As you cruise up and down I-5 in Washington you may ask yourself, ‘what’s happening in Tacoma?’—the answer is a lot. No longer the ugly step child of Seattle, Tacoma has cleaned up its formally blemished downtown and has set itself up to be a true destination for Washington visitors and the place to start is the Museum District.
Located in a one block area of Pacific Avenue, the Museum District boasts not one, but three first rate museums. Two of which you will find no where else in the word—the Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum. So pull off I-5 at the City Center exit, take your choice of an easy to find parking space and stroll Tacoma’s Museum District.
Begin your visit with a stop at a Renaissance Café, a local joint that has served homemade food for ten years. Grab your favorite coffee drink and some of their fluffy scrambled eggs with your choice of fillings, or just munch a bagel and take in the relaxed atmosphere surrounded by the unique comic book style art of Jose Palcich. Should you be so inclined you can even pick up a print of Joe’s work to take along with you.
Then walk across Pacific Avenue at the conveniently located talking cross walk to the Washington State History Museum, adjacent to the former Union Station. This building was designed to fit in with the local warehouses as well as the dome of Union Station and features a red brick exterior and multiple arches. Opened in 1996, this museum spurred the revitalization of downtown Tacoma.
The Washington State Historical Society has put together a diverse collection of artifacts that tell the human history of the state and includes everything from Native American art and artifacts to contemporary photography exhibits. Great for families or history buffs, there is bound to be something entertaining and educational to be found in the interactive displays at the museum.
From the Washington State History Museum take a stroll across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500 foot pedestrian walkway linking downtown to the Foss Waterway. Designed by Dale Chihuly, a world famous glass artist and Tacoma native, the bridge offers amazing views of downtown and the waterway as well as numerous pieces of Chihuly glass both in the walls and ceiling.
The bridge ends at the Museum of Glass and its iconic 90 foot cone, a major part of Tacoma’s restoration of the Foss Waterway. Opened in 2002, the museum features the work of Chihuly, artists from around the world, as well as its most popular feature, the Hot Shop where visitors can sit in an amphitheater and watch artists create pieces of art glass.
If you have never seen the process of heating glass to a glowing orange in huge furnaces then shaping it by hand with tools as simple as wet newspaper you will be enthralled and, like many visitors, find yourself whiling away a couple hours in the Hot Shop. Exhibits in the main galleries change as do the artists serving residencies in the Hot Shop so there is always something new to experience at the Museum of Glass.
After all that heat, its time for some libations and a little lunch. Stroll back across the Bridge of Glass, cross Pacific Avenue and head south less than a block to the Harmon Building. A former furniture store and warehouse, the building has been revitalized as lofts, office space and, on street level, as a brew pub. The Harmon Brewery produces five flagship ales, as well as seasonals and offers a complete lunch and dinner menu.
Start out with a taste of all their beers delivered on a cut off snow ski and too cutely known as the Brewski. Then order up anything from a juicy burger to their famous Bangers and Mash, British bangers simmered in beer served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.
After lunch take a stroll down Pacific Avenue and check out some of the shops. You’ll find clothing, books and more but don’t miss Great Northwest Popcorn next to the Harmon where you can pick from 50 yummy flavors of popcorn as well as candy and ice cream.
Now back across Pacific Avenue and a stop at Union Station to get another taste of Chihuly’s work. Hanging from the dome is the Cobalt Blue Chandelier, made up of over two thousand pieces of glass melded together. There is also the Monarch Window overlooking Mount Rainier as well as numerous smaller pieces of Chihuly’s artistry.
Next stop, head north to the Tacoma Art Museum which features the work of many northwest artists, including the largest public collection of Dale Chihuly’s work. On display are often touring exhibits and have featured such artists as Frieda Kahlo and Chuck Close. Suffice to say, there is plenty to see at the museum, including some incredible views of downtown Tacoma and the Foss Waterway.
Ready for dinner? How about a little Asian fusion and sake? Right across the street from the Tacoma Art Museum Two Koi offers seating in the dining room or at the sushi bar where you can be entertained by the chefs at work preparing your meal. Check out the ridiculously extensive sake menu while you decide between ordering sushi, rolls or a full dinner. Either way you’ll be pleased by the freshness and artistry of the food, complementing your day of art adventuring.
The Museum District is just one of the many neighborhoods worth exploring in Tacoma and definitely worth the time. So, instead of cruising by next time you’re on I-5, stop in Tacoma and be pleasantly surprised.
What & Where:
A Renaissance Café (1746 Pacific Ave; 253-572-1029)
Washington State History Museum (1911 Pacific Ave; 888-238-4373)
Museum of Glass (1801 Dock St; 866-4MUSEUM)
Harmon Brewery (1938 Pacific; 253-383-2739)
Union Station (1717 Pacific Ave; 253-863-5173)
Tacoma Art Museum (1701 Pacific Ave; 253-272-4258)
Two Koi (1552 Commerce St; 253-274-8999)
note: On Wednesdays there is special pricing that includes all three museums: Adults: $22 and Children $18
Marion L. Head is an educator and freelance writer who lives in Seattle, WA. Marion has published fiction in various anthologies and nonfiction on various websites. Marion is author of South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide for Countryman Press.