Art, History and Fun

Cruise in to Tacoma and get a cultural experience.

For years Tacoma’s Foss Waterway was an industrial port that didn’t offer much for the recreational boater. In the 1990s, that all changed, as Tacoma began taking steps to revitalize its image by updating the downtown area and cleaning up the waterway.

Today, Tacoma’s Museum District is a welcoming neighborhood of exceptional museums in the heart of downtown and within easy walking distance of each other and Dock Street Marina at the southern end of the Foss Waterway. The district is composed of six premier museums, three along Pacific Avenue, two on the waterfront esplanade and one a free, short light rail ride away.

There are a number of choices for moorage on the waterway. Our choice when visiting Tacoma is Dock Street Marina, a first-rate, state-of-the-art oasis in the midst of an urban, industrial setting, at the southern end of the historic Foss Waterway. It’s a convenient location from which to access the museums and restaurants.

The newspaper hitting the cockpit on Sunday morning is not the only sign this isn’t your regular marina. Dock Street Marina has become known for its concierge level service. Dockhands greet boaters and assist with lines, and everyone receives a complimentary gift bag full of information about the area and discount coupons.

The marina has about 20 guest moorage slips available and a 320-foot dock suitable for groups of boaters. The facilities are clean and first rate with wide fairways and slips; large, stable concrete docks; spotless restrooms with free showers; 30-, 50- and 100-amp power; and cable available to all boats.

Start your visit by meandering north on an esplanade that leads to a mixture of shops, galleries, condos and the Foss Waterway Seaport. On the way, take in the sculptures and view a delightful hodgepodge of boats backed by a suspension bridge and, on a clear day, Mt. Rainier.

The Foss Waterway Seaport is a maritime museum that celebrates Tacoma’s rich maritime heritage. It features maritime exhibits suitable to a wide range of ages, land- and boat-based education programs, a children’s exhibit full of hands-on activities, an events rental space, and a heritage boat shop.

The space is housed in the historic Balfour Bock Building, a century-old wooden warehouse that was built for cargo arriving by rail and departing by sail (“where rails met sails”) during the early years of Tacoma. The building was originally a mile-long complex of warehouses, and two adjoining warehouses remain standing today. The building fell into disrepair after the 1970s, but Foss Waterway Seaport and Foss Waterway Development Authority partnered in a massive renovation effort, with a mission to celebrate Tacoma’s maritime heritage.

12 Bridge ceiling panelMUSEUM OF GLASS
Next, visit the Museum of Glass, a truly unique place with unique architecture and a one-of-a-kind museum dedicated to glass art, located across the esplanade from the marina. The museum’s exhibitions and enthralling glass-making demonstrations have inspired and engaged nearly 2 million visitors from all 50 states and more than 75 countries.

Adjacent to the Museum of Glass is its 90-foot silver dome, which represents some of the history of the area by replicating the forest industry’s wood-burner domes that once dotted the landscape of the region. Inside it houses a 140-seat Hot Shop Amphitheater glassblowing studio where visitors can watch artists at work blowing glass.

Enjoy the beautiful glass artwork along the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot pedestrian bridge linking the waterfront with the city’s revitalized downtown. As you stroll the bridge, look left, right and up. In one display, you’ll see hundreds of breathtaking sculptures of Chihuly glass in large windows along the walls; in another, glass forms are crowded into ceiling panels. On the open stretches of the bridge, columns fitted with enormous, irregular, iceberg-like chunks punctuate the view out and over the city.

The Bridge of Glass joins two museums and also links the waterfront with a piece of the state’s rich past: the Washington State History Museum. One of the last projects designed by noted architect Charles Moor, the history museum echoes the arching shapes of nearby Union Station, which is now home to the U.S. Federal Courthouse.

The Washington State History Museum is where fascination and fun come together. People of all ages can explore and be entertained as characters from Washington’s past speak about their life. Through interactive exhibits, theatrical storytelling, high-tech displays and artifacts, learn about the state’s unique people and places, as well as their impact on the country and the world. Imagine walking through Washington history and encountering the sights and sounds of earlier residents. Intriguing, interactive exhibits depict the landscape, lifestyles and cultures of all those who call Washington home. The facility’s 106,000 square feet are filled with permanent and special rotating exhibits, from First Peoples to exploration, trade and settlement, making for an unforgettable history experience.17 Colorful Tacoma Art Museum entrance

North on Pacific Avenue a couple blocks is the Tacoma Art Museum, founded by a group of volunteers in 1935 and now a national model for regional, mid-sized museums. The museum is dedicated to connecting people through art. Its permanent collection features more than 4,100 works, primarily photography and paintings by Northwest artists and a premier collection of Dale Chihuly’s glass work. Tacoma Art Museum serves the diverse communities of the Northwest through its collection, exhibitions and learning programs.

The Children’s Museum of Tacoma, farther north of Pacific Avenue, believes in the power of play. The museum serves young children and their parents through self-directed play that celebrates imagination and encourages creativity. The museum’s playscapes include five main areas: Woods, Water, Voyages, Invention and Becka’s Studio.22 LeyMay exhibit, a sign of days gone by

LeMay – America’s Car Museum is just a free light rail ride away (10 minutes), and you don’t have to be a car person to enjoy this magnificent venue. The free Tacoma Link Rail service runs every 12 minutes along Pacific Avenue, so just hop on.

Lemay – America’s Car Museum spotlights America’s fascination and love affair with the automobile. The museum, on a nine-acre campus, features rotating galleries, a three-and-a-half-acre show field, theater, café, banquet halls, meeting facilities, racing simulators and slot car racing. Exhibits feature 350 automobiles, from Ferraris and Corvettes to Model Ts and the LaSalle 303 Roadster. The museum also hosts annual events, concerts, and even drive-in movies.20 LeMay- America's Car Museum

The museums are located near a number of restaurants, from fast food to sit-down gourmet meals. After a day of exhibit viewing, our favorite stop is Harmon Pub & Brewery for dinner and a cold ale. The pub occupies the street level of the 19th-century building, which once housed the Harmon Furniture Factory.

Tacoma has come a long way from its industrial days and now makes a wonderful year-round boating destination and cultural experience.