acoma is stuck behind a hyphen, with the Seattle-Tacoma designation identifying the star attraction and the also-ran. But it wasn’t always so. Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1889 that Tacoma was “staggering under a boom of the boomiest.” By 1920, it had all gone bust. But when old became cool in the 1990s, urban pioneers rediscovered the century-old brick warehouses, Victorian homes, and small-town storefronts. Tacoma transformed them into museums, art studios, cafes, and B&Bs. That hypen now signals Tacoma is less afterthought than alternative.
Tacoma’s most famous exports are the effervescent blown-glass works of native son Dale Chihuly. He was the first resident glass blower at Museum of Glass, where visitors can see artists at work every day. Chihuly’s pieces are also on display at the Tacoma Art Museum. The Tacoma Museum Pass is $45 and includes the art museum, the Washington State History Museum and LeMay—America’s Car Museum. Chihuly’s Bridge of Glass is the city’s modern landmark. If the skies are clear, head to Point Defiance Park for a fine view of Puget Sound. There’s a zoo and aquarium in the park, if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
If you’ve had your fill of Northwest food with fins, Tacoma has the antidote. Elk Hash ($14) for breakfast at Dirty Oscar’s Annex is a local
rite of passage. Ultra-old-school El Gaucho features chateaubriand for two, carved tableside ($129). Asado serves Argentine parrilla-style grilled meats ($31 to $60). The mixta is skewers of steak, chorizo, and jumbo prawns. For lighter fare, Miyabi Sushi offers the city’s best sushi. Order off the menu or get the chef’s choice ($45 and up). Finish with drinks at the Top of Tacoma Bar and Cafe, near the city’s hillside pinnacle.
Named for the glass-blower islands in the Venice Lagoon in Italy, the art-filled Hotel Murano ($149 and up) aspires to big-city sophistication. It’s a pet-friendly, boutique alternative to the numerous and standard motor inn chains. Geiger Victorian Bed and Breakfast is an 1889 home from Tacoma’s heyday ($129 to $179) where you can relax in a claw-foot tub or enjoy a book by the fireplace. Thornewood Castle, a 27,000-foot mansion built by a banker, is a 16th-century English manor house shipped to Tacoma and reassembled at American Lake. It’s now a luxury bed and breakfast with nine suites. You can dine in your room or step back in time and have breakfast in the castle dining room ($300 to $500).
Fun Fact ➤ Tacoma has celebrity connections. It’s the birthplace of legendary Bing Crosby. And The Stadium High School, which was built in 1906 within the masonry shell started in 1893, was the setting in the movie “10 Things I Hate About You,” starring Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger.
Nearby ➤ Vashon Island was once farms and orchards, but Seattle’s explosive growth has pushed commuters here. It is 10 miles from Tacoma and only can be reached by ferry. So take a ride over and stroll the shops and beaches or rent a bike for the day.
Getting There ➤ Alaska and Delta fly nonstop from John Wayne Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The airport is 25 miles
north of downtown Tacoma.