By Jennifer Coleman
Tacoma is under the radar cool. A waterfront city with surprises around every corner, Tacoma mixes urban-cool with arts and culture, along with a stunning mountain backdrop. Recently there has been a revitalization in Tacoma, with distinct districts emerging for visitors to explore. The Museum District is a cultural hub of art and history, creating a fantastic destination for people to immerse in the arts. The Stadium District is full of historic homes and buildings hugging the waterfront. Beer enthusiasts will love the up and coming Brewery District with its growing group of craft breweries.
No matter what you are into, Tacoma is likely to have it.
All About Glass
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is Tacoma's stunning link to the Thea Foss Waterway and the Museum of Glass. The 50-foot pedestrian bridge holds three amazing Chihuly glass installations, open to the public 24 hours a day. The pavilion ceiling was created with over two thousand glass objects and is a vibrant display of color. Pose at the base of enormous aqua blue sugar-candy sculptures and admire the intricate glass ceiling – in this case a glass ceiling is a marvel.
The Museum of Glass is home to a contemporary glass art gallery and a working Hot Shop where visitors can pull up a seat in the amphitheater (the 90-foot-tall cone shaped part of the building that you see in Tacoma’s waterfront skyline) and watch artists do their thing. See glass transformed into mesmerizing shapes and feel the heat from the furnaces as they perfect their work. Be sure to stroll through the museum’s gift shop for handcrafted treasures you can take home.
Book your own hands-on glassblowing experience with Area 253 Glassblowing. This public access glassblowing studio welcomes visitors and local artisans alike in their quest to produce glass art. Area 253 Glassblowing offers a one-on-one experience that will get you up close to the heat while safely producing a cool piece of art to take home. Locally owned by glass artist Patrick Cahill, the fully equipped Hot Shop is a welcoming, comfortable place for an immersive creative learning experience.
Murals & More
There are murals in vibrant colors in many locations throughout downtown Tacoma. Opera Alley (Court C from S. 7th Street to St. Helens Avenue) is a whimsical scene of color-block buildings adorned with murals the full length of the street. Look for baby owls, otters and bears just down the block on Broadway, aka ‘antique row’ where more murals color the historic buildings. There is an interesting bird mural on the side of the Artists & Craftsman Supply store (616 St. Helens Ave.) – which is the ultimate art supply store!
A hidden gem is tucked away in the Stadium District. Wright Park is a 27-acre arboretum with more than 600 trees, including 30 state champions. There are 138 different species of trees in the park, including a remarkable tulip tree that was planted in 1895. Wide, flat trails bring you through a playground – great spot for the kids, along a tranquil pond, and amongst many unusual trees, including magnolia, gingko and Alaskan cedar to name a few.
Surrounded by the lovely grounds of Wright Park, the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory is one of only three public Victorian-style conservatories on the West Coast. The twelve-sided central dome with more than 3,500 panes of glass is home to 250 species of exotic tropical plants as well as a beautiful, changing display of blooming plants. The building was dedicated in 1908 and is listed on the city, state and national historic registers. *As of this writing (October 2021) the conservatory is closed for renovations; be sure to check their website for the up-to-date schedule of reopening.
Things are happening along Tacoma’s waterfront. From Schuster Parkway (near the Stadium District) all the way out to Point Ruston, this 5-ish mile stretch is dotted with parks, restaurants and hotels. There is plenty of parking available at various spots for easy access to Commencement Bay.
The Waterfront Market at Ruston (formerly called Point Ruston Public Market) is a vibrant and eclectic mix of local businesses that showcase the best of the Puget Sound region. With over 40 permanent tenants as well as day stall vendors selling everything from gifts, a full-service butcher, bath and body products, local produce and market flowers, olive oil, along with sweets and treats, this place has a little bit of everything, with an up-market vibe.
There is no shortage of seafood restaurant options along Ruston Way…choose from the Lobster Shop, Duke’s or Anthony’s to get your fresh catch. Take an after-dinner stroll along the 2-mile paved walking path for scenic views of south Puget Sound which is illuminated at sunset.
Local favorite: Tibbitts at FernHill
For the ultimate breakfast experience, Tibbitts at FernHill in the South Hill neighborhood is a low-key stop for hearty grub. (You’ll need a reservation so call the day before – if they don’t have any reservations booked, they don’t open!) This tiny, unassuming diner is owned by Shawn Tibbitts who is crafting things like candied pecan & pumpkin French toast or the meat & gravy bomb in the neighborhood that he grew up in. Going against the odds and keeping it small, Tibbitts is doing what he loves with just a couple of hot plates and small oven, serving dishes that are big on the plate and even bigger on flavor.