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Go on a City Scavenger Hunt

Explore the hidden corners of Seattle on this urban art hunt for kids

Published on: October 30, 2018

mural of seattle

Art museums are a lot more welcoming to children than they used to be, but for lots of kids (and parents, too) exploring a museum is not quite as much fun as exploring the outdoors. Fortunately, art doesn’t always live inside, especially in Seattle. Take the kids on an urban art hunt that’ll have them discovering, climbing and snapping photos in hidden corners all around the city.

painted poles

Rainier Valley Art Interruptions

In this series of temporary installations, seven artists celebrate the Rainier Valley. Between now and July 2019, find painted poles, decorated fences, portraits of community gardeners, multilingual sidewalk art and more distributed along the zigzagging length of 46th Avenue S. between Othello and Henderson streets. 

Tunnel Portals

Take a family bike ride on the Lake Washington Loop for a closer look than a  glimpse from the freeway can give you of the bas-relief panels at the east portals of the Mount Baker Tunnel on Interstate 90. The portals, capturing Northwest Coast Native American motifs, were designed in 1940 by Seattle-born James Herbert Fitzgerald, considered the preeminent Northwest artist of his time.

‘Short Cut’

You can’t miss Rachel the Pig at Pike Place Market, but kids will need sharp eyes to spot Dan Webb’s “Short Cut,” a series of seven light-bulb-holding human figures scattered along The Hill-climb to Western Avenue. Pike Place Market is crawling with public art; use the Pike Place Pocket Guide to find more art while you make your way through the Market.

SAM sculptures

Want more?

Since 1973, Seattle’s 1 Percent for Art program has ensured that 1 percent of the cost of municipal capital improvement projects be applied to public art. There are now 400 permanent public art installations (and more than 3,000 temporary and portable ones) throughout the city. Down-load the free STQRY (pronounced “story”) app to find more public art near you.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Don’t forget the cornucopia of public art at the Olympic Sculpture Park, the free outdoor branch of Seattle Art Museum. Winding from the intersection of Broad Street and Western Avenue down to the waterfront, the sculpture  park’s art ranges from the quixotic to the monumental. Mother Nature contributes as well with priceless views of Elliott Bay.

Murals galore

Despite their size, murals on private property can be ephemeral things. Many famous paintings have been lost to development (such as Robert Wyland’s three whale murals that were once downtown). More recently, local artist Henry has generated his own scavenger hunt’s worth of quirky designs across the city. The newest addition to the city’s public/private mural collection is on a Metropolitan Market parking garage wall at First Avenue and Roy Street on Lower Queen Anne. The mural, by John Osgood and Zach Bohnenkamp, features the Space Needle, the Washington state bird and flower, Mount Rainier and Puget Sound sea life. 

Dancer’s Steps

There’s so much to see on Capitol Hill that it’s tempting to gawk as you walk down Broadway, but don’t forget to look down. You’ll find art literally embedded at your feet, thanks to artist Jack Mackie. In 1979, Mackie installed bronze footsteps in the sidewalk between Pine and Roy streets that diagram eight dances (including a couple you’ve never heard of).

‘Black Sun’

Artist Isamu Noguchi may be known for paper lamps, but there is nothing fragile about “Black Sun,” the 30-ton granite sculpture in Volunteer Park framing a view of the Space Needle. Kids may not care if it inspired local band Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” but they can’t resist climbing up to peek through the opening. Nearby, the beloved camels at the Seattle Asian Art Museum are off-limits while the museum is closed for renovation until next year. However, kids can still climb around on the playground north of the museum.

The Troll

The funky Fremont neighborhood is home to so much public art that the neighborhood has put out a walking guide; for kids, the troll under the Aurora Bridge is sure to be the favorite. Inspired by the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” fairy tale, artist Steve Badanes used rebar, wire, concrete and a Volkswagen Beetle to re-create the story. See another fairy-tale character, Rapunzel, letting down her long neon hair at the Fremont Bridge as you walk from the billy goats’ troll to the Fainting Goat for gelato.


Sasquatch Pushing Over a House

You may never see Sasquatch hiking in the woods, but at the University Playground (4745 Ninth Ave. N.E.), Rich Beyer’s Sisyphean aluminum creature has been trying to knock over a house frame since the early 1980s. Bonus: The sculpture is on the playground and almost with-in sight of the University District Farmers Market, held on Sundays.

‘A Sound Garden’

“A Sound Garden” is the most iconic public artwork on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) local campus. Douglas Hollis’ organ-like pipes make sounds in the wind that inspired  the band Soundgarden’s name. Get a pass from the security guard (photo ID required) at the Sand Point Way entry on weekdays, 8 a.m.–4 p.m., or enter through Magnuson Park’s off-leash area between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays. Once inside, you can find several other public artworks on the campus. (Note that “Berth Haven” is no longer accessible due to decay.) 

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