Living on the West Coast of British Columbia, I’ve often heard mention of Tacoma. I knew it was slightly south of Seattle and home to the world renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. But that was it, the full extent of my Tacoma knowledge. After 3 adventure packed days in the port-town I’m telling everyone I know that Tacoma needs to be added to their must-go vacation list!
Tacoma offers unique family-friendly experiences with a shocking lack of crowds. We visited on the first sunny weekend in May which was also a long weekend in Canada. I expected to find every tourist destination crawling with families, but there was no one. We felt like we had the whole of Tacoma to ourselves. I’ve never experienced a big city so devoid of crowds mid-day on a weekend. It was glorious!
Getting around Tacoma is ridiculously easy. If you aren’t walking, the best option is the Tacoma Link. The completely FREE, above-ground light rail that connects the Tacoma Dome, through the Museum District, to the Theatre District.
Tacoma is located 3 hours south of Vancouver. The drive time is made quicker by utilizing the Express Lanes through Seattle. Situated along the Thea Foss Waterway, the downtown core is built upon hills running up from the water’s edge. Tacoma is a visual cornucopia: new construction intermingled with old, striking architectural landmarks (such as the Museum of Glass, America’s Car Museum, and the Courthouse), and Mt Rainier towering in the background. Our 3 day visit to Tacoma far exceeded all of our expectations and we are already peering at the calendar to figure out when we may next return.
Hotel Murano is one of the tallest buildings in downtown Tacoma. It is very easy to spot the tall, white, tower with the teal M from nearly every corner of the city. Like many buildings in Tacoma, Hotel Murano displays stunning glasswork. The rainbow front desk, the huge green sculpture out front, the brightly coloured Viking boats, and the original Chihuly pieces elevate Hotel Murano far above being just a place to lay your head at night. A big hit with our family was discovering that each floor of the hotel featured a different glass artist. In the elevator there is a list of the artists and the floor where you can find their work. Whenever the elevator door opens the occupants are treated to displays of original glasswork and a brief biography about the artist.
The hotel rooms are spacious and can comfortably accommodate a family of four. Bed options for the hotel are either King or doubles. I loved the fact that the hotel encouraged environmental awareness. Guests are invited to hang a note on their door indicating they don’t require housekeeping. Every time housekeeping isn’t needed, the guest is rewarded with a $5 credit to one of the on-site dining venues. Pretty sure we can all make our own beds & re-use a towel more than once! We actually dined Bite, the restaurant at Hotel Murano, and the food was delicious. The view is spectacular, the drinks are amazing, and the menu selection is diverse. I highly recommend the charcuterie platter.
Family Fun Fact: Book the Patron level rooms (floors 23 – 25) and enjoy a robust complimentary continental breakfast as part of your stay. The breakfast is available from 7am – 10am on weekends and 6am – 9am on weekdays.
Want to learn more about the stunning work of Dale Chihuly? An entire room is packed with his creations, there is an enclosed courtyard displaying one of his instillations, and there are videos showing his work. The Tacoma Art Museum also has a rotating feature exhibit which was showing “Artists Drawn to the West” when we visited.
Family Fun Fact: The Tacoma Art Museum invites all of their visitors to Make Art. Just off the main lobby, a large classroom lit with natural light and filled with art tables awaits interested and budding artists. Imaging walking into a traditional art supply store and getting to use the materials displayed on the shelves. Various types of paper, pens, pencils, felts, and paint sit waiting to be used by patrons of all ages.
For me a destination holiday is all about maximizing the sight-seeing experience. And while my family is generally onboard to the go-go approach to vacations, sometimes the kids just need to play. Unstructured, loud, imaginative, sweaty play. They got that in spades when we visited the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. The large L-shaped space is packed with kid-entertainment (the non-electronic variety): the best selection of dress up costumes I’ve ever seen, a massive art room, multiple climbing structures, an interactive water table, and much more.
Family Fun Fact: The Children’s Museum of Tacoma is the only pay-as-you-will children’s museum in the world. The donation box is tucked off to the side; there is no expectation as to the amount a family donates.
We started our Tacoma sight-seeing holiday at the Foss Waterway Seaport, located in one of only two restored wheat transfer facilities on the Tacoma waterway. The large open interior boasts numerous restored boats, interactive education stations, and fascinating history. The LEGO boat building station, the hands-on marine education station, the dress-up & imagination alcove, are all fantastic kid-friendly activities.
Family Fun Fact: The Tall Ships are coming to the Foss Waterway Seaport as part of the Festival of Sail (June 15 – 18). The maritime activities planned for the Father’s Day weekend include a working boat shop, mermaid storytelling, an exhibit on pirates & rum running in the Puget Sound, and kids’ LEGO projects.
The Hot Shop is a fascinating place for kids. The artists at the Museum of Glass create masterpieces from molten glass right in front of the audience. While the artists create the glass pieces an emcee wanders around explaining the process and answering questions from the audience. Once you get sufficiently over-heated in the Hot Shop, head off to explore the galleries. When we visited there was a stunning display of underwater creatures, jewelry, and a private collection of vases & pitchers.
Family Fun Fact: On the third Thursday of every month it is FREE to visit the Museum of Glass. What family doesn’t want to save money when travelling?!
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass stretches from the roof of the Museum of Glass, across the train tracks and connects to downtown. As you walk across the bridge you encounter three distinct Dale Chihuly instillations. Look up to see the fifty-by-twenty food plate-glass Seaform Pavilion. The ceiling creation is made from 2,364 glass pieces of various styles, colours & sizes. In the middle of the bridge are the forty-foot tall Crystal Towers. Each tower displays 63 massive green crystals. The final installation, located on top of the Museum of Glass, is the Venetian Wall. 109 pieces from three of Chihuly’s series (Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti) stop visitors in their tracks. Floral arrangements, bright colours, and whimsical cherubs fill the 80-foot space. Some of the largest blown pieces, ever executed, are included in the Venetian Wall.
Family Fun Fact: The bridge is open all day, every day. If your kids are early risers and you are looking to fill sometime in the morning, head on over to the bridge.
Despite my father’s best efforts I’m not the car enthusiast he tried to cultivate. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the car museum. While we have much to learn about the more than 300 vintage cars on display, our family had a hoot during our visit. The Family Zone offered loads of entertainment: building your own car & race down a giant track; climb inside a restored car and start the engine, turn on the lights, honk and horn, and shift the gears; and take the Road Trip Challenge driving a 1998 Ford Mustang to learn strategies for wise energy use. The Speed Zone was by far the favourite. Racing car simulators and slot car races were a huge hit with the kids. The racing simulators are $8 for 6 minutes and the slot cars are $3 per person.
Family Fun Fact: On the 3rd Saturday of every month the ACM hosts Family S.T.E.A.M. days. The activities are free with the cost of admission. Parents & kids work together exploring the world of automobiles and its relation to science, technology, engineering, art and math (S.T.E.A.M.). June’s Family STEAM Day focuses on race cars.
The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is North America’s only combination zoo and aquarium. Visitors are invited to take part in the numerous daily presentations (Polar Bear Keeper Talk, animal feedings, Elephant Keeper Talk, Goat Grooming, Eye-to-Eye Shark Dives, and more). Highlights from our visit included: stingray cove, watching the incredible swinging siamang, and learning about the red wolf recovery program.
Family Fun Fact: On Father’s Day admission is half-price for dads. There is also an exceptional playground & water park at Point Defiance. A large portion of the play space is covered which makes it accessible anytime of the year.
Family Fun Fact: Let’s be honest, this fun fact is just for the moms & dads. Order the flight of the five reserve beers, the price is insanely cheap. Less than $6 US to try generous pours of Harmon’s 5 reserve creations.
Family Fun Fact: There’s more than just delicious Bavarian food at the Rhein Haus. Either before your meal or after you can book your family time to play bocce ball. There are four, indoor, bocce ball courts at the Tacoma restaurant. Each booking provides you with an hour of play. Our boys had a terrific time, though I’m pretty sure their favourite part was hurtling the balls down the court and moving the scoring pegs.
When planning your family’s holiday to Tacoma, have a look at the very useful Travel Tacoma website. In addition to listing all of the city’s attractions, they have great list such as Twenty-Five FREE Things to Do in Tacoma and 5 Under $5.