When LeMay – America’s Car Museum opened in June, by our count, it gave Pierce County 10 tourist destinations that are unrivaled in the state. You might protest that assertion, especially if you’re from Seattle, but we offer evidence below.
Take TAM versus SAM, for example. Sure, Seattle Art Museum is bigger, but when it comes to art museums that focus on Northwest art, it’s in no contest with Tacoma Art Museum. And things are just getting better. In 2014, TAM will open its Western art wing.
At Northwest Trek, they just added a zip line. When one was proposed in Seattle’s Lincoln Park, residents protested so loudly the project was canned.
And make no mistake, tourism is big business in Pierce County. According to the Tacoma Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4.9 million visitors came here in 2011, leaving behind $886 million.
If you have a snooty Seattleite in tow when you tour these destinations, we’ve given you handy quotes to put them in their place. And we offer tips on what not to miss, what to dine on and when to visit.
Be proud Pierce County. You’ve earned it.
MUSEUM OF GLASS/CHIHULY BRIDGE OF GLASS
Closest rival: Corning Museum of Glass in New York
Trivia: 2,800 stainless steel panels cover the 90-foot-tall cone that houses the Hot Shop
Poke a Seattleite: “We don’t charge to see our Chihuly glass.”
Don’t miss: Live glass blowing
Who’s going to love it: Fans of red-hot liquids
Best time to visit: When it’s cold outside and the glass is hot inside
Eats: Bistro steak sandwich on baguette at the museum’s cafe
Souvenir: 10th anniversary MOG tumbler made on site by the Hot Shop Team ($35)
Location: 1801 Dock St., Tacoma
TACOMA ART MUSEUM
Closest rival: Portland Art Museum
Trivia: The museum owns 104 Chihuly art works in its ever-growing collection of regional art.
Poke a Seattleite: “Keep your fancy European art. We’re going Wild West in two years.”
Don’t miss: Leroy the 10-foot-high cardboard dog
Who’s going to love it: Northwest art aficionados and Chihuly fans
Best time to visit: Thursdays when it is open until 8 p.m. (admission is free on third Thursdays)
Eats: Northwest smoked salmon bagel sandwich at the museum’s cafe
Souvenir: Leroy plush ($15.95)
Location: 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
POINT DEFIANCE PARK, ZOO & AQUARIUM
Closest rival: ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, N.M.
Trivia: The aquarium has 17 large tropical sharks of seven different species.
Poke a Seattleite: “A zoo, aquarium and gigantic park all in one place – who would have thought of that? Oh, we did.”
Don’t miss: ET the walrus and the clouded leopard cubs
Who’s going to love it: Kids and animal-obsessed adults
Best time to visit: When it’s not too hot and not too cold
Eats: Pulled pork sandwich at Alton BBQ near Rocky Shores
Souvenir: Clouded leopard plush ($9.99)
Location: North end of Pearl Street, Tacoma
TACOMA NARROWS BRIDGES
Closest rival: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Trivia: Galloping Gertie, an early incarnation of the current bridge, is a textbook example of engineering gone wrong. Literally. It’s in all the textbooks.
Poke a Seattleite: “Real bridges are suspended, not floated.”
Don’t miss: Views down the Narrows
Who’s going to love it: Fans of TV show “Modern Marvels”
Best time to visit: When the wind isn’t blowing
Eats: Gilled fish tacos on the deck at Boathouse 19, which has amazing views of the bridges
Souvenir: Photos of Galloping Gertie. Order at collections.washingtonhistory.org or content.lib.washington.edu
Location: Access from War Memorial Park, Sixth Avenue and North Skyline Drive, Tacoma
LEMAY – AMERICA'S CAR MUSEUM
Closest rival: National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nev.
Trivia: The Dusenberg Model SJ sold new for $20,000 in 1931. It’s worth about $2 million now.
Poke a Seattleite: “Yes, he’s one of those Bulgaris and he does keep his cars in Tacoma.”
Don’t miss: The Tucker Model 48
Who’s going to love it: Car nuts
Best time to visit: During a car show weekend
Eats: Pulled pork sandwich at the museum’s cafe
Souvenir: For him: seatbelt belt ($29.99); for her: license plate bracelet ($19.99)
Location: 2702 E. D St., Tacoma
CHAMBERS CREEK REGIONAL PARK & CHAMBERS BAY GOLF COURSE
Closest rival: Bandon Dunes, Ore.
Trivia: The longest of three closed off tunnels runs 1,500 feet under Central Meadow.
Poke a Seattlelite: “What do you do with your old gravel pits?”
Don’t miss: The bridge to the beach
Who’s going to love it: Strollers, golfers, dog walkers, beach combers
Best time to visit: Dawn to dusk
Eats: Roasted Draper Valley chicken breast at Chambers Bay Grill
Souvenir: Any item with the 2015 U.S. Open logo at the Pro Shop – the only place you can find them
Location: 6320 Grandview Drive W., University Place
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Closest rival: Mount Whitney in California (which is just a bit taller)
Trivia: The park is 113 years old, the mountain is 500,000.
Poke a Seattlite: “Sure, it’s in all your travel brochures, but it’s in our county.”
Don’t miss: The wildflowers at Mazama Ridge near Paradise.
Who’s going to love it: Anyone who has a pulse
Best time to visit: Now
Eats: Sunday Brunch at Paradise Inn
Souvenir: Chocolate slug on a stick ($3.50)
Location: Main entrances accessed via routes 706 and 410
THE GONDOLA AT CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN RESORT
Closest rival: Peak 2 Peak at Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia
Trivia: The gondola travels 2,500 vertical feet in nine minutes.
Poke a Seattleite: “We’re 6,872 feet above sea level. That’s 11 Space Needles to you.”
Don’t miss: View of Mount Rainier, 12 miles away
Who’s going to love it: Armchair mountaineers
Best time to visit: On a clear day
Eats: Sunset dinner at Summit House, Washington’s loftiest restaurant
Souvenir: Gondola magnet ($4.95) at summit gift store
Location: Crystal Mountain Boulevard off Route 410
WASHINGTON STATE HISTORY MUSEUM
Closest rival: The Colorado History Museum
Trivia: The Clovis Points (lance heads) are 11,000 years old and the oldest human artifacts found in the state.
Poke a Seattleite: “Imagine that, the state history museum is in Tacoma.”
Don’t miss: The mummy
Who’s going to love it: Any proud Washingtonian
Best time to visit: Weekday afternoons after the school groups leave
Eats: Sweet Maui Kapowie Flatbread at Anthem After 5 (as in 5 p.m.) just outside the museum’s main entrance.
Souvenir: “History is not for Wimps” shirt at museum store ($18)
Location: 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
NORTHWEST TREK WILDLIFE PARK
Closest rival: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas
Trivia: The 725-acre wildlife park is home to more than 200 animals native to the Northwest.
Poke a Seattleite: “We build zip lines without having hissy fits over it.”
Don’t miss: The baby Bou, Bi and Big (caribou, bison and bighorn sheep)
Who’s going to love it: Wildlife lovers
Best time to visit: Mornings and on cloudy days when the animals are most active
Eats: Bison (not the ones on display) burger with “the works”
Souvenir: Ceramic grizzly bear head ($9.99)
Location: 1610 Trek Drive East, Eatonville