Don’t drive to Tacoma – for a fun family field trip, leave your car at home and take a bus to get there.
For kids like my son, who are used to carpooling in Mom’s or Dad’s minivan, the adventure starts as soon as you hop on a bus to head south. We took Sound Transit’s express bus, which leaves downtown Seattle throughout the day and takes just an hour to the Tacoma Dome station. (Bus is your best bet in this direction: The Sounder train runs only on weekdays (and only before 7 a.m.!) and Amtrak is pricey for this short trip.)
The bus drops you outside the station’s parking garage. On the other side of the garage, the long green Freighthouse Square is a rather scruffy assortment of knickknack shops and eateries. Duck in to Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls for a handmade, sweet treat. Or if it’s lunchtime, try Paya Thai’s homemade clam chowder and generous filets of crunchy-coated fish.
Walk uphill on D Street. Looming ahead are the Tacoma Dome and the swooping curves of LeMay: America’s Car Museum. Entering the vast main floor gallery, we were delighted by a show of shinier-than-new vintage Volkswagens; the special exhibit you’ll see now honors the 50th anniversary of the classic Mustang.
Walk to the panoramic window, then turn around to look back, and ask your kids how high you’ve climbed uphill. They may not believe it’s an optical illusion created by the curve of the unique wooden ceiling – the floor is perfectly flat!
Venture down the ramps through more vast floors of vehicles, everything from a 1906 Cadillac, to a very rare Tucker, to vintage and modern NASCAR models. These gorgeous, intriguing machines impressed even my son and me, and we’re not normally car fans. And I had to laugh: the “family truckster” of my ’80’s childhood is apparently now a collector’s item.
The extensive collection may eventually overwhelm all but the most diehard car buffs. Press on, though, to the bottom floor’s hands-on Family Zone. Kids can race a remote-control slot car around a multi-level course, and Cub Scouts especially will enjoy the pinewood derby track. The race car simulators were our favorite activity. My son hesitated when the docent warned that some folks get carsick, but I wanted to show him that Mom can be brave. I had a blast – and entertained him with my granny-worthy driving! The seat tilts and vibrates realistically, and the wraparound screens make it feel like you’re actually driving a high-powered racecar.
Ready for a complete change of pace? Head back down D Street to the Tacoma Book Center, an indie used book store with a great kids’ section. Bookworms will get happily lost in its warren of overflowing shelves, extending down hallways and up stairs. For only a few dollars, my son picked several treasures to read on the rest of our day’s journey.
Two delicious choices for a sugary snack are a few steps away. Next door is the Celebrity Cake Studio, with a tantalizing rainbow of moist, flavorful cake slices and cupcakes to savor at dainty tables. Or, walk down the block to the tiny Brown & Haley outlet for tasty “seconds.” We scored a large box of Almond Roca for 99 cents!
Next, for a visual treat, head to the Museum of Glass. Take the pedestrian underpass across from the candy store and walk up Pacific Avenue; or save your energy, and hop on the Link light rail streetcar. It’s only a couple minutes to the Washington State History Museum stop.
Walk through one of its distinctive brick arches and across the Bridge of Glass. See the shiny silver cone ahead? That’s the roof of the Museum of Glass’ enormous “hot shop,” where a glassblowing demonstration mesmerized both me and my son. The Education Studio offers free creative projects daily; we made cool 3-D dioramas. On weekends, you and your child can craft your own fused-glass masterpiece.
Don’t miss the hall to the restrooms. Lining the corridor are the sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, and always creative results of the monthly Kids Design Glass program. If your child’s illustration is selected, the resident artists will make a 3-D version out of glass.
“Arty” kids will enjoy the stunning modern Irish glass – including a glass Celtic sword!
But for an exhibit sure to entertain even the art-phobic, head back to the “Look! See?” installation, where brightly colored glass and neon displays resemble balloon animals and colorful candy. Kids are actually encouraged to touch, rearrange, and play with the dozens of shining repurposed neon letters. We had a ball hunting for our initials and spelling out words, and parents will appreciate the unique photo op.
Museum-ed out? Hop on the streetcar back to the Tacoma Dome station, where the Sounder train leaves from Freighthouse Square. These sleek and comfy trains will delight young first-time riders with their double-decker cars and classic “toot-toot!” whistle. It’s a relaxing ride north: instead of fighting freeway traffic, we sat back and capped off our Tacoma adventure by munching on our bargain candy, perusing our new (old) books, and soaking in the views of woods, farmland and a new view of the approach to Seattle.
IF YOU GO
Sound Transit Express Bus: Adults $3.50, youth (6 to 18) $2.50, kids younger than 6 free. Route 594 from Seattle to Lakewood, two per hour, all day. www.soundtransit.org.
Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls: $3.50, cash only. Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Freighthouse Square, Tacoma; 253-954-7672. 110 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-620-3067.
Paya Thai Fish & Chips: Cup of chowder $3.75, one large piece of fish (plenty for a kid) $2.50. Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Freighthouse Square, Tacoma; 253-627-8432.
LeMay: America’s Car Museum: Adults $14, students $12, children (5 to 12) $8, kids younger than 5 free. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Racing simulator $8, slot car track $3. Preregister for Family Workshops, fourth Saturday of every month, $8. Cafe has snacks and juicy burgers (pricey but big enough to share). Parent warning: Visitors can touch just two of the cars; the rest are protected by only a knee-high wire – so this is not a museum for curious toddlers unless confined to a stroller. 2702 E. D St., Tacoma; 253-779-8490. www.lemaymuseum.org.
Tacoma Book Center: Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 324 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-572-8248. www.tacomabookcenter.com.
Celebrity Cake Studio: Cupcakes $3.25, cake slice $5. Open Monday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday. 314 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-627-4773. www.celebritycakestudio.com.
Brown & Haley Factory Store: Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 110 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-620-3067. www.brown-haley.com/pages/roca-stores.
Tacoma Link Light Rail: Free through August 2014; from September, Adults $1, youth (6 to 18) $.75. Runs every 12 minutes down Pacific Avenue from Tacoma Dome Station. www.soundtransit.org/Schedules/Tacoma-Link-light-rail.
Museum of Glass: Adults $12, students $10, children (6 to 12) $5, kids younger than 6 free. Fall-spring: open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., closed Monday and Tuesday. Summer: also open Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Look! See?” exhibit through Jan. 2015. Family Days second Saturday of each month. Glass fusing workshops hourly Saturday and Sunday, $38. Cafe serves snacks and Argentinean bowls and sandwiches. Parent warning: Avoid the gift shop! Beautiful, fragile items are displayed unprotected at kid height. 1801 Dock St., Tacoma; 253-284-4750. www.museumofglass.org.
Sounder train: Adults $4.75, youth (6 to 18) $3.50, kids younger than 6 free. Trains to Seattle from Tacoma leave at 4:25 and 4:55 p.m. and take one hour. With Orca card, get tickets from machine instead of swiping card. Restrooms on board. www.soundtransit.org.
Other Tacoma Museum Options
The Washington State History Museum: So engaging that your grade-schooler may turn into a history buff and your older child may decide that history class isn’t so boring after all. Numerous walk-through dioramas include a covered wagon loaded with a pioneer family’s supplies, a Native plank house, and a Hooverville shanty – many with “talking” mannequins. Upstairs in the popular hands-on History Lab, kids learn the detective skills to solve a History Mystery. And don’t miss the Tacoma-to-Cascades model train display. Go online before your visit or stop at the information desk for scavenger hunt activity sheets for pre-K through high school. Adults $9.50, youth (6-17) $7, kids younger than 6 free. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 3rd Thursday of the month open until 8 p.m. and free from 2 to 8 p.m. 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-3500. www.washingtonhistory.org/visit.
Children’s Museum of Tacoma: For young ones, it offers open-ended, kid-directed fun involving all five senses, based on the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Kids can pedal stationary bikes inside a pirate ship structure to power its giant wings and sound effects. The art room includes a playhouse that children can paint, and projectors for experimenting with how light shines through different materials. An espresso bar for parents also sells premade sandwiches and healthy snacks. Link light rail Convention Center is stop one short block uphill. Admission: pay-as-you-will. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Adults Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 1501 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-6031. www.playtacoma.org.