With February’s Seattle Museum Month on the horizon, this is an ideal time to plan a vacation to the Pacific Northwest.
Many of the region’s favorite museums collaborate with participating downtown Seattle hotels to offer half-price admission every February to those who choose to stay and play in this verdant area. To help with your planning, here’s our Seattle Museum Month selection.
A Museum for the Children We All Used To Be
Since music and pop culture have long been a dominant export for Seattle, it should come as no surprise that there is a monument to that influence. The former Experience Music Project has recently been reimagined as The Museum of Pop Culture – MoPOP. Still housed in the most stunning architecture this side of Gaudí’s Spanish creations, the building itself is a maze of entertaining discovery. Within MoPOP are the significant elements of its predecessor, a testament to Seattle’s musical influence in the form of a Jimi Hendrix exhibit, a Pearl Jam concert shrine, and a Gibson Guitar Gallery that has no equal, featuring nearly every famous guitar ever held by anyone in popular music – Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, they’re all there; a literal tornado of instruments spewing forth from the gallery entrance. These exhibits benefit from the immense collection of late Microsoft founder Paul Allen, who created the museum he would want to visit. There are also collections of movie memorabilia that are the envy of the most successful studio collections. Essentially, if our teenage selves had been given infinite budget, MoPOP would be the museum of our dreams.
The Eye of the Needle
Seattle is a surprisingly walkable city, and around the corner from MoPOP is the signature skyline element of the Pacific Northwest, the vaunted Space Needle. It stands out amid the modern buildings of the city, but the pictures do not do justice to the experience of riding to the top and getting a 360-degree view. The showstopping literal bird’s-eye view is impressive enough, but when the lower balcony of the landmark begins to rotate, it heightens the experience in a way that cannot be explained. It must be experienced.
A House of Glass Without and Within
Beneath the glass of Seattle’s Space Needle, looking like no other greenhouse and hiding within it a menagerie of a completely different kind, the Chihuly Garden and Glass features an endlessly impressive number of Dale Chihuly’s masterpieces. (See The Glass Menagerie at the top of this article.) Tracing the artist’s roots from Native American influence and through his various stages and periods of glass art, the entire museum is one fantastic photo opportunity after another. One moment, you marvel at a manmade glass garden, full of every bright hue of glass flower; and the next moment, the path guides you through Chihuly’s glass accents to a carefully curated garden. Orange and purples and reds dot the garden path, reaching up toward the Space Needle, at one turn. The next is a study in the contrast of black and white, as Chihuly’s chiaroscuro comes out to play in a corner that looks like a wonderland transplant. The ultimate expression, however, is housed in the aforementioned “glasshouse.” The hanging orange blooms capture and refract the natural light, painting them in contrast to the sky itself. The glass house creates more than a moment. Rather, it creates a feeling, an emotion, and one that visitors are loath to leave behind.
A Stop In The North
Venture further north in the Seattle area, a short car-share ride into Ballard, and Seattle’s foundational identity as a port city is on ready display. Artisans and craftsmen are in ready supply in this borough, which boasts one of the most impressive farmers’ market in the United States, spanning the streets for blocks. Worth a visit for unique discoveries like Momspice (an absolute necessity, once you’ve tried it), Jonboy Caramels (with such innovative flavors like ginger/molasses and whiskey/smoked salt), and Cyrus Saffron, the walk through the market will fill any culinary mind with new ideas, while filling bellies with delicious food.
A few blocks away, the true North emerges. When Nordic peoples migrated to the “new land” that is the North American continent, they connected with an area that matched their homelands in both terrain and ethos. The Nordic people take pride in a connection to nature that they find, most prominently, among the pines of the northern forests. This, as well as other tenets of Nordic life, are explored within the walls of the National Nordic Museum, which externally emulates the large ships that ferried their people to the new land, while internally preserving the clean lines and efficient expressions so much a hallmark of the Nordic way of life. A tour of the museum is instructive, highlighting the profound tie that the Nordic countries have to the Pacific Northwest, but also with regard to the prevailing mindsets of both cultures, whose lands are similarly rich in clouds, cold, sea and mood. You’ll walk out with a greater understanding of the people who stamped the Pacific Northwest with their culture.
The Far East Connection
The Asian influence on Seattle is impossible to ignore. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Replete with jade green walls, gilded accents, and marble in excess, the building itself is phenomenal. But, it is the art and artifacts housed within that truly impress. Centuries old, in some cases, the works that adorn walls and sit atop pillars, are organized not chronologically, but thematically, so that the works show the full scope of a movement throughout Asia and the Pacific Northwest. The newly expanded modern wing is provocative. In the curated exhibit, the Asian-American experience is explored in depth, and often in chilling and thought-provoking ways.
One Heck Of A Ride South
A mere 45 minutes to the south of Seattle lies Tacoma, as much a twin city to the Emerald City as Fort Worth is to Dallas. But head to Tacoma for the glint of chrome, the brightness of a whitewall, and the reflection of a fine carnauba shine. The Le May America’s Car Museum is as impressive an experience as any Smithsonian installation. A ballad dedicated to that most American of prized possessions, the automobile, the Le May is four floors of automotive history. From before the Model T, when motorized vehicles operated by steam engine, to a future that we have not yet seen, but that concepts from Ford, Chevrolet, and Cadillac all try to capture, every era of automobile development is in one place. Beyond the sheer impressiveness of the historical collection, there are plenty of fan favorites that pepper the collection.
This is the first in a three-part series. Look out for our upcoming #FoodieFriday articles on Seattle dining and the Seattle bar scene.
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Cover: The Glass Menagerie at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Contributed photo