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.
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.
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!
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