Driving to pick someone up at SeaTac airport, I allowed several extra hours to take the time to stop and explore the Tacoma area. Many travelers driving between Portland and Seattle often just think of Tacoma as the place with the giant Tacoma Dome stadium that looms large right next to the freeway. Not enough people get off the freeway to explore this amazing city sitting atop a hill overlooking the Puget Sound. It is a city of museums, art, and views and well worth exploring.
The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum
One interesting museum is rarely on anyone’s radar, but a fascinating place to step in and see what is on display. The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum rotates their exhibits quarterly between their 17 different museums spread across the United States. Together, they collect original manuscripts – specializing in works put down on paper throughout the centuries by some of the most notable innovators, artists, politicians, and writers. While I was visiting, their displays focused on the Theory of Evolution with original letters by Charles Darwin in the main room, and important WW2 documents including the surrender of Japan document, signed by all the representatives of allied nations in the second room. Seeing original documents in person – including drafts with handwritten changes penciled in – puts history into a whole new perspective. This small museum is free to visit, and I know I will be visiting at least every quarter from now on!
I am an avid gardener and made sure to allow time to visit Lakewold Gardens. Located on the southern edge of Tacoma near Gravelly Lake, this historic old home was once a “country house” for a well-to-do family. Situated on a 10 acre lot on the edge of the lake, the gardens were transformed into a combination of formal and wild gardens. Topiary birds sit along a long brick walkway towards a gazebo and gorgeous swimming pool. The stone patio is tailor made for an evening soiree, and it is not hard to imagine men and women enjoying a summer’s evening party a’la Fred Astaire style, champagne glass in hand. The gardens are meticulously maintained and filled with collections of trees and flowers of all kinds – a gardener’s dream. They have a very nice gift shop on site with fun gift ideas for the plant lover in your life. They also sell plants in mostly 1 gallon pots where you just might find that beautiful plant in the garden you loved so much and take it home with you. Well worth the visit!
With a stop at the Point Ruston waterfront, I discovered a brand new area being redeveloped with restaurants, indoor marketplace, and outdoor wide open spaces that looked like it would be a busy place on a summer’s evening! Lots of outdoor seating, a giant painted mural of the Puget Sound on the pavement, a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, and one of the neatest play structures around. Stepping inside the Jewel Box Cafe for a quick lunch was like stepping back in time to old-time Tacoma. The dark, carved woodwork and high ceilings were a welcome surprise. An outdoor fireplace was there if you chose to eat outside to help keep the chill off on a foggy morning. Point Ruston was a nice place to explore if you’re looking for modern with character.
I found myself near the Tacoma Narrows area just before sunset and decided to stop in for dinner in the nearby Proctor District. This small “urban village” is a fun stop where you’ll have choices from 6-7 restaurants, several nice boutique shops, and a very large colorful salmon on a stick. It is located on the north end around N. 26th Street and N. Proctor Street.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Tacoma Narrows bridge is famous for having technical difficulties during a windstorm years ago captured on film. Long since replaced, the bridge is a photogenic connector between the western edge of Tacoma and Gig Harbor peninsula beyond. The Narrows is an area filled with homes with enviable views out their back windows and a nice place to get out for a walk or just ooh and ahhh over the views at sunset. Titlow Park at the bottom of the hill is large and sits right on the water. You might want to stop for a refresher at the Narrows Brewing Company along the water’s edge.
Museum of Glass
One of the big draws to Tacoma is the famous Museum of Glass, located down by the docks and not far from the freeway. The museum is a big draw and well worth a visit. Even at night after hours, the ice glass display out front is impressive.
Tacoma is filled with beautiful old homes, unique neighborhood districts, a love of art and craftsmanship, and outstanding views. If you haven’t explored Tacoma, take a day and drive around this city that isn’t too big and isn’t too small. Just remember when you get out and explore the city – you are on a peninsula surrounded by water on two sides and a freeway on the other, so you really can’t get lost. The city probably best explored by car, unless you are up for a hike, as it has some considerable hillsides. The parks that line the waterfront are nice and level and offer great views looking north over the water.
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