Editor's note: Due to the COVID 19 health crisis, we recommend you save this trip for a time when it's safe to leave your house. Many of these businesses are not fully operational, and some of the more rural areas we write about in our travel coverage don't need an influx of Seattleites right now. But it's fun to dream, isn't it?
If vacation time is tight, a visit to Seattle’s next-door neighbor might solve your travel dilemma, offering great art, culture, food and nature just a short drive from home (if you avoid rush hour).
Once the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, Tacoma was primed to be the Pacific Northwest’s major port city until gold in the Yukon sent scads of hopeful prospectors north to Seattle as their point of departure. Start your visit by getting your bearings, geographically and historically, with a walk on the Prairie Line Trail, a mile-long park along the old railroad line, now dotted with public art and historical markers (upgrade your experience by using the mobile-friendly, interactive walking-tour guide on your phone). The journey ends at the Tacoma Art Museum, with its permanent collections of splendid Western art and Chihuly glass, and near the many other art spaces located downtown, including local artists’ hubs 253 Collective and 950 Gallery, operated by Spaceworks Tacoma; and the Museum of Glass, long a Tacoma institution.
Once your artistic appetite is sated, it’s time for food. Southern Kitchen serves mouthwatering soul food—such as hush puppies and fried catfish—while Indo Street Eatery offers a flavor-packed Southeast Asian menu. Perched on a nearby hill, a former Elks lodge has been repurposed by McMenamins as a massive, high-energy hospitality complex called the Elks Temple, complete with hotel rooms and several bars and restaurants under one impressive roof. (If a stay on that scale doesn’t sound relaxing, Hotel Murano is an excellent choice.)
For an after-dinner activity, see what’s on offer at Alma Mater, a sleek yet welcoming arts space with an on-site cafe, an art gallery and a performance venue with a consistently great lineup of bands. Theater and dance lovers should check the calendar at the recently refurbished Pantages Theatre, a jewel of a venue run by Tacoma Arts Live (formerly Broadway Center of the Performing Arts). Whatever your artistic poison, consider a post-event nightcap at the moody pirate ship of a bar, Devil’s Reef.
Breakfast options are thick on the ground in Tacoma. A Benedict and Bloody Mary at Dirty Oscar’s Annex should cure what ails you, or venture out to Pasteles Finos Del Angel to load up on doughnuts and churros for your drive home.
Once you’ve visited every family-friendly attraction between Northgate and Beacon Hill, it’s time to head farther south. Tacoma’s bevy of retro wonders is just the thing to entertain nostalgic parents and their impressionable kids for the day.
Start at Tower Lanes, a time warp of a 24-hour bowling alley and 18-hole indoor mini golf course that’s been operating for more than 60 years. Bowling is delightfully more bizarre (though less old-school) at the underwater-themed Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill. At either spot, an attached restaurant offers easy lunch options.
For dessert, swing by Ice Cream Social, where classic ice cream flavors, like mint chocolate chip and cookies and cream, are made in-house with local ingredients. Or pick up a sweet treat from the jars of jewel-like candies at Johnson Candy Company for a real-life “kid in a candy store” moment.
An entire afternoon can easily be spent at Dorky’s Arcade, an all-ages venue packed with all your favorite ’80s arcade games, from Q*bert to Ms. Pac-Man. The older the game, the further your quarters go—educate the young ’uns on Tetris geometry and Street Fighter technique and then engage in a family game of air hockey before hitting the road.