From Aberdeen to Seattle, here’s a rockin’ Washington road trip for ’90s music fans — Photo courtesy of Tracy Marander and Steve Birnbaum / The Band Was Here
2024 marks 30 years since the release of several iconic ’90s grunge rock albums, including Alice in Chains’ “Jar of Flies,” Soundgarden’s “Superunknown,” Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy,” and Nirvana’s seminal live album, “MTV Unplugged in New York.” These combined four albums have sold more than 22 million copies and solidified the importance of ’90s grunge bands.
While Alice in Chains is still touring, and there’s a rumored new Pearl Jam release this year, ’90s grunge music fans have plenty to celebrate. One way is to take in all the music history around western Washington, the same way Beatles fans flock to Liverpool or hip-hop fans to The Bronx.
From Aberdeen along the coast to Seattle — by way of Tacoma — here’s a road trip that takes you to spots where grunge music’s biggest bands once lived, recorded, and performed.
Kurt Cobain Memorial Park in Aberdeen
There’s lots of green space for grunge fans at Kurt Cobain Memorial Park in Aberdeen — Photo courtesy of Eric Shewack
An ideal place to start your ’90s grunge band tour of Washington is the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park in Aberdeen. This small park between the Wishkah River and the childhood home of the late Kurt Cobain, frontman for Nirvana, is notable for fans for a few reasons.
First, this park sits at the end of Young Street Bridge, which Cobain sang about sleeping underneath as a teen in “Something in the Way.” Also, some of Cobain’s ashes were released into the Wishkah River, which is referenced in Nirvana’s 1996 live album, “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” that came out after Cobain’s suicide.
Photo-worthy spots include a guitar statue and multiple plaques displaying lyrics and quotes from Cobain. Although not open to the public, Aberdeen High School, where Cobain attended until dropping out in 1985, is less than a mile away.
Kurt Cobain’s former apartment in Olympia
Kurt Cobain’s apartment, where he wrote many of Nirvana’s biggest hits, still stands in Olympia — Photo courtesy of Tracy Marander and Steve Birnbaum / The Band Was Here
You’ll find the apartment where the Nirvana frontman lived from 1989 to 1991 — first with a girlfriend and later with Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl — at 114 Pear St. NE in Olympia. Cobain wrote many of Nirvana’s most well-known grunge rock songs here, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
If you decide to hang in Olympia for a spell, you can rent the apartment on Airbnb.
The former Community World Theater in Tacoma
The former theater where Nirvana performed their first show is a must-stop in Tacoma — Photo courtesy of Nick Soulsby
Since you’ll drive through Tacoma to get from Olympia to Seattle, it’s worth seeing where Nirvana played its first show. The former Community World Theater, near the intersection of 56th and M streets, is now a place of worship called Templo Maranatha.
The concert flyer that Cobain created for the March 1988 show at Community World Theater is one of the more than 200 artifacts that make up the “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” exhibition at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP. (More on this USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Award-winning museum later in the article.)
Black Dog Forge
Black Dog Forge, a former practice space for grunge bands Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, makes a great selfie backdrop — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
No grunge music road trip is complete without a lengthy stop in Seattle. Fans of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden will want to check out Black Dog Forge, between 2nd and 3rd avenues off Battery Street in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. To find the forge, you must follow a narrow alleyway to a gray door. Above the door, there’s an eerie painting of an arm holding an oil lamp. To the left of the door, you’ll see the words “Black Dog Forge” outlined in red.
In the early 1990s, the basement of this former blacksmith shop served as a 30-by-30-foot practice space for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The space isn’t open to the public, but the entrance makes a rockin’ backdrop for a grunge road trip selfie.
KEXP at Seattle Center
Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger” on vinyl is among the many grunge music items on view at KEXP in Seattle — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Seattle Grunge Redux tour guide Eric Magnuson refers to KEXP at Seattle Center as “one of the three legs of a stool that support grunge’s legacy.” While the space at the Seattle Center is primarily used for audio and video broadcasting, there’s also a coffee shop and record store, both of which serve as community-gathering spaces.
After Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell died, a makeshift memorial service was held here. There’s also a life-size statue of the Soundgarden frontman along 5th Ave. N, in front of MoPOP. Memorials for Cobain, as well as Mike Starr and Layne Staley (both of Alice in Chains) were held at the nearby International Fountain.
Educational studio tours of KEXP are available by appointment. Two of the more exciting items for ’90s grunge fans are the original 1991 vinyl releases of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger.” Numerous stickers are attached to the sleeves with comments from KEXP deejays.
Kurt Cobain was last seen in public at Linda’s Tavern in Seattle — Photo courtesy of Eric Shewack
Fans of late ’60s rock visit Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood to see where Janis Joplin spent part of her final evening. Likewise, Nirvana fans can visit Linda’s Tavern in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, the last place Cobain was spotted in public. Linda’s offers a dive bar feel, a menu with affordable prices, and friendly staff, making it an ideal spot for lunch or dinner.
The film “Singles” made this Seattle apartment building famous — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
This apartment building was the main set for the 1992 Cameron Crowe film, “Singles.” Cast included Pearl Jams’ Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament and Cornell of Soundgarden. The building first appears at the eight-minute and 35-second mark after the black-and-white caption, “Have Fun, Stay Single.”
Toward the end of the movie, there’s a hilarious scene in which an excited Cliff surprises Janet with a new car stereo he installed for her. As the music starts (“Jinx” by Tad), a stoned-looking Cornell comes walking out of one of the Coryell Court apartments. As he stands beside Cliff and bobs his head to the music, Cliff continues to turn up the music until all the windows on Janet’s car blow out.
London Bridge Studio
There’s lots of grunge rock history and hits on view at London Bridge Studio in Shoreline — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Alice in Chains made its first four recordings at London Bridge Studio. The two full-length albums and two EPs combined sold more than 12 million copies. All four are mounted on the wall, along with Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” Soundgarden’s “Louder Than Love,” and the self-titled album of grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog.
One-hour guided tours are available on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays for $55. London Bridge Studio is located in Shoreline, 13 miles north of Seattle’s Belltown.
Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a must-see stop on your grunge music road trip — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
MoPOP is an essential stop on any rockin’ road trip that passes through Seattle. Here, you’ll find many guitars on display, including the G&L Rampage “blue dress” guitar once owned by Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains.
But the main exhibit for ’90s grunge rock fans is the “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses” exhibition. Items of interest include Cobain and Dale Crover’s first demo tape, Cobain’s hand-drawn concert flyer for Nirvana’s first gig under that name, and a map of where many “Seattle bands” actually came from. (For example, Tad is originally from Boise, Idaho.) The exhibition also includes a typed set list from Nirvana’s final show.
While the museum charges admission, it’s free to check out the life-size Cornell statue along 5th Avenue.
Kimpton Palladian Hotel
This corner homage makes a great hang at Seattle’s Kimpton Palladian Hotel — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
If you want to end your grunge music road trip at a hotel, you might as well pick one for Seattle music fans. The Kimpton Palladian Hotel has a Sub Pop suite, replete with wall art and a vinyl player, which you can use to spin Nirvana’s debut album, “Bleach,” which is still the best-selling Sup Pop release of all time.
And if you didn’t have enough to eat and drink at Linda’s, grab a bite at the hotel’s Shaker + Spear restaurant. Later, cap off your night at the lobby-level Pennyroyal Bar.
Room 464 at The Edgewater is a haven for Pearl Jam fans — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Pearl Jam fans will want to book a stay in the Pearl Jam Suite at The Edgewater, a Noble House Hotel. If you stay in Room 464, you’ll have your own guitar, Marshall amp, mini library, record player, and curated vinyl collection.
As you enter the suite, you’ll see dozens of concert flyers from past Pearl Jam shows. A replica of the famous Mother Love Bone mural hangs above the king-size bed, while there are framed, handwritten set lists to the right. The bathroom wallpaper is an audience shot from an outdoor Pearl Jam show.
The Pearl Jam Suite also boasts a balcony, offering panoramic views of Elliott Bay. You’ll have a similar view as you enjoy seafood at the hotel’s Six Seven Restaurant.