Seattle has such a distinctive personality. It's the birthplace of grunge... which, for most people, conjures images of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, but applies to so much more than just a musical style that really came from the city. The style and the attitude of grunge can be found all over Seattle, from its coffee shops and bookstores to its hotels and museums. Grab your best flannel and head to the Emerald City to immerse yourself in the city's grunge culture.
I know, Pike Place Market seems more touristy than authentically grungy, but the city's most literally grungy attraction happens to be located here. The Market Theater Gum Wall has some pretty humble origins: employees of the Market Theater just started sticking their used gum on the wall of the building, and it spiraled way out of control: when they scraped it clean in 2015, they removed over 200 pounds of gum... and within hours, people started adding their ABC wads of bazooka back on the wall. Bring a pack of gum and add to the oddity yourself; Just be warned... it kind of smells pretty putrid.
If you're in the market for an edgy new haircut, Vain is the salon to go to. If you're not looking to change up your style quite that drastically, it's also a boutique where you can find accessories, jewelry, candles, makeup, and tons more. Bonus: one of the locations used to be a music venue called The Vogue, where Nirvana played one of their first shows.
The Crocodile is one of the city's most iconic music venues. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and more have played here, and they maintain their reputation as a place to see up-and-coming acts that might just be the next big thing. Plus, as far as music venues go, it's pretty well laid out and makes for a pleasant and intimate spot to hear some killer music. It's every bit as low-key and fun as you think it'll be... plus they now have a back bar with a wood-fired pizza oven.
Seattle-style hot dogs are a hidden gem. It's a Polish sausage that's been split in half and covered in cream cheese, grilled onions, sauerkraut, jalapenos, and a squirt of mustard. As if that isn't grungy and greasy enough for you, Shorty's serves them up in a delightfully weird clown-themed dive bar atmosphere, with lots of vintage pinball machines to add to the fun.
Seattle's EMP Museum is easily one of the coolest and most fascinating museums in the country. Its main focus is pop culture, with an emphasis on music, games, and sci-fi. They have massive collections of Hendrix and Nirvana memorabilia, along with special galleries dedicated to topics like Star Trek, indie games, horror movies, and more. Plus, they have a hip hop artist residency, maker faires, film festivals dedicated to sci fi shorts, and tons more cool stuff that really sets them apart.
Hotel Max is easily the most effortlessly cool lodging in the Emerald City, which isn't something to scoff at when the city in question is highly regarded as one of the coolest in America.
For starters, there's a Pillow Menu. Each guest gets a special menu where they can choose from six different pillow options ranging from "soft" to "extra firm", with extras like neck and body pillows delivered to your room as well. There's also a Spiritual Menu, where you can have books on every religion, from Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and more, sent directly to your room. Heck, they've even got a Spiritual Menu for your pet, complete with inspirational books on everything from dog massage to pet psychology.
And you won't find the same, mass-produced painting of fruit bowls and sailboats in every room. Hotel Max also doubles as a kind of local art gallery, showcasing a wide variety of incredible works from area artists on each floor. You can easily spend a few hours wandering the halls just to see all the great pieces on display. In a way, you're sleeping in an art gallery.
Oh yeah, and when you're in a city synonymous with some of the most influential music in history, you'd probably expect Hotel Max to give a nod to the local music scene, but as is their style, they've gone ahead and dedicating an entire floor to honoring Sub Pop Records, the label that launched bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden into pop-culture orbit. The entire fifth floor of the hotel is crammed with Sub Pop paraphernalia, from posters of beloved Pacific Northwest bands adorning each room, to racks of curated vinyl records in the halls, to a looping rotation of Sub Pop music on every television.
When it comes to grunge, there isn't always a lot of rhyme or reason to anything... and that seems to be the case with the mysterious Haunted Soda Machine. The antiquated machine sits alone on a sidewalk, wrapped in dents and faded graffiti, and you wouldn't be faulted for thinking it didn't actually work. But upon closer inspection, it's clear to see that the machine is plugged in, its yellowing backlights still flickering. What makes this machine so mysterious doesn't lie in its appearance, but in its stock. For seventy-five cents, the machine randomly conjures up a rainbow of bizarre flavors, many of which don't even exist anymore, but even stranger than the mystery flavors is where they come from. In almost two decades, no one has ever seen someone stock the machine. In fact... no one even knows who it belongs to, just that is never seems to run out.
Jimi didn't play grunge music per se but he was a rock legend, and he hailed from Seattle. Bring a guitar pick or a little souvenir to leave on this bronze statue as a tribute.
Something about the rainy weather in Seattle just makes you want to curl up with a good book... and you'll be able to find the perfect title at Elliott Bay Books. The indie store is huge (big enough that you can truly get lost among the shelves) and has a great mix of new books, classic reads, magazines, and other bookstore-ish items.
Originally opened as Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café in 1992 and re-launched in 2003 as Neumo's Crystal Ball Reading Room (BKA Neumo's), this is another great place to catch a live show. Bush, Oasis, Better Than Ezra, Goo Goo Dolls, and Garbage played early shows here, and their calendar features tons of indie acts worth checking out.
Coffee shops are another huge part of Seattle's culture. Tougo is a classic that checks all of the Seattle coffee boxes: great espresso, local art, good music, an Instagram-ready atmosphere, baked goods, and just a touch of pretentiousness.
Many rock fans make a point to make a pilgrimage to Kurt Cobain's house on a trip to Seattle. This is home where Cobain and Courtney Love lived, and where Cobain ended his own life. Love stopped making payments on it and it was eventually auctioned off, so it's on private property. The new owners, however, don't seem mind if you want to check out the house from the street (respectfully, of course) and there are some memorials to Cobain in next door Viretta Park.
Seattle has some pretty cool public art, too. The Fremont Troll was built underneath the George Washington Bridge as a way to help clean up the area. Trolls have been kind of a motif in the Fremont area for decades, and the massive sculpture pays tribute to that history. He's pretty big (as you can see, he's holding a vintage VW Beetle for comparison) and you're encourage to climb up!
Seattle's trendy foodie scene is respectable, but they also have some no-frills classic restaurants that are worth trying, too. Mike's Chili Parlor is a standard dive that's been around since the 1920s, serving up burgers, beer, and chili. It's cash only, and has outdoor seating... and let's be real, it's the perfect meal for a cold, grey Seattle day.
You can't leave this music mecca without at least browsing some vinyl. Sonic Boom is an indie shop with a huge selection of new and used CDs, LPs, books, DVDs, and more. They also put on some rad live shows and events, so plan your visit accordingly.
Now that you've experienced the grunge, it's time to dress the part. Flannel shirts, ripped jeans, vintage t's and more can be found at the Ballard Goodwill. You don't need anything fancy... just something comfy and a little effortless.