We all know the big ones: the Seattle Art Museum, MoPOP, the Museum of Flight. Even the less-famous, once-unknown-to-transplants Museum of History and Industry has been getting major play in the last few years, thanks to its digs in South Lake Union, and the same goes for Ballard’s Nordic Museum (aka the Nordic Heritage Museum), which opened its doors to the slick, 57,000-square-foot facility it relocated to last summer. And next fall, the Burke Museum will be the place to be for all things natural history. In October, it will be opening its new, much larger facility where exhibit galleries, collections, labs and hands-on learning spaces will all be side-by-side. But hey, Seattle is also teeming with tons of teeny, tiny science, art, and historical museums that are off the beaten track, and a bunch of them are pretty fascinating. Here’s a few you might not know about.Read More
11 offbeat Seattle-area museums you may not have heard of
The odd, the obscure, and the extremely specific
1. Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum
Everett, WA 98204
The Museum of Flight kinda hogs all the aeronautical-museum attention around these parts, and perhaps rightfully so, since it’s pretty fantastic. But Everett’s Paine Field has a neat collection of WWII-era aircraft, tanks, combat armor that’s definitely worth visiting. The crown jewel is probably the Polikarpov U-2, flown by Soviet women on nighttime raids against the Nazis, who called them the Nachthexen or ”Night Witches.”
2. Seattle's Official Bad Art Museum of Art (OBAMA) at Cafe Racer
Seattle, WA 98105
Inside the U District’s kitschy bistro/performance venue Cafe Racer is an orange-yellow room dubbed the Official Bad Art Museum of Art, also known as “OBAMA”, and it’s a sight for sore eyes. The hideous, hilarious masterpieces are mostly of the big-eyed or black-velvet variety; a highlight is a “painting” made out of marshmallow Peeps. It’s free, of course, and you can even eat your dinner in there while you watch whichever off-kilter live show might be happening that night.
3. Rubber Chicken Museum
Seattle, WA 98103
In one section of Archie McPhee, an already extremely quirky toy-and-trinket shop, lies an eclectic assortment of rubber chickens. The small museum has been open since 2018 and boasts both the world’s largest rubber chicken and the world’s smallest rubber chicken. Some of the dozens of birds are tucked away in display cases, while others are out and available for plenty of picture-taking. The exhibit also includes an essay about these yellow birds by Kirk Demarais, who, according to the Archie McPhee website, is a “renowned rubber chicken expert.”
4. Baha'i History Museum
The extremely friendly folks at the Washington Bahá’í History Museum, stashed upstairs above/next door to Pink Gorilla on the Ave, will be thrilled to see you! The ancient Bahá’í faith has roots in Iran, and the museum has fabulous Persian art and books relating to the religion on display, much of which you’re welcome to touch, as well as a craft area, a reference library, and kid’s play area. Help yourself to a complimentary home-baked cookie and cup of tea while you listen to dialogues on race, religion, culture, community, humanity, unity and social change as well as the Bahá’í faith’s history in Washington State.
5. Dialysis Museum at Northwest Kidney Centers
Seattle, WA 98122
Unfortunately, most of the people who know about this place found out about it because it’s inside of a kidney disease clinic where they’re receiving treatment, so hopefully you aren’t one of them. Since 2012, the Northwest Kidney Center on Broadway has a small but interesting display that takes one through the history of dialysis and its technological advancements over the years, in the form of various dialysis machines. The collection’s centerpiece is the UW-created Milton-Roy Model A “Mini Monster,” the world’s first take-home dialysis machine.
6. Seattle Death Museum
Seattle, WA 98104
The Seattle Death Museum opened for business just a few months ago inside the basement gift shop operated by ghost tour company Spooked in Seattle. The little space exhibits Victorian mourning jewelry, death masks, vintage embalming equipment, funeral clothing from the 1800s, and old coffins, among other beautiful, macabre things. Admission is included with any ghost tour, or you can donate $3 to $5 to check it out a la carte.
7. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Seattle, WA 98104
All the Seattle natives went to this place back in the 5th grade, but if you didn’t attend elementary school in these parts, you should totally check out this captivating little treasure of a museum. (And even if you did go on a field trip here back in the day, did you know it’s one quarter of a National Park? The other three locations are in Skagway, Alaska.) The two-floor museum is technically the park’s visitor center, in the ground floor of the historic Cadillac Hotel in Pioneer Square; it commemorates Seattle’s role in the 1890s Klondike gold rush with incredible photos, maps, personal letters, interactive exhibits, taxidermied animals, a replica of a miner’s cabin, and ranger-guided activities.
8. Seattle Pinball Museum
Seattle, WA 98104
A lot of people do know about this one, thanks to solid marketing efforts and Seattle’s robust pinball community, but we say it’s scrappy and small enough that it gets some “hidden museum” points. A labor of love created by a married couple who collected the machines over decades, the Seattle Pinball Museum opened in 2010 in a storefront in Chinatown International District and is a favorite of local pinheads. For 15 bucks, you have free access to play any and all of the 30-ish rotating machines, some of which date back to the 1960s.
9. Museum of Curious Things
Seattle, WA 98108
The Museum of Curious Things is just a classic Airstream packed with cool things, and it roves around Georgetown sometimes when it’s not traveling around the Northwest. The theme is Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe-esque, with cultural artifacts like “shrunken heads” (not really), a cat mummy, unusual taxidermied animals, a giant hairball, a collection of pressed butterflies, and wacky historical items such as George Washington’s death notice in the newspaper. One of the smaller museums in the Seattle area, but certainly one of the more entertaining ones.
10. Connections Museum
Seattle, WA 98108
Formerly known as the VIntage Telephone Equipment Museum, the extremely nerdy Connections Museum Seattle is tucked inside Centurylink’s nondescript, barely marked Duwamish Central Office building near the Museum of Flight and is stuffed with all kinds of weird telecom artifacts that chronicle the history of the telephone. The collection includes antique telephones, switchboards, amateur radio equipment, electromechanical central-office switches, working PBX equipment, old telephone poles and cables, a red British phone booth from 1936, and teletype equipment from the ‘20s.
11. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
Tacoma, WA 98405
The world’s largest private collection of original manuscripts and documents is right here in Tacoma, and admission is free. This museum, across the street from the Wright Park Arboretum, is one of 11 different locations of the Karpeles Manuscript Library scattered across the nation, all of which are in historic buildings. Artifacts are rotated among the museums every three months and feature historical documents, letters, manuscripts, and autographs. Past examples have included Darwin’s original manuscripts on science versus religion, the logbook from the Enola Gay, and a handwritten draft of “Madame Butterfly.”