Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, known around town by its MOHAI acronym, recently relocated to a waterfront location in South Lake Union, and is now housed in the former Naval Reserve Armory building. It’s a smart change for the popular historical and educational spot, considering its new proximity to some of Seattle’s biggest businesses: outdoor retailer REI and Amazon.com. The museum’s permanent collection traces the city’s history, with nods to the city’s 1962 World’s Fair, the surprising 1999 WTO riots, and the birth and growth of aerospace giant Boeing. Temporary exhibits address topics as diverse as Seattle-specific artists, the history of gay culture citywide or the many engineering feats that have helped a region filled with bodies of water and steep slopes stay connected. The newly-opened Bezos Center for Innovation explores Seattle’s history of entrepreneurship and engages guests in interactive activities to elicit their inner CEO.
Tucked inside an art deco building within Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park, the economically-sized Seattle Asian Art Museum showcases cultural artifacts from China, Japan, Korea and India. From silk screens to sculpture, scrolls to woodwork, the museum nods at history at every turn. It also includes a children’s room that lets little ones learn by doing and creating. Outside, Noguchi’s “Black Sun” sculpture lines a decorative pool within Volunteer Park, making for a wonderful photo vantage point that includes Seattle’s Space Needle in the background. Through the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas, the museum even offers a Saturday lecture series on visual and literary arts topics. Bargain-hunters take note: The museum is free to all visitors the first Thursday of each month.
After putting on an all-puppet production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale to the disdain of their business-minded fathers, the members of the Young Naturalists Society decided to start their own museum of artifacts and nifty facts. The resulting Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is a nesting ground for Northwest natural history. A blend of permanent and rotating exhibits bejewels the senses through The Life and Times of Washington State exhibit, which guides the viewer past the state's oldest tusk-wielding citizens and shows how tuskless we've become in 545 million years. Through May 31, the museum proudly displays the Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway exhibit, where you can see how professionally excavated fossils stack up against the dino-bones you uncovered in the basement crawlspace.
Presented as a gift to Seattle residents from Charles and Emma Frye, two philanthropic Seattleites, the Frye Art Museum in the First Hill neighborhood is lean and low when viewed from the street. The building’s stark mid-century concrete profile belies the rich collection of artwork and airy galleries held inside. Opened in 1952 as a home for the couple’s private collection of 232 paintings, entrance is free in perpetuity for Seattle residents. And while the Frye founding collection focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings, visiting exhibitions have expanded this content and routinely feature contemporary artists such as Mark Mitchell, Joshua Kohl, Jason Hirata, Henry Darger and Helmi Juvonen, among others. The museum also hosts a gift shop and small cafe with outdoor seating in warm months, but is closed on Mondays.
Now a subsidiary of the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Chinatown Discovery Tours offers almost a dozen 90-minute tours of Seattle’s Chinatown each week. The pleasant outdoor strolls trace the arrival of the Chinese in the 19th century, their struggles and enduring culture. There’s no shortage of tidbits to pick up, thanks to Seattle’s expansive mix of Asian cultures, and some tours even include stop-offs at great and tasty Chinese restaurants. Others might include a visit to Hing Hay Park, with its terraced stairs and red brick square, or a walk through Uwajimaya, a pan-Asian food emporium and gift shop. On Saturdays, literary visitors can take the Bitter and Sweet tour, which pays respects to landmarks featured in the New York Times bestseller Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. That means stops at Canton Alley and the Panama Hotel, among other illuminating Seattle spots.