Tacoma and Pierce County fit the bill
By Marguerite Cleveland
Have you ever been challenged while planning a vacation? Some in the group want outdoor fun while others want the cultural experiences only found in a city. Tacoma and Pierce County is a destination sure to appeal to everyone in your group. It’s only 42 miles from a saltwater shoreline to the peak of a glacial volcano with an art-focused downtown in between. Discover exhilarating outdoor activities at Mount Rainier National Park. Learn about art glass in Downtown Tacoma and see why the art form really shows off the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Then throw in a bonus by visiting Gig Harbor, the Maritime City, because who doesn’t love time spent by or on the water. Plan to stay a night in each area for a short getaway or add a few more days to explore in depth for a longer vacation.
Every now and then you stumble upon a unique lodging that is incredibly special. The Paradise Village Lodge is just such a place. Lovingly renovated to look like a Ukrainian village, owner Anatoliy Zaika has created a cozy inn with comfortable touches from the old country. He and his family run the lodging, restaurant and coffee shop in the town of Ashford, the gateway to Mt. Rainier. Make sure to try the galushki, Ukrainian gnocchi which is a rich and hearty dish. What really brings people to stay here is the Instagram-worthy Cannibal Hot Tub. A giant cauldron is heated over a wood fire to create the most unusual soak you will ever have.
To get the most out of your time at Mt. Rainier, book a Discover Nature Tour with Diann Sheldon. She has degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology and is truly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in the park. With many years of experience exploring Mt. Rainier, she knows the ins and outs of the crowds and how to plan a day which will have you experiencing the best the park has to offer. Before each tour she speaks with you to plan a day based on your interests. A tour is only as good as the guide, and Sheldon is engaging and never boring. In July, wildflowers will start peeking out in lower elevations and will peak at higher elevations in August. Well worth seeing.
After a day in the park, stop at the Wildberry Restaurant. You can’t miss it with Buddhist prayer flags adorning the building and courtyard. It is owned by Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, who holds the world speed record by summiting Mt. Everest from base camp to the top in 10 hours, 56 minutes and 46 seconds. He has climbed to the summit of Mount Everest 15 times and Mount Rainier 95 times. The restaurant is decorated with memorabilia of his exploits. Now his wife, Fulamu, shines as the chef of the restaurant serving up Nepalese favorites from home as well as American pub fare.
Tacoma has all the big-city amenities with a small-town charm. The Silver Cloud Tacoma Waterfront has one of the best locations in town. Every room has a waterfront view and it is just 2 miles from the Museum District and 3 miles from Point Defiance. You can easily walk from the hotel to numerous restaurants along Ruston Way on the waterfront urban trail that connects to Point Ruston where you can find restaurants, shops and a movie theater.
You can’t go to Tacoma without seeing artwork from the most renowned glass artist in the world, Dale Chihuly. You can see his work at two museums, the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum by crossing over the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a public art installation. Purchase a three- or seven-day attractions pass at Travel Tacoma to save on city museums.
To really appreciate what Tacoma has to offer, take a tour offered by Pretty Gritty. “Tacoma is a beautiful and honest city. It's a city of entrepreneurs and innovators. From craft breweries, to restaurants, to experiences, most businesses here are owned by passionate and local owners, so you get an experience or flavor that is wholly unique to the area,” said Chris Staudinger, owner of Pretty Gritty Tours. “Our ‘Get to Know Tacoma’ tour is a crash course in the art, food and history of the area and prepares you to launch into the city proper.”
African American business owner Terry Waller has created a Victorian wonderland at her Olive Branch Café and Tea Room located at Freighthouse Square. A master of upcycling, she has transformed this warehouse space into an oasis. From the time you walk in the door, are greeted with a hug and hear Brian playing the grand piano, you know you are in for a treat. Reservations are a must, and order one of the specialty teas so you can try all the deliciousness the Olive Branch Café has to offer. Make sure to check out the hat room for a jazzy hat or fascinator to wear while you enjoy your tea.
For a more intimate “sea” experience, head across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Gig Harbor, a maritime city. You will want to head to the waterfront, which is known as downtown. Plan to stay at the Maritime Inn Gig Harbor. This cute boutique inn is located across the street from the harbor and centrally located so you can walk everywhere.
Rather than your typical harbor cruise, book a trip on the Gig Harbor Gondola. Owner John "Cinque" Synco will serenade you as you float through Gig Harbor. Reservations are a must, and you can order appetizers or just stop by the Harbor General Store to pick up your own and a bottle of prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.
Gig Harbor is well known for its many great restaurants, but Brix 25˚ really stands out. This is one of the pricier places to eat but well worth it. The food is outstanding, but they really shine with the craft cocktails. All the ingredients are fresh or made in house. Classic cocktails are updated and reimagined with a Brix twist. Each season a new cocktail list is created so there is always something new to try.
The Gig Harbor BoatShop has classic boats you can rent to take out on the harbor. If you have more time, book a family boat building workshop over a weekend. Over two days you will build your own rowboat which you can take home with you.
No visit to Gig Harbor is complete without a visit to Heritage Distilling. What started as a small, local business now has multiple locations throughout Washington and Oregon. Their signature Brown Sugar Bourbon has won “World’s Best Flavored Whiskey” by Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards in both 2018 and 2019. It really is that good and put this company on the map. There is a tasting room in Downtown Gig Harbor and in Uptown Gig Harbor is the distillery.
There is so much to see and do in Tacoma and Pierce County. Visit Travel Tacoma for more ideas and itineraries so you can explore mountain, city and sea all in one destination.
Paradise Village Lodge - ParadiseVillageLodge.com
Silver Cloud Tacoma Waterfront - SilverCloud.com/Tacoma
Maritime Inn Gig Harbor - MaritimeInn.com
Wildberry - RainierWildberry.com
The Olive Branch Café and Tea Room - OliveBranch-Cafe.com
Brix 25 - HarborBrix.com
Tacoma Visitors Information - TravelTacoma.com
Discover Nature with Diann Sheldon - TourMtRainier.com
Pretty Gritty Tours - PrettyGrittyTours.com
Tacoma Attraction Pass - Explore.TravelTacoma.com
Gig Harbor Gondola - GigHarborGondola.com
Heritage Distilling - HeritageDistilling.com
Gig Harbor Boat Shop – GigHarborBoatShop.org