sculptures and paintings includes 19th century artists through present day artists.
The Frye Art Museum was the first free art museum in Seattle when it opened its doors in 1952. The charming museum offers daily tours that are free but you are welcome to give a donation to the museum. The gift shop has several works of art created by Pacific Northwest artists.
Address: 704 Terry Ave, Seattle, WA
Located on the University of Washington campus, the Burke Museum is the oldest natural history museum in the state and is the only place to get an up-close-and-personal look at authentic dinosaur fossils.
The rotating exhibits will have you coming back often to see what cool things are being showcased next. The Burke Museum offers free general admission on the first Thursday of each month so if you are on a budget, plan to visit on free admission days.
Address: 4303 Memorial Way Northeast, Seattle, WA
National Nordic Museum
The Nordic immigrants were a key part of what makes Seattle so unique and the National Nordic Museum highlights their contribution to the building of Seattle. The main permanent exhibit “Nordic Journeys” has been created to promote learning as you make your way through the evolution of the Nordic culture and how that culture affects Seattle’s past and present.
There are five galleries to explore where the permanent collections are housed including artwork from Dines Carlsen, a Danish-American artist. Sometimes the national museums of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark loan artifacts as a way to promote Nordic history and education. General admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
Address: 2655 NW Market St, Seattle, WA
What are the best free museums in Seattle?
Most museums in Seattle offer free general admission one day a month, usually the first Thursday, making it a fun way to museum-hop on a budget. Those free admission days do get pretty crowded, especially on a rainy afternoon.
The Frye Art Museum is one museum that offers free admission no matter what day of the month. It is a fun little art museum filled with beautiful art pieces. Their gift shop even has art pieces by local artists on sale.
Which are the best museums in Downtown Seattle?
When there are a number of museums in close proximity to each other, you want to plan your day so you can visit as many of them as possible. Downtown Seattle is home to several museums that are within walking distance and you can take a walking tour that includes stops at most of these museums. Consider the Seattle Art Museum, Original Selfie Museum, Museum of Pop Culture, or Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Are there any cheap museums in Seattle?
When you are on a budget, museum hopping can break the bank. But, thankfully, Seattle has several museums that are cheap or offer one day a month with free admission. Make a list of the museums you want to see and check for free admission, coupons, or tours with museum admission included. These are some of the museums that offer free general admission one day a month: Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Flight, National Nordic Museum, and Burke Museum.
Terrific Seattle Museums
Whether you are in Seattle to check out the Space Needle or learn about your Nordic heritage, there are several museums that offer an incredible showcase and get you thinking about the past, the present, and even the future.
Grab your kids and find a great museum to hang out in on a dreary afternoon or head to Capitol Hill and discover how the Washington legislature works. There are so many museums in Seattle that are worth visiting. Another fun option when looking for indoor activities is shopping in Seattle. Dining in terrific restaurants is easy to do too!