The Cinderella act is for real; Tacoma's shiny new downtown museums truly herald an urban renaissance. The old scrub-adub mill town still lurks in the background, but look closer.
At downtown's south end, the University of Washington, Tacoma, has transformed a neighborhood of early-1900s warehouses into a sturdy brick campus. The U.S. Courthouse, a Beaux-Arts train depot in a former life, houses a collection of Dale Chihuly glass in its rotunda. North of downtown, the Stadium-Seminary Historic District is an architectural costume party of styles, from French château revival to Northwest contemporary.
As you ramble, notice details like the historic Pacific Avenue streetlights, a fusion of classical Greek and art deco.
Museum/warehouse walk. WHAT: Weave a self-guided architecture tour around visits to three museums, two of which are connected by the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Then cross Pacific Avenue to UWT. WHEN: Museum of Glass Wed-Sun; Tacoma Art Museum Tue-Sun; Washington State History Museum open daily. HOW MUCH: Museum of Glass $10; Tacoma Art Museum $6.50; Washington State History Museum $7; UWT free; combined admission to all three museums $17 every Wed. WHERE: Museum of Glass (1801 E. Dock St.; 253/284-4750); Tacoma Art Museum (1701 Pacific Ave.; 253/272-4258); Washington State History Museum (1911 Pacific Ave.; 253/272-9747); UWT (1900 Commerce St.; 253/692-4000).
Stadium-Seminary walk. WHAT: Historic district of more than 400 homes and the heaven-storming French château-like Stadium High School, built in 1891 and currently undergoing renovation. WHERE: District is bounded by N. First St., N. I St., N. 10th St., and Commencement Bay. Stadium High School, 111 N. E St. (entrance on Stadium Way near N. First St.).
Contemporary glass art. WHAT: From colorful $16 paperweights to stunning $9,000 abstract sculptures. WHEN: Wed-Sun. WHERE: Vetri International Glass (253/383- 3692) and William Traver Gallery (253/383-3685) are both in the renovated Albers Mill cereal factory, 1821 E. Dock St., next door to the Museum of Glass.
Ravenous. WHAT: Vividly spicy seafood penne at a funky bistro and wine bar on Antique Row. WHEN: Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Tue-Sat, brunch Sun. HOW MUCH: $$. WHERE: 785 Broadway; 253/572-6374. ― Lawrence W. Cheek