[visit] Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)

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The Museum of History & Industry used to be located in this very bizarre building right off of the 520 bridge, near Husky Stadium and by the Montlake Bridge. It was complicated to get to and even more complicated to leave, so I was thrilled to hear that they had seized the opportunity to move into a building right at the foot of South Lake Union, practically on the water and next to the Center for Wooden Boats.

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South Lake Union, for those of you who don’t know, is a booming new neighborhood that has been developed by billionaire Paul Allen and   is now home to the Amazon campus (until they build their new buildings), several biotech companies and a host of fun bars and restaurants like Brave Horse Tavern, Re:public, Cactus, Tutta BellaCuoco, Cal’s Classic American, Portage Bay Cafe, Serious Pie/Serious Biscuit, and more.

On December 29th, the MOHAI opened up it’s new doors with much fanfare – and then on Thursday, they participated in First Thursday, opening their doors for FREE to the public. I, of course, took advantage of this and went with my friend Janice who is relatively new to the city. The crowd was pretty big and it was a bit hard to get around, but I’m kind of a “look, not read” museum-goer, so I was happy to just wander around.

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I have to say, they did a damn good job on the new museum. And airplane is suspended from the ceiling of the atrium and an enormous tree-like sculpture made out of the wood from an old boat reaches all the way up to the 4th story. A pink “toe truck” and the giant “R” from the Rainier sign immediately catch your eye.

The galleries surround the atrium on four floors and seem to be arranged chronologically. I would recommend heading up the main staircase to the second floor and start by watching the short video (about 10 minutes long, plays every 15 minutes) in (one of) the theaters, which was full of familiar faces and places and totally made me proud to live in Washington State. From there, you can visit the gallery about the First People’s and the development of Seattle. I would, of course, defer to my former roommate to tell me whether this is an accurate portrayal (my guess is she would be horrified) but I thought they did a nice job with the story.

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After making your way through that gallery, I suggest you enter the gallery about the fire that destroyed 32 blocks of downtown Seattle – and stay for the video. I don’t want to spoil it, but make sure to go ESPECIALLY if you have children. It’s funny and kind of delightful.

My favorite gallery focused on Seattle’s history on the silver screen – you can sit in Frasier’s living room and see artifacts and movie posters from all sorts of films that have been made in Seattle. I particularly enjoyed the historical display of where theaters used to be located in downtown Seattle – there used to be a theater on almost every block!

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Head all the way up to the 4th floor and you can see some awesome views of Lake Union as well as the maritime gallery, AND the old periscope that gives you 360 degrees of Seattle. I actually DON’T recommend waiting in line to use the periscope- you can see some kind of cool views but it’s situated such that you can’t see the top of the Space Needle or a good view of the skyline, but you CAN see into the offices along Eastlake and almost into the rooms at the Mariott.

The grounds surrounding the MOHAI are also quite lovely. You can go onto two of the boats that are docked in the water right outside the museum, and there’s a public dock with a cute little gazebo that you can sit on. There are also plenty of red chairs and tables between the museum and the Center for Wooden Boats which would be lovely to lunch at on a sunny day. (I would suggest visiting the new Shanik lunch counter and taking your to-go food to the park!)

Visiting the MOHAI reinforced everything that I love about Seattle and the state of Washington. There is such a rich history of innovation in this part of the world and the MOHAI really emphasizes how important of a role that we play (have played) in developing the modern world.  This is a MUST-VISIT for anyone coming to town AND for anyone who lives here!

Here’s how I’d make a day of it:

Start with brunch at Portage Bay Cafe and then walk over to the MOHAI. Afterwards, I’d rent a boat at the Center for Wooden Boats to get out on the water, and then I’d hop on the South Lake Union Streetcar (aka the SLUT) and head downtown to visit the Pike Place Market (take my sample tour!), ride The Seattle Great Wheel or visit the Seattle Public Library.

Going later in the day? Why not visit the MOHAI first and then enjoy a fantastic meal at Shanik, a non-traditional Indian food restaurant and then hit up Brave Horse Tavern for some shuffleboard or darts.

Admission to the MOHAI is $14 for adults, and free on the first Thursday of each month.

Keep your eyes peeled for random Rainier Beers.

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