The new and improved Seattle Art Museum and the very new Olympic Sculpture Park make Seattle a premiere destination to enjoy the arts. Pick a day when you can enjoy being outdoors-which might mean accepting the rain-for the sculpture garden and immerse yourself in great art.

The first stop is SAM, or Seattle Art Museum. Before heading in stop and admire the 48-foot kinetic sculpture that is SAM’s symbol, “Hammering Man” right outside the door.

Having recently undergone a major expansion SAM has added 118,000 square feet and 1 billion dollars worth of art. The improvements show in the soaring atrium that now holds a permanent installation of Cia Guo Qiang’s “Inopportune: Stage One”, which is a number of identical cars tumbling across the ceiling with flashing tubes of light exploding from them. The cars are intended to look like they are being blown up and the multiple cars show how it would roll with the explosion. It’s definitely eye catching, especially given the scale of the space and the use of real cars.

Exhibits at SAM change regularly. A recently hosted show of Roman sculpture was hugely successful because of the amount of pieces they were able to show in the new space. Through the summer of 2008 is a show entitled “Inspiring the Impressionists” which focuses on where the impressionists got their ideas, such as copying works at the Louvre and visiting places like the Netherlands. The next traveling show will highlight the work of American realist Edward Hopper.

Take your time and explore all four floors of SAM. There is Asian art on display, art glass, quite a bit of modern art from the likes of Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollack, and a large display on masks from around the world. There are generally volunteers around who know the art and will tell you about it, as will the guided tours.

Afterwards, head take a short walk. Head one block south to Seneca and three blocks west to Alaskan Way. That will bring you to Pier 56 and Elliott’s Oyster House where you can enjoy a lunch with small plates of goodies like Dungeness crab and shrimp dip, entrée salads, or lunch combos like clam chowder and a Caesar salad. Then there are the oysters which they shuck to the tune of 7,000 a week. Order a drink or some wine and enjoy the view of Elliot Bay.

When you leave’s Elliott’s, cross Alaskan Way to the stop for the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line. Hop a ride to the end of the waterfront and you will be at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

The Olympic Sculpture Park may be one of the coolest urban landscapes in the country. It was once a nine acre industrial site that has been transformed into an open air art gallery but still retains its urban feel. Located right on Elliot Bay the park embraces the water and with its unique Z design climbs over railroad tracks and busy Elliott Avenue and includes walkways, grass, and plants that are from the Northwest. Throughout the park are sculptures of wood, stainless steal, iron, and plastic. Some are huge like Alexander Calder’s “Eagle” others are tucked away in gardens. There is also a one sculpture that includes the building that houses it, a 150 year old nurse log and all the vegetation it supports. Maps of all the installations are available in the pavilion for a donation because the entire park is free.

The sculpture park affords some of the best views of the bay, the waterfront, and the mountains in the distance. If you are so inclined, the park is adjacent to a walking and biking trail so wander down to Myrtle Edwards Park and enjoy the fresh air and the sights and sounds of Elliott Bay. Find a bench and relax awhile or take a long walk.

After you are done at the Olympic Sculpture Park, hop back on the waterfront streetcar and get off at Seneca Street. Walk back up to 1st and you will be a block from Seattle Art Museum. If you have time you are only a couple blocks south of Pike Place Market which gives you a great opportunity for a little shopping before dinner. When you’re ready for dinner, walk two blocks west on Union Street to Wild Ginger.

Wild Ginger specializes in food from Southeast Asia and one of their features is a satay bar where you can try beef, prawns, chicken, or lamb skewered, seasoned and grilled to perfection. Each order comes with a special dipping sauce to compliment it as well as a rice cake and pickled cucumbers. If you want a full entrée they have a lot to choose from including their Asian take on duck, lamb, curry, and noodles. Wild Ginger also prides itself on its fine wine cellar so be sure and look over the two different wine lists they have, one with pairings for the food, another for more costly rare wines.

After a satisfying dinner and a bit of wine it’s time to remember where you parked the car and retrieve it. And you’ll be plenty satisfied by a day of Seattle’s fine art and great food.

What & Where:
Seattle Art Museum
(1300 1st Ave; 206-654-3100)
Olympic Sculpture Park
(2901 Western Ave; 206-654-3100)
Elliott’s Oyster House (1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56; 206-623-4340)
Myrtle Edwards Park
(3130 Alaskan Way W; 206-684-4075)
Pike Place Market (1501 Pike Pl; 206-622-6198)
Wild Ginger
(1401 3rd Ave; 206-623-4450)

Helpful Information: Parking can definitely be a problem downtown but the SAM has a lot underneath the building accessible off of Union Street, or there are other parking garages up University. The SAM opens at 10:00 so get there early and beat the crowds.

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