With a vibrant and lively downtown arts and culture scene flourishing amidst an ongoing revitalization, it doesn’t take too much effort to quickly fill up a day trip to the city of Tacoma. Located just 40 minutes south of Seattle on Interstate 5, Washington State’s third largest city is home to a host of theaters, galleries, museums, shops, and restaurants worth checking out.
A great introduction to the city is a self-guided tour through the downtown core on the free commuter Link Light Rail train. Using the free parking garage at the central Tacoma Dome transit terminal, 424 E. 25th Street, it’s easy to hop directly onto the train for the short ride into downtown.
The Washington State History Museum is in a restored Union Pacific Railroad station. — Photo courtesy of Washington State History MuseumLight rail is an excellent way to sightsee, shop, and dine for a day without the hassle or cost of driving and parking. Tacoma Link provides complimentary service from one end of downtown to the other with a total of six stops: the Tacoma Dome, South 25th Street, Union Station, the Museum District, the Convention Center, and the Theater District. Link runs 365 days-a-year, and travels the line approximately every 10 minutes. Hours are Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Check the schedule for train frequency.
Tacoma has three nationally recognized museums within walking distance of one another and from the Museum District light rail station.
The Tacoma Art Museum displays works from its impressive permanent collections of Northwest works and hosts rotating traveling exhibitions. The museum also is host to a permanent display of glass works by Tacoma native and world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. If it’s time to eat, the museum has a café.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly's work on view at Tacoma Art Museum. — Photo courtesy of Tacoma Art MuseumNext door, the glass-art theme continues at the Museum of Glass. The glass museum’s signature 90-foot silver cone (the chimney of the working glass studio inside), dominates the skyline. Visitors to the studio hot shop amphitheater watch skilled glass artists blow and mold masterpieces of molten glass. The museum's three galleries host permanent and traveling exhibits of glass art and contemporary art.
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot pedestrian walkway, connects the Museum of Glass to the Washington State History Museum plaza and to the Thea Foss Waterway promenade that fronts the neighboring museums. The pedestrian bridge has three Chihuly glass installations open to the public 24 hours a day.
The Washington State History Museum is in the restored historic Union Station. Even here, in the rotunda, Chihuly glass is on display, this time in the form of a dramatic chandelier containing 600 blown-glass forms. The museum’s interactive exhibits, high-tech displays, and historical artifacts tell the story of Washington, examining the people, places, and industries that shaped the state from the Native Americans to logging, aviation, and computer technology. Children are the target audience for the museum’s History Lab.
A Seattle World's Fair poster from the collection of the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. — Photo courtesy of Washington State History MuseumToward the end of the Link line is Tacoma’s theater district. The city of Tacoma’s Broadway Center program provides a full slate of live entertainment at three Tacoma theaters, the Pantages, the Rialto, and Theatre on the Square. The theaters are home to many local arts groups offering a variety of entertainment. The venues also host world-class touring groups, including ballets, symphonies, live comedy, musicals, concert bands, popular music performances, and other special events.
Back at the beginning of the line on your return trip, check out Freighthouse Square. Right across the street from Tacoma Dome Station, the converted warehouse building has restaurants, specialty shops, antiques, and art galleries.
The restaurants at Freighthouse Square can make for a casual dinner before the return trip to Seattle, with choices including diner fare, seafood, and Thai cuisine. If you’re after a more refined dining experience, consider two nearby options. Check out stunning city lights views at Stanley & Seafort’s seafood and chophouse, or indulge at ultra swanky steakhouse El Gaucho Tacoma, complete with live piano music.