The Washington State History Museum combines past and present to bring Washington history to all ages. The museum houses original and traveling exhibits to attract museum-goers for a day of learning, having fun and experiencing history.

The nearly 91,000-square-foot museum building houses exhibits featuring a wide range of topics. The five floors hold rotating galleries, hands-on and interactive exhibits, and storytelling elements. The Washington State History Museum welcomes an average of 75,000 visitors each year to view the history within its walls.

Museum Exhibit
One of the interactive exhibits with a first-person immigration narrative in the new exhibition, Washington: My Home. Photo courtesy: Washington State Historical Society

While the exhibits are often the focus of any visit to the museum, the building also has space to rent for weddings, proms, birthday parties and business meetings. The first floor holds an auditorium and the second floor contains classrooms. The third floor of the building – the main floor – has the public plaza entrance to the museum and includes The Great Hall of Washington History. The fourth floor mezzanine is used for both public and private events. The top floor of the building includes the rotating gallery spaces, changing exhibitions, the hands-on History Lab, the largest model train on display in the state and other permanent exhibits.

Marketing and Communications Director for the Washington State Historical Society Julianna Verboort has a passion for culture and education, and enjoys sharing that with the community.

“It is hard to call out a visitor favorite [exhibit], there is so much to enjoy. Our visitors love the model train, and our annual Model Train Festival in December is a holiday tradition for many,” said Verboort. “Kids visiting on school field trips have a great time playing detective in the History Lab. Exhibitions on the fifth floor rotate frequently and resonate with a variety of different communities; for example last year we had an exhibition about the history of beer, wine, and coffee in Washington, and two poignant exhibitions related to the Japanese internment experience during World War II.”

Washington State History Museum
Visitors explore the exhibition Washington: My Home, at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. Photo courtesy: Washington State Historical Society

Exhibits at the Washington State History Museum

The museum holds many attractions that share the story of Washington and its history. In The Great Hall of Washington History, the new exhibition Washington: My Home opened in October 2017.

“This new permanent exhibition offers first-person audio narratives, artifacts and interactive components to share stories of how diverse people have come to call Washington home,” Verboort shared. “Visitors can take a virtual walk in the shoes of an immigrant and consider their own story, listening for similarities and differences.”

On January 20, 2018, the museum opened PlayDates and Collections Selections, which will be on view until July 15. These exhibits explore how toys and play have changed over time. Take a look at toys from the Historical Society’s collections and take a peek at their recreation of an early 1900s nursery room.

Toytopia Exhibit
Test out the world’s largest Etch A Sketch in TOYTOPIA at the Washington State History Museum. Photo courtesy: Stage Nine Entertainment Group

TOYTOPIA opened in the museum on February 16, 2018, and spans over 5,000 square feet of the museum’s fifth floor and will close June 10.

“This exhibition is huge – both in terms of square footage and exhibits. Visitors can take their photos next to a life-sized Monopoly car, walk through a human-scale doll house, play music on an oversized floor keyboard – like in the movie ‘Big’ with Tom Hanks – play with Lincoln Logs, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, working arcade games and so much more,” Verboort said. “For older visitors, there is a sense of nostalgia as they remember favorite childhood moments. For youngsters, the exhibit is all about play and has many activity stations.”

This land of toys will have adults remembering their youth and children in awe over the size and stature of the life size toys. Take a turn on the world’s largest Etch A Sketch or play for hours in the life-size dollhouse and Monopoly car.

While many exhibits come and go throughout the year, others stay the same. Among the permanent exhibits at the museum are The Great Hall, The History Lab and Model Railroad.

The 1,800-square-foot Model Railroad, crafted by the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers club, highlights the train that runs from the Point Defiance Park to the Stampede Pass in the Cascades. This is the largest model train in the state and a favorite spectacle among visitors.

Washington State History Museum
The Washington State History Museum is located right in downtown Tacoma.
Photo courtesy: Washington State Historical Society

History Labs are given on Thursdays and Fridays for field trips, engaging students in examining and identifying artifacts. Classes can book a History Lab Field Trip, and smaller groups can book a Self-Guided Field Trip.

The biggest exhibit in the museum in The Great Hall. This walk through the past showcases the early history of Washington with information and artifacts. The museum recommends saving at least two hours to be able to look through this entire exhibit, as it spans a vast amount of information.

The Washington State History museum is a place to engage in Washington State’s rich and unique history. The museum combines both high-tech and simple displays to showcase what this state is all about.

Plan your visit to the Washington State History Museum – a great day for the whole family or a relaxing stroll through history. The museum is located at 1911 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, and is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and is closed each Monday. On the third Thursday of each month, the museum stays open until 8:00 p.m. and offers free admission from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. Pricing information can be found on their website.