Travel

Hidden Washington: Been to Tacoma Lately?

Tacoma, Four Ways

By Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas July 13, 2023

The Summit House Restaurant accessible by gondola

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Chat with Seattleites in the know and they’ll tell you about Tacoma’s food and arts scene, or the out-of-this-world thrifting. They’ll say it reminds them of an earlier version of Seattle, where the locals prize creativity and a friendly, can-do attitude above all, where people still go to make things. But don’t let others’ experiences color your vision. See for yourself — then you’ll be the local in the know.

1. Afternoon urban adventure

There is something uniquely satisfying about single street explorations. Start at one end, pop into whatever tempts, and finish with a flourish at the end of the road. Tacoma’s 6th Avenue is a perfect version of that journey. Fuel up at Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, then prepare to investigate and shop. Step into Scorpio Rising, and feel that giddy excitement searching through rare finds and concert Ts at one of the best thrift shops in the state. Just across the street, “musician-operated” Hi-Voltage Records sells thousands of new and old disks and books as well. Take a break on The Alleycat Patio & Lounge’s back deck and toast your purchases.

Calling all dog fans. The Red Hot is a local institution that reinvents the simple hot dog into surprising new flavors. For sheer indulgence, try the Hound Dog with peanut butter and bacon (The diet starts tomorrow). State Street Beer Co. is a kid-friendly taproom with tasty pizzas. Or get in line with the locals at MSM Deli for the best sandwiches in Tacoma. Beer lovers and families will enjoy E9 Firehouse & Gastropub on the site of a 1907 fire station that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

2. Sophisticated, car-free, downtown weekend

Leave the car at home — be bold and take the train from Seattle. Check into the Hotel Murano and put on your best walking shoes. The hotel’s exquisite, museum-worthy glass collection calls out for a self-guided tour. Grab a drink at the hotel bar and get into the elevator. When the doors open, floor by floor, a new glass artists’ work unfolds before your eyes. Forty-five artists from 12 countries are featured. Docent-led tours can be arranged as well, for art aficionados or anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the exhibit.

Lobby of the Hotel Murano

Photo courtesy of the Murano Hotel

There’s more art just a short urban hike away. Tacoma native Dale Chihuly is well represented downtown at the Tacoma Art Museum, then cross the Chihuly Bridge of Glass to the Museum of Glass. His work also features prominently at Union Station, the impressive 1911 Romanesque Revival building. Don’t miss the fascinating Washington State History Museum; its exhibits of contemporary Native arts and Black Washington paint a rich history of the state.

Washington State History Museum

Photo courtesy of the museum

For nearby, walkable refreshment, 7 Seas Brewing has in-house roasted coffee from Naomi Joe, burgers and tots from Canteen, and of course the beer that made them famous.

Broadway between 7th and 9th Streets is known as Antique Row, so go hunting for that perfect chotchke or centerpiece. Sanford & Son Antiques is a giant three-story antique mall that is chockablock with boutiques, oddities, and treasures waiting to be discovered. The locals also buzz about Utopian Garden, an interactive, immersive flora and fauna extravaganza. Exhibition now on display through Oct. 8

Utopian Garden on exhibit at the Tacoma Armory through July 2023

Photo courtesy of Travel Tacoma

When dinner time rolls around, it’s a three-minute walk from the hotel to Indita Mia, the vibrant, new Guadalajaran restaurant on every must-try list. End with a nightcap at McMenamins Elks Temple, their latest boozy refurb. Search for the “secret” hidden bar known as The Vault, an escape room for adults with a beverage as the reward. It’s fairly difficult to locate, so team up with your fellow revelers. For a more chill vibe, order a fancy cocktail at Indochine, the decadent downtown dining lounge that conjures 1950s Saigon.

McMenamin’s Elks Temple renovated in 2019

Photo courtesy of McMenamins Elks Temple

3. Rejuvenating spa weekend on the water

For a city that is well known for its urban hipster offerings, Tacoma — like Seattle — is also surrounded by water and filled with green spaces. Check into the new-ish Silver Cloud Hotel Tacoma at Point Ruston Waterfront. Enjoy the rooftop pool or book a treatment at the brand new Spa Serein. The shops of Point Ruston are your playground, along with a movie theater and myriad dining options.

Rent a bicycle to ride the Five Mile Drive loop at Point Defiance; the road has been closed permanently to motorized traffic. Stop at the newly renovated Owen Beach with restored pavilion and sculpture area. Owen Beach Snack & Provisions sells picnic baskets filled with sandwiches or wraps, plus ice cream and salads, so grab a treat and enjoy pristine views of Vashon Island.

 

4. For the Experience Collector

For the urban explorer who craves the unique, seek out these brag-worthy, one-of-a-kind Tacoma to-dos, then prepare to share them with envious friends.

Drive a Ford Model T

Many are familiar with the giant LeMay – America’s Car Museum in the shadow of the Tacoma Dome. LeMay Collections has a second location, which is infinitely more hands-on. This is the only place in the country you can drive a vintage Model T with the instruction of retired Ford engineers. Sound easy? Think again. The accelerator is on the steering column.

Model T available to test drive at LeMay Collections at Marymount

Photo courtesy of Travel Tacoma – Mt. Rainier

Explore the expansive automobile collection at LeMay

Photo courtesy of LeMay America's Car Museum

TibbittsFernHill

For committed foodies who miss Hogstone’s or Willows Inn, one of the most elusive —   and deserving —-reservations in the state is located in Tacoma. Shawn Tibbitts’ restaurant is a great story, a local phenomenon, and rated as one of the best brunches in the country. Reservations are coveted.

Brunch at TibbittsFernHill

Photo courtesy of TibbittsFernHill

 

Gondola to Gondola, Sea to Summit

You can ride an authentic Venetian gondola at sea level in Gig Harbor in the morning — traditional serenading included — and then dine at Washington’s highest restaurant, Summit House, taking in epic sunset views from 6,872 feet. You will arrive, naturally, via gondola. Only in Tacoma!

 

Take a Gondola up 6,972 feet to the Summit House restaurant

Photo courtesy of Summit House Restaurant

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