Thursday, June 24, 2021
June 24, 2021

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Day trip: Tacoma by Amtrak’s Cascades train

Riding the rails to two museums turns out to be the day’s highlight

By , Columbian Features editor
Published:
6 Photos
Glass artist Richard Royal and his team at work in the Hot Shop at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.
Glass artist Richard Royal and his team at work in the Hot Shop at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. (Courtesy of the Museum of Glass) Photo Gallery

My husband and sons love trains so much that they were even willing to do something educational if it meant they could ride the rails.

On a recent Saturday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades train from Vancouver to Tacoma to visit the Washington State History Museum and the Museum of Glass. The museums were interesting, but the day’s highlight was the train ride itself. We wanted to be sure to get a trip in while the route still follows the scenic Tacoma Narrows around Point Defiance and then along Commencement Bay. In 2020, the state Department of Transportation plans to return to the bypass following along Interstate 5 that was abandoned after a 2017 derailment.

In planning our trip, we discovered that pricing for Amtrak can vary dramatically. When I first looked at prices, tickets rang up at more than $300. I was ready to torpedo our plan. My husband didn’t give up. He searched a couple of weeks further out, and snagged four roundtrip tickets for a total of $164.

Next we had to decide how much of the day to spend in Tacoma. We knew we would catch the 8:38 a.m. northbound and arrive just before 11 a.m., but should we return south at 3:03 p.m. or 6:53 p.m.? With the museums closing at 5 p.m., we decided on a shorter day.

When we arrived in Tacoma, we walked the mile from the train station to the Museum of Glass. We traversed a desolate stretch of Puyallup Avenue and then followed Dock Street along Interstate 705 — not picturesque. The view improved once we reached the Thea Foss Waterway. Only after we returned to Vancouver did we realize we could have caught the Tacoma Link Light Rail not far from the Amtrak station and ridden it free to the museums.

If You Go

What: Washington State History Museum.
Where: 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Cost: $14 for adults; $11 for students ages 6 to 17 and seniors 65 and older; free for children younger than 5.
What: Museum of Glass.
Where: 1801 Dock St., Tacoma.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $17 for adults; $5 for children ages 6 to 12; $14 for seniors 62 and older, military and students; free for children younger than 6.

We spent most of our time at the Museum of Glass inside the Hot Shop. The museum’s distinctive 90-foot cone serves as the chimney for the glass workshop and keeps the amphitheater comfortable for spectators.

On the day we visited, Michael Schunke and his team were hard at work creating his “Sacrificial Vessels.” The pieces incorporate glass skulls, which was enough to hook the interest of my 11- and 13-year-old sons. They also got a kick out of a display of whimsical glass pieces based on children’s drawings.

Even though Tacoma native Dale Chihuly’s leadership in the Studio Glass Movement provided the impetus for the museum’s creation, it doesn’t serve to showcase only his work. You’ll see more of his pieces on the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which we crossed to reach the history museum.

Given that we spent more than an hour watching glass blowing, and then a bit too long on lunch at The Social Bar and Grill overlooking Foss Harbor Marina, we didn’t have much time at the Washington State History Museum.

My sons quickly zeroed in on what I should have guessed would be their favorite exhibit: the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers club’s 1,800-square-foot layout depicting the rail lines from Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park to the Stampede Pass tunnel in the Cascades.

We sped through the Great Hall’s time line of history and then retraced our steps to the train station.

We relaxed into our seats aboard the Talgo train, watched the south Puget Sound slip away and made it home in time for dinner.

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