With the big kids heading back to school soon, we thought it would be a good time to round up some of our favorite places to go when we want to make the world our classroom. While we love Tacoma’s museum district and well-known attractions like the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Fort Nisqually, we also love to find hidden gems and smaller museums that are surprisingly full of learning opportunities! Call them “funky field trips” if you like. Here are five to try:
The Job Carr Museum Old Town Tacoma
This tiny museum is a faithful re-creation of the cabin of early Tacoma settler Job Carr. The museum has open hours and also hosts special events and history walks. Watch your children marvel at life in the 1800s — before dishwashers, supermarkets, and, oh, yeah — the internet.
Best for: Young history buffs will have fun here. Not good for strollers (it’s tiny) or small people who want to touch everything.
The Karples Manuscript Museum
The Tacoma Karples Museum is right across the street from the Seymour Conservatory in Wright Park. The museum houses historic documents and manuscripts, with feature exhibits rotating among other Karples Museum locations. You may find yourself looking at handwritten drafts of important documents from some of history’s most famous figures.
Best for: Kids in intermediate grades and above with an interest in history, though younger children may have more interest, depending on the featured exhibit. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. It’s closed weekends, Mondays, and holidays. There is no charge for admission. Featured exhibits change every three months.
The Puyallup Historical Fish Hatchery
At the fish hatchery in Puyallup, you can give yourself a DIY tour of the tanks or schedule a visit. In early October, the creek just behind the hatchery is a good place to watch salmon returning to spawn. Visitors are welcome on the grounds 8 a.m. to dusk daily. The educational center is typically open on Saturdays. Call or check Facebook.
Best for: Kids of all ages with an interest in fish or science. If you see the salmon spawning, remember that this stage is the end of a fish’s natural life — expect to see (and smell) dead salmon.
The Slater Museum at University of Puget Sound
Does someone at your house bring in pockets full of critters? Take that kid to the Slater Museum. This small museum at the UPS campus is filled with more than 80,000 specimens — think lots of dead, stuffed things — this may not be the place for your tender-hearted child! The museum hosts free evening events during the school year, and is also open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. when classes are in session, or by appointment.
Best for: Curious kids of all ages. Primary school-age children will have the most fun on one of the themed evenings when there are typically crafts, and areas with plenty for kids to touch.
Highline Mast Aquarium at Redondo
The center is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and has touch tanks full of sea creatures. There are also live dives on select Saturdays. It’s free!
Best for: This is a great activity for future marine biologists of all ages.
Thurston County Fair
Lacey, Aug. 3-7
Proctor Arts Fest
Tacoma, Aug. 6
Chambers Creek, Aug. 28
Olympia Harbor Days
Percival Landing, Sept. 2-4