A Trip to The Pacific Northwest: What to Do in Tacoma, Washington

I recently went on a trip to the Pacific Northwest, spending three days in Tacoma, Washington. There are so many things to do and see in Tacoma, I really had no idea before I went. This was my first trip to Tacoma and the surrounding area, and embarrassingly my first-ever trip to Washington. I don't know how I'm a lifelong Northern Californian, yet it took me this long to make it up there. Better late than never though, right?

Since returning home from my three-day trip to Tacoma, I have honestly not stopped talking about it. I went on this trip knowing that there were a few things I really wanted to do and see, but overall, I wasn't quite sure what to expect (which is my favorite way to travel.) My expectations were far exceeded and I'm already looking ahead at my calendar, trying to figure out when I can go back and drag my boyfriend along with me.

The best part about this trip, and what truly excites me most when I travel, is that I uncovered so many hidden gems (as I like to call them) that I never even knew existed. Ok—now I'm going to stop excitedly rambling about how successful my trip was and give you guys all of the details.

Because I have so much that I want to share, this trip is going to come in a three part series. I'm going to start by dishing the details on Tacoma, since Tacoma is the best place to stay to access all of the other amazing things in this part of Washington. The other two parts of this series will cover the details of my road trip from Tacoma to Mount Rainier National Park, and then information on visiting nearby Gig Harbor, which is an adorably charming waterfront town. But first, Tacoma.

View of Tacoma, Washington and Mount Rainier

A Trip to the Pacific Northwest: Travel To Tacoma

A little bit About Tacoma, WAshington

Tacoma is a city that is home to over 200,000 people, located on Washington's Puget Sound. You can easily access Tacoma by flying in to SEA-TAC International Airport, which is located just 18 miles north of the city. The city has a vibrant culture that has stayed true to its roots, with a fascinating mix of historic architecture and modern design.

Tacoma, Washington is home to a number of awesome museums, quality restaurants and great waterfront and mountain views. Not only is there plenty to do in Tacoma, but the city also serves as an excellent home base for exploring so many other beautiful parts of the Pacific Northwest. If you're interested in spending time within the city, as well as out in nature and along the water, then Tacoma is the perfect place for you to drop your bags and rest your head at night.

Where to Stay in Tacoma, Washington

Hotel Murano offers beautiful views of Tacoma, Washington and Mount Rainier.

When it comes to lodging, I am not very picky. Give me somewhere safe, clean and reasonably-priced and I'm a happy girl. Oh, and decent pillow. While I'm pretty easy to please, I really have an affinity for boutique hotels. With boutique hotels, I feel like the aesthetic is always so original and pleasing, and they tend to offer those extra little touches of care in the amenities they provide and how they treat their guests. It's like someone behind the entire hotel operation stopped and said, how can we make one night here feel special, cozy, creative and awesome all at once?

Now that you know how I feel about boutique hotels—I promise this is going somewhere. During my three-day trip to Tacoma, I stayed at Hotel Murano. Hotel Murano is a boutique hotel in the heart of Tacoma. The 25-floor hotel is especially unique because it houses an extensive international collection of glass art. Tacoma is the epicenter of the glass art movement in the United States, and Hotel Murano beautifully displays and honors this art medium. There are so many lovely pieces of glass art within the hotel, I know that I didn't even get to experience half of it. I especially loved how each floor of the hotel offered different artwork and its own distinctive theme.

The room itself was perfect. The bed was comfortable, large and came with a variety of different types of pillows for different types of sleepers—score! When it comes to judging a hotel room, pillow points are high up there for me. Hotel Murano aced the pillow test. The bathroom and bedroom area were spacious and immaculately clean. I loved the chaise lounge chair that sat next to the window, which offered a view over the city of Tacoma with Mt. Rainier in the distance. I sat there every morning and would watch the sunrise before heading out to explore.

Things to Do in Tacoma, Washington

Museum of Glass

Tacoma's Museum of Glass is 75,000 square feet of space dedicated solely to glass art. In addition to the galleries, guests are welcome to visit The Hot Shop where artists are on the floor creating works of art from molten glass. It's such a unique opportunity to watch artists in action and see how the entire creative process unfolds. The museum honors Tacoma-native artist, Dale Chihuly, who played a big role in the development of the Museum of Glass, and features the work of glass artists from around the world. The art on display here is stunning and one of a kind. There is not another museum quite like this one. The adjoining Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a must-see once you finish up inside.

Tacoma Art Museum

Like the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum also features a permanent exhibit from world-famous glass artist and Tacoma-native, Dale Chihuly. I just love how much pride the city has in his work—it's awesome and the recognition is definitely well-deserved. In addition to more beautiful glass art, you'll also find impressive, extensive exhibits that highlight artists from the Northwest and greater western region. Tacoma Art Museum is located in the Museum District, right by the Museum of Glass. Set aside a few hours so that you can visit both museums and enjoy an afternoon filled with beautiful art.

America's Car Museum

One more museum worth checking out while in Tacoma is America's Car Museum. The 165,000 square foot space honors the history of, and love for, American automobiles. The museum has preserved some of the country's most treasured automobiles, providing a gathering place for international auto enthusiasts. America's Car Museum has been recognized as one of the greatest automotive museums in the world. The cars are beautiful and seeing the variety of makes and models is like traveling back in time.

Lead Gaffer Ben Cobb working in the Hot Shop. Photo by Russell Johnson.

Lead Gaffer Ben Cobb working in the Hot Shop. Photo by Russell Johnson.

Image by ACM Volunteer Jim Culp

Image by ACM Volunteer Jim Culp

Day Trips from Tacoma, Washington

Like I said, Tacoma is a great city to utilize as your home base because once you've thoroughly explored Tacoma, there are so many other places to visit in the surrounding area. I will be going more in-depth on each of these locations in future posts, but here's a quick overview of the cities and sights you can, and should, access on a day trip from Tacoma.

Gig Harbor, Washington

Waterfront dining in Gig Harbor, Washington

Gig Harbor is one of the most adorable waterfront cities I've ever been to. Gig Harbor is the name of both the city and the bay it sits on in Puget Sound. The city offers excellent dining options, cute local shops and plenty of places to grab a drink or enjoy a view. You can even get out on the water for an afternoon of kayaking. I loved hanging around the water and admiring the scenery. The waterfront is surrounded by the cutest homes, I loved looking at all of them and picking out my favorite ones.  The city of Gig Harbor is only 12 miles away from Tacoma—just a quick drive across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I'm really excited to share more information on Gig Harbor in an upcoming post. I just adored this place!

Mount Rainier National Park

View from Paradise at Mount Rainier National Part

Home to, and appropriately named after, the highest mountain in the state of Washington, Mount Rainier National Park is a beautiful natural wonder that should not be missed. I am so happy that I was able to experience a small portion of the park during my time in Tacoma, but it's such a large park, I need to go back to see the rest of it! The scenery and views within the park are a photographer's dream. I could have spent all day at Mount Rainier National Park, wandering aimlessly with my camera. The entire park covers nearly 370 square miles and it's easy to reach from Tacoma. More information on a trip to Mount Rainier National Park will be coming in another post soon, including some stunning photos.

The Best Photo Spots in TAcoma, Washington

Whether you're a hobbyist or professional photographer, I know there are plenty of you out there who, like me, enjoy finding some of the best photo spots a city has to offer. I do plenty of research before my trips, so sometimes I know in advance that there are spots I want to go shoot. Then there are always spots that I didn't know about, or didn't expect to find, and those are exciting to share too. So for those of you who travel with photography in mind, here are some of the best photo spots in Tacoma.

Stadium High School

In all seriousness, Tacoma's Stadium High School is the most beautiful high school I've ever seen. And you guys—this is where the stadium scene with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles was filmed for 10 Things I Hate About You! Hopefully some of you know what I'm talking about.

It was originally built to be a luxury hotel in the late 1800s, but was damaged in a fire before it was ever actually opened as a hotel. The building was reconstructed to be a school and opened its doors in 1906. Stadium High School looks like a castle, and the football stadium offers a stunning view over the water. My favorite spots for photos are the football stadium bleachers on the opposite side from the school building, and the courtyard in front of the main building.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, Washington

Two suspension bridges span from the city of Tacoma over to the other side of the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound. Even though I'm from San Francisco and have two pretty awesome bridges of my own, I find the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to be rather photogenic. I'm a fan of the mint green color and all of the green trees in the scene surrounding the bridge. If you want to get a shot from the perspective in my photo, cruise down N. 10th Street, which runs parallel right alongside WA-16 on the Tacoma side. I was here in the middle of the day, but I bet it's an awesome spot to snap some golden hour photos.

Unexpected Tacoma Wall Mural

Tacoma mural at MSM Deli in Tacoma, Washington

After doing a sunrise shoot at Stadium High School, coffee was needed. A journey over to Bluebeard Coffee resulted in a delicious latte, a vegan donut and a surprise 'Tacoma' wall mural that was begging to be part of an impromptu photo shoot. The mural is located across the street from Bluebeard Coffee, spanning the front half-height wall in front of MSM Deli. The mural is painted in shades of blue and yellow, complimenting my dress—it's like this entire series of events was so meant to be. I love when city's and businesses take advantage of wall space, like this one, and use it as an opportunity to inject creativity, character and personality into the neighborhood. There are so many opportunities for simple, beautiful art to be displayed like this for the public to enjoy, I wish we saw this more often.  

More Tacoma Street Art

If you have time (unfortunately I did not), seek out the other murals spread throughout the city of Tacoma. There is a city program called the Tacoma Murals Project, allowing artists to create public works of art in the form of wall murals around the city. Personally, I'm a huge fan of this initiative and believe that art has a positive impact on communities. You can find more information on the mural project online, as well as a map of where to find all of the murals. 

Ok—I know I'm talking about photo spots here, but since coffee is really, really important...

Coffee In Tacoma

Bluebeard coffee

I didn't plan to do a Tacoma coffee section, because unfortunately I didn't get to check out the city's coffee scene, but I was reminded of Bluebeard Coffee when I shared the wall mural with you guys in the section above. If you're looking for coffee in Tacoma, Bluebeard Coffee is definitely worth checking out. My chai latte with almond milk was delicious and just what I needed after that really early morning shoot. The real highlight of my morning though was the vegan donut I had at the coffee shop. It was so good! Definitely one of the better vegans donuts I've had. 

Why you Should Take a trip to Tacoma

Have I convinced you to visit Tacoma yet? In all seriousness, there is so much that I ended up falling in love with about this area. I had no idea I would like Tacoma as much as I did, but I found so much to admire and appreciate about this city. Here are the top reasons I think you should take a trip to Tacoma:

  • It's incredibly easy to get to the city from SEA-TAC International Airport.
  • There are excellent lodging options, like Hotel Murano, at the fraction of the cost you'd see in other big cities.
  • The same goes for food! Tacoma has great dining option for much more affordable prices.
  • The city is booming with business and things to do, but seems to still manage to hold on to a more small-town, tight-knit vibe.
  • The museums in Tacoma are unique to this city—you can't find anything quite like them anywhere else.
  • The access to one of the country's most beautiful national parks, as well as access to the gorgeous waterfront is unbeatable!

Have you ever been to Tacoma, Washington? What are some of your favorite things to do in the area? I'd love to hear more about Tacoma. Tell me in the comments below!

Travels and Treats was welcomed as a guest of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County. As always, all opinions are my own.