Ports of Call: Tacoma – Thea Foss Waterway
Tacoma, christened with the original name of Mt. Rainier, is in many ways a city of dramatic rises and falls. Perched at the infamously current-ravaged Tacoma Narrows, Tacoma, so dependant upon its international deepwater port (the largest in Washington) and consequently the ebb and flow of the world economy, gets slammed the worst during hard times. During optimistic eras, as when the railroad connected to the port in the 1800s, the city was known as the “City of Destiny” and took up the motto, “When rails meet sails.” When things took a turn downward in the mid and late 20th Century, struggling Tacoma was known by unflattering names such as “Tacompton” or “Grit City” due to unemployment, crime, and homelessness.
In a sense, Tacoma was knocked down during the Great Depression and never quite got back up during the 20th century. But the 21st century has been kinder to Tacoma, and with Washington booming, the city has begun to roar again in some very tangible ways. At the economic and cultural center of it all is Commencement Bay, where both the city’s famous deep water port and blossoming waterfront reside. The cultural and business revival is in full swing:Port the Washington State History Museum (built in 1996), Museum of Glass (2002), Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center (2004), America’s Car Museum (2011), Tacoma Art Museum (2013), and more have re–defined the downtown landscape in the span of about 20 years.
Most exciting for boaters, the improvements have spilled onto the waterfront. The former slag dumping peninsula upon which Tacoma Yacht Club resides is getting a complete makeover, complete with public green spaces, outdoor amphitheaters, and walking/biking trails to connect the Point Defiance Park (with zoo and aquarium) to downtown. Especially notable and the focus of this article is the Thea Foss Waterway, which houses a handful of excellent rebuilt marinas located in the heart of the reawakening downtown Cultural District. The Tacoma Dome is within easy walking distance of the slips and there’s no shortage of restaurants and watering holes. For the curious local boater wanting an urban experience in the South Sound, Thea Foss Waterway off Commencement Bay is definitely worth a visit. For cruisers hailing from more rugged waters, there are plenty of big city amenities (grocery stores, hospitals, etc.) and maritime businesses to assist with repairs and the like. Tacoma is what happens when sail meet rails, after all.