Tacoma — with maritime, alpine and urban attractions — is not the city you think it is
By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin
TACOMA, Wash. —
I mentioned to a friend recently that I was going to visit Tacoma for a few days. Her response was almost predictable: “I’m sorry,” she said.
Thirty years ago, her reaction might have been justifiable. Back then, Seattle’s southern neighbor was a gritty blue-collar town with a high crime rate, a paper mill that produced an unmistakable stench nicknamed “the Tacoma Aroma,” and a copper smelter with a towering stack that contaminated miles of land with arsenic and lead.
Those days are now long gone. Disrespect is no longer deserved. Tacoma is now a clean, modern, safe community with renowned museums and fine hotels and restaurants. In fact, this city of 200,000 people may be the best place in the United States to fold urban, alpine and maritime experiences into a single long weekend.
Portland comes close, with its proximity to Mount Hood, but the Pacific Ocean is 90 minutes away. Seattle abuts salt-water Puget Sound, but its nearest mountain passes barely approach 4,000 feet. Only Vancouver, British Columbia, across the Canadian border, can offer both sea and snow as close to the urban core.
On my early June visit, I embraced all three faces of Tacoma. I circled the highest peak in the Cascade Range, 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, hiking past stunning waterfalls on glacial trails. I cruised the waters of Puget Sound from the historic waterfront village of Gig Harbor. And I explored the urban attractions of Tacoma, all without leaving the boundaries of Pierce County.
I enjoyed lunch at the Tides Tavern, built as a general store in 1910 by one Axel Uddenberg and celebrating its 40th anniversary this summer as a waterfront retreat. Then I headed for Finholm Marketplace, at the west end of the harbor, to explore the waterfront on a cruise with Destiny Harbor Tours.