More than any other skill, glass blowing has allowed Tacoma, Wash., to emerge from Seattle's shadow. Carve out a couple of hours from a leisurely weekend of museum-hopping, shopping and sightseeing, and you'll take home something more tangible than the usual vacation leftovers of memories and a sunburn. At the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio (114 S. 23rd St., Tacoma;  383-3499, http://www.tacomaglassblowing.com. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends), manager Brian Farmer shepherded my son David and me through the process. It began by selecting colors and design, then rolling, cooling, reheating (up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit), blowing and shaping. By the time we were done, two amorphous blobs of molten glass had become a sapphire pumpkin and a greenish wavy bowl — ours to own after they cooled overnight. The tab: Airfare excluded, a weekend getaway for two will cost about $950, including lodging at Hotel Murano (two nights), meals ($225) and museum admissions ($66).
The hip, art-packed Hotel Murano (1320 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma;  986-8083, http://www.hotelmuranotacoma.com) mimics a museum, with a stunning glass collection displayed throughout the property. Every floor features work by a selected artist, and images of glass works grace the stylish guest rooms. The hotel's "Hot Piece of Glass" package, starting at $309 plus tax, includes an overnight stay (Fridays or Saturdays only), valet parking, two tickets to the nearby Museum of Glass and lessons for two at the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio.
Its seafood wall murals and Formica surfaces don't offer much atmosphere, but the tacos at Vuelve a la Vida (5312 Pacific Ave., Tacoma;  473-7068. Open 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. weekends) are enormous, cheap ($2.15) and satisfying. Handmade tortillas cradle a choice of meats, including birria (goat) and carnitas (pork). Just don't look for chips and salsa — big signs proclaim: "Viva la Revolution. No chips & salsa." In the mood for something more upscale? Try the flaky-crusted empanadas ($9.50), huge Caesar salads ($9) or sizzling steaks at Argentine-themed Asado (2810 6th Ave., Tacoma;  272-7770, http://www.asadotacoma.com. Open for lunch on weekdays, dinner daily.
More spectacular glass awaited half an hour north on Interstate 5, in the Space Needle's shadow in Seattle. Chihuly Garden and Glass (305 Harrison St., Seattle;  753-4940, http://www.chihulygardenandglass.com. Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; $19 adults, $17 seniors, $12 ages 4-12) opened in May 2012 and houses five decades of the work of Tacoma native Dale Chihuly. For a glimpse of some of Chihuly's whimsical personal collections (accordions on the ceiling, wooden fishing lures inset in dining tables), visit the on-site Collections Café for beef short ribs, onion soup and other way-better-than-typical museum cafe fare.
The lesson learned
If you are not averse to a minor detour on this glass-themed weekend, take in the art on four wheels amassed by Harold and Nancy LeMay at LeMay-America's Car Museum (2702 E. D St., Tacoma;  779-8490, http://www.lemaymuseum.org. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily), adjacent to the Tacoma Dome. The 350-vehicle collection represents one gleaming wow after another, from a screaming yellow 1926 Marmon D-74 to the ultra-retro Flintmobile built in 1994 for the movie "The Flintstones." The winding, parking-garage-like levels can be a bit disorienting. But remember to hang a right at the DeLoreans (plural) and a left at the black El Camino and you'll return to the entry just fine, albeit a bit melancholy that the ride waiting for you in the parking lot is a rented Hyundai.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun