Seattle is full of art that takes on many shapes and forms—you just need to know where to look! Some of the most unusual and unique sculptures or works of art call this city home. But besides the usual art museums and galleries, you would never guess the eclectic mix of tiny treasures and colossal sculptures that can be spotted throughout Seattle’s various neighborhoods. Check out some of the best places to see art in Seattle and learn what lurks beneath the bridge. You will be surprised by how many of Seattle’s artists hide behind an apron as a barista in this city’s abundant cafes and coffee shops.
1. Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
It would seem natural to start with Seattle Art Museum or just “SAM” when tracking down some art in the city. That is because this art gallery houses a grand collection of 25,000 works of art. The museum dates back to the beginning of the 20th Century when Seattle Fine Arts Society and Washington Arts Association came together to form Seattle Art Museum. Now this museum can be visited in Downtown Seattle just a few blocks up from the waterfront. You can’t miss it—an enormous metal statue named The Hammering Man does just that right outside the entrance. SAM is a great place to view an eclectic mix in the collections. It’s open most days of the week until 5 pm and until 9 pm on Thursdays. It’s closed Monday and Tuesday, so plan accordingly! There is a suggested admission at $19.50 for adults.
2. Seattle Asian Art Museum, extension of SAM
In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Seattle Asian Art Museum or SAAM can be found within Volunteer Park. This gallery is great for Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indian art that tends to focus on artifacts, statues and scrolls. This museum is also an extension of SAM and holds a great variety from Yakshini figures of Hindu tradition and watercolors of cherry blossoms to the Chinese art that covers a range of early dynasties. On the first Saturday of each month, admission to SAAM is free. All other days admission costs $7 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and teens. Children get in for free!
3. Olympic Sculpture Park
Another extension of SAM is the Olympic Sculpture Park, a public park located along the waterfront of Seattle’s Belltown and Lower Queen Anne neighborhoods. This outdoor sculpture park allows you to walk along the water with the most scenic views of Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains in the distance. This is a perfect place for pictures, a picnic or a stroll around the park. There are several contemporary sculptures from the giant Typewriter Eraser to the metal Eagle painted in red. If you are not into contemporary art, the view of the water or the gardens at sunset is worth the visit. And, it’s free!
4. Frye Art Museum
Frye Art Museum is certainly a fantastic place to see fine art in Seattle. This museum originates with the 232 works of art included in the collections of prominent Seattle Art patrons Charles and Emma Frye. The Founder’s Collection holds many works that date back between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century and include an array of German art pieces. The collections also hold galleries of European symbolism that include French paintings and works from various regions. Frye Art Museum is located on First Hill and opens until 5 pm most days and until 7 pm on Thursday. It’s closed Monday. It also boasts free admission and parking.
5. Wing Luke Museum
The Wing Luke Museum is a great place to learn more about Asian-American history, and the galleries also hold various Asian works of art. This Smithsonian Affiliate museum acts as a place for immersion into the Asian Pacific American experience with artifacts, well-thought exhibitions and portraits throughout the museum. A recent exhibit—the Tsutakawa Art Gallery—covers the creations of this Seattle-born artist between his many fountains, paintings and sculptures. Wing Luke Museum also includes a community portrait gallery. It is located on King Street in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. The museum opens until 5 pm all days of the week except Monday, when it is closed. Admission is $12.95 for adults and $9.95 for seniors and students. Youth are $8.95, and children are free!
6. Chihuly Garden and Glass
One of the most unique art spots in Seattle is none other than Chihuly Garden & Glass located in Lower Queen Anne just below the Space Needle. A look around the Glasshouse and Garden allows you to explore a vast collection full of vibrant colors and sleek glass pieces that make a one-of-a-kind experience you can only get in Seattle. Unless, of course, you’ve seen Dale Chihuly’s other works such as the glass flowers inside the Bellagio in Las Vegas or those found at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. The glass gardens are open until 7 pm most nights and stay open late until 8 pm on Friday and Saturday. Admission is $19 for adults and $12 for youth, but you can always save by pairing your visit with a ride to the top of the Space Needle.
7. Experience Music Project (EMP)
At Seattle’s Experience Music Project or just ‘EMP’ you will find a different set of art in the collections. This place is full of popular culture and art of the fantasy and horror cinema genre. Art within the EMP is taken from movies, video games and TV. With just one look from outside, it is easy to see how the EMP itself is a work of art itself with a modern and aesthetically appealing architectural exterior. The EMP is also located just next to the Space Needle in Lower Queen Anne. It’s better to buy tickets online, since you get a discount! Adults pay $15 online or $20 at the door, students and seniors $17 online, youth $12 online and $14 at the door, and children are free.
8. Pioneer Square
A great place to immerse yourself in Seattle’s Art just like a local would be Pioneer Square. This little nook in the city is located in southwest corner of Downtown Seattle and provides an aesthetic setting and a quiet tone for pleasing galleries. There are many small galleries about the area and SAM is just a short distance away. The best time to see it in action is during First Thursday Seattle Art Walks held in Pioneer Square from noon to 8 pm—a fun free activity if it fits into your time in the city. Here you get the experience of many galleries about the city all in one place, and there’s also food served in the square! Not to mention, the Art Walk is free.
9. Pike Place Market (Art for Sale)
Pike Place Market is another popular location in the city that also participates in the First Thursday Seattle Art Walk. It’s a good idea to check out where this event will be held before your visit to Seattle. If you are looking to shop around for some local art, Pike Place Market is where you will find artists, art and jewelry vendors. Many of the pieces you will find in this public market are themed with the landmark scenes of locations throughout the city—the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, the skyline with the Space Needle, even Pike Place itself! These pieces make a unique find to bring back home and remind you of your journey to Seattle.
10. Under the Bridge
One of the most popular and less mentioned colossal sculptures around Seattle is the Fremont Troll. A glimpse beneath the Aurora Bridge puts you face to face with this concrete giant. The Troll Under the Bridge is a public sculpture in Seattle’s northern Fremont neighborhood. The giant troll has staked its claim on the city since 1990. To see it clutching an actual Volkswagen Beetle, add the troll to your itinerary if you find yourself north of Seattle. It’s perhaps the most unique sculpture in town, and it’s free to see!
11. In a Coffee Cup
Seattle is known for its emphasis on a good cup of coffee. That is why, when in Seattle, it is a great idea to seek out some ‘latte art’. Places like Moore Coffee Shop and Monorail Espresso downtown serve up a delicious espresso topped with a delightful foam art to complete the experience. These cafes are located downtown, but latte art can be found all throughout Seattle. In the city of Seattle, the barista is also an artist. A delicious designer coffee will cost you under $5 and works perfect to help warm you up on a rainy day trek about the city. The patterns and designs that swirl the steamed milk in your coffee cup are certainly enough to surprise the unsuspecting coffee lover.
Seattle is definitely a city to discover unique and modern works of art—from the grandest architecture of the EMP and Space Needle to the colossal statues of the Fremont Troll and Olympic Sculpture Park. When in Seattle, even the smallest cup of coffee becomes an artistically delicious delight.