Tacoma has had a renaissance of sorts in the last few years. People used to comment on the “Aroma of Tacoma” in reference to the overbearing sulfur smell that used to hover over the city. Visitors would pass right on through on their way to Seattle, seeing Tacoma as a backwater city and one that wasn’t worth the stop.
A lot has changed in a short amount of time. Travelers are finally starting to see the draw of this Pacific Northwest city and all it has to offer. I was luckily enough to visit Tacoma for the first time this past July and I was impressed with the beauty, history, and local hangouts that I found there. If you’re unsure of what there is to do in Tacoma, or you’re simply looking for a new and lesser known city to explore in Washington – these are my recommendations on how to spend two days in the city.
Get Cultured at the Tacoma Art Museum
The Tacoma Art Museum has a variety of different types of art – modern, classic, visual, glass, and sculpture. For anyone who wants a good overview of talented local and northwest artists, this is the museum at which to find culture.
My favorite piece of art was a realistic painting of a deserted island that represented the Pacific Northwest.
Because Tacoma is such a haven for glass art, they have a large focus on glass art and a few pieces from Dale Chihuly himself – the famous glass art sculptor who was bon in Tacoma. The museum is centrally located and free for members, $15 for adults.
Go Scavenger Hunting for Glass Art
Speaking of glass art, there’s a whole lot of it in Tacoma, and rightfully so. As I mentioned above, Dale Chihuly is one of the most famous glass art sculptors in the world and he was born in Tacoma. He created a movement and interest in glass art that can be seen all over Washington today, but especially Tacoma.
There are quite a few places to go scavenger hunting for glass art, including the Tacoma Art Museum. Hotel Murano is another spot for glass art. It’s where I stayed in town and it has different glass art installations featured on every floor of the hotel.
Another favorite location to see impressive glass art is at the Bridge of Glass – also designed by Chihuly, of course. It’s a 500-foot pedestrian bridge that is a sight to behold at night. It’s as if you suddenly found yourself under a glass sea full of glass creatures. It’s a pretty cool experience to walk underneath.
In addition to the Tacoma Art Museum that offers a good variety of a lot of different types of art, there’s actually a Glass Museum that is solely dedicated to the glass art form as well. You can conveniently reach it by walking over the Bridge of Glass from downtown. If you want to get your hands dirty and test out glass art for yourself, there are glassblowing classes that you can sign up for at the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio.
Spend an Afternoon at the Waterfront
As a general basis, I enjoy waterfronts or oceanfronts wherever I travel. I simply enjoy being near the water. I didn’t get to see the Tacoma waterfront for myself while I was in town, but I’ve heard it’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon on a nice day in the city. There’s a Waterwalk that is an easy way to explore the Puget Sound vibes and get some exercise at the same time.
If you’re looking for more of an adventure, there are kayak and stand up paddle board rentals near the water.
Go Beer & Coffee Tasting
The Pacific Northwest is known for a lot of great aspects, and good coffee and beer are two of them. I made it to a couple of coffee shops while I was in town, and I would recommend Bluebeard Coffee Roasters and Anthem Coffee & Tea. Anthem has the added bonus of hosting live music in the evenings.
In terms of beer, Tacoma is not quite as developed as the Seattle or Portland craft beer scenes, but there are still quite a few places worth drinking at if you’re a beer enthusiast. Those would include Harmon Brewery, Narrows Brewing Company, Odd Otter Brewing, and Wingman Brewers.
Try the Best Craft Hot Dogs in Town
Have you ever heard of craft hot dogs? I hadn’t either until I went to The Red Hot on my last night in Tacoma. I was not disappointed with the crafty dogs (and beer) that I ordered. Be prepared for a busy spot because this seems to be the place to hangout in Tacoma. They have everything from classic Chicago-style dogs, to PB & J hot dogs, and really, everything in between.
It was busting at the seams when we walked in and it took a good 30 minutes until we had a place to sit. With that said, it was well worth the busy atmosphere for the food and drink. I love that they serve their hot dogs with frito chips as well. It brings me back to my elementary school days. And their huge tap list would have to be one of the best in town, there were so many choices of every type of beer you could imagine.
Find Where “10 Things I Hate About You” Was Filmed
Anyone else a big fan of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You? That movie was quintessential to my childhood and my love of Heath Ledger (RIP :(). Not to mention 1999 was just a good year all around. This is all to say that I LOVE 10 Things I Hate About You.
What most people don’t realize is that the crazy beautiful school that they happen to attend in the film is a real thing. It’s actually a public high school, weirdly enough, and it’s in Tacoma! The school is called Stadium High and we went there and walked around the grounds one afternoon. We even saw the stadium and the bleachers where Heath Ledger does his famous scene, singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Aka my favorite scene in the whole movie.
I was tempted to reenact it myself, but didn’t want to scare my new travel mates who were fellow Instagrammers. Not to mention, there were a lot of cameras around and there would be way too much physical proof for my liking. Regardless, I geeked out majorly while I was walking around the school. My only recommendation would be to go during the summer, weekends, or during school breaks. You don’t want to be that creeper taking pictures when there are kids in school.
Get Outside at Point Defiance Park
I’m a big nature lover so it was no surprise that one of my favorite experiences in Tacoma was spending time in Point Defiance Park. We just happened to be there on potentially the most perfectly sunny day that the Pacific Northwest has ever seen, and it made the scenery that much more stunning.
Point Defiance is a 702-acre park so there is plenty to explore. There’s a zoo, aquarium, rose garden, many hiking trails, lookout points, and even a beach with a great view of Mt. Rainier when the mountain is out. The wildlife in the park include mule deer, red foxes, woodpeckers, Douglas squirrels, and raccoons. You may even spot a bald eagle if you look closely, and harbor seals are a common appearance as well.
What I loved most about this park were the coastal views, especially the ones looking out over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, also known as Sturdy Gertie.
Walk Along Sturdy Gertie
We actually learned about the history of Sturdy Gertie at the Gig Harbor History Museum. It used to be called Galloping Gertie because of its poor engineering and twisted appearance. The bridge was originally built in 1940 and didn’t even last a year before collapsing. Luckily, no one perished, except for a cute black spaniel by the name of Tubby, sadly.
Although the bridge didn’t look very sturdy by the time of its collapse, most people were surprised when it collapsed. This is because it was designed by one of the most respected and well-known bridge engineers of the time, and no suspension bridge had failed in decades. The probable cause was the bridge’s solid stiffening girders that didn’t allow it to give in the strong winds that come through the area regularly.
The pictures of that day are pretty incredible to see. If you visit the Gig Harbor History Museum you can see a variety of pictures, read about more stories, and even see parts of the bridge that collapsed. I find the kind of history fascinating.
The new bridge was built in 1950 and hasn’t had any issues with its design since. I think the engineers learned from their first mistakes and built a much better and sturdier bridge – hence why it’s nicknamed Sturdy Gertie today.
So, go walk out on the bridge and appreciate the feats of modern engineering that allow you to stand safely on its walkway, looking down on the glistening water below.
Related: Where to Stay in Seattle
I’d love to know, have you been to Tacoma before? What are some cities you would love to visit in the Pacific Northwest?
Note: I was hosted by Travel Tacoma during my recent visit to the city, but all opinions are my own!
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