Population = 198,397 (part of the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Metro area with 3,610,000), latitude 47º14’, longitude 122º27’, elevation 25 feet, average January low temperature = 36.6, Average July high temperature = 76, average sunny days = 141, annual snowfall = 8.1”, annual rainfall = 38.8”
The road from Portland to Tacoma reminds me a lot of Minnesota. The majority of the trees are deciduous and are in full leafy splendor. The land is mostly flat although, off in the distance in both directions, we can see mountain tops peeking through the rain clouds. Our drive is in and out of showers most of the day until, finally and thankfully, it clears up just before Tacoma.
Tacoma is much smaller than Portland. The downtown is fairly compact; a long narrow strip. There is a little parking available here and there, for a fee. The city is nestled into a valley overlooking a bay. This is a working bay, full of cargo ships, cranes, large warehouses, and railroads. The valley is deep so the streets going from hilltop to downtown have a carnival ride slope to them. Don’t try this town with a manual transmission.
Our first exploration is the Glass Bridge and the Museum of Glass. The bridge runs 500 feet, from Pacific Ave. downtown, over the freeway, to the Museum of Glass on the shorefront. The roof and sides of the bridge display dazzling glass sculptures by the great glass artist Dale Chihuly. The MOG contains more amazing glass sculptures by Chihuly and many others. The colors and shapes defy imagination and the skill level of techniques approach magic. On a simpler, cuter level, there is a row of children’s sketches converted into glass that are hilarious.
The next day is another rainy day, so we hunt up something to do inside. Wright Park, in the Northern section of the city, has a conservatory that sounds nice. Inside the big glass bubble, plants of every variety are densely packed together in a beautiful jungle of greenery. Flowers dot the trees and vines; strange trees with huge leaves lurk overhead. The aroma of the green and growing is as filling as gumbo. Outside it has quit raining so we set off to hike the park. Trails pass under towering trees of all kinds. Flowers surround a pond, decorating the bridge and statue. Fearless ducks keep a sleepy eye on us as we pass within inches of their napping rock. Kids tear ass around the park, doing their kid business.
Still another rainy day. I know it is just the day’s weather, not the overall climate, but it is becoming a running joke. “We have heard there is a big mountain nearby but we have not seen it yet.” Low, grey horizons again. So we do a little shopping to resupply some of our basics. After the no-sales-tax luxury of Oregon, the Washington State taxes are especially offensive. Especially, especially, EXTRA offensive liquor taxes. But we happen to find a Safeway with some liquor on sale at half price so we stock up on that.
Later that day, we visit my old pals Kay and Butch. Really nice to see old friends after so many years. They have a cozy home in the outskirts with a yard full of big tall trees and flowering shrubs. The conversation is long and hilarious, the lasagna is delicious. They are camera shy so sorry, no photos.
The next day we are happy to see clouds but no rain. Time for more exploring. The North end of Tacoma and it’s suburbs end in a peninsula, Point Defiance. This a huge, wild area with massive trees, blankets of ferns and moss, a rocky (cold water!) beach, botanical gardens, and a zoo. The Five Mile Road meanders around the park through a green canopy of trees and offers scenic overlooks of the bay. Ocean-going cargo ships chug steadily by, on the way to the Ends of the Earth.
Back into downtown again, this time to see LeMay’s America’s Car Museum. The building is arranged much like a parking ramp. Each floor has a ramp leading down to the next level below. Starting on the fourth floor, we stroll past about 350 cars, all beautifully preserved, restored, shiny as a summer day. There are some of the very first cars ever made. There are some of the cars from the early 1900s that converted America from horse to automobile. Here are a row of the 1950s sweet rides everyone loved. There are the 1970s muscle cars. Unusual cars, experimental cars, race cars. The displays go on and on and, if you remember driving your first car, you will probably find one just like it here.
After a hard day of checking out cars, we decide it is Beer O’Clock again, so we set off to explore the Brewery District. Kind of a funny thing though, the pamphlet we got from Visitor Info has a little map of the Brewery District, but there are no breweries there! Fortunately, there are still breweries a few blocks away. Our noses lead us to the historic Pacific Brewing and Malting Co., where they actually malt the barley and brew the beer.
It is hard to stick a pin in Tacoma and say it is this or that. The downtown has the old historic and the shiny new and the under renovation. It is a city unto itself, yet it is another city in the seamless urban area that stretches from Seattle to Olympia. Rush hour clots the freeway, jams up a few main streets, and trickles through some of the side streets. Everything you could need, from the funky little mom-n-pop shops to the big box stores are to be found somewhere within the sprawling city limits. If it just wasn’t for all those damn taxes…
Next up: Walla Walla WA