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7 Smaller Museums to Explore Around Seattle

Annie Fanning

Published on: May 14, 2014

Aviation, computers, glass, the Gold Rush, history, paintings, rock music, science fiction, steamers; Our region's numerous museums are treasure troves of research, exploration and art on fascinating subjects. In these last few weeks of summer, why not explore one of the smaller gems around the Sound? Here are seven of our region's lesser-known museums to explore, including Puget Sound Navy Museum, Tacoma Art MuseumBellevue Arts Museum, Flying Heritage CollectionBurke MuseumWing Luke Museum and Edmonds South Snohomish County Historical Museum.

1. Puget Sound Navy Museum, Bremerton


Puget Sound Navy Museum, Parche sail

Built in 1896 as Administration Headquarters for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, historic Building 50 is now home to the Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton. One of 12 museums across the nation funded and operated by the U.S. Navy, PSNM collects, preserves and interprets the naval heritage of the Pacific Northwest, displaying relics of US Naval history from 1840 to present day.

Treasures: Treasures at the Navy Museum include the wardroom skylight of the Civil War gunboat USS Nipsic; a fire-alarm telegraph circa 1900s; a graphotype “dog-tag” machine; a paper-weight-sized piece of shrapnel extracted from USS Tennessee after Pearl Harbor; a scale model of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis; and the landing gear of a F-14 fighter jet.

Bremerton fountains

The jewel: Perhaps most famous for its untold secrets is the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Parche — the sail of which adorns the museum’s plaza in Bremerton. The Parche currently holds the title as the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy history. But why? That part is classified. Deactivated in 2004, the hull was scrapped, but her sail saved.

Location. 251 First St., Bremerton, a stone's throw from the Bremerton ferry landing. If you're in the Seattle area, considering walking on the ferry and walking to the museum.

Admission and hours: The Puget Sound Navy Museum is always free! Open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sunday 1–4 p.m.

Pair with: In the summer, do not miss the booming volcano-like fountains at the Bremerton Harborside Fountain Park behind the museum — it’s the perfect place for a picnic! For a quick bite, try a slice at Bostons Pizza Deli (206 Burwell St.).

SCharles Schreyvogel, The Last Drop, 1900. Oil on canvas

Tacoma Art Museum

Founded by volunteers in 1935 with a mission of connecting people through art, Tacoma Art Museum is a cornerstone of Tacoma’s museum district, championing art and artists of the Pacific Northwest through its collections, exhibitions and learning programs.

Treasures: The newest treasure at TAM is the addition of the Haub Family Galleries, which added 16,000 square feet of gallery space dedicated to art of the American west. The new art studio on the main floor (free to visitors, no admission required) is also a much brighter and bigger room than the previous space. Other works to seek out at TAM include Puyallup artist Shaun Peterson’s 20-foot-tall Welcome Figure, standing in Tollefson Plaza across from the museum; a giant moose head covered in sparkles (Sherry Markovitz’s Eternal Vigilance); and the sculpted Stone Wave made of enormous 500-year old stone pavers repurposed from a flooded village in China.

Leroy the Big Pup, Scott Fife

Jewel: Many might associate TAM with its collection of glass artist Dale Chihuly. But for something more cuddly check out Leroy, The Big Pup, a 10-foot puppy sculpture by Seattle artist Scott Fife that has become TAM’s floppy-eared mascot.

Location: 1701 Pacific Ave., right in downtown Tacoma. Find directions.

Pair with: Homemade soups, sandwiches, and salads at TAM’s Relish Café inside the museum, or grab something sweet from Hello, Cupcake (1740 Pacific Avenue). And it's a hop and skip to other awesome Tacoma museums, including Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass, Children's Museum of Tacoma (free, suggested donation) and LeMay America's Car Museum. 

Bellevue Arts Museum

Bellevue Arts Museum

Located in the heart of downtown Bellevue in a building designed by celebrated architect Steven Holl, Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) is kid-friendly by nature: With a mission dedicated to spotlighting the best of art, craft and design, its exhibits are engaging, innovative and paired with hands-on experiences and workshops. Its rotating all-ages “Imagination Stations,” for example, are free craft areas with supplies themed to match to the art on display.

Treasures: BAM has no permanent collection, but many treasures on display, including, currently, its annual woodworking exhibition (Knock on Wood, (through March 29). And look for BAM's affordable "Get Crafty" workshops on Saturdays. 

Location: 510 Bellevue Way N.E., right in downtown Bellevue.

Admission and hours: BAM is open Tuesday–Sunday: 11a.m.–6 p.m. $30/family (2 adults + 4 kids), or $10-$12 for individuals (free for kids 6 and under). Free the first Friday of the month.

Pair with: Lunch at renowned dumpling house Dai Tai Fung (700 Bellevue Way NE, #280) or grilled meat shawarma at Mediterranean Kitchen (103 Bellevue Way N E, #103) — they do an excellent vegetarian kibby, too!

Flying Heritage collection

Flying Heritage Collection, Paine Field, Everett

Paul Allen acquired and preserved the Flying Heritage Collection, a collection of iconic fighter planes from five nations, to honor his father, a World War II army veteran. The planes, which mostly date from 1935-1945, are restored to mint flying condition, and the collection also includes tanks, other military machines and the occasional rocket. The collection is housed inside two enormous hangars at Paine Field in Everett.

Treasures: Among the rare and deadly relics of the Flying Heritage Collection you will find: Tallahasse Lassie, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt flown by Seattle native Major Ralph Jenkins; a shark-toothed Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk, the choice of the famed “Flying Tigers”; a German V-2 Rocket capable of penetrating outer space; a 66,800-pound Sherman tank; and the only known Japanese “Oscar” fighter plane left in existence, too valuable to fly. Also don’t miss the oldest plane in the collection, a gleaming yellow wooden bi-plane, a 1918 Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. 

A jewel: For scrappy girl power, it's hard to beat the plane flown by Russian “night witches.”

Flying Heritage Collection, Polikarpov U-2/PO-2

The Polikarpov U-2/PO-2 is a dusky green bi-plane made of wood and canvas designed for dusting crops and used by the military for flight training. During World War II, a select group of heroic Russian women between the ages of 17 and 24 — the all-female 46th Guard Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces -- were trained to fly such planes in daring nighttime raids against the Germans. They were nicknamed nachthexen or “night witches” by the enemy they mercilessly harassed.

Location: Paine Field, Everett. Here's a map. On your way to Paine Field be on the lookout for road signs directing you to the Flying Heritage Collection. From Airport Road in Everett, go west on 112th St S.W. Make a right on 30th St. W. After a slight left onto 109th St. S.W., follow the signs to the museum. Free parking is available just outside the hangar facility.

Admission and hours: $10–$14 (free for kids 5 and under). In the summer, it's open 7 days a week from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Pair with: Lunch at the Hanami Sushi and Grill (11811 Mukilteo Expressway, Ste 109) or, in Everett, a good croissant sandwich at Café Dijon (1822 Broadway).

SeaTac sloth, Burke Museum

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle

Established in 1885, the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus is Washington State’s oldest museum. From baskets to beetles, you’ll find a fascinating array of cultural artifacts from the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Rim, as well as natural history specimens from Washington and beyond.

The treasures: Among the treasures on ongoing display at the Burke, you can see: a 50-million-year-old fossilized flower from a Klondike Mountain formation in Republic, Wash.; a stuffed platypus no bigger than a loaf of bread; Tlingit Chief Shake’s Bear Mask from early 1800s Alaska; the third largest topaz in the world; an intriguing island navigation chart made out of bamboo and cowry shells from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia; and the oldest known fossils of a baleen whale.

The jewel: Keeping company with an enormous reconstructed mastodon skeleton, you’ll find one of the museum’s greatest paleontological treasures: the SeaTac Sloth. Discovered during construction at SeaTac International Airport in 1961, this fossilized skeleton of a giant ground sloth was found well preserved and remarkably complete. Also known as Megalonyx or “great claw,” the giant ground sloth lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Location: 17th Avenue N.E. and N.E. 45th St., Seattle. The Burke Museum is in the northwest corner of the University of Washington campus. Parking is available next to the museum through UW’s parking services for $15 on weekdays, $5 on Saturdays before noon, and free after noon on Saturdays and all day Sunday.

Admission and hours: Open 7 days a week from 10 a.m.–5 p.m Admission $10/adults, $8/seniors, and $7.50/students and youth over age 5.

Wing Luke, shoes

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle

Like the socially responsible remodel of its historic building, the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s International District preserves the past while influencing the future. The Wing’s exhibits chronicle the Asian-American experience, its joy and heartbreak intertwined with the bittersweet themes of civil rights, social justice and community pride.

Treasures: Among the many amazing artifacts at the Wing, you will find: a shaman’s sword from Laos; the reprehensibly named “Iron Chink,” the salmon-filleting machine that replaced skilled workers; a tro, a traditional Khmer bowed instrument; a lion dance costume from the Mak Fai Martial Arts School; and the sign plaque from the Federal Immigration Center on Airport Way, where Japanese were detained in Seattle during WWII.

A jewel: It's tough to choose, but the most iconic object in the museum’s collection might be a simple pair of shoes, of the sort that Chinese laborers wore. Given to Wing Luke personally by a local merchant who found them in a forgotten storeroom, these shoes reminded Civil Rights leader Wing Luke of his own immigration experience as a 6-year-old child, from China to Seattle’s University District where his family ran a laundry. The shoes inspired Luke to think about an Asian heritage museum — a dream that he would unfortunately not live to see realized. Fans of Bruce Lee should also not miss the exhibit Do You Know Bruce"? at the museum.

Location: 719 S. King St., Seattle. The museum is walking distance from the Chinatown-International District bus tunnel station and accessible by Link Light Rail.

Admission and hours: $8.95–$12.95 (free for kids 5 and under), which includes a guided tour of the historic hotel. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Pair with: Dim-sum at House of Hong (409 8th Ave. S.) or try the fresh spring rolls and vermicelli dishes at Green Leaf Vietnamese (418 8th Ave. S). Check out Hing Hay Park and Uwajimaya, too, and the Seattle Pinball Museum.

Edmonds South-Snohomish County Historical Museum, Edmonds

For a jolly jaunt back in time, visit the Edmonds South-Snohomish County Historical Museum. Located in the beautifully restored 1910 Carnegie Library in downtown Edmonds, this museum is rich with details from the historic mill town and the surrounding area’s colorful past.

Treasures:  Among the many artifacts from life on the forested frontier and the logging and timber mill industry boom, you will find a class photo from 1888 posed in front of the Edmonds school house; a diorama of the Edmond’s waterfront circa 1910; a 1905 wall-mounted pigeonhole post office; a real 1922 jail cell complete with graffiti; and a steamboat in the famed Mosquito Fleet.

The jewel:  The museum has a small but fascinating collection of detailed dioramas produced by talented miniaturists with an eye for historical detail — including an enchanting train set winding its way through mountain passes to a tiny turn-of-the-century town.

Rivaling the toy locomotive for most kid appeal may be the museum’s shingle-style Victorian dollhouse. Peering inside the exquisite dollhouse, you can see handmade needlepoint pillows, etched glass windows, hand-cast brick, and even family ancestral portraits in tiny frames.

Location: 118 5th Ave. N., Edmonds.  Right in downtown Edmonds.

Admission: Suggested donation of $5/adults and $2/students. 

Pair with: On summer Saturdays, hit the summer market in downtown Edmonds for fresh produce, flowers, and handcrafted treasures. Edmonds abounds with more family fun, from beaches to  parks to a movie theater.

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