As the home of companies like Microsoft and Amazon, the Seattle area has a solid reputation for attracting top tech talent. But you don’t have to be in the market for a programming job to get an inside look at what makes the city tick in all its geeky glory—just check out the following spots that welcome visitors.
Make your first stop the Living Computers: Museum + Labs, where you won’t just see computer technology from the 1960s through today—you’ll get to play with it. In addition to hosting the world’s largest collection of fully restored supercomputers, mainframes, minicomputers, and microcomputers, LCM+L features interactive exhibits on self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality and more. Tinker with the Apple Lisa 2, play chess against the PDP-8 or grab a joystick and help Ms. Pac-Man avoid all those hungry ghosts.
If you’re jonesing for more gaming, the International District’s Seattle Pinball Museum is an arcade lover’s dream, with a flat-fee admission of $15 that gives you unlimited play on a wide range of machines to go along with sodas, snacks and beer.
If any single company can take credit for Seattle’s longtime tech reputation, it’s software behemoth Microsoft. At the headquarters in Redmond, the Microsoft Visitor Center delves into the company’s history and lets visitors try out new tech, like the latest Surface touchscreen computers; Xbox games; and the HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset that shows holographic images in your environment. You can also pick up some special swag at the gift shop that’s not available anywhere else.
Over at Amazon’s campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, take a guided tour of the headquarters. Wander through a handful of buildings while learning about the company’s ethos and pet-friendly culture (6,000 dogs are registered to come to work)—and stop at the Amazon Go store before you leave.
The Amazon headquarters tour includes a spin around The Spheres, but that’s not the only way to get inside the distinctive glass domes that house more than 40,000 plants. On the ground level, there’s a free public visitor center called Understory that provides information on the significance of the plants chosen, the benefits of greenery in a workspace and more. To get into the main area, where the idea of bringing plants into the office is taken to a whole new level, attend an open house on the first and third Saturday of the month.
The environment is also at the forefront of the Bullitt Center, a “living building” known as the greenest commercial building in the world. Check out the fascinating eco-tech for yourself on a guided tour that covers the mechanical and electrical rooms, grey water and rain water treatment systems, composting toilets and a stairway that’s described as “irresistible” because people can’t help but want to walk up it (which conserves energy and promotes a healthy lifestyle). Sign up in advance on its website.
THE REAL DEAL
What is reality? That may seem like an obvious question, but try to define it and you’ll realize it’s not so obvious after all. Entire college courses are devoted to this subject, but you can scratch the surface at the Pacific Science Center, which has a new set of experiences called “What Is Reality.” Delve into the concept of fact vs. fiction through immersive technologies such as Hyperspace XR, a virtual reality adventure that brings the physical and virtual worlds together in a way that will wow you.
For more fun along the same lines, virtual reality is a spectator sport at Portal, a virtual reality arcade with locations in Ballard and Bellevue. While you’re in a single-player booth jumping, crawling and flailing around, your friends can hang out in the lounge, seeing everything you’re experiencing on a large screen. There are dozens of games to choose from for all ages, including a virtual Plank Experience where you rise 50 stories up in an elevator and walk an old creaky plank 500 feet in the air.
UP IN THE AIR
Seattle is home to plenty on the aerospace technology front, starting with Boeing in Mukilteo, where the 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner are produced. On the 90-minute Boeing Tour at the Future of Flight Aviation Center, start by watching a video on the history of aviation before a bus shuttles you across Paine Field to the world’s largest building by volume, where workers put together the planes. The tour guides are chock-full of fun facts, so even aviation buffs are sure to learn something new.
At the Museum of Flight in Tukwila, a 3D movie theater takes you on a journey through the solar system, as captured by robotic spacecraft. There are lots of other tech-forward attractions, including The Pilot Experience, where you can test your flying capabilities in a professional-grade simulator, and the Challenger Learning Center Mission to Mars, in which you have to work with fellow crew members to keep from being (virtually) destroyed by an asteroid.