We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.
When it comes to recognizable, romanticized cities in the United States, Seattle sits somewhere toward the top of the list as a rainy hub for dreamers, lovers, and a good cup of coffee. But beyond the more obvious spots to visit — the towering Space Needle or lively Pike Place Market, for instance — Seattle is home to many lesser-known landmarks that range from the political to the eccentric.
Situated on the traditional land of the Duwamish People, Seattle pays homage to the tribe’s ongoing legacy, as well as the city’s history as a major seaport for international trade. But these are just two of the historic lenses offering insight into the Emerald City. In the nearly two centuries since Seattle was established in 1851, the metropolis has become synonymous with everything from grunge music to lush city parks to Amazon and Starbucks — depending on who you ask. In addition to scoping out the view from the top of the Space Needle, make sure you also check out these 20 unique landmarks.
Seattle Pinball Museum
Pinball nerds, rejoice! The Seattle Pinball Museum began as a labor of love — a married couple with a passion for pinball searching for a way to connect with other collectors and players. In August 2010, the museum opened as part of Storefronts Seattle, a program that pairs empty storefronts with juried artists in hopes of revitalizing neighborhoods throughout the city.
The Seattle Pinball Museum later found its permanent home in Chinatown in June 2011. Visitors pay a $20 entrance fee for unlimited playtime on over 50 machines, with beer and soda available for purchase to place in the attached cup-holders. Pinball enthusiasts will be thrilled to find classic games like Stardust and Revenge From Mars dating back to 1934 in stock — all functional and as fun as ever.
Leave it to Seattleites to make a museum out of a rotting tree. Located in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park right off Elliott Bay, the tree in question is a western hemlock that was moved from its original home in the Green River Watershed to a controlled greenhouse environment known as Neukom Vivarium. The tree is being kept alive — albeit barely — using a tree life support system, with a delicate balance of air, humidity, and water pumped into the glass house.
Artist and arborist Mark Dion came up with the idea in 2006, and says that the unusual greenhouse depicts the detrimental impacts that humanity has on the environment: “Despite all of our technology and money, when we destroy a natural system it’s virtually impossible to get it back.”
Rubber Chicken Museum
One of Seattle’s lesser-known claims to fame is that it’s home to the world’s largest rubber chicken, as well as the world’s smallest. At the Rubber Chicken Museum, a quirky collection located within a novelty store named Archie McPhee’s, visitors can ooh and ahh over dozens of rubber chickens, pose with the world’s largest specimen, and read more about the history of the iconic comedy prop. Since the museum display opened in 2018, many visitors and collectors alike have flocked to the shop to get their fix of rubber fowl.
An interesting part of Seattle history is just how layered the Emerald City is — literally. In 1889, the Seattle Waterfront was all but completely destroyed by a great fire. A total of 31 blocks burned in the conflagration, reportedly started by a worker who was heating glue over a gas fire. Since many buildings in the city were built of lumber at the time, everything went up in flames.
Instead of rebuilding structures where the city once stood (in the area now known as Pioneer Square), city officials decided to raise the street level to avoid the swampy grounds. What remained, however, was an entire part of the city that was relatively intact but completely underground. In 1965, a man named Bill Speidel decided to bring attention back to Seattle’s Underground by hosting walking tours of the subterranean city, which still boasts storefronts and original sidewalks.
American artist Douglas R. Hollis’ awe-inspiring art installation, “A Sound Garden,” is an ideal way to experience the port city’s greatest natural music maker: the wind. The piece — which consists of towering pipe-like structures — hums, whistles, and howls depending upon how the wind blows through it.
The structure is fittingly located in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Western Service Center campus, overlooking windy Lake Washington. The Sound Garden is free to visit, although visitors should be prepared to walk about half-mile from the parking lot to reach the installation. Fun fact: the title of Hollis’ work was the inspiration behind the famous Seattle band Soundgarden’s name.
Beacon Food Forest
Sustainability is the name of the game with Beacon Hill’s community food forest, which may be the largest of its kind in the nation. Started in 2009, the food forest is a stretch of public land open for those who want to forage for berries, shrubs, nuts, and herbs without the hassle of growing and maintaining a garden at home.
The garden was planted to mimic the naturally occurring ecosystem of a forest, with plants strategically placed next to each other to encourage sustainable growth. Anyone is welcome to harvest, with no membership or entry fee required. The forest is maintained by volunteers and hosts educational events, plant walks, and classes throughout the year.
Kurt Cobain’s Benches
Seattle is rife with park benches offering great views of the city, but two benches perched in the Madrona neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington have regular visitors every year. That’s because these two benches dubbed “Kurt Cobain’s Benches” have become an unofficial memorial to the late Nirvana singer. The benches are located in Viretta Park, near the house where Cobain died in 1994, and are often decorated with letters, flowers, and poems.
Every year on the anniversary of his death, fans gather to remember the singer, leaving mementos of nostalgia behind. The two benches are not the original benches where Cobain supposedly spent a lot of time penning lyrics and gazing out over the water. Those were sold at an auction in 2014.
Piece of the Berlin Wall
A six-foot-long chunk of the Berlin Wall stretching 12 feet tall sits just outside Café Turko in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. The section of the historic wall is free for anyone to admire. Though notably smaller than other preserved sections of the wall, the piece is unique in that it commemorates the role of Seattle during the Cold War and specifically, the Boeing C-47 aircraft, which played a crucial role in the Berlin Airlift of 1948. Situated just around the corner from the more famous Fremont Troll, the slab of concrete has been in Fremont since 2001, serving as a reminder of a different time.
World Famous Giant Shoe Museum
The self-proclaimed World Famous Giant Shoe Museum is the sort of spot that warrants a stop on any cross-country road trip. Located along a stretch of wall in Pike Place Market, the museum comprises a number of displays that can be viewed by passersby who drop a few coins into the meter.
The quirky museum collection began in 1997, when a local named Danny Eskenazi became obsessed with tracking down enormous shoes after finding out that his grandfather had once owned a shoe belonging to Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. The collection includes a pair of “real clown shoes,” a huge pair of novelty loafers, and a different pair of Wadlow’s shoes, among other delightfully large pieces.
Georgetown Trailer Park Mall
The Georgetown Trailer Park Mall is perfectly built for Seattle — located in the often-overlooked, industrial Georgetown neighborhood, with local vendors protected from the elements in several dozen hardy trailers. Vendors at the park range from pop-up bakeries (the Lowrider Cookie Company) and artists touting their artwork (the Royal Mansion Gallery) to skincare entrepreneurs (Badder Body).
There are trailers selling vintage tees and trailers boasting vinyl records and even ones that showcase local, handmade ceramics. The unique mall also has spaces for communal games like Connect Four and Jenga, making it an ideal spot for a family-friendly afternoon.
Randie Stone’s Flower Houses
The pair of houses known as Randie Stone’s Flower Houses located on picturesque Alki Avenue along the waterfront in West Seattle, were originally built in 1914 and boast a bold display of flora that seemingly sprouts from the structures themselves. Stone bought the homes in 1989 after moving to Seattle from Hawaii, and has managed to maintain an impressive island look in the more than three decades since.
Bright red, purple, and pink blooms completely cover the fronts of the houses. The houses are so well-known that they are officially registered as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. In fact, visitors from around the globe have journeyed to Stone’s houses just to see the colorful homes with their own two eyes, and for the chance to chat with Stone herself.
The story behind the eye-catching "Henry” murals — a series of goofy, wide-eyed painted animal portraits on the sides of buildings in the neighborhoods of Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford — is as unexpected as it is inspiring. Ryan Henry Ward, the Seattle artist behind the smile-inducing characters, was driving a four-wheeler through eastern Washington more than a decade ago when he found himself in a near-fatal accident that pinned him under his vehicle.
Taking what he assumed to be his last breaths, he vowed to finally pursue art full-time, and nearly went broke doing so. Since then, however, art collectors, galleries, and the general public have fallen in love with his signature style, cartoonish beasts (Sasquatch is a favorite) doing silly and mundane things, such as fishing, strumming a guitar, and riding a bike.
Chinese Community Bulletin Board
Due to its location on the Pacific, Seattle has always been home to many immigrant communities. The International District, located just south of downtown, is still abuzz with restaurants, shops, and businesses catering to Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean populations. There stands one of the city’s most unassuming landmarks: the Chinese Community Bulletin Board, a simple wooden message board attached to the side of a brick wall (what is now the Louisa Hotel Apartments), shaded by a traditional green and red overhang structured to resemble a pagoda roof. The bulletin board was used by immigrant communities in place of a Chinese-language newspaper back in the mid-20th century as a way to disseminate job listings, share announcements, and communicate with one another.
UPS Waterfall Garden Park
Fans of snail mail will delight in the grandeur and the history behind the UPS Waterfall Garden Park, located in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. The 22-foot-tall, human-made waterfall overlooks a two-tiered patio with table and chairs, and marks the spot where the United Parcel Service (UPS) was originally founded back in 1907. UPS, originally called the American Messenger Company, officially moved headquarters to Connecticut in 1975, but the company’s founder built the park as a way to commemorate the birthplace of one of the world’s largest shipping couriers.
The average Seattleite might not think too much about the number of bridges that span the watery city, but for visitors, these bridges are worth a gander. The Fremont Bridge, in particular, is a notable point of interest, connecting the popular neighborhoods of artsy Fremont and picturesque Queen Anne. In addition to being a super pedestrian and bike-friendly bridge, the bridge also has a few hidden gems: a neon Rapunzel with long electric hair poses in the window of one of the control towers; a neon elephant and crocodile can be seen on the opposite side in a nod to the classic Ruyard Kipling fable.
Visitors will also note an electronic bike counter that keeps a tally of the number of bicyclists that cross the bridge on any given day, adding to the yearly count. One thing to be aware of, however, is that the bridge raises and lowers about 35 times a day to allow ships to pass under it, which can cause traffic jams several blocks long.
Plymouth Pillars Park
The four tall, concrete pillars that demarcate the 0.6 acres that comprise Plymouth Pillars Park in downtown Seattle represent some pretty significant historic moments for the city. They originally marked the entrance for the Plymouth Congregational Church, an institution that was a center for progressive thinking and diversity back in the 1800s. Built in 1873, the church became an unofficial shelter for immigrants (namely the city’s growing Chinese population), with church officials speaking out about immigrants’ rights.
The church also hosted the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1909 at the World’s Fair, promoting women’s right to vote. And in 1961, it hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his first and only visit to the city. In 1965, the church was severely damaged in the Puget Sound earthquake, but the four pillars remain as a testament to the legacy it left behind.
Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center
Located a short drive from the city center in West Seattle, the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center is a necessary stop for visitors hoping to learn more about the Indigenous peoples who once occupied the land on which the city was built. Founded in the 1990s, the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center is meant to serve as both an educational facility for visitors looking to learn about the Duwamish people’s history and a resource for the Duwamish community members who still live in the Greater Seattle Area today. The main attraction is a 6,044-square-foot longhouse meant to mimic traditional wooden longhouses. Events are often hosted there, and there is also a kitchen, gift shop, and numerous educational historical exhibitions.
Ballard Carnegie Public Library
What was once the Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library has now become a place of historic memory. Built in 1903, the Carnegie Public Library was named after famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It used to be a functional neighborhood library until 1963, when another library was built nearby.
Since then, the library has undergone some pretty interesting changes — at times transformed into an antique shop, a French restaurant (Carnegie’s Restaurant, to pay homage to the building’s original use), and even a holistic health center. Most recently, the grand space has become home to the Kangaroo and Kiwi, an Australian and New Zealand-themed pub that opened in 2012.
Seattle has notoriously become the home of some pretty eclectic statues and historic pieces of history over the years. A 16-foot-tall bronze statue of former Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin is no exception. Standing rather conspicuously in the artsy Fremont neighborhood, the statue of Lenin has become a somewhat ironic staple of the community, and has been known to be “dressed up” throughout the year — sometimes as a clown, other times in drag, and on more than one occasion, as John Lennon. The statue was brought to the city by Lewis E. Carpenter, an expat living in the Czech Republic when the Communist regime ended. He bought the statue for $41,000 and had it shipped home to Seattle, where it’s been standing ever since.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or the Ballard Locks, as they’re known to locals, are an engineering feat and a fun way to spend a sunny weekday. The locks, which opened in 1917, connect the saltwater of the Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lake Washington, and serve as a major vessel for everything from large cargo ships to single-paddler kayaks to move from sea to lake and back again — all without disturbing the natural migration routes of the Pacific Northwest salmon. Tourists and locals alike gather atop the structure daily to watch ships and boats pass through the locks — a steady parade of water vehicles traveling with the tides.