Can Seattle stay weird? As construction continues to boom around the city, my family, like many longtime residents, has worried about whether Seattle will lose its quirky character. We’ve taken solace from an unusual source: the new Amazon Spheres.
Amid a sea of high-rises, those greenhouse domes prove that Seattle hasn’t completely abandoned its love of the eccentric. We may have lost The Blob on Queen Anne and the historic Central District house built by Gold Rush rogue George Carmack, but Seattle has plenty of weirdness left for those who know where to look.
We’ve put together a list of (mostly) obscure, only-in-Seattle landmarks that are fun to visit in the summer. Naturally, we’ve focused on those that kids will enjoy, so no matter how much you might love it, you won’t find the “Singles” building (at 19th Avenue E. and E. Thomas Street) on this list.
This story was updated in May 2018.
Lake View Cemetery
Capitol Hill, Seattle
Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill has been a pilgrimage site for martial arts and film fans for decades. So many people visit the graves of Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon, that the cemetery provides a map on its website. Pay your respects and then head to the Chinatown–International District to visit the Wing Luke Museum, currently showing the fourth exhibit in a series about groundbreaking artist, philosopher and actor Bruce Lee.
Pro tip: After a spin through the cemetery, visit nearby Volunteer Park, where kids can run around and, depending on the weather, cool off in the wading pool or warm up in the Conservatory. Early next year, you can add fine arts to your martial arts pilgrimage when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens after renovations.
Info: Free. 1554 15th Ave. E., Seattle
Various locations, Seattle
In about 2008, a series of whimsical murals started appearing around Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Each quixotic painting was populated by surreal animal characters and signed “Henry.” Artist Ryan Henry Ward exploded on the Seattle scene through sheer persistence. At times homeless and working for free in the early days, he has now sold more than 2,000 canvases, yet he still makes murals. You’ll find more than 200 Henry murals around Seattle, with the highest concentration near his studio in Ballard. Start your search for Henrys with the goldfish house at Nickerson Street by the Fremont Bridge, and end at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood, which also sports a Henry.
Pro tip: Once you know about Henry murals, you’ll spot them all over town, but if you like to be efficient, search online to find them faster.
Info: Free. All over Seattle.
Luna Park Cafe
Alas, distant memory is all that’s left of Luna Park, the West Seattle amusement park that was once considered the Coney Island of the West. It closed down in 1913. But more than 100 years later, the memory lives on in the Luna Park Café, the artifact-filled, family-friendly diner that has been serving up nostalgia and fries since 1989. Kids especially love the Batman-themed car in the café.
Pro tip: Are you a two-café kind of family? Emerald Kitty, West Seattle’s cat café, is filled with adoptable kitties and only a three-minute walk away.
Info: 2918 S.W. Avalon Way, Seattle
This famous, always-gross landmark originated in the 1990s, when clubbers standing in line for shows in Post Alley used the walls to dispose of their gum. In 2015, the city cleaned up the wall — removing 2,350 pounds of chewed gum — but visitors quickly restored the landmark to its sticky glory. Today, it’s as good a photo op as ever.
Pro tip: If you’re inclined to make a personal contribution to the wall, nearby Ghost Alley Espresso sells gum.
Info: Free. 1428 Post Alley, Seattle
Every child familiar with fairy tales knows that trolls live under bridges. Fortunately, the Fremont Troll underneath the north end of the Aurora Bridge doesn’t eat billy goats or people. The ironic self-portrait of artist Steve Badanes is quite happy eating bugs (of the Volkswagen variety). It used to be possible to hang out with the troll by yourself, but nowadays the troll is crawling with people at all hours of the day and night.
Pro tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, check out Fremont’s other public art pieces, such as the ivy dinosaurs and the oft-decorated “Waiting for the Interurban” and Lenin statues. Use the walking guide at fremont.com to help you find them all.
Info: Free. Underneath the Aurora Bridge on Troll Avenue N. at the intersection of N. 36th Street, Seattle
Hat ’n’ Boots
No Seattle landmark list would be complete without the Hat ’n’ Boots, a 22-foot-high set of cowboy boots and 44-foot-wide orange hat that dominate Oxbow Park in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Seattle artist Lewis Nasmyth originally designed the structures to house a gas station in Georgetown. In the 1950s, it was the most successful roadside attraction in Washington state, but its kitschy appeal wasn’t enough to draw customers off the newly completed Interstate 5 in the 1960s. Eventually, the beloved boots (and the hat) were saved when the City of Seattle recognized it as a historic landmark and moved it to Oxbow Park.
Pro tip: Oxbow Park has a small play structure. Or head to the cool new playground at Georgetown Playfield, a half-mile away, before filling up at nearby Flying Squirrel Pizza Company.
Info: Free. 6430 Corson Ave. S., Seattle
Museum of History and Industry
Lake Union Park, Seattle
Much of Seattle’s funky past has been paved over, making it impossible to see past favorite landmarks “in the wild.” But the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), at Lake Union Park, has saved some of the best artifacts for display. You can see the Toe Truck with its 11.5-foot-tall, cab-mounted, bright pink toes; the original neon “R” that marked the Rainier Brewery for 50 years; and other locally significant objects.
Pro tip: Play at Lake Union Park before or after your MOHAI visit. Splash in the fountains, pedal on the paths and sail toy boats on the pond (weekends, $5).
Info: Admission to MOHAI: $19.95 adult; kids 14 and younger free. 860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle
South Lake Union
And about those Amazon Spheres: You can tour the three greenhouse domes (they are home to a 65-foot green wall and 40,000 plants) for free. But it takes some wrangling, as the Spheres are (understandably) very popular. At press time, there were two ways to visit.
The first is to book a 90-minute tour of Amazon HQ, which happens twice on most Wednesdays and includes some time in the Spheres. Tours are limited to ages 6 and older.
The second is to go during a public visiting day, which happens two Saturdays per month (no age restrictions). You have to register online, and new reservations open up 30 days in advance (and when people cancel), so keep checking back.