A Nirvana Fan’s Tour of Seattle

Travel Features Seattle
A Nirvana Fan’s Tour of Seattle

Nirvana burst onto the mainstream music scene in 1991 with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” symbolizing the demise of hair metal bands that dominated the 1980s. Along with fellow Seattle bands, Nirvana were seen as heralds of a new genre—grunge—that redefined an entire generation’s music scene. While there were many pioneering grunge artists, none left a mark quite like Kurt Cobain. His song ushered in the era of grunge while his death around April 5, 1994, was the beginning of the end for the genre. 

With their flannel shirts and dirty hair, the grunge bands from the Pacific Northwest propelled a relatively sleepy Seattle into the national spotlight. Since then the city has grown into a tech hub known more for behemoths like Amazon and Microsoft then for music. In an ever changing landscape demolition crews have torn down many of the clubs that witnessed the early days of the Seattle Sound, but radio stations, restaurants and clubs pivotal to Nirvana’s rise continue to pepper the cityscape. Here is a city guide to Seattle for landmarks of Nirvana for Cobain fans, offering an exploration of Seattle’s iconic landmarks that trace the steps of the band’s journey.

Central Saloon 

Pioneer Square

Billing itself as the “Birthplace of Grunge,” this rustic bar has a rich history that stretches back nearly 100 years before the Seattle Sound emerged. Established in 1892, the bar is the oldest saloon in the city. In its early days, Yukon miners would sit on the creaky wooden floors, sipping whiskey while sharing tales of their quests for gold.

Despite its long history, the bar is most famous for being a pivotal venue for grunge. Its stage hosted iconic bands like Alice In Chains, The Melvins, Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden. For fans of Nirvana, the Central Saloon holds special significance. On April 16, 1988, Nirvana performed their first show in Seattle at the Central. It was at this performance that Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, the founders of Sub Pop, discovered the band. Shortly thereafter, Sub Pop signed Nirvana and went on to release their debut album.

The Moore Theatre 


Established in 1907, the Moore Theater in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood is the oldest operating theater in the city. On June 9, 1989, Sub Pop hosted the Sub Pop Lame Fest featuring three hometown bands. Mudhoney headlined the bill, with Nirvana’s opening set celebrating the release of their debut album Bleach. Tickets to the unassuming concert were set at $6 in advance and $7 at the door. The event’s popularity far exceeded expectations. Sub Pop wildly oversold the event resulting in a frenzied crowd that led to considerable damage to the theater. The night resulted in a decade-long ban of Sub Pop from the Moore. Yet, despite this, or perhaps because of it, the Moore Theatre remains a hallowed site where the spirit of Nirvana’s ascent still echoes for fans retracing the band’s formative steps.

Paramount Theatre

Five weeks after the release of Nevermind Nirvana was still largely unknown outside the Pacific Northwest. The band took the album on tour in the fall of 1991. Despite its capacity of fewer than 3,000 people, the Paramount Theatre in Seattle was the tour’s largest venue. 

On October 31, 1991, they kicked off what is now called Live at the Paramount with a cover of “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” by The Vaselines. Throughout their 70-minute set, Nirvana played 19 high energy songs including “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lithium” and an early version of “Rape Me.” This Halloween performance at the Paramount Theatre captured Nirvana right as they were catapulting to national fame. Just two months later, Nevermind ousted Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album as the number one spot on the Billboard chart. It was eventually released as a live concert film in 2011.

ScrewDriver Bar 


Known as a “Rock N Roll Utopia,” this dimly lit bar serves as a shrine to the different eras of rock music. Memorabilia like posters, photographs and album covers from artists spanning from Kiss to Led Zeppelin and Little Richard cover the brick walls. A prominent feature is a large painting of Kurt Cobain complete with his acoustic guitar and green sweater from his memorable MTV Unplugged performance set in a thick golden frame. Before becoming a basement bar, Nirvana used this space as a rehearsal space between 1988 and 1990. During the Seattle Sound days it was common for bands to rehearse in basements in and around Belltown. Nirvana did not renew their lease after the release of Nevermind and the space sat empty for years until a group of friends decided to turn it into a bar in 2020.  

Linda’s Tavern

Capitol Hill 

Since opening in 1994, the beloved dive has been known for cheap beers, neon signs and a 

taxidermy buffalo head that watches over the bar. Thrillist named it one of the Best 21 Dive Bars in America and it earned a spot on “Best Boozy Brunches”, but the real draw is its authentic Seattle casual vibe. In its early days Linda’s Tavern was often dubbed the “Grunge Cheers.” Kurt Cobain frequented the laidback bar. It goes down in history as the last place he was seen in public before his death. 


Seattle Center 

This non-commercial radio station was among the first to air bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden in the late 1980s significantly contributing to the popularity of the grunge scene. Today the station is located in the Seattle Center. Visitors can stop by KEXP for a chance to watch live music recordings and see artists in action. The station offers tours and has a viewing gallery for the public to genuinely experience the music scene in Seattle.

Viretta Park (The Kurt Cobain Bench)

Lake Washington 

After Cobain’s sudden passing, this peaceful park in a quiet corner of Seattle turned into an impromptu shrine for him. Right by Cobain’s old house, fans from all over have come to cover a single bench in Viretta Park with notes, heartfelt messages, flowers and keepsakes. It’s a touching spot that also offers a calm look over Washington Lake.


Lower Queen Anne

For all things Nirvana, stop by Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture for Nirvana:Taking Punk To The Masses. The ongoing exhibit includes more than 200 rare artifacts, including Kurt Cobain’s Fender Stratocaster, the casting call flier for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video, original tape records and the green-striped sweater Cobain wore in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. The exhibit displays the largest collections of objects related to Nirvana in the world.

Jennifer Simonson is a travel writer by trade and a lover of the world’s food, cultures, drinks and outdoor spaces by nature. Follow her on Instagram @storiestoldwell.

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