8 Places Every Grunge Fan Must Visit in Seattle

Seattle does, in fact, smell like teen spirit 🎸

Late in the day flowers and notes left on Kurts Bench. This is the 25th anniversary after Kurt Cobain committed suicide in the home just next door to Viretta park. The bench in the park has become a place visited by tourists from around the world, they leave items Kurt would have liked and scribble personal messages to the music icon. Kurt was known to sit on the bench and play his guitar. Seattle still does not have a memorial for the iconic musician.

📸: The Kurt Cobain Bench at Viretta Park | Photo by 400tmax

For decades, Seattle has been synonymous with “grunge.”

Birthed in the mid-1980s, the long-haired, flannel-wearing, sludgy guitar genre took the world by force. Big-name Seattle bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney exploded and became rock legends. Although so much of the city has changed since Kurt Cobain asked us to come as we are, there are still spots around town that hold a special place in grunge history.

Here are a few you can still check out today. (Plus, one grunge myth dispelled!)

Viretta Park (The Kurt Cobain Bench)

151 E Lk Washington Blvd, Seattle

A bench in this quiet, contemplative park near Denny Blaine in Leschi is an unofficial memorial to Nirvana frontman and grunge legend Kurt Cobain. Situated under a giant tree in a clearing, Nirvana fans come to Viretta Park to pay their respects by leaving flowers, stickers, merch, candles, photos, and knickknacks. Just to the north of the park is the residence where Cobain spent his final days, though it’s a private residence not open to the public.

Museum of Pop Culture 

325 5th Ave N, Seattle

The Museum of Pop Culture (FKA The Experience Music Project) certainly wasn’t around when grunge was in its heyday, but it is home to a ton of grunge history. Currently, MoPOP has an ongoing extensive exhibition dedicated to Nirvana, featuring 200 rare artifacts, photos, and oral histories of the germinal grunge band. They also have a Guitar Gallery that tracks the instrument’s evolution as it formed the basis of American popular music to round out your understanding of rock history. 

Terminal Sales Building

1932 1st Ave, Seattle

Sub Pop Records played an enormous part in popularizing grunge to the masses, signing the likes of Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees early in their careers. For years, the record label’s headquarters were in a tiny space on the top floor of the Terminal Sales Building in Belltown. Although they’ve moved offices, the building is still a memento of Seattle music history.

(Want more Sub Pop? Check out their locations downtown and at the airport.)

The Moore Theatre

1932 2nd Ave, Seattle

Established in 1907, The Moore Theatre is the oldest operating theater in the city. And while it’s seen its fair share of all kinds of performances, it’s a recurring character in Seattle’s grunge scene. On June 9th, 1989, $7 would have gotten you a ticket to the raucous Sub Pop Lame Fest, a showcase for early-in-their-career Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Tad. Famous acts like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains have recorded live albums and music videos on The Moore’s hallowed stage.

BONUS: “Black Sun” at Volunteer Park 

Every Seattleite has heard the rumor that Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” was inspired by Isamu Noguchi’s 1969 sculpture “Black Sun,” made of Brazilian black granite, at Volunteer Park. The only thing is… it’s not true! Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell said he got the phrase when he misheard a news anchor on a broadcast. Still, the sculpture is an iconic Seattle spot and the perfect place to post up with your headphones to listen to “Touch Me I’m Sick.”

Central Saloon 

207 1st Ave S, Seattle

Over in Pioneer Square, Central Saloon was also a hotbed of grunge activity in the 1980s with its dark interiors and a new call for live music. Lots of bands, like Mother Love Bone, Alice in Chains, The Melvins, and Soundgarden, played regularly at The Central before the “Seattle Sound” hit wider audiences. Central’s stage hosted Nirvana’s first Seattle show in 1986, and it was also where Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman spotted the band, signing them shortly after.

West Point Lighthouse at Discovery Park

North of Magnolia, Seattle

In 1991, the grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog was formed to honor the passing of Andrew Wood, frontman of Mother Love Bone. For their music video “Hunger Strike,” the band filmed around the West Point Lighthouse and on the grassy beach at Discovery Park. It’s angsty, gray, and soooo grunge. 26 years later, another iconic Seattle band, Chastity Belt, parodied/paid tribute to the music video with their own equally melancholic track “Different Now.” Two for the price of one!

KEXP 

472 1st Ave N, Seattle

When KEXP was owned and operated by the University of Washington as KCMU, they were the first radio station to air grunge bands over the airwaves in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. In the decades following, KEXP has continued to support Seattle musicians past and present through their radio programming and blog. The station is now at the Seattle Center, where you can chill in the KEXP Gathering Space, sip Caffe Vita coffee, and maybe even slip into a live in-studio session.

A Sound Garden at Magnuson Park

7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle

Public art is important—just ask Soundgarden

The iconic grunge band got their name from an art installation created by Douglas Hollis, “A Sound Garden,” located on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Western Service Center campus north of Magnuson Park. Positioned next to the cold waters of Lake Washington, the sculpture is made up of 12 21-foot towers that have an organ pipe attached to a weathervane at the top—so when the wind blows, it creates a sound. You used to be able to access the sculpture with a government-issued ID, but currently, NOAA has closed the campus to visitors until further notice.

Author

An author pic of Jas Keimig. They have blue braids.

Jas Keimig

Jas Keimig is an arts and culture writer in Seattle. Their work has previously appeared in The Stranger, i-D, Netflix, and Feast Portland. They won a game show once and have a thing for stickers.

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