Even if you live in Lakewood it might be easy to forget that the town of 60,000 people — Pierce County’s second-largest city — is home to a lot of entertainment options. This weekend’s Sister Cities arts festival likely will bring in a lot of visitors, so I spent a couple of days exploring some of the fun things to do in Lakewood to prove that you can be a tourist in your own town.
PIERCE COLLEGE PLANETARIUM
I’m comfortably seated, ready for a trip to the moon. No, the Apollo program hasn’t been restarted. I’m inside Pierce College’s Science Dome, a 58-seat digital planetarium, the only one in the South Sound. Its 38-foot-wide, domed screen can display the night sky as well as a series of movies on a rotating schedule.
The show I’m about to see, “Back to the Moon for Good,” is narrated by Tim Allen and concerns the $30 million Lunar XPrize Google is offering to the first team to successfully land a robotic spacecraft on the moon.
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“It’s going to look like we’re moving,” lab tech Katie Iadanza tells the audience of 13. She’s not kidding. Planets and stars whiz around us. “You might get a little motion sickness,” she cautions.
But nobody runs for the exit as the Milky Way suddenly rises above our heads. Because of light pollution, this in the only way you will ever see it in Lakewood.
Iadanza talks for 25 minutes, explaining Doppler shifts, astronomical spectroscopy, and space telescopes. As she talks, her partner projects on the dome planets, stars and even an animation of the recent blood moon in response to a boy’s question.
Following the science talk the movie plays, using the full dome. Like an Imax film, it’s a full visual field experience.
When: 7 p.m. Fridays, 3:15 p.m. Saturdays
Children’s shows (ages 3-8): 12:30 and 2 p.m. Saturdays
Where: Pierce College, 9401 Farwest Drive SW, Lakewood (Rainier Building)
Tickets: $6 adults, $3 children. Children’s shows are $3 for kids (adults free)
Information: 253-964-6440, wp.pierce.ctc.edu/blog/sciencedome
The lakes that are the namesake of Lakewood are rimmed with some of Pierce County’s finest homes. Most are discreetly sheltered by hedges and fences. But one estate is open to the public five days a week.
Lakewold Gardens will celebrate its 25th anniversary as a nonprofit in May. The estate itself, with a Georgian-style mansion and a 10-acre garden designed a century ago and later updated by Thomas Church in 1958.
Right now the garden is a riot of color as Mount Fuji cherry trees, rhododendrons and dogwoods bloom. Between Gravelly Lake and a vast lawn is a forest of pink-leafed Japanese maples, ferns and a stream gurgling through mossy rocks. Near the house, I found a patch of delicate bleeding hearts looking more like jewelry than plants. Above them, the white and pink leaves of an ornamental kiwi vine climbed a wall.
As I walked the grounds I tried to picture servants preparing tea for me, “Downton Abbey” style (a guy can dream).
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Where: 12317 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood
Tickets: $9 adults, $6 seniors, free for 12 and younger
Information: 253-584-4106, lakewoldgardens.org
FORT STEILACOOM PARK
Nature, heritage, recreation. And dogs. Fort Steilacoom Park, located across the street from Western State Hospital and adjacent to Pierce College, has it all. At 340 acres, Lakewood’s largest park contains playfields, a playground, an off-leash dog park and 10 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park and around bucolic Waughop Lake.
It also has history. It once was a military base and a farm for Western State. Several of the barns still stand along with two unusual silos made of black and red bricks. Faded lettering says the pair date from 1931.
Until it was razed for safety reasons, the old Hill Ward dormitory for Western State patients sat on a nearby hill. Today it’s a plaza with the feel of Greek ruins, minus the Doric columns.
The most poignant area is the cemetery adjacent to the dog park. More than 3,200 people, mostly patients, are buried there. The dead were given only numbers on their markers — a practice meant to distance them from the stigma of mental illness. It also served to send them in to the great beyond forever unknown.
But Grave Concerns, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring the identities of the dead, has slowly added new markers with names to the graves. Now remembered is Ursula, a Native American girl whose short life lasted from 1883 to 1885. Near her grave is Hezekiah Gray who died in 1885, age unknown. A vintage marker, one of the few with a name instead of a number, might have been for a Western State doctor: “Moses Smith M.D.” He died in 1891 at age 74.
When: The park is open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. or sunset (if later) unless otherwise posted
Where: 8714 87th Ave. SW, Lakewood
LAKEWOOD HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND HISTORY MUSEUM
The museum that the Lakewood Historical Society has set up in Lakewood Colonial Center packs a lot of history into a small space. A re-created pioneer cabin, one-room schoolhouse and post office offer windows to the past.
The museum’s current show, on the history of shopping, fills one section. On May 3, a show that explores the military’s influence on the city opens.
When: Museum hours are noon-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays
Where: 6211 Mount Tacoma Drive SW, Lakewood
Information: 253-682-3480, lakewoodhistorical.org
Call me old-fashioned, or a California wine country-raised snoot. But it’s hard for me to accept wineries that aren’t surrounded by vineyards.
But tucked into an industrial complex on Lakewood Avenue is Stina’s Cellars. Stina is the nickname of owner and vintner Perry Preston.
Preston gave up his job as an airline ground crew member in 2005 to live his dream of making wine. He offers seven varietals and blends, including a dessert wine, Sweet Beginnings.
The unpretentious tasting room fronts the area where Preston makes his wine. He charges $5 to taste five of his wines and $10 for the full line. His wines range from $15 to $20 per bottle.
“You don’t really need to know anything but if you like it or not,” Preston told Carri Gervais and Tim Salios of Edgewood, who were tasting on the afternoon of my visit. The couple bought seven bottles.
When: Noon-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
Where: 9316 Lakeview Ave. SW, Suite B, Lakewood
SOUTH PUGET SOUND URBAN WILDLIFE INTERPRETIVE CENTER
This 90-acre parcel started out as a game farm and fish hatchery in 1922. Managed by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, it’s surrounded by homes, businesses and a middle school. It still serves as a hatchery but is also an urban wildlife area. On my visit thousands of kokanee and rainbow trout filled several ponds and runways. Nearby, a great blue heron was perched on a snag, perhaps looking for an opening in the nets that cover the fish ponds. If hatchery staff are present they’re happy to offer on-the-spot tours to visitors.
When: Open during daylight hours
Where: 7723 Phillips Road SW, Lakewood
Admission: Discover pass required
Information: 253-589-7016 wdfw.wa.gov
OTHER OPTIONSLakewood Playhouse:
The 75-year-old playhouse produces about six plays a year plus two bonus shows. The community theater also puts on a Christmas show and conducts theater education programs. Scholarships for kids ages 6-17 are available. Currently “The Odd Couple” is being staged. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 11. Next up is “Monty Python’s Spamalot” which opens June 13. 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. Lakewood (at Lakewood Towne Center), 253-588-0042,lakewoodplayhouse.org
Thornewood Castle: This 27,000-square-foot Tudor Gothic mansion was built more than 100 years ago by Tacoma banking tycoon Chester Thorne. After falling into disrepair and serving as a film location for Stephen King’s “Rose Red,” it’s now fully restored. Today it’s open only to guests who use it as a bed and breakfast or wedding venue. However, the home is usually opened for tours after Thanksgiving. 8601 N. Thorne Lane SW, Lakewood. 253-584-4393 thornewoodcastle.com.
AMC Loews Lakewood Towne Center 12: The 12 theaters in this first-run cinema complex seat only about 60 people. That’s because folks are seated in plushy recliners. What’s more, you can reserve individual seats — or pairs — online or at the box office. 5721 Main Street SW, Lakewood (at Lakewood Towne Center), 253-581-5351, amctheatres.com.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541