The city of Seattle tends to hog the spotlight in terms of Washington tourism, but there’s more to the state than the Emerald City. I had the wonderful opportunity to pop down to Tacoma for a long weekend of exploring this city’s long heritage of glassblowing.
Tacoma is less than 1 hour away by bus (and on weekdays there are commute train options as well), making it a perfect city to combine with a visit to Seattle. Here are some of the best and most fun things to do in Tacoma, WA.
The Best Tacoma Museums
If you aren’t into glass, I guarantee you will after a visit to downtown Tacoma! There’s so many interesting exhibits and accessible glass experts that you’ll not only learn a lot, you may be itching for a career change! A few Tacoma museum/attraction suggestions:
- Tacoma Glassblowing Studio: Call ahead and get an appointment or see what’s on their agenda, because you MUST do a glassblowing session. It’s hot and kind of sweaty, but it’s one of the most fun experiential things I’ve done in years. The team here do a lot of work in the community, and I admire that, so give them your business.
- Museum of Glass: This is Tacoma’s famous glass museum, with its own hothouse running glass blowing demonstrations continuously. The exhibits rotate, but they’re stellar – the glass forest pictured above nearly took my breath away. It’s a small museum, but save some time to watch one of the demonstrations – preferably after you’ve had your studio session, so you can really appreciate the artists’ work.
- Tacoma Art Museum: Another great downtown Tacoma museum with lots of glass (ahem), but other lovely pieces too. Get some insights behind the famous Dave Chihuly too.
- Washington History Museum: This museum’s building is beautiful, and if you aren’t familiar with Washington state’s history, the extensive galleries are informative too.
Despite it being the typically rainy Pacific Northwest, there are things to do in Tacoma that involve the outdoors. Two particularly noteworthy suggestions.
- Bridge of Glass: Personally, second to the glass blowing, this was my favorite stop – best done both during the day and at night. It’s not a total glass bridge as the name implies, but just a bridge filled with glass artworks. It’s just beautiful – and connects the Museum of Glass with Pacific Avenue, where the hotels and other recommend stops are.
- Point Defiance Park: Most of the locals I met rank this as their favorite Tacoma attraction. It’s a huge park with gardens and a zoo, but I think the view shown above speaks for itself.
Interesting Shops in Downtown Tacoma
Downtown Tacoma has a few fun shops, especially around the downtown University of Washington area. Two must-visits:
- BKB & Company: This shop features a multitude of artists, but you might want to visit the famous Art-o-Mat, pictured above. Buy a token, put it in, and then pull under the art teaser that looks the most interesting to you. What’s fun is that the artists all include their contact details, so you can visit their websites or share with them where their art ended up.
- Great Northwest Popcorn: Ok, so you knew I’d include a food shop in here, didn’t you? This popcorn shop has some tasty, hand-made popcorn, as well as other sweets and treats. They’re nice folk too – stop in and say hello.
- Museum of Glass Gift Shop: Even if it’s just to window browse, the Museum of Glass has a fantastic gift shop with glass works and other artist-inspired notebooks, toys, and tschotskes.
Where to Eat
Looking for the best restaurants in Tacoma? I’ve got ’em. Suggestions:
- Clancy Coffee: Just next to the history museum, Clancy is ready and waiting to caffeinate you before or after your museum visits. Tasty pastries and a warm vibe add to the mix.
- Hello Cupcake: Who doesn’t like a good cupcake during their vacation? (Tip: go with the red velvet.)
- Cocktails at the Murano: Another vacation must-have, and having cocktails at the Murano before/during/after exploring the glass artwork on each floor is quintessentially Tacoma. Must. Do.
- Shanghai House: Good Chinese can be difficult to come by these days, but Shanghai House delivers. (And they offer take-out, if you wanted to eat in your room!)
- Pacific Grill: Last but certainly not least, one of the absolute best restaurants in Tacoma, WA is Pacific Grill. They’re attached to the Courtyard Marriott and have to say, we had a full set of courses included cocktails, and didn’t have one bad thing to say. They’re known for their happy hour as well as yummy seafood and steaks.
Where to Stay: Hotels in Tacoma
Downtown Tacoma is the perfect place to stay for your visit; there are several hotels centrally located, so you can easily walk to most of the attractions. A couple of recommendations:
- Courtyard Marriott Downtown Tacoma: Pictured above, I am just loving Courtyard Marriott’s new interior remodel – although the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Tacoma, just across from the convention center and just a few minutes’ walk to all the museums, is a brand new building, and it’s gorgeous. The rooms have great views, in addition to a pool, fitness center and spa.
- Hotel Murano: Mentioned earlier, the Hotel Murano is a classic Tacoma property and blends both the contemporary with the traditional – architecture buffs will love staying here. It’s also centrally located, and easy to get around to any of the Tacoma attractions.
Photo Credits: Russell Johnson and Jeff Curtis courtesy of the Museum of Glass, mjardeen, Andy Hayes, Pacific Grill Venue Photo, Courtyard Marriott Venue Photo
Special thanks to Travel Tacoma for being such a kind host and showing me around town. Learn more about our editorial policy on sponsored trips here.