Often referred to as the “Seattle sound,” grunge is a distinctive rock genre and subculture that surfaced in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1980s and quickly spread across the globe. And although flannel shirts and unruly manes are less common these days than in the early ’90s, plenty of concert venues, record stores, and other Seattle attractions still maintain their connections to the grunge movement that helped define this creative region and its inspired people. The past and present await you on an informal tour of grunge.
If you fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, that’s where you should begin your exploration of grunge, thanks to the Sub Pop Airport Store (17801 International Blvd, SeaTac). By offering music, t-shirts, and plenty of other hip swag designed by local artists, this shop honors not only the Pacific Northwest but specifically Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, the famed independent record label credited for launching the movement after signing megastars like Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.
The tour continues at Seattle Center’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) (*325 Fifth Ave N), a shimmering, Frank Gehry-designed shrine to rock music, science fiction, and popular culture. A bronze statue outside commemorates Soundgarden’s late front man Chris Cornell, and museum exhibits include Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses and Pearl Jam: Home and Away, featuring dozens of artifacts, photographs, oral histories, and stage props like handwritten setlists. You can even play a tribute to the greats in the interactive Sound Lab.
Afterward, stroll to the nearby KEXP Gathering Space (*472 First Ave N), the vibrant HQ of Seattle’s beloved indie radio station, 90.3. At this community hub, watch on-air DJs play beats of all backgrounds, sign up to watch live performances in the studio, and learn fascinating history on daily studio tours—they’re free, but online reservations are recommended. You can also dig through crates at resident retailer Light in the Attic Records (472 First Ave N) and sip espresso from attached La Marzocco Cafe (472 First Ave N).
Another place to catch free in-store performances is West Seattle’s Easy Street Records (4559 California Ave SW), a shop and cafe that shares a long history with neighbor Eddie Vedder and his Pearl Jam bandmates. Outside the store, bassist Jeff Ament once painted a mural honoring his pioneering pre-Pearl Jam band, Mother Love Bone; recently, he commissioned another artist to recreate the long-absent artwork there.
After the sun sets, attend shows at storied venues like Belltown’s The Crocodile (2200 Second Ave), which helped launch acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney. The club has long had connections to famous performers: Original owner Stephanie Dorgan married R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, while one of the current owners is Sean Kinney, drummer for Seattle band Alice in Chains. Nearby, in an alleyway off Battery Street between Second and Third Avenues, look for artwork marking “Black Dog Forge”: In the early ’90s, the basement of this former blacksmith shop allegedly served as a practice space for such bands as Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
For further live music, try The Showbox Market (*1426 First Ave), the Art Deco venue across from Pike Place Market where Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden have graced the stage, or Re-bar (1114 Howell St). This downtown club hosted the 1991 release party for Nirvana’s second studio album, Nevermind, and also appeared in the 1992 film Singles.
True grunge devotees may consider booking the Pearl Jam Suite at the waterfront Edgewater Hotel (*2411 Alaskan Way). The space is filled with art and memorabilia, a record player, a library of the band’s best albums, and a replica of Easy Street Records’ Mother Love Bone mural. And the entire fifth floor of Hotel Max (*620 Stewart St) is dedicated to Sub Pop Records, with large-scale black-and-white images, framed poster art, Crosley record players, and a selection of vinyl records curated by the label. You’ll sleep easy knowing that you’ve properly honored the gods of grunge.
*Visit Seattle Partner.
Book Your Trip