When I received the email from Matt at Travel Tacoma, inviting me on an InstaFAM tour with a bunch of talented Instagrammers and photographers, I was beyond ecstatic.
For those of you who aren’t bloggers or in the media, a FAM tour stands for “familiarization tour.” It’s generally a tour that is a number of days, hosted and put on by a tourism board or company to promote a destination or brand. This one was solely focused on Instagram and finding the prettiest spots around Tacoma, Gig Harbor, and Mt. Rainier. In other words, I was immersed for 4 days in finding the best views and most beautiful hidden spots in Washington. It was heaven.
I did the tour with fellow Instagram gurus, Christina from Chronicles of a Travel Addict, Sarah & Ian from The Dream Trekkers, and Morgan from Morgan Stone Grether Photography. Although I’ll talk more in detail about a few of my favorite experiences and moments from this trip, this is a summary of what we got up to for our recent explorations through Washington state.
Day 1 – Tacoma
We spent our first and last nights of the trip in Tacoma and had a whirlwind time in the glass art focused city. After flying into Seattle, I met up with Christina, Morgan, and Matt for the drive into Tacoma – only about a 30 to 45 minute drive from Sea-Tac airport. Sarah and Ian met us at the hotel a bit later since they were driving up from Portland.
We checked into the classiest hotel in Tacoma at Hotel Murano and I went up to my bright, colorful, and clean room looking out over the city. I couldn’t believe how stunning the view was at any time of the day, but especially later that night at sunset. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that nice of a view from a hotel room before and I was mesmerized.
After devouring the delicious chocolates they kindly left for me in the room, I went down to join the group on our first outing of the trip. We walked around downtown and separated once we arrived at the Tacoma Art Museum. Half of us decided on an afternoon at the museum and the other half chose to go down to the waterfront to take in the local atmosphere of Tacoma.
I was part of the museum group and I spent the next hour looking at the variety of funky, unique art that was on display at the art museum. The museum (and city as a whole) is especially known for its glass art since Tacoma is home to the famous glass sculptor, Dale Chihuly. I’ve always loved glass art and I was enthralled with the many pieces of work by Chihuly and other aspiring glass sculptors from the Pacific Northwest.
After more time walking around downtown and a glimpse into the history of Tacoma and how much it has been revitalized in the past few years, we made it to the Harmon – a local brewery and restaurant in Tacoma. I was recommended their Pinnacle Peak Pale Ale and I was not disappointed.
That grand view from my hotel room later that night already sold me on how much a place like Tacoma has to offer. Before I quickly fell asleep, exhausted from the full day of travel, I noted how content I felt looking out toward the mountain looming over the city of Tacoma, the city just turning on for the night down below. I knew that this trip wouldn’t be my last time in the Pacific Northwest, not by a long shot.
Day 2 – Gig Harbor & Tacoma
The next morning, we started our day off with a nice relaxing tour around the harbor in none other than a GONDOLA! Not only were we gracefully pushed through the water by John “Cinque” Synco, the owner and gondolier of Gig Harbor Gondola, but he even sung to us in Italian two separate times throughout the tour. It was like I was back in Venice, except better since we were the only Gondola out on the water that day. Not surprisingly, it was more laid back than the experience I had flowing through the crowded waterways of Venice a few years ago.
We were beaming by the time we were back on solid ground and in a great mood when we went to quickly check into the Inn at Gig Harbor for the night. Who would’ve thought that the best way to wake up would be to hop into a gondola for a morning float?
After checking into our very business casual hotel, we went to the distillery right next door (dangerous, I know!) to take a tour of the most awarded craft distillery in North America – Heritage Distilling Co.
I’ll be writing more about my experience at the distillery in detail, it was that good. For now just know that they make fun and highly unique products. They distill gin, vodka, and bourbon so there truly is a little something for everyone.
Once we had our fair share of half shots that caught up to us real quick, we went over to the Gig Harbor History Museum and toured the beautifully done exhibits. We learned more about Gig Harbor’s maritime and cultural past, and Galloping Gertie, a suspension bridge that is now better known as Sturdy Gertie or Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Galloping Gertie was poorly engineered and collapsed 6 months after it was built in 1940. Luckily, nobody was injured, but sadly a small dog named Tubby perished in the collapse. Once the Narrows Bridge was re-built and determined to be much more resilient, it was nicknamed Study Gertie – and well, the rest is history.
We had lunch at the museum from the The Harbor General Store, and I lucked out with trying my first Acai bowl under the impressive old fishing boat, the Shenadoah. There were great views over the harbor from the top of the fishing boat as well.
After lunch, we had a quick kayak tour around the harbor with Emerald Yachts. Personally, I enjoyed the uniqueness of the gondola ride better than kayaking, but maybe that’s because I’ve already been kayaking so many times and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore the harbor. We didn’t spot any marine life out on the kayaks, but we did have great views of Gig Harbor from the water and waved to quite a few boats in the busy harbor.
Next we had a photo tour around Tacoma. It was quick yet an incredibly fun day out. We made it to Stadium High School – also known as the high school in 10 Things I Hate About You – and Point Defiance Park on a sunny day. On our way back to Gig Harbor, we stopped in at one of Matt’s favorite local coffee shops, Bluebeard Coffee Roasters. Yum!
That night, I had the best fish & chips I’ve tasted in my life from the Tides Tavern. It is one of those restaurants on the water where you know your fish is fresh. I substituted regular french fries for sweet potato fries and it was potentially the best decision of my life. The batter they fry their fish in is so good. If you’re in Gig Harbor, go to Tides Tavern and get the fish & chips to experience this amazingness for yourself.
Day 3 – Mt. Rainier
We woke up bright and early day 3 of the InstaFAM tour to meet up with Julie, the contact from Visit Rainier. We were starting on our mountainous part of the journey and I couldn’t be more excited to get out in nature and go hiking again.
Mt. Rainier National Park is a place I’ve been wanting to go since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, so I was extremely pleased that it was part of the FAM trip.
We left bright and early after a quick breakfast at the Inn and made our way to the mountain. On the way there we stopped in the small town of Elbe and the Mt. Rainier railroad area. Elbe has all the right kind of charm for a small mountain town, including a tiny Little White Church, old railroad cars that have been turned into restaurants, and the photogenic Hobo Inn.
After a short stop in Elbe, we continued on to the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum. I’m a sucker for interactive museums, especially when they’re set in the location where the history of the museum actually took place. Both of these aspects were true for the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum, we stepped back in time to the early 1900s to have a true pioneer logging camp experience. We jumped on historic trains and even rang the bell on one that looked like the Polar Express.
Even if you don’t think logging history sounds very interesting, it’s a huge part of the past in this area of Washington, and the guide on our tour really brought it to life. She did a great job of painting the scene, telling stories, and making us feel like we were actually a part of the history. I learned a lot about the life of a logger in Washington and witnessed another alluring location in the Pacific Northwest while I was at it.
The Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum was only the beginning, of course. As we made our way closer to the mountain, we stopped in at the unique and character-filled Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park. The talent of Dan Klennert, who started this artistic space, is clear as soon as you begin walking around the front and back lawns filled with metal sculptures. There were metal animals, old school bicycles, R-rated pieces of work, and an artistic filled experience that kept us entertained throughout our visit. It’s definitely a place that’s worth a stop if you’re in the Mt. Rainier area!
Finally, before heading up to the mountain, we stopped in for lunch at Wildberry Restaurant. The restaurant was started by a sherpa who once held the world record for the fastest ascent of Mt. Everest. The restaurant is a mix of Himalayan and American food and it was a tasty addition to our afternoon. I had the Himalayan dumplings and couldn’t even finish them they were such a big serving.
After lunch, we had our first hike to look forward to. We stopped in the Longmire area and walked the Trail of Shadows for our first stunning up close views of Mt. Rainier. We lucked out with gorgeous weather the whole time we were in the park, and Longmire was perfectly photogenic while we explored.
As the day continued, we went to the powerful Narada Falls and took a longer hike in the Paradise area. Paradise was potentially my favorite spot that we went to in Mt. Rainier, and I guess that shouldn’t have been surprising with a name like that. It felt like I was walking through The Sound of Music set. Everything was green, lush, and mountainous. We passed by meadows, wild flowers, and small waterfalls. It was something straight out of Switzerland.
Once we all met up again we had a picnic dinner with another beautiful view in front of us and it was one of my favorite memories from the trip. Everyone was in a great mood, the food was delicious, and we were all excited about the wonderful spots we’d already seen and the amount of shots we’d captured throughout our trip so far.
On our way to check into our hotel for the night at Crystal Mountain Resort, we stopped by Reflection Lake to see if we could get a shot of the usually very reflective lake. Unfortunately, it was a bit breezy by this time so we didn’t get the best shots, but it was still a stunning place to walk around and take in the mountain air.
I could see the Crystal Mountain Resort as a super cozy place to crash after skiing or snowboarding for the day during the wintertime. In the summer it is still a very cute mountain resort, with strings of outdoor lights and warm rooms. Besides the grumpy bartender in the Snorting Elk later that night, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about Crystal Mountain, except for the fact that we didn’t get to stay there longer.
Day 4 – Mt. Rainier & Tacoma
Our last full day on the InstaFAM tour was just as whirlwind as the past three days, but we had become so used to the pace by this point that I don’t think we even noticed it anymore.
We had a half day of hiking in Mt. Rainier to start our day. We began at Tipsoo Lake and I quickly fell in love with the subtle wildflowers that were surrounding the water. We eventually made our way to the Sunrise area and went our own ways to get lost in nature, and take in the views the best ways we could through our lenses and our own two eyes.
The short amount of time we had in Mt. Rainier National Park (as well as Tacoma!) made me realize how much there still is to see in this area. I would love to head back for a week or two of exploring this impressive national park, to tackle more trails, find more wildflowers, and never grow tired of taking a million and one shots of Mt. Rainier when the mountain is out.
Before we left Mt. Rainier National Park we made sure to ride another kind of gondola up to the Summit House Restaurant. Our lunch was the best view I’ve experienced at a restaurant before, the mountain was almost close enough to touch.
We had quick stops in both Ashford and Enumclaw on our way back to Tacoma to experience the best of small mountain towns in Washington. Once back in Tacoma, we checked into Hotel Murano for a second time and spent our last night at a craft hot dog joint called The Red Hot. If you’re into your beer and hot dogs, this place is hard to beat and such a fun atmosphere as well. It was a great ending to our jam packed tour of a captivating destination in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you been to Tacoma, Gig Harbor, or Mt. Rainier National Park yet? Have you ever been on or heard of an InstaFAM tour before?
Many thanks to Travel Tacoma and Visit Rainier for hosting me on my trip to Washington. All opinions, as always, are my own! I can’t wait to write more posts about this experience and my favorite moments from this trip.
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