I’m embarrassed to say that despite living in the state of Washington for three years we have not made the hour-long drive south to explore Tacoma.
When I saw Fleetwood Mac was going on tour and performing at the Tacoma Dome, I booked us amazing seats relatively near the stage for the concert and roundtrip train tickets to Tacoma for the weekend. Instead of just driving down to the concert and back, we would have most of the day Saturday and all day on Sunday to finally explore downtown!
While I was able to get the concert and train tickets booked in advance, I was pretty last-minute in pulling together a list of things to do in Tacoma to fill our free time. Thankfully I had some magazines and brochures my parents had left us after they explored Tacoma (they beat us to it and they don’t even live here!!) to serve as a guide.
We didn’t even come close to making it through my list, but we did have fun with the few things we were able to accomplish, and I now have a pre-populated list of things to do next time.
Without further ado, here are a few of our recommended things to do in Tacoma.
Chihuly Bridge of Glass
We stayed along Commerce street so it was an easy walk down to Union Station and across the bridge to the Museum of Glass.
There are three main areas to explore on the bridge: the Seaform Pavilion, the Crystal Towers and the Venetian Wall. All three feature the work of Dale Chihuly, which is also on display at the Chihuly Garden in Seattle and which Brian and I both highly recommend to everyone, even if you don’t like art or museums.
The Seaform Pavilion is similar to an exhibit at Chihuly Garden and just as fascinating—you walk under a ceiling of various, layered pieces of glass, each piece unique and each section unlike the others.
We were especially interested in these clear glass cherubs that seemed to appear throughout—we didn’t remember seeing anything quite that intricate before, and they almost got lost among all the bright colors and large sizes of the other pieces.
The Crystal Towers are two big, blue pillars of glass that look just like rock candy! They are visible from the highway as well as the nearby roads, helping you orient to the bridge and museum.
My favorite part of the bridge was the Venetian Wall of equally sized compartments, each holding a unique piece of glass work. Given the time of day we were there, the translucent wall behind the pieces had this lovely backlighting effect that really make their colors pop.
Museum of Glass
The Chihuly Bridge terminates at the Museum of Glass, which includes an interesting cone surrounded by spiraling stairs down to the museum entrance.
There are a couple of external exhibits on the way in, including the Fluent Steps exhibit, which looks like clear melting ice cubes in a shallow blue pool.
The Museum of Glass was on the top of my list, and I’m really glad we had time to visit!
We walked into the museum, bought our tickets, and started at what ended up being our favorite area of the museum–the Hot Shop– where some of the artisans were doing live glass blowing.
The room is set up amphitheater style and in addition to the artisans working on the art, a gentleman was helping narrate and answer questions from the crowd as they worked.
There was a large screen above them that showed real-time, close-up video of their work, and we were able to walk up and around to the platform and exhibits overlooking the area to get a full, 360-degree view of their work.
In addition to the Hot Shop, the museum had some really interesting temporary and permanent exhibits, including pieces by Chihuly.
We walked through the exhibits, including one where the artists took drawings by children and made them out of glass, and we ended at the gift shop where there were all kinds of interesting items by local artists.
Old City Hall Historic District Tour
One of the pamphlets my parents left behind detailed a self-guided walking tour of Tacoma’s historic district. According to the pamphlet:
“The City of Tacoma did not grow, it “arrived” – by rail in the mid-1800s when it became the Western Terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Transcontinental Line.”
The historic district is an interesting mix of original buildings, restaurants, and shops, many of which have been repurposed as apartments and mixed-use buildings today.
A few of my favorites were:
- the 1893 Old City Hall, complete with 187-foot clock tower
- the houses along Pacific Avenue, which terminate at the 1888 Northern Pacific Building
- the Elks Lodge and Spanish Steps, which were built in 1916 and now being turned into a McMenamins!
- the Bradley, Olympus, and Winthrop hotels, which were built between 1890-1924
- and Fireman’s Park, built in 1902, which affords beautiful views of Mt. Rainier and a totem pole carved by Alaskan Indians in 1903.
Places to Eat and Drink
I had written a laundry list of places to eat and drink but with only a partial weekend in town, we barely scratched the surface.
Prior to our concert we rode some scooters over to the busy 6th Avenue, which is full of shops and restaurants, to check out the Crown Bar. There were a handful of people inside and we had a very nice bartender who helped us with some food and drink recommendations.
We ended up trying the pork shanks, homemade jalapeno poppers, special deviled eggs, and some goat cheese stuffed figs in bacon. YUM!
Another really fun stop in that area was Engine House No. 9, an old fire station that’s been converted into a brewery.
The history it outlined on the website, but the station was built in 1917 and was the last in Tacoma to discontinue its horse-drawn equipment. It remained in service until the mid-1960, fell into disrepair, and was converted into a tavern in the 1970s. Its current owners purchased the property in 2011, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
I thought the beer was just ok, but I loved looking around inside at the old pictures and how they’ve retained some of the historical references– including the horse stalls into the bar area, old fire hose nozzles, the pole by the entry and more. Definitely recommend stopping here!
The day after our concert we were checking out things along Commerce Street and decided to grab lunch at nearby Harmon Brewery. I can’t recommend the experience, unfortunately– they were out of everything because of the concert the night before. After we had asked for about three different things on the menu we finally just asked what they did have, which didn’t end up being very good.
The beer was ok, the service was ok, and the overall experience was only ok. With so many restaurants and breweries to try, I wouldn’t put this one high on my list to visit again.
For dessert or a sweet snack, I definitely recommend popping into hello, cupcake! This little bakery is right along Pacific Avenue near the UW campus and in addition to regular-sized cupcakes they make many of those same flavors in mini cupcakes–the perfect bite-size treat!
Brian tried the chocolate peanut butter and I had a salted caramel–both delicious! Good thing we only one each to go– I think we could have easily polished off whatever we had purchased!
Show at the Tacoma Dome
While I guess the Tacoma Dome isn’t my favorite concert venue of all time, I do want to acknowledge that we had a great time at the Fleetwood Mac concert and enjoyed some fabulous seats!
They performed non-stop for more than two hours and covered almost all of our favorite songs. In particular, Brian was happy to hear Oh Well, one of their early blues songs, and as cliché as it sounds, I loved hearing Stevie Nicks sing Landslide.
Mike Campbell, who was the lead guitarist in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is touring with Fleetwood Mac on lead guitar (amazing) along with Neil Finn of Spit Endz and Crowded House (best known for the songs Don’t Dream It’s Over).
My only disappointment was that Christine McVie didn’t sing Songbird—I’ve had to sing it to myself incessantly ever since to get my fix.
Having a little less than two days in Tacoma wasn’t nearly enough time to get to everything on our list. Here are a few of the things we’ll be prioritizing next time we visit.
- Point Defiance Park
- Tacoma Narrows Bridge
- Waterfront Park
- Washington State History Museum
- Brown & Haley Factory Store (where Almond Roca was invented/is manufactured!)
Anything else you would recommend??