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Aviation, autos, and art glassAviation, autos, and art glass

Tacoma and Puyallup, WashingtonTacoma and Puyallup, Washington

Each February, the Northwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show returns to Puyallup, Washington, just south of Seattle. During your visit, take an extra day to explore Tacoma’s revitalized waterfront area, perfect for walking, with excellent hotels and restaurants, plus several world-class museums.

  • Visit Tacoma and be amazed by its public art, museums, historic buildings, and revitalized waterfront. Pictured here is the “Seaform Pavilion” installation on the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. This pedestrian bridge links the Museum of Glass to downtown Tacoma and its cultural corridor. Other glass sculptures are arranged in a wall on its side. The bridge provides a means for the internationally renowned studio glass pioneer Dale Chihuly to contribute to his hometown in a very public way. Photo by Mahesh Thapa.
  • Tall, isolated volcanic peaks rise south and east of the Seattle area. Unless you’re solidly IMC, you can’t miss Mount Rainier, which rises to 14,410 feet msl just southeast of the SEATAC International (SEA) 30-nautical-mile Mode C veil. Mount Adams rises to 12,276 feet msl, 41 nm south of Rainier. Mount St. Helens (pictured here) is 29 nm west of Mount Adams. If the weather is good and you’re in the area, a flyover is in order. You’ll see how the entire north side of the volcano was blasted away in the catastrophic May 18, 1980, eruption. Millions of trees lie like sticks in Spirit Lake; over three decades later, the area still looks barren from above. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Your destination airport depends on your itinerary and equipment. If you simply want to fly in for the Trade Show and don’t need Jet A, Puyallup’s Pierce County Airport–Thun Field (PLU) is the closest, just a 10-minute drive south of the Showplex, with a free shuttle to and from the Trade Show as well as rental cars. PLU is untowered with a single GPS approach. Photo courtesy Field News Tribune.
  • If you need Jet A and/or plan to visit Tacoma and perhaps stay overnight there, you might prefer Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW), still only a 26-minute drive west of the Puyallup Showplex. TIW is towered with ILS, RNAV (GPS), and NDB instrument approaches, often needed in Seattle’s rainy weather. Seaplane pilots can land at the north end of the Thea Foss Waterway (just north of the Tacoma Dome reporting point shown on the Sectional) and taxi to a motorized barge used as a seaplane docking area, adjacent to the south end of Thea’s Park. Free moorage, with a four-hour limit, allows you to walk to area museums. Normally available from mid-February to mid-November; call Foss Waterway Development Authority just above the barge to confirm at 253.597.8122,, click “Projects” and scroll down. Photo courtesy Pierce County.
  • Some 350 vendors do a brisk business each year at the Northwest Aviation Trade Show & Conference. We put a rosewood panel from Pflueger’s like this one in our 210 and loved it. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The LeMay—America’s Car Museum opened in June 2012. The stunning 165,000-square-foot facility has been recognized as one of MSN’s 10 Best Automotive Museums worldwide. Exhibits include exotic sportscars, lowriders, classics from around the world, and American classics like this 1957 Packard Clipper four-door sedan. Photo by Mary Harrsch.
  • On the plaza outside the Museum of Glass, you’ll want to walk around and admire the glass cone hot shop building as well as the Martin Blank sculpture “Fluent Steps,” made in the hot shop. Hundreds of clear glass jellyfish-shaped forms are mounted on stainless steel rods that stand in a 210-foot-long reflecting pool. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Museum of Glass hot shop cone’s modern form contrasts with the old brick cereal mill building. Behind it rise the towers of Tacoma’s East 21st Street Bridge. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Museum of Glass has a growing collection of objects created by glass artists who have interpreted drawings that have been submitted by children and selected by Museum staff. This body of work celebrates the rich imagination of children while documenting the interpretive skill of the glass art community. This photo also shows railroad cars and the Washington Museum of History, just past the Museum of Glass. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • On the Chihuly Bridge of Glass is the Venetian Wall, an 80-foot installation displaying 109 Dale Chihuly sculptures, some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium. To the right stands one of the Crystal Towers, which rise forty feet above the bridge deck and serve as beacons of light for the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. The Crystal Tower elements are monumental forms that appear as if taken from frozen alpine lakes. Photo by Mahesh Thapa.
  • On Pacific Avenue, across from the glass bridge, Indochine Asian Dining Lounge offers Asian fusion dishes and a popular night life venue, with a color-shifting bar wall. It’s dark and cozy inside, with rich cherry wood tables, red draperies, and a pond with flowing water. Taste the flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, India, Japan, and China in curry, noodle, and wok dishes or specialties like a rich, nutty paella with black Thai rice and coconut milk. Photo courtesy Indochine.
  • This photo reveals portions of the Tacoma Art Museum, Union Station, Chihuly Glass Bridge, Museum of Glass, old cereal mill brick building, East 21st Street Bridge that crosses the Thea Foss Waterway, Tacoma Dome, and Mount Rainer. Photo by Curtiss Cronn via Flickr.
  • A Deluxe King room at Hotel Murano. Rooms offer menus of specialty pillows, iPod music menus, spiritual menus (inspirational faith books), as well as anything your pet might need, from a bed, bowl, or room service, to a psychic—really. The Savi Day Spa offers massages, body treatments, facials, and nail services, while Salon Miro specializes in artistic hair styling. Photo courtesy Hotel Murano.
  • At Hotel Murano, the onsite Bite restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Charcuterie and cheese, steamed local clams, and fries with gravy poutine are some of the intriguing appetizers. Follow them with a filet mignon accompanied by gorgonzola and fig-port sauce. The way-hip Lobby Bar serves creative cocktails and small plates. Photo by Stephen Cridland, courtesy Hotel Murano.
  • At Tacoma’s Villa Bed & Breakfast Inn, foot-thick walls keep rooms quiet, so you can relax in front of your gas fireplace or soak in your deep tub. Your gracious hosts Toni and Martin set an eye-popping breakfast before you; a guest kitchen is open around the clock for home-baked cookies, snacks, and coffee or tea. Pictured here is an open-face sandwich of fresh ham and cheese, topped by tomatoes and a poached egg. Photo courtesy Villa Bed & Breakfast Inn.

What began as a simple day of safety seminars with a few booths has grown into one of the largest annual aviation events in the Northwest, anchored each year by a keynote address from AOPA's president. The Showplex exhibit space fills 122,000 square feet of booths, aircraft static displays, avionics, and other demos, and offers more than 350 vendors and 75 hours of aviation seminars—even an FAA-approved IA refresher clinic. All in all, this is a great way to kick off the flying year. Several hotels offer special rates during the show. Crockett’s Public House is a favorite of famed TV food personality Guy Fieri.

But the area has much more to offer. Visit Tacoma’s LeMay–America’s Car Museum (ACM), just a 15-minute drive away. The largest automotive museum in North America, the silvery building houses an astounding collection and exhibits up to 350 cars, trucks, and motorcycles. ACM opened in June 2012 and boasts majestic views of the Tacoma skyline and Puget Sound. Special events are held throughout the year like Cars and Cigars, the annual Wheels and Heels Gala, Drive the Blues Away, and If Cars Could Talk.

Feel the heat as you watch a team of artists create masterpieces from molten glass in the West Coast's largest Hot Shop—housed inside the iconic 90-foot stainless steel cone at the Museum of Glass. Photo by Mac Donnell.

ACM is perched just above Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway, a former industrial wasteland now revitalized. (Seaplanes can dock here, see Tacoma Airport photo caption.) Ancient brick buildings contrast with the ultra-modern East 21st Street Bridge and the Museum of Glass, an iconic tilted, glass, cone-shaped building designed by award-winning Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. When it comes to glass blowing in the United States, the Seattle area is ground zero. This is mostly due to renowned Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, whose massive and fantastical glass sculptures have been installed around the world and whose artworks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The museum itself is rather small, although I enjoyed browsing the exceptional gift shop. The hot shop fills the cone building. Wander in to watch glass artists at work; an emcee explains what’s going on.

From here you can cross I-705 and the railroad tracks by walking west across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. On one side, the Venetian Wall displays 109 fanciful glass Chihuly vases in cubicles. The overpass ceiling, Seaform Pavilion, is gorgeous, with 2,364 colorful glass objects reminiscent of those in the ceiling of the Bellagio Las Vegas lobby, but here the light comes through from the top—it’s almost like being inside a kaleidoscope.

Inside the lobby of Hotel Murano, gaze upwards and you’ll find, suspended above the Grand Corridor, three giant Viking boats created by Danish artist Vibeke Skov from stained glass that depict the Norse creation myths. Photo courtesy Hotel Murano.

Views from the bridge give you a feel for this vibrant area, a mix of gritty industrialism and modernity at its best. Walk across to the Washington State History Museum and Beaux-arts brick Union Station, topped by a copper dome. Built in 1910 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Union Station is now a U.S. courthouse. The 90-foot dome, white marble, and skylight are all breathtaking from inside, as is the 20-foot blue Chihuly chandelier consisting of over 2,700 pieces of cobalt glass, plus four other huge, colorful glassworks. In 2017, Chihuly officially donated all five sculptures to the people of the United States as part of the National Fine Arts Collection.

Unique shops and restaurants line Pacific Avenue, including the Asian-fusion Indochine. The University of Washington Tacoma campus, with more beautiful brick buildings, is here too. At the end of the block, the Tacoma Art Museum’s collection of more than 4,500 works emphasizes the art and artists of the Northwest and broader western region, including the world’s finest collection of Dale Chihuly glass artwork on permanent display. If you brought kids, walk another block to the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, filled with playscapes for fun and learning. There’s more: a Theatre District, Antiques Row, Chihuly glass in the Swiss Restaurant and Pub, one of the world’s largest totem poles, and the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum. Purchase a Tacoma Museum Pass online, valid for all the above museums.

The Forbes four-star-rated Hotel Murano, on a hill just north of the Tacoma Art Museum, offers wonderful views of the waterfront, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the colorful, ultra-modern décor and museum-worthy glass art everywhere. Onsite Bite restaurant is worth a visit even if this isn’t your hotel. Like B&Bs? A bit of Italy in Tacoma—that’s the luxurious Villa Bed and Breakfast Inn, with five unique rooms and views of Tacoma’s historic district and the Olympic Mountains. Come see for yourself the new, vibrant Tacoma!

Perched above Tacoma’s waterfront, the LeMay—America’s Car Museum celebrates America’s love affair with the automobile. Washington native Harold LeMay built successful businesses and used his fortune to amass a Guinness World Record collection of more than 3,500 vehicles. Shown here is a rare De Tomaso Mangusta. Photo courtesy America’s Car Museum.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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