If you drive before or after rush hour, Tacoma is less than 45 minutes from Seattle, but the city of 200,000 has a completely different feel. From the vintage shops and eateries on 6th Ave. to new restaurants and awesome museums, plan a day trip with our guide.
Check out shinier-than-new vintage cars on the vast main floor gallery at LeMay: America's Car Museum. 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.
The extensive collection may eventually overwhelm all but the most diehard car buffs. Press on 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 like the pinewood derby track.
Tacoma Book Center is 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. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 324 E 26th St, tacomabookcenter.com
A neighborhood favorite, head to Coffee Kitchen for shaved ice, sandwiches, and Victrola coffee. Check out the shaved ice, waffles and other edible and drinkable treats, Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Sunday. 9115 S Tacoma Way, coffeekitchen1.com.
A visual treat
Walk through one of its distinctive brick arches and across a Bridge of Glass to the Museum of Glass. See the shiny silver cone ahead? That's the roof of the Museum of Glass' enormous "hot shop." The Education Studio offers free creative projects daily; 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. Adults $15, children (6 to 12) $5, kids 5 and under 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. Glass fusing workshops hourly Saturday and Sunday, $29. Cafe serves snacks and Argentinean bowls and sandwiches. Parent tip: Avoid the gift shop. Beautiful, fragile items are displayed unprotected at kid height. 1801 Dock St, museumofglass.org
Steamer o'clock: Swing by the hipster-filled Bluebeard Coffee Roasters for a pastry and what's arguably the best coffee you'll find in Tacoma, roasted on-site. Plus, kid-sized steamers, all at great prices. Open Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 2201 6th Ave, bluebeardcoffee.com
The sleek and comfy trains at Freighthouse Square will delight young first-time riders with their double-decker cars and classic "toot-toot!" whistle.
Raise a glass
Of IPA – or milk – at Engine House No. 9. Kid-friendly comfort food, plus 8 taps and beer by the bottle. Try the homemade English muffins at breakfast on the weekend. Open Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. till late, weekend breakfast starts at 8 a.m. 611 N Pine St, ehouse9.com
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 $11, youth (6-17) $8, 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, 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, playtacoma.org
Editor's Note: This modified story was originally published in July of 2014.