A December getaway | Tacoma’s best places to see

This is one of Tacoma glass artist Dale Chihuly’s creations.  - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
This is one of Tacoma glass artist Dale Chihuly’s creations.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Picture vibrant Chihuly glass sculptures set amid lush green plants at Tacoma’s Wright Park Conservatory. Imagine half a million sparkling lights coating every structure of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Inhale the aromas of hot apple cider and ginger cakes at Fort Nisqually. Listen for the cheerful toot of a Santa Train whistle at Camp 6 Logging Museum. Only 30 minutes away, the Tacoma area offers some terrific, fun, affordable day trips this holiday season.

Point Defiance Park

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Point Defiance Park, Tacoma

19th Century Christmas

When: Dec. 6, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission: $4/adults, $3/students (13-17) and seniors, $2/children (ages 5-12).  

What better setting for a “19th Century Christmas” than the rustic Fort Nisqually Historic Site, set amid the heavily forested 700-acre Point Defiance Park. Overlooking Commencement Bay, Fort Nisqually features looming towers on each of its four corners and an assortment of log cabins within its walls. The restored fort is a re-creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost from the fur trading days of the mid-1800s. The special event on Dec. 6 features the re-enactment of an “old-fashioned” Christmas, including a yule log ceremony, Christmas dances, hot apple cider and ginger cakes. (Normal museum hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Web site:

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

“Zoo Lights”

Through Jan. 4, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The 21st annual Zoo Lights features a display of over half a million lights.

“It’s literally like a fairy tale, the lights are so spectacular,” said Heather Erickson of West Seattle. “The kids get so excited.” This year for the first time, a holiday lights recycling program coincides with the event. Instead of throwing them away, bring your old holiday lights along and leave them in bins provided at the entrance. Inspired by 10-year-old Jessica Lam, the goal is to keep at least 10,000 strings of lights out of landfills this year.

Admission: $7 ($5.50 if purchased in advance at Bartell’s).

Web site:

Camp 6 Logging Museum in Point Defiance Park

Santa Train Rides: Dec. 6-7, 13-14, 21-22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A tradition in its 44th year, the Santa Train runs every 30 minutes during the first three weekends in December from the historic Camp 6 Logging Museum in Point Defiance Park. Dress for the weather. Tickets: $1.

Web site:

Directions to Point Defiance Park: From I-5 South, take Exit 132 onto State Route 16 West. Take the 6th Avenue exit and make a left. Turn right onto Pearl Street and go north to end of street (about 3.5 miles). Follow directional signs in Point Defiance Park to your destination of choice.

Downtown Tacoma

Tacoma Art Museum

1701 S. Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, (253) 272-4258

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Third Thursdays free, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Situated in the City Center on Pacific Avenue, the outside of the Tacoma Art Museum is a plain, silver wrapper. Inside, the museum’s central architectural feature is a mirrored granite and mortar “stone wave” sculpture by Richard Rhodes (“Untitled”). Colorful, attractive display rooms ascend in an upward spiral around the stone wave courtyard, ending with an upper level panoramic view of downtown Tacoma.

In the month of December, free admission for ages 18 and under is being offered to encourage families to come to the museum even in tough economic times.

“It’s our holiday gift to the community,” said Alyssa Rosso, Public Relations Coordinator for the museum. Current exhibits include “The Surrealist” and “Speaking Parts” (see Web for full listing).

Snowbound, a free special event on Dec. 14 from 12 to 5 p.m., will feature a huge “snowdrift” of recycled office paper. Conceptualized by local artists Shannon Eakins and Marc Dombrosky, the “Snow Job” installation will periodically blow into a blizzard so that those in the exhibit will feel as if they are in a snow globe. Handbell music by the Rainier Ringers, snowflake-making, sing-alongs and more will be included. See the Web site for a full schedule of events during Snowbound. On Dec. 13-16, “Shreddy,” a giant polar bear rug made of shredded office paper, will be on display. From Dec. 9 through Jan. 4, the 650 individual squares of the Rhodes “stone wave” sculpture will be patchworked with secondhand blankets intended for future donation to the homeless. $2/hour parking is available directly beneath the museum.

Admission: $7.50/adults; $6.50/seniors; free/age 18 and under (December only).

Starting in 2009: $6.50/students, free/children (age 5 and under).

Web site:

Directions to Tacoma Art Museum: I-5 south to 705 North, take City Center exit #133 to 21st Street. Turn left. Turn right onto Pacific Avenue.

W.W. Seymour

Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park

“Chihuly at Seymour 100” through

Feb. 22, 2009

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park has over 250 Chihuly glass pieces on display. Spiky orange glass tendrils curl out of a sea of soft greenery, rippling glass bowls form brilliant blooms among natural foliage, and shimmering glass orbs float among the koi in the Conservatory’s elegant pond.

“Dale [Chihuly] has some memories of coming here as a child,” explained Mary Anderson, of the Conservatory. “[Chihuly Studio] spent almost as much time on the lighting as they did on the glass. There was no charge associated with the installation — he was very generous.”

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., $5 donation.

Free admission and extended hours: Dec. 18, Jan. 15, Feb. 19, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.)

Web site:

Directions to Seymour Conservatory: Take I-705 North and stay on I-705 North until the end at Stadium Way South. Turn right. Turn left at South 4th Street. Turn right at South G Street. Seymour Conservatory will be in Wright Park on the left. Free parking on the street.

Washington State History Museum

13th Annual Model Train Festival,

Dec. 26-

Jan. 3

1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma

(253) 272-9747 or 1-888-238-4373

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Admission: $7/adults, $6.50/seniors, $5/children (6-18), free/5 and under.

Every Thursday, 5-8 p.m., free admission

Web site:

Claire Gebben is a regular contributor to the Mercer Island Reporter.

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