Science Tourist: Pacific Science Center

I don’t always seek out science-themed locations when travelling. Sometimes, they’re just there. In October I spent one day in Seattle, during which I ran around all day, trying to see all the sights while fighting off a cold. I saw the world’s first Starbucks, and the wall of gum, and the market, and the underground city, and I had walked all the way to the Space Needle when I suddenly came across a science museum.

The Pacific Science Center is right at the foot of the Space Needle next to the very pretty Chihuly Garden and Glass. I went in less than an hour before closing time, so I didn’t get to see everything, but at least it was nice and quiet.

Unfortunately, if I hadn’t been here so recently, I doubt I would have remembered much of this visit. Not just because I spent very little time there, but because most of the exhibits I saw were quite generic. I just couldn’t get excited about a lot of the permanent exhibits.

Take the dino room. It sounded promising, but when I got there, it was a bit…clunky. Maybe I’m too old for animatronic dinosaurs, or maybe I’ve seen too many exhibits like this. Maybe it was because I wasn’t feeling very well that day. I don’t know. I took a few seconds of video there. What do you think?



I didn’t get to see all of the museum, because it was so close to closing time. The temporary King Tut exhibit sounded exciting, and may have redeemed the whole visit for me. But I’m not sure my overall opinion would have improved much if I had managed to catch one of their regular “Laser Justin Bieber” screenings. That’s right: Nothing says “science” like a laser show set to Justin Bieber music. Seriously, WTF. For the sake of what I can only assume is the scientific drive to include a larger sample size, they have similar laser shows for other musicians as well. The latest addition is Skrillex. It’s part of a general trend for large science museums to include this sort of thing (although usually they at least *try* to find a scientific angle) and I’ll get back to that in a few weeks.

It wasn’t all bad, though. There were two things at this museum I really liked. One was the center court, which was a big fountain/pond with lots of fun things in it. Whale fin art, a DNA structure, and some interactive sculptures.

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The other redeeming feature was the insect gallery. Okay, it had a terrifying giant praying mantis, but also an original display comparing insects to circus freaks, and a garden with live butterflies! The butterfly garden was one of the busiest rooms in the museum this close to closing time, which makes me think that it was other people’s favourite part as well.

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To visit the butterflies, you leave your bags and food behind and enter a separate, climate controlled room. Everywhere you look are butterflies. Everywhere you want to put your foot down are butterflies, too, so you have to walk carefully. Along the brief walk, you see a few feeding stations and other information signs.

Even though the butterfly room was a fun way to spend a few minutes, and the water features outside were interesting, I don’t think I’d recommend this museum to time-constrained travellers to Seattle, unless you need to entertain kids (or you want to see the Justin Bieber laser show). It really is quite a generic science museum, aimed at local families and schools, and you can find similar museums elsewhere. It’s a bit unfortunate, because the location – at the base of the Space Needle – definitely attracts a lot of tourists. As a tourist to the region, I would have liked to see a bigger, more in depth emphasis on local geography and nature. There is some of that, including a large whale skeleton, but it could have been more expansive. More whales, less Bieber.

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