Do a day trip to Tacoma, and you may focus on a major event at the Tacoma Dome or its immediate neighbor, the amazing LeMay: America’s Car Museum. Or you may visit the well-publicized Museum of Glass and/or Tacoma Art Museum, two of the three major museums in Tacoma’s downtown Museum District.
But be sure to stroll across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass linking these museums to downtown Tacoma across I-705. The 500-foot pedestrian bridge is one of the largest outdoor installations of glass art by world-renowned artist and Tacoma native son Dale Chihuly. Unlike the museums, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass is free for all to walk across and view its extraordinary glass art at leisure.
Then visit the Washington State History Museum, the third major facility in the Museum District and often the “step-child” visitor-wise. I thoroughly enjoy its interactive and multimedia exhibits on Washington and its people, places and industries that shaped our state. The museum is home to the largest collection of pioneer, Indian and Alaskan artifacts on the Pacific Coast, including Clovis points made by the earliest nomads. Experience the development of Washington State through large dioramas, interactive displays and videos in the Petroglyph Theater. Learn how the geology of our region has influenced its development. See the progression through statehood that includes industrialization, the war and post-war eras, and women’s suffrage. The museum also features great traveling exhibits, the state’s largest permanent model railroad, and a History Lab Learning Center for kids. It is open daily except Monday; see website for hours and admission costs.
Adjacent to the Washington State History Museum, Union Station is an often-overlooked historical gem. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1911 former railway station features Romanesque architecture, a striking copper dome, and a rotunda exhibit of extraordinary glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly – free to the public to view during open hours.
The Foss Waterway Seaport showcases Tacoma’s extensive maritime heritage with exhibits on the people, boats and industries that have influenced Puget Sound for decades. Learn about the Mosquito Fleet, moniker for the private, steam-powered ferries that connected Puget Sound communities until the mid-20th century. View exhibits on Fishing the Sound, Willits Canoes, Vintage Scuba and Rails to Sails. Watch volunteer boatbuilders restore and/or build traditional maritime craft in the Heritage Wooden Boat Shop. Browse displays in the historic Balfour Dock Building, the last warehouse that defined Tacoma’s waterfront for almost a century. The Seaport is open Wednesday through Sunday; admission is charged.
In and across from downtown’s Wright Park are two oft-overlooked attractions. One is the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, well worth seeing for the conservatory building itself as much as its collection of more than 250 species of exotic tropical foliage,
flowers and exotic plants. Constructed 1908, it is one of only three Victorian-style conservatories on the West Coast. Its distinctive, twelve-sided central dome and two wings are made with over 3,000 panes of vintage glass. Listed on the City of Tacoma, Washington State and National historic registers, the conservatory offers specific plant tours for a small fee as well as letting you wander through on your own for free. For example, you can take a docent-led tour to learn about the 200 varieties of orchids on display or carnivorous plants and how they attract, trap, kill and ingest their insect prey. Each season, the conservatory also puts on a spectacular floral display; coming up Oct. 10 to Nov. 19 is Crisp: An Ode to Autumn to celebrate fall’s rich colors with peppers, coleus and exhibition mums. The conservatory is open daily except Monday.
Across South G Street from the conservatory is the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. Its name may not sound that interesting, but you’re sure to be intrigued with its display of original handwritten letters, manuscripts and documents of historical significance – written by some of the world’s most famous individuals such as Napoleon, Ben Franklin, etc. It is one of 14 Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums in the U.S., which rotate these privately collected, historical documents between them every three months. Gain a fresh appreciation of history when you view treasures that can range from the original draft of the U.S. Bill of Rights to Einstein’s famous formula E=Mc2. Karpeles is open Tuesday through Friday with free admission.
Located in Tacoma’s Old Town district, the Job Carr Cabin Museum is a reconstruction of the first white settler’s 1864 dwelling here. It commemorates Tacoma’s birthplace with original artifacts, photos, historical displays from Carr family. Step back in time when you enter the cabin – appreciate how small pioneer living space was and how early settlers subsisted. Enjoy Old Town tales told by docents and learn about Job Carr and his family, plus other folks and events that shaped this historic part of Tacoma. The Job Carr Cabin is open Wednesday through Saturday afternoons with free admission, donations accepted.
Chihuly Bridge of Glass
Washington State History Museum
253-272-3500 or toll-free 888-238-4373
Foss Waterway Seaport
W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory
Job Carr Cabin Museum
— By Julie Gangler
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.