Image license: Seattle Art Museum © Copyright 2013 Benjamin Benschneider All Rights Reserved.

Multicultural Seattle: Asian

Chinese laborers first arrived in Seattle in the 1860s to work for canneries, sawmills, and the railroads. After the 1889 Great Seattle Fire, which leveled much of the original downtown, their living quarters shifted to east of Fifth Avenue and soon expanded to embrace Japanese, Pacific Islander, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian immigrants—earning the name the Chinatown-International District.

Cherry Blossom Festival | Kaoru Okumura


DISCOVER One of Seattle’s crowning glories is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, filled with ancient Buddha statues as well as modern works by Asian American artists. For local, intimate insights, head to the Wing Luke Museum—the first Smithsonian affiliate in the Northwest. It chronicles the Asian Pacific American experience, most poignantly in its Letter Cloud installation, where rugged old hotel walls frame tales of loneliness, longing, and aging far away from home. The museum also offers one of the city’s best guided walks—Chinatown Discovery Tours—which swings by Chinatown-International District landmarks like the elegant Kobo gallery and Uwajimaya, one of the nation’s largest Asian grocery and gift stores. And don’t miss Chinatown Gate on the corner of Fifth Avenue and King Street. Modeled after ancient gates in China, Seattle’s looks like the real deal but is fashioned from sturdier steel.

For a visceral sense of this area’s history, stop by the Panama Hotel, where visitors can have tea and tour the nation’s only intact sentō (Japanese public bathhouse). Numbered lockers and marble baths still stand in the basement, frozen in time from the World War II internment of the city’s 7,050 Japanese American residents. This tale is beautifully captured by Jamie Ford’s best-selling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which is set in Seattle.

Another must-see stop includes Billiard Hoang (known for its cool combo of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and pool tables), while seasonal events like February’s Vietnamese New Year (Tét) or April’s Cherry Blossom Festival are vivid, colorful ways to explore.



Traditional Japanese restaurant—and James Beard Award winner—Maneki has welcomed diners since 1904 and helped introduce sushi and karaoke to Seattle. Go from timeless to trendy at the new Filipino pop-up Lahi or the Laos-Thai restaurant Viengthong, one of those hideaway gems (cash only). Order the deep-fried balls of rice and nam kao (sour pork wrapped in lettuce leaves) and eat it with your hands, as is traditional.

Honored as one of Bon Appétit’s top 50 restaurants of 2015, Trove in the Capitol Hill neighborhood combines a bar, noodle shop, and Korean barbecue setup with a walk-up frozen custard window. Nearby, Annapurna Cafe mixes Thai, Indian, and Nepalese flavors in an underground nook full of candles and hanging bells. Wash down your meal with a Yeti beer or saffron-infused vodka cocktail.



*Annapurna Cafe 1833 Broadway; | Billiard Hoang 3220 S Hudson St | Cherry Blossom Festival | Chinatown Gate Fifth Ave S and S King St | *Chinatown Discovery Tours | Kobo 602-608 S Jackson St; | Lahi 2008 S Ferdinand St; | Maneki 304 Sixth Ave S; | *Panama Hotel 605 1/2 S Main St; | *Seattle Asian Art Museum 1400 E Prospect St; | Trove 500 E Pike St; | *Uwajimaya 600 Fifth Ave S; | Viengthong 2820 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S | Vietnamese New Year (Tét) | *Wing Luke Museum 719 S King St; | *Visit Seattle Partner


Learn more about
Seattle’s Asian American heritage:

Asian American Cultural Heritage Guide to Seattle



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