The Washington State History Museum is part of the appeal of downtown Tacoma. It is located prominently along Pacific Avenue close to the Tacoma Art Museum and directly in front of the Bridge of Glass (walk behind the museum to get to the bridge).
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This part of Tacoma is where most of the top attractions are located, making this a great place to take visitors from out of town. However, a good number of Tacoma residents have never visited the museums downtown, whether because they still associate the downtown area with its defunct and slightly scary reputation from days past or because they simply have not ventured forth to check out these cool places. The history museum in Tacoma is just one of these.
Location and Address
Washington State History Museum
1911 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402
Monday and Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday through Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday through Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Like the Tacoma Art Museum, the history museum has free admission during Thursday Art Walks, which take place on the third Thursday of each month. From 2 to 8 p.m., free admission is available to everyone.
Historical Society members also get free admission, as do children under five. Visitors can also get in for free on their birthdays. If the museum is closed on your actual birthday, you can get in the next business day.
Washington State History Museum Exhibits
The Washington State History Museum has both permanent and temporary exhibits. Permanent exhibits remain at the museum at all times. Temporary and featured exhibits focus on various aspects of Northwest history, and sometimes from world history as well.
Great Wall of Washington History: This exhibit details Washington State’s history in an engaging series of dioramas, videos, and life-size sculptures. In fact, there are 35 human-sized sculptures that help to tell their histories through audio and video components. Many of the exhibits along the way are interactive. Learn about everything from prehistory to Native American culture to pioneers to present-day Washington.
History Lab Learning Center: Geared toward students and children, this exhibit offers a hands-on learning environment via computer exhibits and activities. Research history with artifacts and photos, listen to tales of the past, or play historical games. This exhibit has won awards and recognition from both the American Association of Local and State History and the American Association of Museums.
Model Railroad: Located near the History Lab on the fifth floor of the museum, this railroad exhibit is the largest model railroad in all of Washington. It was constructed by the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers to a 1:87 scale and is designed after the Washington State railroads of the 1950s. The first Saturday of every month, engineers run the trains from noon to 4 p.m. and follow real railroad procedures.
Weddings and Events at the History Museum
The museum hosts several events throughout the year. Annual festivals include the Model Train Festival between Christmas and New Year’s, and the In The Spirit market—a Northwest native arts market and festival.
Events hosted by the museum are just one facet of the events scene here. The museum building is also available for private rentals, including weddings, and the spaces here are some of the largest and most stylish in town. There is even the outdoor Boeing Amphitheater. There are several rooms and auditoriums available that can suit everything from weddings to business meetings.
Also worth considering for large-scale events and weddings is Union Station just next door.
Unlike Union Station, which is much older and a part of downtown’s history, the Washington State History Museum is newer and was built as part of the effort to revitalize the area. It was opened to the public in August 1996. The building was designed by architects Charles Moore and Arthur Andersson and contains 106,000 square feet of space. Its shape is designed to mirror both Union Station’s classic arches as well as the hulking interiors of the many warehouses located nearby.
Directions and Parking
Take Exit 133 from I-5 toward City Center. Follow signs for I-705/City Center. Take the 21st Street Exit and go left on 21st. Take a right on Pacific and the museum will be on your right.
Parking is located both behind the museum and on its south side. There is a fee for parking. You can also park in spots along Pacific Avenue, which do have parking meters that can take cash or cards.