Weekend Wanderings: Tacoma

Photo by Ken Emly/Courtesy Travel Tacoma

A glass act: Visiting our artsy neighbors to the south.

Just 35 miles south of Seattle, there’s an old railroad town where public art thrives, waterfront property reigns and the architectural landscape vacillates between gritty industrial and grand Victorian. Compared to Seattle (especially these days), the pace there feels significantly slower, the streets emptier, the buildings lower. (One welcomed difference? Empty parking spaces abound!)

Seattleites might not think of Tacoma for a nearby adventure, but traveling just 45 minutes (traffic depending) can prove a refreshing respite from the routine and familiarity of home. Whether you do a quick overnight or dedicate an entire weekend to exploring Tacoma, consider hopping on I-5—at non-rush hour times—for an invigorating change of scene in the shadow of mighty Mount Rainier.

Courtesy Travel Tacoma
Courtesy Travel Tacoma

Begin your glass-focused excursion by checking into the Hotel Murano, a luxurious HQ for visiting the city’s most coveted museum gems. If you’re lucky, snag one of the boutique hotel’s upper-level, corner rooms to enjoy views that span from the downtown waterfront to white-capped Rainier rising majestically in the distance.

Be sure to take in the venue’s substantial collection of glass art (tours available upon request). In the evening, hit happy hour by the social bar/lounge’s fire feature; in the morning, grab breakfast in the fourth-level restaurant that boasts vibrant art and plenty of natural light.

Hotel Murano by Corinne Whiting

When dining away from the property, pop into one of Harmon Brewing Co.’s lively venues; try the Harmon Restaurant (on Pacific Ave.) or the Tap Room and Hub (with an inviting beer garden), located about a 20-minute walk or very short ride from Murano Hotel. Upstairs the full restaurant is marked by bright yellow walls, suspended bikes, art by local talents and tasty flagship beers plus one or two rotating seasonals (at the moment, try the vanilla-tinged porter).

As one of Tacoma’s top craft breweries, you’ll also find fantastic food to complement beverage selections; try the salmon starter, Galloping Gertie totchos or pork tacos. As an awesome post-meal pick-me-up, sip a Harmon’s Hop Coffee; brewers here use reductions of some of their best beers in locally-roasted coffee beverages. Also check the schedule for Harmon’s highly popular trivia nights as well as Paint Nite events that turn the downstairs area into a palate- and palette-pleasing extravaganza.

To further explore the Tacoma beverage scene, get hoppy on a South Sound Craft Crawl, or check out Gig Harbor’s Heritage Distilling Co., an under-the-radar gem you won’t want to miss. Sixth Avenue proves a popular nighttime stretch; try the patio at Engine House No. 9 or Dirty Oscar’s Annex, a welcoming dive bar with dangerously-potent moonshine cocktails.

Harmon by Corinne Whiting

While daytime explorations near the hotel include walking north along the waterfront (Dock Street) to Thea’s Park, it’s also worth making the ten-minute drive along the waterfront to Point Ruston. At this brand-new waterfront mixed-use development you’ll find restaurants, shops, a movie theater, hotels and condos. Beginning in May, also check out the bounty of vibrant farmers markets that pop up around town.

Tacoma’s Union Station by Corinne Whiting

And then, of course, there’s Tacoma’s thriving art scene. Where to begin? Before arriving, download the Tacoma Art Museum (or TAM)  STQRY app to gain immediate (and free!) access to the audio tours for ‘Dale Chihuly at TAM’ as well as the ‘Chihuly Smartphone Walking Tour.’ (Either scan a QR code when you find one, or allow the app to notify you when you’re nearing one of the designated sites.)

Begin at the highly impressive Tacoma Art Museum, a sleek and airy venue situated an eight-minute walk from Hotel Murano. Leroy the larger-than-life dog mascot greets visitors at this enticing venue that “serves the diverse communities of the Northwest through its collection, exhibitions and learning programs, emphasizing art and artists from the Northwest and broader western region.”

Current exhibitions not to miss include “Edvard Munch and the Sea” (through July 17),”(Re)presenting Native Americans” (through October 30) and “Saddles, Spurs and Quirts: The Art of Leatherworking” (through June 26), a collection of functional objects from the west like intricate, handmade saddles and vintage rodeo posters. And then of course you’ll want to ogle the exquisite glasswork representing the renowned Pilchuck artists as well as the Dale Chihuly collection, the largest retrospective grouping of the master’s work on continuous view.

The TAM studio is a family-friendly art-making space open and free to the public, and the TAM Café tailors its menu to current exhibitions. For example, Western-themed fare now includes bison meatballs and beef stew. (During Georgia O’Keefe’s exhibition, diners enjoyed prickly pear jelly.)

“Lunch and learn” sessions happen the first Wednesday of the month, and visitors get free entry every third Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Five free festivals enliven the property throughout the year; this summer will bring a beer garden and live music to the grounds. Be sure to sure to check out a hidden gem of a patio on the second level (near the library and classrooms); here’s you’ll discover a stunning skyline view that includes the peak of Rainier and the dome of Union Station.

Next, access the nearby Museum of Glass by crossing the spectacular, 500-foot-long Bridge of Glass. Its most impressive component, the Seaform Pavilion, boasts a ceiling made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly’s Seaform and Persian series.

Bridge of Glass by Corinne Whiting

At the Museum of Glass, settle into stadium-style seating where you can while away hours watching glass artists in action at the alluring Hot Shop. Through April 24, a powerful exhibition called “Healing in Flames” showcases glass masterpieces created by returning soldiers who use the art form as a method of coping with PTSD, TBI and the stress of reentry.

If you need  to pause and refuel in the midst of all this museum-going, enjoy Indonesian-inspired fare at Indochine, gluten-free pizza, grilled cauliflower and beer and wine on tap at Elemental or waterside fare at The Social Bar and Grill.

Photo by Ken Emly/Courtesy Travel Tacoma
Photo by Ken Emly/Courtesy Travel Tacoma

Though we’ve barely scratched the surface of what Tacoma has to offer, we hope these ideas ignite some inspiration—encouraging you to head south on a glass-themed adventure that guarantees to dazzle.