Tacoma Day Trip: Three Free Museums Every Third Thursday

Low to No-Cost Tacoma Day Trip

The Tacoma day trip I’m outlining here would be entirely free, except for whatever gas you use getting to Tacoma and whatever you elect to spend on food.

Every third Thursday of the month, three Tacoma museums offer free entry. Even better, all three of these museums are within 10 minutes or less walking distance of each other, and all within the University of Washington, Tacoma cultural hub, which happens to be one of the most enjoyable areas of the city.

You can start your trip by taking the free Tacoma Link light rail, which you can catch from the Tacoma Dome Station right outside the Tacoma Dome parking garage. You’d take the rail to its second stop, which is directly in front of the Washington State History Museum.

Washington State History Museum

This is my personal favorite of the freebies. The Washington State History Museum is full of fascinating stuff. The giant model railroad alone is an experience worth the trip. The permanent exhibits in the museum illuminate the evolution of Washington state with full sized replicas of early tools, machines, vehicles, and houses of early Washingtonians. They even have a mummy!

The museum also happens to stand at the end of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which is a 500-feet long foot bridge decorated with hundreds of glass art pieces from the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The bridge itself is worthy destination, but it also leads to the Museum of Glass, which we’ll cover next.

Museum of Glass

The Museum of Glass is one of Tacoma’s most iconic attractions. It stands on the shore of the Thea Foss Waterway and is, as the name suggest, full of glass art. You can also watch glass artists at their work.

The exhibits are both in and outdoors. The cafe in the museum has good food with a lot of options, and the Social Bar and Grill right next door has a nice, relaxed atmosphere, drinks, and great eats, as well, though it may be a bit pricey for a budget trip such as this one.

Tacoma Art Museum (TAM)

The TAM is a five minute walk from the history museum and an eight minute walk from the glass museum.

The museum has more of Dale Chihuly’s work, but also a wide assortment of other fine art exhibits. They cycle in new exhibits pretty regularly, so the TAM always feels fresh and new.

Back on the Rail and Back Home

The Link station is five minutes from the TAM. From there, it’s a quick ride back to the parking garage and your car.

Have fun!



Olympia, Washington—An Endless Procession of the Species

Come as You Are: Procession of the Species and One of the Most Eclectic Towns You’ll Ever Find

Being the capital of Washington state, Olympia’s downtown sports a lot of political and business types. Mixed into them, however, is an even larger group of oddballs, outcasts, and freaks—basically, my kind of people.

When I first moved to Olympia years ago, my first thought was that it was a sort of elephant graveyard for hippies, but that isn’t really accurate. Not fully, anyway. You’ve got exiles of the grunge era and the Heavy Metal days along with hipsters galore, intellectuals, anarchists, Baptists, all manner of people crammed together in this beautiful tie-dyed mess.

Olympia is one of the most literate cities I’ve ever been in. It’s common for me to find myself having conversations about books with waiters and baristas and any other service person I may encounter while visiting. It’s a city where intellectuals can feel at home.

But most importantly, there are simply so many different kinds of people in Olympia that anyone there can feel comfortable blending into the static.

State Capital and a Pretty Little City

Even in its most densely populated downtown areas, Olympia feels distinctly like a small town. Everything in the town is relaxed and calm. It’s a nice respite from Tacoma, Seattle, and the bigger Washington State cities.

Capitol Lake has a walking trail around its perimeter. It’s a nice stroll on a sunny day and is surprisingly full of wildlife. I’ve seen otters, seals, cranes, pelicans, and ducks in its water. I also once saw a falcon snatch a seagull out of the air over the lake. It was a stunning, if somewhat brutal, sight, which I will never forget.

Olympia, Washington’s Endless Procession of the Species

Every year, in celebration of Earth Month, Olympia holds the Procession of the Species parade. It is, by far, the quirkiest— sometimes outright bizarre, and always fun—parade I have ever beheld. To me, the event encapsulates the city itself. It’s as if the Procession never really stops, as if it’s always going on and the parade day is simply the one day a year when everyone takes off their normal-person costume and dresses as they really are.

The city has an independent, creative spirit that has always stuck in my heart. I lived here and in neighboring Lacey for over a decade. I had to move for a job, but Olympia has never truly left my heart.

Waterfront Outperforms Its Size

Olympia’s waterfront walk isn’t something you often see advertised, but it’s a nice trek full of good viewing of the water, sail boats, mountainous horizon, and the works of art scattered around the docks like secret magic.

Some of the exhibits, such as the “Kissing Statue” featured on the main page this article, are permanent, but some of the other installments change every year with new contest entries.

Underrated Foodie Scene

I’m not sure how well known Olympia is for its food scene, but I know that I personally love driving down there to eat. Like everything else in the city, the restaurants are marked by uniqueness. South Bay Dickerson’s BBQ‘s decor mixes a refurbished garage with old farming equipment and…reggae. The odd combination creates a relaxed vibe. Their BBQ, by the way, is awesome.

Old School Pizzeria is the “most Oly” restaurant in Olympia. The pizza is brick oven and reminds me of the pizza I grew up eating on the east coast. The restaurant itself is decorated with a seemingly random assortment of 80s and 90s posters, fish tanks, Millennium Falcons, blasting punk and metal music, and much more. It also has the single gnarliest bathroom I’ve ever been in—and I mean that in a really good way. They have vegan and gluten free options galore, as well.

If you’re more up for a full dinner and conversation type of place, I don’t think the Iron Rabbit can be beat. The food is fresh, high quality, healthy, and delicious.

Olympia’s a Little City With a Big Heart

There’s just something about Olympia. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it, but if you asked many of the people who choose to live there and make a long commute to work in Seattle or Tacoma, they’ll tell you the same thing.

They have a saying in Olympia: “It’s in the water.” This was once used by Olympia Beer as their official slogan, but the saying is more than a sales pitch. Olympia sits over a natural aquifer. If you go to downtown you can find a metal spout from which the water runs all day, every day. Locals go there to fill up jugs for drinking water. People congregate around the area and sip at will on hot days. The old story, and one which some people still hold to as true, was that the water had magical healing properties. I don’t know about all of that, of course, but I do know that there is something magical about the spirit of the city. It’s hard to even describe, exactly.

Go check it out and discover some of the city’ odd charm for yourself.

Hospitality and Relaxation at the Quinault River Inn in Amanda Park, Washington, Just a Stone’s Throw Away from Lake Quinault

 

The Uncommonly Welcoming Quinault River Inn

I arrived fifteen minutes after closing time to find the hosts at the Quinault River Inn still awake and waiting for my arrival. I’d called a couple hours earlier for an impromptu weekend getaway but hadn’t actually paid for the room yet. Despite this lack of financial or legal obligation, the hosts—Georgia’s own Jim and Angela Sowards—stayed late to make sure I got into my room. The wind and rain had been heavy that night, and they figured I might run a bit late. That’s hospitality that you can’t find just anywhere.

When people think of staying in the Lake Quinault area, they tend to think of the Lake Quinault Lodge. While that’s a nice establishment and one I’ve also enjoyed staying at, I just don’t think the Quinault River Inn can be beat for sheer character. It’s my “go-to” place when I want to visit the area but don’t want to camp. I go the area mostly for the hiking, but for those who want to see the lake specifically, the inn is conveniently located less than 3 miles away.

A Great Location for Relaxing or Exploring the Lake Quinault Area

As the name suggests, the hotel sits right on the bank of the Quinault River. It’s popular with fishermen, but it’s also a great little hideaway for any vacationer. The river’s always there, rolling slowly, its easy-going spirit infusing the whole area.

The inn is located more-or-less halfway between the Lake Quinault’s South and North Shore Roads. Down those two paths lies that all the outdoors magic, which makes the Quinault River Inn a convenient launching point for adventure.

Far as I’m concerned, Lake Quinault is the best kept secret of the Olympic Peninsula. In addition to the lake itself, which is beautiful, the area’s also got miles and miles of rain forest hiking, waterfall and elk viewing, and camping. I’ll be doing a full rundown of the area soon enough, but for now I’m focusing on the inn.

The gazebo and the Quinault River just beyond it are right outside your front door. Mountains and forest all around. (Photographs courtesy of Angela Sowards.)

Peaceful and Quiet, but Close to All the Comforts You Need

I’ve stayed at the Quinault River Inn multiple times over the years. The rooms are always clean and the beds are comfortable. This last visit, I had one of the best nights of sleep in my life.

A couple hundred yards up the hill from the inn is the Quinault River Village Internet Cafe and Visitor Information Center, which serves my favorite breakfast in town. Not far from that is Dino’s Pizza and Grill. The last time I ate there I had one of the best Philly cheese steaks I’ve ever had…and I was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

I spend a great deal of time in the Lake Quinault area. In the spring and summer, I generally like to camp. But, when I do stay in a hotel, there’s no place I’d rather stay than the Quinault River Inn. The lengths the innkeepers went to for me on this last trip were the proverbial cherry atop the sundae, but this has my home run hotel for a while. The innkeepers’ personalities also seem to act like magnet drawing in equally kicked back, friendly guests. I’ve met some great people at the inn and had some memorable conversations, especially in the summer when people gather outside around the gazebo.

I’m tempted to say the Quinault River Inn is a great alternative to Lake Quinault Lodge, but that’s not really true. For me, it’s the best choice there is.

Strange Conversation at Irely Lake, Olympic National Park

So it was I found myself on the shore of Irely Lake, talking out loud to a tree…and I’ll be damned if the tree didn’t talk back.

It was one of those days of common desperation. Common for me, anyway, the man who never outgrows his existential angst. No matter how old I get, the nagging doubt remains. What am I supposed to be doing here? Why do the answers fade as fast as they arrive? Is there a reason or isn’t there a reason for anything and everything, and what am I supposed to do with either of those possibilities?

Christ, man, I’m tired of this shit.

Just like every other time my head gets too loud, I felt the need to get away from the commotion of modernity and into the woods, so I hopped in my car and drove three hours to the Irely Lake trail.

The trail head is a few miles outside Lake Quinault, down a couple dirt roads rough enough to turn most the city cars away. Quinault’s one of my favorite places in Washington state. It’s got elk and cougar and bear, rain forest, mountains, miles and miles of trails…and silence. The people there pretty much leave you well enough alone, unless you’re up for a brief and friendly chat.

It’s a short walk along the trail to the lake. Only a little over a mile, I believe. But this was still the winter season. Winds had blown two enormous trees over the trail and water flooded some other parts. This made for some fun obstacles, and even better it meant the trail was mine, so that only a mile from the road I felt completely alone in the rain forest.

Reaching the shore of the lake, which has trees and brush encroaching all along its bank, I saw a duck and its ducklings fly down and splash into the water. A moment later a pair of grown ducks flew side by side over the surface of the lake and away. Right after them, like a glitch in the matrix, two more identical ones followed in seemingly the exact same flight path.

I sat down next to a big old spruce and found myself thinking in the rain. My mind felt like a rabbit getting chewed up by a rabid dog…ugly and haggard.

So I turned aside and look at this big old spruce tree beside me and I said, “Hey, old man, I know this is kind of crazy, but there’s no one around other than you and me and I’m wondering if you can tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life.”

I sat there looking at the tree, not really expecting an answer. Hell, I’m crazy enough to talk to a tree, but not crazy enough to expect it to talk back.

But, as I sat there staring at this thing, I began to notice some details I’d previously glossed over. Multiple species of moss grew on its bark. The bark itself was incredibly thick and the cracks in it were deep; it undoubtedly gave home to all kinds of insects and worms. Up in the branches, birds and squirrels might have nested. If not, they at least certainly stopped there for some time now and then. In the warmer season, I bet that tree was crawling with life.

That’s when it hit me, so clear that it was like the tree was talking directly to me.

What I realized was that that tree had never done anything with its life other than stay rooted on that lake shore, yet in doing so it had given home to a multitude of living things. In staying motionlessly true to itself, it had became a home for life. Zen moment. Bam.

“Thanks old man,” I said.

I stood up, patted the tree’s side, and headed back, feeling lighter as I went.

What’s my purpose? It is to give my absolute best at the things that come most naturally to me. It’s to write and think deeply and create, and to laugh at the absurd things that strike me funny and to read obscure history and study things I’ll never actually use. It’s to explore and to give and to find magic in the world so I can write about it for others. It’s to be selfless and fearless. It’s to be my true self.

At least, that’s the answer I’m toying with now. Here’s to hoping it lasts, because this one feels good and right.

(In “Wandering Around With a Notebook” entries I share the poetic or philosophical side of my travels. A more utilitarian entry will be made for this location.)

Tacoma Budget Trip: Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park is a Great Tacoma Budget Trip

Whether you’re in the mood for swimming, hiking, tossing a football around, taking a scenic drive, or just chilling in the sun, you’ll find plenty of room and opportunity at Point Defiance Park. There’s also the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, boat rentals, and eats, of course, but in this blog post I’ll be focusing on Point Defiance recreation activities that cost little to no money. Point Defiance makes for a great Tacoma budget trip for people on a budget.

Owen Beach and the Waterfront Promenade

Owen Beach, which sits on the shore of the Puget Sound, is one of the main attractions at Point Defiance.

Owen Beach in winter. During summer, there are far more visitors, and the beach is usually a bustle of play.

Children love playing on the drift logs that lay along the sand—and many adults do, as well. The main beach area, seen in the photo above, tends to have the most concentrated crowds. The beach stretches on for quite some ways, however, and the farther you go the less people you’ll find.

 

There’s also a wide lawn with concessions and kayak rental shops, a picnic shelter, and restrooms. Nearly $5 million of improvements are being planned for 2018.

Though the main beach is developed, this location still has a bit wild streak, and it’s not uncommon to see seals and sea lions near shore.

A long waterfront promenade leads from Owen Beach to Boathouse Marina. This walk is fully paved and level and makes for an easy, scenic excursion for people of any fitness level.

Gardens Upon Gardens

In the rush to get to the beach, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Point Defiance is full of them!

The Rose Garden covers more than an acre. In addition to the roses themselves, there’s a wishing well and multiple gazebos to sit and contemplate the beauty.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its greenery, and it’s not always easy to find the other vibrant colors of nature. That’s not the case in Point Defiance. In addition to the Rose Garden, there’s an Herb Garden, a Fuchsia Garden, a Dahlia Trail Garden, and more.


 

     While you’re enjoying the flowers, keep an eye out for the many birds that like to congregate inthis area, especially in the pools scattered around the property.

Few things are better at reminding us to relax and enjoy life than watching ducks go about their business.

These Trails Were Made for Walking

Point Defiance has nearly 10 miles of walking trails.

None of the trails are far from the main park area, and none of them are very rugged. It’s casual hiking.
But, because of the thickness of the vegetation and the contour of the land, you get little stretches where you feel peacefully removed from the hustle and bustle.

No Matter the Season, Point Defiance Always Makes for a Nice Visit

In the wintertime, the park is refreshingly quiet and calm. In the summer, it’s got the energy of family and friends getting out to enjoy that long-sought Washington state sunshine. You can’t ask for much for from a place with free entrance.

Whether you’re in Tacoma or farther out, it’s a great day trip.