Finding the Curious, Eclectic, and Strange in Seattle

strange things to see in Seattle Washington

My last post about Seattle ("Top 10 Things to See and Do in Seattle in Summer") focused on the more touristy-type attractions I experienced in the fun and exciting city.  The Space Needle, the EMP Museum, the Duck Tour - these are all things that people visiting Seattle really should try, just due to the entertainment factor.

However, if you are more interested in finding the more understated sights the city has to offer, this post is for you! Seattle is bursting at the seams with strange stores and shops, eclectic art, and fun 'curiosities'.

Seattle's Strange Stores and Shops

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop 

This place is not just a store. It also functions as a museum, as the owner is an avid collector of the strange and curious.  Displays of shrunken heads, 'mermaids', two-headed animals, paintings created on the heads of pins, and old carnival machinery can be found amid the shelves of equally unusual stock.   I loved this place!

The store is quite old as well.  It was begun in 1899 as a trading post during the Alaskan Gold Rush, and has remained open ever since, evolving into what it is today.  I'm not sure how long it has been a curiosity shop, but I'm guessing for quite awhile due to the large collection of oddities the store has amassed.

Seattle curiosity shop shrunken heads
Shrunken heads in "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop" in Seattle

I purchased a couple of shrunken heads, some jumping beans, and other really strange trinkets. Of course, my shrunken heads were fake, but I loved the look of them anyway.  Items I debated buying were paperweights with real bats or scarab beetles in them, jewelry carved of bone, and maggots prepared and prepackaged for your BBQ delight.  Oh, and they also sell fudge.

My jumping beans lasted for a few months before they faded away.  On a side note, in case you don't know all about jumping beans, he 'jumping beans' are actually seed pods with the larvae of small moths living inside them. As the larvae eats up the inside of the bean, the pod will twitch and roll, seemingly on its own.  Supposedly the larvae will form a pupae and eventually emerge from the hollowed-out bean as a moth, but mine must have died because no moth ever did emerge.  For a more horrific experience, people will sometimes heat their beans, causing the larvae to jump and spasm as it tries to roll the bean to a cooler place.  I did not do this, as for some reason I got really attached to my larvae.  I was quite sad when they did not hatch and emerge as moths.

Seattle Curiosity Shop mummy
Not for sale - the mummy on display in "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop" in Seattle

Not for sale at "The Olde Curiosity Shop" were the real mummies (according to the display placards), shrunken hands (also supposedly real), a grain of rice with the Lord's Prayer written on it in microscopic writing, and old fortune-teller machines from the 1920's.

Archie McPhee's

My travel companion's kids loved the "Archie McPhee" store, which is a toy store designed for children AND adults (and eclectic children at that).  Toys include The Existential Coloring Book, a Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure complete with cats, press-on tattoos of famous literary figures such as Edgar Allen Poe and Jane Austen, and other weird items of this nature. If you are looking for anything ‘bacon’, then "Archie McPhee" is your store. It featured bacon breath mints, bacon toothpaste, bacon jellybeans, bacon band-aids... you name it!

Archie McPhee Seattle bathtub tentacles
How many tentacles does it take to fill this tub? 1554 according their website!

I could have spent all day perusing the shelves of "Archie McPhee", simply to learn about all the wild and wacky products out there.  For all you entrepreneurs, if you have a totally random and even nonsensical idea for a child's toy or game, I highly suggest you approach "Archie McPhee" because they will most likely buy it from you for their store!  There was no limit to what this place will sell, it seemed!  Their slogan is "Confusing Seattle for 30 Years!" if that gives you some idea of the store's atmosphere.

Archie McPhee Wallingford Beast Seattle
The crazy and creepy Wallingford Beast in Seattle's "Archie McPhee"

The owner of this store also seemed to be a bit of an oddity collector, but didn't have as many "Not for Sale" display items as "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop".  There was the Wallingford Beast enclosed behind glass, but I have no idea what it is exactly.  You'll have to see it for yourself.

Seattle's Eclectic Art Scene

Yarn Bombing

A walk through Seattle's Occidental Park introduced me to the notion of artistic 'yarn bombing', where artists cover every day city items with bright and colorful yarn patters.  Bicycle racks, stop sign posts, and parking meters were randomly covered in delightful rainbows of yellow, pink, and orange all around the park and surrounding area.  However, my favorite items were the trees in the park itself, as virtually ALL of them were wound with happy patterns of yarn.

Seattle street art yarn trees Occidental Park
Bright and colorful yarn adorns the streets of Seattle.


In 2010, a city report stated that there was "no street art in Seattle".  So either street artists in Seattle stepped it up a notch over the next year, or that report was a bunch of hogwash.  Seattle has TONS of street art, and some of the most interesting and amazing graffiti art that I've ever seen.  In all areas of the city, whether it was downtown, near the wharf, or even in some residential neighborhoods, I saw examples of great work being done by graffiti artists.  (Real graffiti, not that tagging crap that everybody hates.)

Seattle street art wall graffiti
The graffiti in Seattle is amazing!

Installation Art

The city has commissioned some really cool installation art to remain on permanent display throughout the city as well.  Some pieces I saw during my Duck Tour, and others I encountered while strolling through the city on foot.  My two favorite pieces were the silver tree and the giant Popsicle. (Which, I learned, changes color every year.  How cool!)

Seattle street art silver tree installation
The silver tree in Seattle is a beautiful piece of installation art.

Seattle street art giant Popsicle red
Tasting the Popsicle installation art (no, I didn't actually touch it with my tongue! YUCK!)

Totem Poles

It wouldn't be a northwest coast art scene without some totem poles. Being Canadian and a frequent visitor to Vancouver and Long Island, B.C., I appreciate a well-carved and colorful totem pole.  It was even better to meet a carver on the street and watch him craft a very big and very detailed totem pole right there in front of me.

Seattle street art totem poles
A totem pole being carved right there on the Seattle street.

I was only in Seattle for a short time, and between visiting the classic tourist attractions, and searching for the curious, eclectic and strange, this was all I had time to see.  What's your favorite piece of Seattle street art or your favorite strange store?


  1. FUN! Thanks for sharing. We are headed to Seattle and BC in October! (eek!). :) Saving this list! :) XO-Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

    1. Oh, you'll have so much fun! Seattle is one of my favorite cities, just because there's so many unique things to do!