Seattle Center Walking Tour, Seattle

Seattle Center Walking Tour (Self Guided), Seattle

Just north of Downtown you will find the ever-popular Seattle Center – a 74-acre (30-hectare) park and arts and entertainment center. Developed for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition (World's Fair), it contains many Seattle landmarks, including the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, and the highly interactive Museum of Pop Culture. It is also the place where the city's biggest festivals, concerts, film screenings and theatrical performances are held. Follow this self-guided walk to contemplate the futuristic buildings, take in the festive atmosphere, and wonder what it was like during the World's Fair.
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Seattle Center Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Seattle Center Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Seattle (See other walking tours in Seattle)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Space Needle
  • Pacific Science Center
  • Mural Amphitheater
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass
  • Seattle Children's Museum
  • International Fountain
  • Seattle Center Armory
  • Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center
Space Needle

1) Space Needle (must see)

Only one World's Fair was the setting for an Elvis Presley movie ("It Happened at the World's Fair") and that was the one held in Seattle in 1962. However, most Seattle residents are proudest of the fair's most tangible legacy: the internationally recognized Space Needle. Built in 1962, the 605ft (184-meter) structure was a marvel of design and engineering that cost $4.5 million. The centerpiece of the fair, the flying-saucer shape was chosen from many designs.

With a restaurant 500 ft above ground and an observation deck just above, the Space Needle offers some of the city's best views: to the east are Lake Union, the immensely larger Lake Washington and the distant Cascade Range; westward, Elliott Bay opens into Puget Sound in front of the Olympic Mountains; and southeast is the snowcapped peak of Mount Rainier, 60 miles (100km) away. The revolving restaurant, SkyCity, provides a 360-degree view. As diners enjoy tasty – if expensive – Northwest cuisine, the restaurant completes a rotation every 47 minutes with the aid of a 1.5 horsepower motor.

One floor up, the Observation Deck level has free-to-use telescopes on the outside deck, and a variety of graphic displays inside to help visitors orient themselves. Also inside is a coffee counter and bar to help warm up in cold weather.

Back on the ground, directly east of the Space Needle is the Seattle Center's Sculpture Garden, which has four distinctive artworks by different artists. Perhaps the best known of the four is Olympic Iliad, a huge red-and-orange sculpture made of gigantic industrial tubes, designed by Alexander Lieberman.

Why You Should Visit:
The new renovations have you in awe right off the elevator. Lots of glass and lots of view, and you also get to go to the lower section to stand on the revolving floor and look down (which is very cool). Other than that, the virtual reality bungee jumping experience at the base is free (yes, even if you don't have a ticket!).

Try to get your tickets and your reservations for the café a few days in advance – especially if visiting on a weekend. Note that if you eat at the (rather expensive) restaurant, you can go to the viewing tower free of charge, but if you do it in reverse the deal is called off. Note also that you're *not* required to print out the tickets when purchasing them online – just open the email you receive after the purchase, click the link to view tickets and then present them for scanning.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–8pm
Pacific Science Center

2) Pacific Science Center (must see)

The first U.S. museum founded as a science and technology center, the Pacific Science Center aims at advancing public knowledge and interest in science. Designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center in New York, its five buildings contain interactive exhibits, two IMAX theaters, the Butterfly House, an excellent planetarium, and laser shows that feature music synced up to lasers.

Hands-on math and basic science exhibits delight school-age children, and other exhibits excite the inquiring mind with demonstrations of virtual reality, computer science, and robotics. Two of the many exciting permanent exhibits are 'Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time', which features eight full- and half-size robotic dinosaurs that roar; and the 'Insect Village', inhabited by live and robotic insects, and a beehive.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the better science centers in the US considering the variety of options available and the level of detail.
They offer different plans, either for the exhibits alone or with the movies (plenty of movie offerings, too).
The gift shop is very nice and full of many well-priced items for taking home as gifts.

If looking to do lots of things downtown, make sure you take advantage of the CityPass as it will save you 40-50% and you can knock out lots of attractions.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am–5pm; Sat, Sun: 10am–6pm (Spring/Summer);
Wed-Fri: 10am–5pm; Sat, Sun: 10am–6pm (Autumn/Winter)
Mural Amphitheater

3) Mural Amphitheater

One of the best places to for live outdoor concerts and film festivals in Seattle (The Emerald City) is at the Mural Amphitheater – an outdoor venue set against the backdrop of the world-famous Space Needle in the very heart of Seattle. Its main highlight is the 60-ft long cycloramic wall mural created by Japanese artist Paul Horiuchi in 1962 in his signature collage technique, featuring 54 panels of Italian-made Venetian glass with 160 color variations, which additionally provide a sound-reflecting acoustic backdrop for the stage. The theater itself, a terraced lawn, was designed by local architect Paul Thiry, known as the father of architectural modernism in the PNW.

In summer, the amphitheater hosts 'Movies at the Mural', a well-attended series of free outdoor evening movies. Since the surrounding area has plenty of food options, a picnic could also be a good idea on a nice day. With the Chihuly Garden steps away, and a beer garden, there is little more you need.
Chihuly Garden and Glass

4) Chihuly Garden and Glass (must see)

For an aesthetic escape, slip into the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum between the Space Needle and the Seattle Center Armory. Chronicling the work and inspiration behind legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly, the museum includes eight galleries, a magnificent 4,500-sq-ft (418-sq-meter) "glasshouse" holding a 100 ft (30-meter) sculpture (one of the artist's largest suspended works), a multi-use theater and lecture space, and a stunning garden featuring colorful installations, glass-making demos, and major works that integrate with a dynamic Northwest landscape comprising native plants.

Chihuly, who was born and raised in Tacoma, WA, took active part in designing the exhibition as well as the quirky Collections Café, where you will find the artist's personal collections on display – everything from ceramic dolls to vintage radios/cameras to masks to antique shaving brushes. Indeed, so many of Chihuly's personal touches are contained in the exhibition space that you can almost feel his presence in every room.

Why You Should Visit:
Each part of this museum is gorgeous – a remarkable tribute to Chihuly's creativity. There are no walls or fences to shield off the art from visitors, letting them get as up-close and personal as they would wish (without touching, of course). Chihuly is just a mastermind at his art, and the garden is clever in how the works copy/complement natural shapes.

Since this exhibit doesn't take too long, try getting tickets at or after 4pm if possible, as they are significantly discounted.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am–7pm; Fri, Sat: 10am–8pm
Seattle Children's Museum

5) Seattle Children's Museum

The brainchild of a group of creative Seattle parents who formed a nonprofit organization in 1979 to educate their children in an entertaining and informative way, this museum started with a single exhibit but currently features 18,000 sq feet of play space with a dozen hands-on, interactive, and child-size exhibits on world culture, art, technology, and the humanities. Those looking to really have a great time should come on a weekday, as the place gets pretty packed and hectic otherwise.

There's plenty of activity and play adventure for those in the age 1-5 range to entertain themselves with, be it the little supermarket, post office, or construction zone – all of which are big hits. Parents can do in and outs, and must accompany their child to supervise them, as this is definitely not a daycare for drop offs! Unless they bring their own meal, families are offered good options in the food court upstairs, so after the kids play, they can be fed right away before falling asleep for a nap.

Why You Should Visit:
A great way to combine education and vacation for young children; clean and well-structured, with hands-on learning about real-world activities. Close proximity to the best outdoor play structures in King County, too – and if you head out on a clear day, kids will also love the nearby International Fountain.

Ask at the desk about the jungle gym with huge slides and go there first if you so desire.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
International Fountain

6) International Fountain

Originally designed by Tokyo-based architects for the 1962 'Century 21 Exposition' (or the World's Fair), the International Fountain is in an open area near the heart of the Seattle Center. Rebuilt in 1995 (thus bearing no resemblance to the 1960s original), the current "human-friendly" design features a bowl with a diameter of 220 ft (67 meters), a 10ft (3-meter) -tall dome and 274 nozzles spraying mist and shooting jets of water (the highest reaches 120 ft, or 37 meters – now that is definitely something to see!). The nozzles are also set to play 12-minute water shows, choreographed to different pieces of music playing over loud speakers.

On sunny days, families picnic on the modern-landscaped grassy area around the fountain, and children flock to the fountain bowl to dart and dance among the jets. It was reported that the water undergoes three recycling treatments, making it the cleanest water in Seattle.
Seattle Center Armory

7) Seattle Center Armory

Originally built as an armory in 1939, this stately building, newly named Seattle Center Armory, housed half-ton tanks and the 146th Field Artillery. It was remodeled in 2012 and now contains a large food court with an impressive array of popular eateries like Mod Pizza, Premier Meat Pies, the great Plum Pantry vegan bistro, as well as the arts- and culture-oriented Children's Museum, and a performance area where 3,000 free public performances are held each year. In short, there's a lot to choose from when getting a quick bite or sitting for a meal, but one might also bump into several interesting exhibits with all sorts of vendors, ethnic food, performers, and even African wears. There's something for everyone and there's a lot of seating available inside. Come on in and see what you will find!

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 7am–9pm; Fri, Sat: 7am–10pm
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day
Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame

8) Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame (must see)

The Museum of Pop Culture or MoPOP (previously called EMP Museum) is a nonprofit museum dedicated to contemporary popular culture. It was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000 as the Experience Music Project. Since that time, MoPOP has organized dozens of exhibits, 17 of which have toured across the US and internationally.

At first, the EMP Museum did not succeed financially and the Sci-Fi Museum & Hall of Fame was established in 2004. Although the latter as a permanent collection was de-installed in March 2011, a new exhibit named Icons of Science Fiction took its place in 2012, at which time the new Hall of Fame display was unveiled. Nominations are submitted by the public but the selections are made by "award-winning science fiction authors, artists, editors, publishers, and film professionals."

A 140,000-sq-ft (13,000 m2) building, designed by Frank O. Gehry, MoPOP houses several galleries and the Sky Church, which features a Barco C7 black package LED screen, one of the largest indoor LED screens in the world. Exhibits cover pop culture, from the art of fantasy, horror cinema, and video games to science fiction literature and costumes from screen and stage. Fans of Seattle musicians Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix will also want to browse through the largest collections in the world of artifacts, hand-written lyrics, personal instruments, and original photos celebrating their music and history.

With interactive activities included in galleries like Sound Lab and On Stage, visitors can explore hands-on the tools of rock and roll through instruments, and perform music before a virtual audience. Furthermore, they can experience IF VI WAS IX, a guitar sculpture consisting of more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers that makes for a great photo op!

Why You Should Visit:
A good idea for a museum, and the design and architecture are also worthy of notice.

Either get a CityPass (available inside) or a combo ticket to the Space Needle and Chihuly's Garden and Glass exhibit to bring the price down. If you're short on time, dare to ask when buying ticket/s if there's a way to reenter the following day.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–5pm (Sep 3–May 23); 10am–7pm (May 24–Sep 2). Closed on Wednesday
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center

9) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center

Considering it's free to visit and only a quick walk from the Space Needle area, a walk to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is recommended to learn about the legacy this family seeks to leave. The inspiring stories, cool innovations, and impacts presented are quite interesting and should make you feel a little bit better about humanity.

If you don't have time for the tour, there are plenty of displays, videos and interactive kiosks to view, including some hands-on things for the kids (and adults and teens) towards the back room, and lots of questions and topics to get you really thinking how we can each "make a difference" (e.g., the little topic cards placed all around the Center encourage visitors to volunteer, learn, use their voice, show kindness, donate, or raise money for their own causes) – so, if anything, you will learn something and be inspired to do your part, too. There's a great attention to displaying the various exhibit portions in an eye-pleasing way, while also allowing for the video/sound components of exhibits to be appreciated – all without being too distracting to those viewing other portions of the space.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–5pm

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