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.
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.
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!
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.