Do it alone; it's better that way. In college, I would ride the bus into San Francisco and just haunt—for hours, they won't kick you out—the wide white corridors of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where the architecture is not all that different from Seattle Art Museum: openings in walls rather than doors between galleries, art flanking you on all sides, a procession through time, natural light streaming in wherever you can catch it during this procession of hallways and artworks and openings.

It is free to get into SAM. There is a "suggested donation." This is for people who have dollars in their pockets. If you have dollars, use them. If not, don't worry about it. Same goes for the Henry Art Gallery on campus at the University of Washington. And Seattle's third art museum, the eccentric little post-mausoleum on First Hill called the Frye, is always free.

This—college—is your time to figure out what art you like. Don't worry that at this point you have no idea. Be open. At SFMOMA, I fell in love with the Western abstract expressionists, like Clyfford Still, his red rocks with their black splits seeming to me like funny dude riffs on those cracks (riffs on rifts) that appear when you bake sweet bread. I gawked at 1980s New Yorkers living desperately—naked with cigarette, bruised and battered, with dye jobs, with AIDS—in Nan Goldin's photo series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and thought I was the only one until I realized that Goldin had made gawkers of all of us. Standing in front of Willem de Kooning's late paintings, made when he had Alzheimer's, I wondered: How do you know which abstract paintings are the product of dementia, and which are clear-minded, clear-intentioned? If abstraction refers to nothing, how does it mean anything?

It was during that time I started considering how architecture tells stories, realizing I could read them just by entering a building with eyes open, alone. SFMOMA has a sky bridge intended to scare you into a certain state of waking; SAM has two completely different-looking entrances, and why? Start looking into it and you'll get far. And while you're at it, ask yourself: What's with those sparkling American cars dangling from the ceiling, put there by a Chinese expat? Art is about everything: money, country, history, self.

Also: All commercial galleries, where other people buy expensive paintings and sculptures, are free to the rest of us. The people who run those galleries—called dealers—want you to come in, even if you aren't going to buy. They don't want to talk to rich people all day. And the artists definitely want you there, whether you're buying or not, so if a dealer is rude to you, ask for the e-mail or web address for the artist. (All but the dumbest artists are notoriously accessible.)

On the first Thursday of every month, there's an "art walk"—meaning a bunch of people rambling from gallery to gallery—in Pioneer Square. (There are similar walks throughout the month in neighborhoods all across the city, but Pioneer Square's is the biggest and best.) The galleries you don't want to miss: James Harris, Greg Kucera, SOIL, Platform, PUNCH, 4Culture, G. Gibson, and Lawrimore Project. Others can be great, too—the buffet changes every month. The point is: Follow art, and you can stumble across anything. Including free wine. recommended