Ferries Illustration by Kelly Thompson

Icons Renewed

In 1907, a handful of farmers hoping to bypass the middleman and sell their produce directly to customers led to the opening of Pike Place Market. In 1959, the Space Needle was a sketch on a coffee house napkin, a space-age centerpiece for the 1962 World’s Fair. In 2015, three transparent biospheres began to take shape on the edge of downtown, unlike anything the city had seen before. As Seattle evolves, so have its iconic structures and institutions. From expansions and rebrands to entirely new groundbreakings, all are worth a spot on your itinerary.

The Spheres Illustration by Kelly Thompson

The Spheres 

The new icon on the block—or three city blocks, to be exact—is a trio of interconnected glass domes in South Lake Union. The conservatory-like Spheres are an expansion of local tech giant Amazon’s campus, intended as a place for employees to brainstorm and connect with nature while in the midst of urban sprawl (there will be retail on the ground floor and an outdoor space available for public use). By the project’s completion in 2018, the Spheres will house more than 300 species of rare plants, along with whimsical features like suspended workspaces and a 60-foot living plant wall. Sixth Ave and Lenora St

Did You Know? The Spheres can hold 1.58 million cubic feet, enough to fill 18 Olympic swimming pools. 

Pike Place Market Illustration by Kelly Thompson

Pike Place Market

A Seattle staple for more than a century, travelers flock to the multilevel market for local produce—from rare mushrooms to ripe Washington apples—$10 bouquets of dahlias wrapped in butcher paper, handcrafts from local artisans, the sight of wader-clad men slinging salmon and barking orders, and naturally, a photo in front of the towering red Public Market sign and clock at the entrance on First and Pike.

In 2015, ground broke on an expansion project 40 years in the making. Plans outline the creation of a public plaza overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains (with multiple access points to the waterfront) and add new spaces for craftspeople, farmers, and businesses. In the spirit of the Market’s philanthropic history, the plan also includes a neighborhood center and low-income housing. The MarketFront expansion opened in June 2017. *First Ave and Pike St; pikeplacemarket.org 

Did You Know? Rarely seen without a visitor posing alongside (or atop) her 550-pound bronze figure for a photo, market mascot Rachel the Piggy Bank accepts donations to benefit Market-run social services. Rubbing her snout is said to bring good luck.

Museum of Pop Culture

Museum of Pop Culture Illustration by Kelly Thompson

A relative newcomer on the Seattle icon shortlist, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) has been on the scene since 2000, though it has gone through several title changes since its original christening (the museum was first known as the Experience Music Project and, most recently, the EMP Museum). Acronyms aside, MoPOP’s deconstructionist design by architect Frank Gehry made waves when it first debuted—from an aerial view, the colorful building resembles a smashed guitar.

Backed by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, the museum was originally meant to showcase Allen’s extensive collection of rock music memorabilia, but its identity has evolved into an interactive space with a science fiction wing and rotating exhibits on everything from Nirvana to Star Trek. With the latest (and arguably most fitting) moniker comes new exhibits exploring the intersections of pop culture, like David Bowie: Starman, honoring the charismatic singer, and The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited, exploring the work of the legendary puppeteer. *325 Fifth Ave N; mopop.org 

Did You Know? The MoPOP vault holds more than 140,000 pop culture artifacts and an oral history archive of more than 1,000 interviews with filmmakers, authors, and musicians.

Smith Tower Illustration by Kelly Thompson

Smith Tower

When construction finished in 1914, the 38-story tower in Pioneer Square stood as the tallest structure west of the Mississippi (though it soon lost claim to the Space Needle by more than 100 feet). Eclipsed in height but not in history, the ambitious architectural feat, named for typewriter magnate L.C. Smith, has been home to rum-runners and local broadcast giants, and boasts a panoramic view of Puget Sound.

The tower was revamped last year with considerable homage paid to its Prohibition roots, with new historical exhibits, plus a renovation of the 35th-floor observatory deck—open late for night views of the city—including the aptly named Temperance cafe and bar (think freshly shucked oysters with cocktails like Aunt Vivian’s Bedtime, made with Woodinville Rye Whiskey, lemon juice, and ginger shrub). On the ground floor is Smith Tower Provisions, a general store of sorts, complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream counter scooping local brand Full Tilt. H506 Second Ave; smithtower.com

Did You Know? Seattle’s “Bootleg King” Roy Olmstead and his wife, Elise, ran a radio station out of their home during Prohibition, with a remote studio at Smith Tower. Elise hosted a program as a character named “Aunt Vivian,” where she told bedtime stories rumored to contain secret messages. 

Washington State Ferries

Ferries Illustration by Kelly Thompson

Operating since the early 1900s, the first ferry service in Puget Sound was a number of small, privately owned steamer boats known as the Mosquito Fleet. The ferry service became state-run in 1951, intended as a temporary solution until a network of cross-Sound bridges was built. The plan was rejected and the ferries stayed, carrying upward of four million passengers in the first year.

Today, Washington State Ferries transport more than 23 million riders a year, and in 2014, the process began to replace older boat models with Olympic-class ferries. The ferries are also getting a culinary makeover, with an abundance of favorite Northwest brands on offer, from Beecher’s cheese to Ellenos Greek yogurt. 801 Alaskan Way, Pier 52; wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Did You Know? Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry fleet in the nation,
with 22 vessels and more than 20 different ports of call.

KEXP Illustration by Kelly Thompson


A local arts institution since 1972, alternative radio station KEXP 90.3 FM champions new sounds from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, spanning genres from rock to reggae and plenty in between. Fun fact: In 2000, KEXP was the first station in the world to stream 24-hour broadcasts online.

Quickly running out of space for its collection of CDs, vinyls, and tapes, the station moved into its new headquarters tucked in the north end of Seattle Center in 2016. The spot is decidedly cool, with an industrial aesthetic helped along by broken-in leather couches, end tables made from vintage stereos, and experimental art installations. Listen (and watch) live broadcasts through the glass-walled DJ booth or even catch a live studio performance if you’re lucky. 472 First Ave N; kexp.org 

Did You Know? Local espresso titan La Marzocco shares a space with KEXP. The cafe partners with a different “roaster in residence” each month, accompanied by a specially curated menu. The coffee bar anchors a showroom featuring handcrafted Italian hardware from the company’s 90-year tenure. 

Space Needle

Space Needle Illustration by Kelly Thompson

Standing at 605 feet tall, the city’s most recognizable structure was constructed for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and its “21st Century” theme. The top of the Needle houses the observation deck and SkyCity (originally called Eye of the Needle), a rotating restaurant with 360-degree views of the surrounding region, each rotation taking exactly 47 minutes. The Space Needle has seen numerous updates over the years, from the occasional paint job (the roof was repainted “Galaxy Gold” for the 50th anniversary in 2012) to interactive, 3D kiosks that “teleport” visitors to landmarks around the city, but the landmark is readying to undergo its largest renovation yet. The multi-year makeover places an emphasis on glass, including floor-to-ceiling panes in the revamped restaurant and a full remodel of the observation deck (both set to reopen by summer 2018). *400 Broad St; spaceneedle.com 

Did You Know? The Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Jetsons went on air in 1962, and in 2005, animator Iwao Takamoto told the New York Times that inspiration for the space-age family’s “skypad” apartment came from the newly minted Space Needle. 

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