Highs and Whoas: From Space Needle to renowned museums, Seattle offers plenty to do

Sitting on a tilted glass bench, I gingerly leaned back against an 11-foot-tall glass panel, the only thing separating me from the ground 520 feet below.
Other visitors to Seattle’s Space Needle settled more eagerly on the ring of transparent “Skyrisers” for selfies in which they appear to hover over Puget Sound and the city skyline. A month later, I could have also gazed 500 feet downward via the new Loupe, said to be the world’s first and only revolving glass floor — and quelled my fears at the new Atmos Wine Bar.

Part of a $100 million renovation of Seattle’s 56-year-old landmark by local firm Olson Kundig, the recently debuted glasswork highlights not only the city’s dramatic vistas but also its capacity for reinvention.  Fall is an ideal time to explore both; there may be a little more rain in the picture, but fewer onlookers.

After taking in the views from the Space Needle, I explored Seattle’s creative side at two attractions a short walk from its base. Chihuly Garden and Glass debuted in 2012 as a showcase for the ingenious glass art of Dale Chihuly, a Washington native who lives in Seattle. The maker of Bellagio’s beloved “Fiori di Como” glass ceiling, Chihuly created a colorful counterpart, “Persian Ceiling,” that patrons here pass under in between dark galleries illuminated by other brilliantly hued works.

I ogled pieces inspired by Pacific Northwest Indian basketry, Japanese fishing floats and ikebana, sea life and forest spires, among others, before emerging into daylight and Chihuly’s 40-foot-tall Glasshouse, where giant red and gold blooms intertwine overhead. More glass flora awaited in the garden, including a giant  “bush” of spiraling yellow and red glass tendrils that a live robin claimed as her perch.

Frank Gehry’s bold color choices and undulating walls form an equally striking home for the nearby Museum of Pop Culture, nicknamed MoPOP. Founded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen in 2000 as the Experience Music Project, the museum was renamed MoPOP in late 2016 to reflect its expanded, eclectic collections. Native sons Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam and Nirvana still claim intriguing exhibitions, but Hollywood plays a significant role with displays of costumes and props from “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Princess Bride,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Dr. Who,” “Star Trek” and many more science fiction and fantasy titles.

Morbid fascination led me to browse the gory artifacts in “Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film,” which opened last fall  (spoiler alert — TV screens reveal iconic scenes from “Psycho” and other classics.) “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes,” which debuted in April as the museum’s largest exhibition to date, features more than 300 artifacts from the 80-year-old company behind “Spider-Man,” Captain America” and more.

More traditional — but no less compelling — forms of art vie for attention at downtown’s Seattle Art Museum. John Grade’s 80-foot-plus sculpture “Middle Fork,” based on a 140-year-old western hemlock tree in the Cascade Mountains, hangs over the ground floor. Upstairs, paintings by Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg share their intense palettes with diverse works by lesser-known Native American and Aboriginal artists.

Although the museum’s Asian art facility in Volunteer Park is closed for expansion until fall 2019, its Olympic Sculpture Park offers an excuse to visit another evolving Seattle attraction — the waterfront. At Pier 70, elegant Aqua by El Gaucho restaurant pairs postcard-worthy views with expertly prepared fresh seafood. A mile south, bustling Pike Place Market’s year-old pavilion for arts and crafts vendors and artisanal food and beer producers has Elliott Bay panoramas that are expected to become even more dazzling once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is torn down in the next year or so.

Luxury boutique hotel Thompson Seattle (weekends from $259) provides easy access to all of the above, plus inventive, regionally sourced cuisine at its restaurant, Scout PNW. Also designed by Olson Kundig, the sleek glass hotel boasts the Nest, a rooftop bar and lounge. An indoor area with floor-to-ceiling windows means — like Seattle’s views and creativity — it can be enjoyed year-round.

For more information, see www.visitseattle.org.