The Seattle area is home to diverse and notable museums, from the Seattle Art Museum to the Rubber Chicken Museum inside Archie McPhee—but not all of our museums get the same amount of love from tourist guides. Whether you’re a local looking to dig deeper into the city’s heritage or a tourist who wants to play endless pinball games, these off-the-beaten-path museums offer something specifically Seattle.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Museum
📸: Courtesy NPS
📍 Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Museum: 319 Second Ave S, Seattle
⏰ Open Wednesdays – Sundays: 10 am – 5 pm
📞 (206) 220-4240
The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is the most fascinating museum in town. And yes, you read that right; it’s one of the country’s smallest national parks, being one of four official museum offshoots and the only one outside of Alaska. Even the building is part of the history on display; during the Gold Rush of the 1890s—the organization’s focus—Pioneer Square’s Cadillac Hotel was a popular departure point before prospectors and their families made their way to the Yukon Territory hoping to discover riches. The museum itself has a tremendous interactive component in which you choose a “character” and follow their exploits and choices throughout the exhibits; you won’t know your fate for some time. Not every story ends happily, but the RPG-esque element, working in tandem with the gorgeous exhibits, emotionally connects you to the experience in a way that can’t be beat.
Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture
📸: Courtesy Sea Mar
📍 Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture: 9635 Des Moines Memorial Dr S, Seattle
⏰ Open Mondays – Fridays: 8 am – 5 pm
There’s a rich history that often goes unexplored in the greater Seattle metro area, and I hope you swing by the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture in the city’s South End to get your fill of it. The museum opened in 2019 and is attached to one of Sea Mar’s many community health centers. It echoes the company’s dedication to diversity, grace, and social outreach. It’s also the first of its kind in the PNW, chronicling Washington’s Spanish-speaking community and its evolution from the post-WWII migration boom to the present day. Social justice is the name of the game throughout its two galleries, with exhibits dedicated to migrant workers (two original cabins from Eastern Washington are on display), the Civil Rights Movement, unionization efforts, and notable names in local education, business, and healthcare. It’s an eye-opening knockout of a museum about the voice of the people.
Shoreline Historical Museum
📸: Courtesy Shoreline Historical Museum
📍 Shoreline Historical Museum: 18501 Linden Ave N, Shoreline
⏰ Open Tuesdays – Saturdays: 10 am – 4 pm
📞 (206) 542-7111
The Heritage Center in Shoreline is housed just a block west of Aurora & 185th (find the Fred Meyer and head west). The Center, located initially at the 1912 Ronald School before moving ten blocks north 35 years into its run, was founded in 1975 as a Bicentennial Project to preserve the city’s history and the region’s growth. And by all accounts, the Shoreline Historical Society operates with a wealth of material, both in-house and on the museum’s website, including newspaper indices, transcripts, and a true mother lode of a photo gallery collected from government officials and your everyday residents. Basically, if it happened in Shoreline and the tippy-top north end of Seattle, these people know about it. Last time I went, I made a beeline to two of my biggest interests: public rail transit and amusement parks. For the former, hang your head as you bemoan that the Interurban Trolley no longer exists; for the latter, get the inside scoop on Bitter Lake’s Playland Amusement Park—which had roller coasters, log flumes, and a racetrack—which closed just two years before the 1962 World’s Fair.
Log House Museum
📸: Courtesy Log House Museum
📍 Log House Museum: 3003 61st Ave SW, Seattle
⏰ Open Fridays & Saturdays: 12 – 4 pm
📞 (206) 350-0999
Just a couple blocks from Alki Beach lies, well, a big ol’ log house. Within these walls, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society curates rotating exhibits promoting the history and advocacy of the West Seattle Peninsula, from the Sound to SW 128th Street. Past exhibits include ones on neighborhood fire stations, music of the Duwamish Peninsula, suffragettes, and West Seattle’s annexation. The grounds also include the Northwest Native Plant Garden, featuring flora indigenous to the Pacific Northwest in both pre- and post-settler times. There are also one-hour group tours, including a 30-minute deep dive into the region’s history and current exhibits, followed by a brisk walk to the landmarks and cultural sites along the water. And hey, the museum can also be rented for private events, great for South Enders who’d rather not schlep up to us yahoos at and above Lake Union. The museum is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, so why not snag a brunch or dip your toes in the Sound, then help support the southwest corner of the city.
Seattle Pinball Museum
📸: Courtesy Seattle Pinball Museum
📍 Seattle Pinball Museum: 508 Maynard Ave S, Seattle
⏰ Open Thursdays – Mondays: 12 – 6 pm
📞 (206) 623-0759
The most hands-on museum in town, the Seattle Pinball Museum originally opened as a temporary venue in the CID in the summer of 2010 thanks to the Seattle Storefront initiative. It became so popular it became a permanent fixture of the Chinatown-International District. Dedicated not just to the preservation and history of the ol’ flippers-and-balls (that’s what I call pinball machines, at least), it’s also dedicated to me having a damn fun time before I catch a show at Theatre Off Jackson. The best news? Once you pay the entrance fee ($20+), everything is on Free Play, so no need to lug around oh-so-heavy-and-cumbersome-and-noisy quarters from machine to machine. Free Play encourages roaming, and the cabinets are presented in chronological order. There’s nothing like getting destroyed on a newfangled rock band tie-in game (hey look, it’s the Foo Fighters!), then heading to the other side of the museum and having a much chiller time on 1960s boards called things like “Bobo” and “Buckaroo.” There’s also beer and arcade games. So have a (pin)ball!