Tacoma's got its swagger back. After a few decades in Seattle’s shadow, western Washington’s second-largest city isn’t just known for its proximity to that town up north anymore. From its world-class museums to its revitalized waterfront and vibrant historic downtown, Tacoma off ers quintessential Northwest experiences on a human scale.
“We have a really compact, convenient downtown here,” says Matt Wakefield, senior communications manager for Travel Tacoma. “It’s completely walkable. We have six museums in the Museum District within walking distance of our convention hotels. And we have the ride-free Tacoma Link Light Rail that runs from the museum district to the theater district.”Wakefield says
Tacoma’s size allows the city to provide big-city amenities while offering a small-town welcome. “When a meeting is in town, they really own the downtown area. The downtown community knows they’re coming, and they really open their doors.”
The city also features an unusual array of museums that can double as off-site venues or host opening galas, closing ceremonies or group outings. “They make for a really compelling choice for meeting planners,” Wakefield says of the city’s museums, which showcase everything from modern glass art to classic cars to maritime history.
Where to Meet
The Greater Tacoma Convention Center offers stunning views of Mount Rainier (when it’s out) and Commencement Bay. At 119,000 square feet, the center is one of the largest meeting spaces in the Northwest.
It includes a 13,650-square-foot dividable ballroom, meeting rooms with 14 breakout configuration options and a 50,000-squarefoot, column-free, glass-encased prefunction space, according to Kim Bedier, director of venues and events for the City of Tacoma.
The convention center currently has 644 convention-class hotel rooms within walking distance. An additional 2,200 are in the greater Tacoma area, and construction is underway on a 304-room hotel that will be attached to the center via a pedestrian bridge. When that Marriott-branded hotel opens in 2020, says Bedier, “We consider that will be the convention center reaching its potential.”
As the hometown of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, Tacoma celebrates glass arts throughout the city. Hotel Murano features a breathtaking collection of international 20thcentury glass art, adding elegance to its 28,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.
The Courtyard Marriott Tacoma Downtown features three event rooms with 5,708 square feet of total event space and up to four breakout rooms.
All of the city’s six major museums offer event space after hours, including the Museum of Glass with its iconic cone that has come to define Tacoma’s skyline. Available spaces include the Grand Hall, which, at nearly 7,000 square feet, can seat up to 300 banquet guests with an overflow reception space bringing the total capacity to 400 guests. “It’s a good jumping-off point for participants if they want to visit the exhibitions or check out the hot shop,” says Events Manager John Ferguson. In warmer weather, adjacent waterfront plazas can add an outdoor element.
The museum also features an amphitheaterstyle hot shop where guests can watch glass artists at work or, for small groups, even join in the process. The hot shop seats 138, with capacity for 200 standing. For more formal presentations, Ferguson says the theater offers unobstructed sight lines and seating for 177.
For a historic setting, consider Tin Can Alley, world headquarters for event design company P.J. Hummel and Company. The century-old factory features vaulted ceilings with exposed beams accented by contemporary and rustic details throughout. The venue can accommodate up to 250 guests for a seated event or 300 for a standing reception. Plus, if you choose, the P.J. Hummel team can outfit the space with its ultra-cool medley of décor rentals.
What to Do
With glass art liberally sprinkled throughout downtown, Wakefield says Chihuly-themed scavenger hunts have been a hit with some groups. “There’s so much Chihuly that’s hidden in plain sight,” he says of Tacoma’s favorite son’s work. In addition to massive chandeliers and the Bridge of Glass, Chihuly’s neon work can be found outside the second-run movie theater Blue Mouse.
If you’re inspired to make some glass art, both the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio offer hands-on workshops. The studio can accommodate groups from two to 10 participants. Glass blowing “can be a little intimidating if you’ve never worked around that kind of heat before,” Ferguson says. If your group wants something a little less extensive, the museum offers a fusing workshop for up to 25 people. Participants put together glass toppings on a tile, sort of like a pizza. Then museum staff heat and fuse the toppings to the tiles.
LeMay - America’s Car Museum is the largest automobile museum in North America. Guests can visit during regular hours to see everything from hot rods to Model Ts. The museum also offers virtual racing where guests can get a feel for what it’s like to race on one of several famous race tracks. Or you can relive your childhood in the slot cars. Like all of Tacoma’s museums, it’s also available for private events.
The Ruston Way Waterfront is a bustling 2-mile bike and pedestrian trail dotted with parks “like a string of pearls,” Wakefield says. In summer months, you can rent everything from a simple cruiser bike to a tandem bike to a four-person bicycle surrey. And the ever-popular Point Defiance Park is home to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Point Defiance Marina and Fort Nisqually Living History Museum.
And, with Mount Rainier so close by it’s always worth making time for a short group road trip.
“People love to get up on the mountain when they’re here,” Wakefield says. “A day trip to Mount Rainier is within easy reach. An hour each way to get out there, and you can go rock climbing or just take a stroll among the wildflowers.” In the winter, rangers lead snowshoe hikes.
With its proximity to the mountain and the water, Tacoma offers picture-postcard views that visitors and locals alike can’t seem to get enough of, says Bedier. “On a sunny day, there is no place more spectacular than Tacoma.”
» Named one of the best art towns by Expedia Viewfinder in 2018
» Crooner Bing Crosby was born in Tacoma in 1903.
» Tacoma Narrows Bridge is the fifthlongest suspension bridge in the world.
» Tacoma is the third-largest city in the state of Washington.