As we traversed Commencement Bay, headed for Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway, I kept thinking about when I was a young boy, and our family took Sunday drives to Tacoma to visit relatives. As we approached the tide flats, the car would fill with a stench. The challenge was to hold your breath long enough to clear the other side of the flats, so you didn’t have to inhale the disgusting byproduct of the pulp mill, slaughterhouse, and polluted tide flats. It was known as the “Aroma of Tacoma.”

Today the commercial hub has returned with a renaissance that includes:

  • marinas
  • museums
  • retail
  • In addition, the old Aroma of Tacoma has been replaced with the smells of coffee shops and eateries.

Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway – Art, History and Good Eats

Dock Street Marina

There are a number of choices for moorage on the waterway. Our preferred choice is Dock Street Marina, a first-rate, state-of-the-art oasis in the midst of an urban, industrial setting located at the southern end of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway and a convenient location to access the museums and restaurants.

The newspaper hitting the cockpit on Sunday morning is not the only sign this isn’t your regular marina. Dock Street Marina has become known for its concierge level service, dockhands greeting and assisting with your lines, and a complimentary gift bag containing information about the area and discount coupons.

The marina has about 20 guest moorage slips available and a 320-foot dock suitable for groups of boaters. The facilities are clean and first-cabin with wide fairways and slips, large stable concrete docks, spotless restrooms with free showers, 30, 50, and 100-amp power and cable available to all boats.

Exploring Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway  

Begin your visit by meandering north on the esplanade that leads to a mixture of shops, galleries, restaurants, condos and the Foss Waterway Seaport. On the way take in the sculptures, view a delightful hodgepodge of boats, backed by a suspension bridge, and on a clear day, Mt. Rainier.

Foss Waterway Seaport

The Foss Waterway Seaport is a maritime museum that celebrates Tacoma’s rich maritime heritage, past, present, and future. It features maritime exhibits suitable to a wide range of ages, land and boat based education programs, children’s exhibit full of hands-on activities, events rental space, and a heritage boat shop.

Museum of Glass

Located across the esplanade from Dock Street Marina and adjacent to the Museum of Glass, its 90-foot silver dome represents some of the area’s history by replicating the forest industry’s wood burner domes that once dotted the landscape.

The museum focuses on the medium of glass within the context of contemporary art and features state-of-the-art facilities and specialized education and outreach programs to introduce audiences of all ages and levels of expertise to contemporary art. In the 140-seat Hot Shop Amphitheater visitors can watch artists at work blowing glass.

The roof of the museum connects with the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. At the center of this 500-foot pedestrian overpass, its two crystal towers capture daylight and shine as if they have a light of their own.

Art and History Museums

The bridge leads to the Washington State History Museum and Pacific Avenue, Tacoma’s main arterial. Across the street is the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington and a row of eclectic restaurants, shops, and galleries.

A few city blocks to the north is the Tacoma Art Museum. In route is the historic Union Station rotunda, where in the early 20th Century a 100 passenger trains per week would arrive and depart. Today it houses a federal courthouse.

Continuing north on Pacific Avenue is the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, serving young children and their parents through self-directed play that celebrates imagination and encourages creativity.

LeMay America’s Car Museum

The LeMay – American’s Car Museum is just a free light rail ride away (10 minutes) which runs every 12 minutes along Pacific Avenue, just hop on.

The museum spotlights America’s fascination and love affair with the automobile. Exhibits feature 350 vehicles from Ferraris and Corvettes to Model Ts and the LaSalle 303 Roadster.

If you want to explore Tacoma’s Point Defiance, which includes a zoo, aquarium, living history museum, gardens, and parks, hop aboard the Downtown to Defiance Trolly. Rides are $1 for adults and .50¢ for seniors. The trolley runs from the beginning of June to the beginning of September.

Worked Up an Appetite?

Pacific Avenue is lined with a number of restaurants, from fast-food to sit-down gourmet meals. After a day of exhibit viewing, one of our favorite stops is Harmon Pub & Brewery for dinner and a cold ale. The put occupies the street level of a 19th-century building, which once housed the Harmon Furniture Factory. The Pub & Brewery is known for its house-made microbrews, juicy hamburgers, stone-baked pizzas and fantastic nachos. Half the facility is a restaurant where all ages are welcome, and the other half is a bar reserved for patrons over 21-years of age.

Other wonderful eateries along Pacific Ave. include:

  • El Gaucho
  • Indochine Asian Dining Lounge
  • The Melting Pot

As well as, Social Bar and Grill along the waterfront near Dock Street, Alfred’s west of the Tacoma Dome, and 7 Seas Brewery and Taproom along Jefferson Ave.

Tacoma has come a long way from its industrial days and now makes a wonderful year-round boating destination and cultural experience.

Deane Hislop