You know how it is. The family converges for the holidays, and all is well as long as there are presents to open and a big, festive meal to eat.
But if your extended family is staying past that point and you’re wondering how you’ll keep everyone entertained, never fear. Your features team has come to the rescue.
There are many, many family-friendly things to do in the South Sound, and some of them are so wonderful, they are obvious: A trip to one of the many attractions at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, Zoo and Aquarium. (Baby tigers, anyone?) A visit to Olympia’s Hands On Children’s Museum. A group expedition to the local cineplex to see “Annie,” “Into The Woods,” or the latest “Night at the Museum” installment. Sledding at a Sno-Park.
But maybe your family has already done those things or isn’t quite the right age mix for those activities. That’s where we’ve stepped in to recommend some outings and activities that might not immediately spring to mind, but might be just the thing to keep loved ones from killing each other after a few days of togetherness.
This is the best time of year to see bald eagles looking for salmon carcasses along the banks of the Skagit River. The best viewing locations are from Rockport to Marblemount.
Start your visit at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport. The center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends through Feb. 1. There are programs and guided hikes, and easy access to a good viewing spot.
Those seeking a little more adventure can take a guided boat trip down the river to see the eagles.
NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The trails at the refuge take visitors past ponds, tidal marshes, the Nisqually River and woodlands. The 1-mile Twin Barns Loop Trail, for example, is a fully accessible boardwalk trail that also provides access to an observation platform. If you visit during the tidal change, you’ll be able to see the power of the saltwater from Puget Sound as it transforms the landscape.
The Norm Dicks Visitor Center is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, except Christmas and New Year’s Day. It has a number of good exhibits and an information desk.
MAKE ART ON PACIFIC AVENUE
Tinkertopia: 1914 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; $7 for 90 minutes; tinkertopia.com.
Tacoma Art Museum: 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; art space is free (pay $12-$14 to see the galleries); tacomaartmuseum.org.
Children’s Museum: 1501 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; pay what you can; playtacoma.org.
If the kids are bouncing off the walls, here’s a great creative outlet — making stuff. Three venues along one four-block stretch of Pacific Avenue offer space, materials and tools for art, craft and invention, often under the guidance of people who have great ideas. Tinkertopia offers every recycled gadget and doodad you can imagine, TAM has classic art materials and a magnetic framing wall (hours of fun for those younger than 5), and the Children’s Museum pairs art with play space. It’s cheap or free, and best of all, there’s no clean-up at home.
But Pacific Avenue has plenty for older kids too. Teens will love the skate fashion and boards at Bleach (1934 Pacific Ave.) and the upcycled/vintage threads at Urban Xchange (1932 Pacific Ave.), while grown-ups can browse the books at the UWT Bookstore (1754 Pacific Ave.) or Meta Books (1916 Pacific Ave.) Cafes abound for recharging your batteries.
QUIRKY TACOMA WALK (OR DRIVE)
Continue south down Broadway: At 15th Street the Tacoma Convention Center (designed to remind you of a ship) has marvelous map-based glass art in the entrance area and (if you can get inside) suggestively bulging walls in the ballroom-level restrooms. Walk downhill to Pacific Avenue and turn right; in two blocks you’ll hit Tollefson Plaza, where there are a 24-high carved cedar Welcome Figure and plenty of cafes to recharge. Catch the Link back to Seventh and Commerce streets (not far from Wright Park) or walk back along Pacific Avenue, spotting secret staircases and brightly colored concrete balls in the street rain gardens along the way.
Extra detour: Keep going south to the Goodwill Milgard center (714 S. 27th St.) to see the Patrick Blanc-designed vertical garden in the parking lot.
Tacoma has plenty of museum art, but you’ll find the real essence of grit, quirk and weird beauty in the public art on the streets. Take this downtown walk or drive and show out-of-towners just what the Tacoma spirit is all about: bizarre murals, stump carvings, vertical gardens, window art and more.
BOUTIQUES AND ANTIQUES
Tacoma’s famous Antique Row — with eclectic vintage shops, upcycled fashion and the labyrinthine descending floors of Sanford and Sons — now has a new shopping quarter in the Triangle District, so-called from the shape of some of its street blocks and buildings. Down St. Helens Avenue from Sixth to Ninth streets a community of boutiques has sprung up: fancy French home décor at Dwelling (626 St. Helens. Ave.), exotic fair-trade goods at Giraffe (622 St. Helens Ave.), gourmet cheese and meat at Stink (628 St. Helens Ave.) and a cluster of candy-and-gift merchants inside St. Helens Ave Mercantile (753 St. Helens Ave.) Around the corner on South Ninth Street, just opposite the Rialto Theater, you’ll find Moss+Mineral, with artsy terrariums and crafts, and Mod Curio, with handmade mid-century items.
Have non-shoppers in your family? Drop them off for a movie at The Grand Cinema (606 S. Fawcett Ave.), or meet them later for dinner at Puget Sound Pizza (317 S. 7th St.), Maxwell’s (454 St. Helens Ave.), Over the Moon Café (709 Opera Alley,) or B Sharp Coffee House (706 Opera Alley).
SMALL TRAINS, BIG CARS
Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. The Model Train Festival runs Sunday through Jan. 1. $11 adults; $8 seniors, students, military; free for those younger than 6. 888-BE-THERE, washingtonhistory.org.
LeMay America’s Car Museum, 2702 E. D St., Tacoma; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $16 adults; $14 seniors, military; $12 students; $8 ages 6-12; free for those younger than 6. 253-779-9490, lemaymuseum.org.
The annual Model Train Festival, with yards of track and four floors of displays from local forests to mining towns, returns to the Washington State History Museum Sunday and stays through New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect outing for older and younger generations to bond, and you can easily combine it with a visit to the classic cars at the LeMay Museum down the road in the Dome District (catch the Link between them). LeMay bonus: a workshop building balloon-powered cars from 11 a.m.-noon Dec. 27 ($5). WSHM bonus: Santa visits 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 21-23.
BE WONKA FOR A DAY
Johnson Candy Co.: 924 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-272-8504 (closed Sundays).
Brown and Haley Roca retail stores: 110 E. 26th St., Tacoma (open daily), 253-620-3067; or 3500 20th St. E., Fife (closed Sundays), 253-620-3030.
Guide your family through Tacoma’s chocolate institutions: the Johnson Candy Co. in the Hilltop neighborhood, and Brown and Haley, with retail outlet stores in the Tacoma Dome neighborhood and Fife. Johnson Candy Co. is a mom-and-pop family outfit making small-batch candies from scratch. Find truffles, hand-dipped orange peel, homemade caramels and a broad assortment of candy (including sugar-free). Brown and Haley is the company that created Tacoma’s most famous treat, Almond Roca, as well as Mountain Bars. Bargains abound at its outlet stores. Find discounted Roca, baking mixes and other finds. An ideal stop for stocking stuffers.
This shopping center has a food court with a broad selection of eateries, and it serves as an incubator for fledgling businesses in Tacoma. Businesses are constantly coming and going through the historic building adjacent to the railroad tracks in the Dome neighborhood. Find a cutlery store (they’ll even sharpen your knives), a regionally famous Lego building store, even a store where you can dress up like a fairy.
If shopping should stir your appetite, head to the food court for some of the best Greek eats in Tacoma at Mediterranean Palace. There’s also RJ’s, a burger restaurant, Little India Express, a Vietnamese take-out counter called Wendy’s, and fish and chips at Paya. For dessert, Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls is a must.
PALDO WORLD SHOPPING CENTER
In the center of Lakewood’s Korean restaurant and grocery district, find the grandaddy of the four Korean grocery stores: Paldo World. Inside the mega grocery store, shoppers will find a French-Asian bakery, a small food court with Chinese, Korean and Japanese cuisine, and a grocery store with every Asian ingredient imaginable. Stop, have lunch, then shop for dinner. On the outside of the building, find two restaurants worth visiting: Cho Dang Tofu (specializing in soondubu soft tofu soups) and Tacoma Szechuan, easily the region’s best Chinese restaurant.
Shipwreck Beads says it has the largest inventory of beads in the world. We’re not going to argue the fact. Millions of beads from plastic to stone to Swarovski crystal fill bins, shelves and display cases in the warehouse store.
Overwhelmed? (You will be.) Books on making jewelry fill one section.
A recent visit to the store confirmed the notion that jewelry-making is heavily tilted toward women, but the store caters to all types. Kids have acres of colorful, bauble-filled aisles to explore. A deli — The Galley — offers breakfast, salads, sandwiches, soups, snacks and coffee beverages. On our visit, we found two men who looked more like bikers than beaders.
OLYMPIC FLIGHT MUSEUM
The museum may be known for its annual summer air show, but visiting the museum in winter gets you up close with the historic planes and helicopters inside a heated hangar. Visitors can check out about a dozen aircraft, including a Japanese Zero and P-51 Mustang from the World War II era, plus two jets and several helicopters.
The museum, together with the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, recently renovated a UH-1 Huey helicopter. Though it doesn’t fly, visitors can climb in and sit in the Vietnam War-era chopper.
Also recently restored is an FG1D Corsair which picked up a stack of awards at this year’s Reno Air Races.
WET SCIENCE CENTER
Hand it to the folks at the LOTT Clean Water Alliance for coming up with a descriptive acronym for their education center. WET (Water, Education and Technology) is all about water — keeping it clean before it’s used and cleaning it up afterwards. The center has interactive exhibits, Saturday activities and environmental presentations that illustrate where water comes from, how the average person uses it, and how it’s returned to the earth.
If you live in Thurston County, you can locate your home on a map and watch a virtual flush travel to the LOTT water treatment plant. Another exhibit shows you how much water you use every day.
A scavenger hunt guides visitors through eight stations with a prize at the end. Career games might set a young mind on a future profession. Other exhibits show how bacteria cleans up water and how a water drop travels through the world.