Tacoma, Washington has gotten a “bad rap” over the years.
When I moved to Tacoma in the summer of 1992, and quite often in the 17 years I’ve made this area my home, my mother who spent much of her childhood and teenaged years in Seattle, and others like her, questioned my reasoning for moving to “such a dirty place.” I’ve heard the tales of unscrupulous characters, crime and corruption.
Of course, my memories of Tacoma also include the ever-so-unpopular “Tacoma Aroma” of the working pulp mills. Even people who have never been here seem to know about Tacoma and how bad they think it smells, or have ideas about how undesirable it is to live here.
According to HistoryLink.org, Tacoma comes with a rich and interesting history. Prior to the first Euro-American settler, Swede Nicolas Delin building the first sawmill in 1852, there were many native settlements along the Puyallup River making its way from the mountains to Commencement Bay. In 1873, Tacoma was chosen as the western end of Northern Pacific Railroad’s line. From these early days through to the end of World War II, Tacoma saw a thriving industrial city, though often thought of as “Seattle’s Dirty Back Yard.”
With the development of the suburbs, Tacoma went through many changes, with several failed attempts to turn Tacoma’s downtown back into an area of business and growth. Most recently, however, an urban renewal movement has partnered with those who want to preserve Tacoma’s rich, historic past.
Tacoma is quickly growing beyond being Seattle’s throwaway. A mix of history, architecture, and art has put Tacoma on the map as a place for tourist attractions. Prevention magazine and the American Podiatric Medicine Association (APMA) ranked Tacoma as number 19 in the Top 100 Best Walking Cities.
Whether you are a life-long resident or a visitor to Tacoma, Washington, history buff or sportsman, drama enthusiast or avid walker, there are many things you will not want to miss, regardless of the season. You will never be at a loss for something to do, see, or experience.
Fireboat No. 1 was built in 1929 for the Port of Tacoma and was in service for 54 years. She is one of only five fireboats on the National Historic Landmark registry. On a permanent dry berth at a public beach on Ruston Way near Tacoma’s Old Town neighborhood, visitors are able to walk around the exterior of the boat.
Also on the National Registry is Engine House No. 9 . Built in 1907, this old fire station currently is home to a pub which brews its own beer and is located at 611 N. Pine Street.
Stadium High School has a history reaching back to 1891 when its construction first began to be a luxury hotel. It was never finished, and it wasn’t until 1906 that it was finished and opened as a school.
Murray Morgan Bridge, also know as the 11th Street Bridge, is a steel lift bridge built in 1911 across the Thea Foss Waterway. It is currently open only to pedestrians and bicyclists, but may be rebuilt in the future to accommodate automobile traffic once again.
You may also consider a drive through the Stadium District neighborhood, where you will also find many beautiful Victorian homes, including the beautiful William R. Rust Mansion located at 1001 North I Street.
The Museum of Glass’ steel cone has become one of Tacoma’s most recognizable of the city’s structures. Located at 1801 Dock Street, the museum’s fall/winter/spring hours are: Wednesday through Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 12pm to 5pm. It is open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Admission is: $12 adults; $10 seniors, military, students; $5 children 6-12; $36 families (2 adults and 4 children under 18). For more information, call 1-866-4MUSEUM or visit the Museum’s website at: http://www.museumofglass.org/
The Tacoma Art Museum was founded in 1935 and reopened in 2003 in a new building on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma. Located at 1701 Pacific Avenue, the Art Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 12pm to 5pm. Admission is: $9 adults; $8 seniors, military, students; $5 children 6-12; $25 families (2 adults and 4 children under 18); free for children age 5 and under. For more information, call 253-272-4258 or visit the website at: http://www.tacomaartmuseum.org/
The Washington State History Museum is a wonderful place to learn about the Northwest’s history and culture. It is located at 1911 Pacific Avenue and is open Tuesday through Friday 10am to 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 5pm. On the third Thursday of the month the hours are extended to 8pm with free admission from 2 to 8 pm. Other admission rates are: $8 adults; $7 seniors; $6 military, students; $25 families (2 adults and 4 children under 18); free for children age 5 and under; free on third Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. For more information, call 253-272-3500 or visit the website at: http://www.wshs.org/
Free Third Thursday
As part of downtown Tacoma’s Artwalk the third Thursday of every month, each of these three museums extend their hours until 8 pm, offer free admission, and have special programs. These events are collaboration between local artists and organizations to offer an educational experience for those who are not the traditional museum visitor. Be sure to visit some of the other galleries in the area to see more of our local artistry.
Parks, Theatre, and More…
Exploring what Tacoma has to offer throughout the year will take you on a journey throughout the city. You will find parks such as Wright Park, which boasts of an arboretum and a botanical conservatory, or Point Defiance Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, which has many historic structures within the park, as well as the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
If theatre or symphonic music is your thing, Tacoma is home to Broadway Center For the Performing Arts and several community theatres through out the area. For the past 10 years, Tacoma’s own troupe, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, has inspired and educated thespians of all ages, their motto being “taking the fear out of Shakespeare”.
If you visit Tacoma in the springtime and summer, you will find parades, festivals, and farmers’ markets to your heart’s content.
Of course, you are within an hour or so drive away from Mt. Rainier, Seattle, or the Kitsap Peninsula. A few hours more will take you to other wonderful places to explore.
And the next time…
…you hear someone talk about how dirty and smelly Tacoma is…please just agree with them. This Pacific Northwest gem can be our little secret for a little while longer.
Wilma, David, and Crowley, Walt (2003-01-17). “Tacoma-Thumbnail History”, HistoryLink.org. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?displaypage=output.cfm&file_id=5055 . Retrieved 2009-10-14.
“100 Best Walking Cities”. Prevention.com. 2006-03-09. http://www.prevention.com/cda/article/100-best-walking-cities/1ba0d08f88803110VgnVCM20000012281eac____/fitness/walking/getting.started?print=true. Retrieved 2009-10-14.