UNION GAP, Wash. -- When I travel throughout Washington state, I’m always on the lookout for what other communities offer for tourists and how that may or may not relate to Union Gap. I was recently hosted by Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and had the opportunity to tour their beautiful city and found several stops that loosely reminded me of Union Gap — and a few fun and surprising visits that make me want to spend more time in Tacoma.
Tacoma is about a 21/2-hour drive from Union Gap if you take the route over Snoqualmie Pass and then the Highway 18/Auburn exit.
I visited three museums during my tour — the Foss Waterway Seaport, the Museum of Glass and America’s Car Museum.
The Foss Waterway Seaport reminded me of our Central Washington Agricultural Museum in certain ways. It has a skilled volunteer crew like the ag museum that comes in every Tuesday and Thursday and does everything from boat restoration to building new boats. Whereas our museum focuses on agricultural history from throughout the state, the Foss Waterway focuses on maritime heritage and education.
The museum is in a beautiful century-old wooden wheat warehouse and is one of two remaining wooden warehouses that once stretched nearly a mile long. The waterfront originally was set to accommodate cargo that arrived by rail — often from Eastern Washington — and “departed by sail.”
The Museum of Glass has truly spectacular displays, and they start outside with original works from well-known artist Dale Chihuly on the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. The excitement continues inside — and so does my comparison to our ag museum. When I was there, I encountered a school field trip with kids excited to see the displays — and the glass-blowing.
Union Gap’s ag museum hosts hundreds of kids each year and I’m sure the Museum of Glass hosts far more than that. The highlight of the museum is the “Hot Shop.” Vaguely similar to our blacksmith forging tools during Union Gap’s Old Town Days, the Hot Shop allows you to watch contemporary glass history in the making as the Hot Shop Team in collaboration with visiting artists creates works of art from molten glass.
Every year, we host our Old Steel Car Show in the spring, and this past year we were excited when we had more than 200 cars on display. The LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma has an amazing collection of at least 350 vintage vehicles on display.
The museum’s architecture is remarkable and functional. You feel as if you’re walking into a car’s manifold and then you quickly become mesmerized by the four floors of vehicles with great signage and stories about the cars.
Eating and drinking
We love our locally owned coffee stands in Union Gap, and in Tacoma one of the favorite coffee destinations of the locals is Anthem coffee. It offers coffee, tea, ale and wine. The aesthetics of their locations makes you feel like you are truly drinking Northwest coffee and they know what Northwest coffee should taste like.
One of my main goals in writing this article was to find a beloved local hamburger place akin to the Pepp’rmint Stick Drive In, Major’s Restaurant or even Miner’s.
We visited DeLong’s DeLuxe, which is known by locals for its amazing burgers, garlic fries and freshly made shakes. It didn’t disappoint. I went for the cheeseburger and it was juicy with a thick slab of cheese and other typical toppings, plus I went for their house-made burger sauce, which brought all the flavors together perfectly.
The Red Hot was an experience I anticipated when I started talking to Matt Wakefield of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County about this trip. It’s known for its hot dogs and a large selection of Northwest brews.
I was told I had to try the Hound Dog, a hot dog topped with creamy peanut butter and not one, but two slices of bacon. Though I wasn’t a believer when I was told about it, and even when it was served to me, I’m a believer now.
“Only paranormal investigators can uncover the truths about the waters surrounding Devil’s Reef” is the poetic menu listing of the Arkane Investigator drink at the Devil’s Reef Tiki Bar in a slightly hidden alley in Tacoma. It’s a unique find with fabulously named beverages that make you want to read the menu twice. You’re in an eclectic setting surrounded by tiki dolls and pirate décor which makes you feel like you’ve magically landed in some part of the Caribbean.
Union Gap’s Vintage Loop of antique and vintage stores inspired me to visit Tacoma’s Antique Row, a collection of antique shops with tremendous selections that you can shop for hours.
We visited Sanford & Son, which was a seemingly endless and cavernous store made up of 20 different shops. Some of the items were so cool I often found myself wondering if I were in a museum. There was a collection of vintage vacuum cleaners for sale in one of the shops that rivaled our collection at the Ag Museum.
I was especially fond of one of the book shops, complete with a rolling library ladder — I felt like I’d been transported to a library in one of the Disney animated films. There were so many items I saw, it’s nearly impossible to give you a true feel — just trust me when I tell you that you’ll find something that catches your fancy.
I stayed at the Hotel Murano in the heart of downtown Tacoma. I was there during the holidays and the lobby was in full Christmas décor with a beautiful and towering Christmas tree front and center. It is a lively hotel and the bar was hopping on a Wednesday night in early December.
But you don’t spend all your time in the hotel. When visitors head to Union Gap, we always want to make sure they’re aware of the trails and parks that are easily accessible from the hotels.
Tacoma has an extensive offering of trails and excursions both within town or just a few miles away at Point Defiance Park. I drove along the Ruston Way Waterfront with gorgeous views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. There were numerous bikers, walkers, skaters and joggers on a cool December day.
And, of course, you can head out to Point Defiance Park to visit the Point Defiance Zoo, Fort Nisqually, the multiple beaches and viewpoints and to enjoy the Five-Mile Drive, complete with raccoons that greet you along the way.
There’s also the 27-acre Wright Park, which I discovered on a morning jog. The park has a conservatory, a bowling green, a nice water feature and I found it very calm and tranquil. Then on my jog back, I ran by a small restaurant that caught my eye — Go Philly.
I definitely needed to go for a jog — as we also visited one of Tacoma’s signature doughnut shops — Legendary Doughnuts.
If Tacoma hasn’t been on your radar screen as a place to visit, I suggest you do your research and plan a trip. There is so much to do and I’ve really just scratched the surface here.
Eric Patrick is director of tourism for Union Gap. Email him at email@example.com.