Explore Seattle

A Guide to Seattle’s Art Museums

Discover a variety of art that satisfies every taste at these four Seattle museums.

FROM ANCIENT TO ENLIGHTENMENT to modern art, from photography to decorative arts to glass, the cities of Seattle and Tacoma have a thriving art scene. Their world-class museums are at the heart of this tasteful culture, making art accessible to everyone.

Seattle Art Museum

The main building of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is located in Downtown Seattle. Collections include geographical and historical pieces and feature ancient American, Australian Aboriginal, Islamic and Oceanic art as well as European, Modern and Contemporary art, plus decorative arts and design such as tapestries, vases and furniture. Make sure you visit the outdoor Olympic Structure Park too. Located about five minutes northwest of SAM, it features a wide range of abstract sculptures, such as “The Eagle,” which towers over the landscape in bright red, and three sets of benches shaped like eyes. While visiting SAM, be sure to check out “Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India,” which showcases four centuries of artistic creations from the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur. Many of these treasures have never been outside of the palace walls and most have never traveled to the United States. One other exhibit you won’t want to miss is “New Topographics.” Featuring mostly black-and-white photographs of “man-altered landscapes”—primarily new housing developments—these photographs became an important milestone in photographic history due to their departure from the traditional subjects of scenic natural landscapes. 1300 First Ave., 206.654.3100.

Seattle Art Museum exhibit
(©Al Pavangkanan/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Frye Art Museum

The Frye Art Museum focuses on paintings and sculptures from the 19th century to the present. Opened in 1952, it was Seattle’s first free museum and remains free to this day. The museum was founded by Charles and Emma Frye, who gifted their personal collection in perpetuity to the people of Seattle. That collection, known as the “Founding Collection,” features a range of portraits and landscapes from such artists as William A. Bouguereau, Franz von Defregger and Henry Raschen. Current exhibitions include “Group Therapy,” which centers around interactive projects and immersive installations to comment on the practices of alternative medicine, psychotherapy and the wellness industry, as well as “Quenton Baker: Ballast,” an examination of being black in an anti-black society interpreted through the lens of a slave revolt that took place in 1833. 704 Terry Ave., 206.622.9250.

Frye Art Museum interior
(Courtesy Frye Art Museum)


Tacoma Art Museum was originally founded by a group of volunteers and has since grown into a nationally recognized museum. With a strong emphasis on Northwestern art, notable collections include the largest retrospective of glass art by Dale Chihuly; the largest collection of studio art jewelry; the first major museum collection of Western American art in the Pacific Northwest—the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art; 19th-century European and 20thcentury American art; as well as Japanese woodblock prints. The most recently opened exhibition, “Sun, Shadows, Stone: The Photography of Terry Toedtemeier,” showcases “beautifully haunting” photographs of the Pacific Northwest and its unique geology. A self-taught photographer, Toedtemeier sought to capture dramatic images of places that have been shaped first by natural disaster, then by humans. 1701 Pacific Ave., 253.272.4258.


Dale Chihuly is a Tacoma native and internationally renowned glass artist whose work has been included in more than 200 collections worldwide. Chihuly Garden & Glass houses eight galleries, three drawing walls, a 40-foot-tall glasshouse, an exhibition garden and a theater, all displaying the glass works of Dale Chihuly. The glasshouse displays one of Chihuly’s largest suspended structures; made with reds, oranges, yellows and ambers, the structure’s appearance varies depending on the time of day. The garden is anchored by four monumental sculptures, and the trees, plants and flowers provide a rich backdrop for Chihuly’s art, such as the Crystal and Icicle Towers, which tower over the surrounding flora. The theater plays short videos on Chihuly’s work so that visitors can peek into the creation of his tremendous artwork. 305 Harrison St., 206.753.4940.

Chihuly glass sculpture
(©Matthew Warner/Flickr, Creative Commons)