My friend likes to collect memberships to museums. I always joke that if there’s a new museum out there, she probably already has a membership there. So, when she told me she just got a membership to the Washington State History Museum (located a good 45 minutes away from our house) I just laughed and thought “of course you did.” But then she invited my family to join them for their Model Train Festival and I totally got it.

We had been to the Model Train Festival at Pacific Science Center in Seattle last year and I was curious how it would compare. I love how much space there was at the History Museum to set up the displays and have room for people to move around them. They also had little step stools placed at strategic areas so kids could get a better view. All the train tables are set about 6 inches too high for toddlers to see (but the right height for the adult train enthusiasts who operate them.) If you are debating whether to take your toddler in a stroller or carrier, I’d go with the carrier so they could see the models much easier.

Model Train Festival at Washington State History Museum

Boys from our PEPS group loved playing at this train table at the Model Train Festival.

They had a whole floor celebrating the Kitsap train that runs on the second and fourth Saturday April-October in Port Orchard, WA. The volunteers were very friendly and the train ride looked perfect for our toddler. It reminded me a lot of the mini rail at Squamish, BC. We will definitely be planning a day trip over there next year.

The Washington State History Museum also had a room filled with trains that kids could play with. There was a large remote control train and track on the floor, 2 LEGO train exhibits on display, LEGOS for kids to create their own trains and a couple of wooden trains and tracks. The volunteers were incredibly nice and helpful! This room was a hit with toddlers and preschoolers.

Santa at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, WA

We loved that Santa was there for several weekends in December. We’d get a membership next year just for Santa photos.
The day we went to the Washington State History Museum, Santa was there for a few hours, so my toddler insisted we visit with him. We had already done Santa photos with 4 other Santas at that point (he’s a major celebrity in our house) so we thought, “what’s one more?” He was hands-down the best Santa we’d come across this year! Not only did he spend quite a bit of time talking with our toddler and us, but he did about 5 fun poses right off the bat.

Washington State History Museum in Tacoma

I was impressed how many areas of the museum were dedicated to children.
Even without the Model Train Festival, it’s a really cool museum. It reminded me a lot of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) with their exhibits about Washington’s history and culture. I think it would be perfect for Elementary School aged kids because they have a lot of hands on exhibits. If we lived closer to Tacoma, I would get a membership every year (mostly for the train display) but also because there are a lot of things for kids to explore.

Washington State History Museum

Looking down from the top floor, it was impressive to see the exhibits below.

Washington State History Museum

We love our selfies in front of signs!

6 Things to Know for Babies + Toddlers

  1. Backpacks aren’t allowed, but diaper bags are okay. My friend had to check her itty bitty backpack. while I “got” to carry my super big Lassig Green Label Neckline bag.
  2. The elevators are huge. My family was in an elevator with another family who had a double stroller and we still had room for more people. They also have 2 elevators near each other.
  3. There’s a permanent train display. The display is really detailed and toddlers can stand on the step to see better. It’s also fun for adults to see all the little scenes.
  4. Railroad experts are there on Saturdays. The Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers (PSMRE), the all-volunteer organization that operates the History Museum’s permanent model railroad exhibit, holds a special Operators’ Hours event on the first Saturday of every month. Operators’ Hours is an opportunity to watch the masters at work and ask questions of the model railroad experts!
  5. Consider getting a membership. If you plan on visiting the museum more than once in a year, getting a membership is a good deal.
  6. Link Light Rail stop across the street. If you’re looking for a fun activity after the museum, head across the street and hop on their Link Light Rail for a train ride around Tacoma.

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Author

Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.

8 Comments

  1. Erich R. Ebel Reply

    So glad you and your little one(s) had a great time! Thanks for making the trip and we can’t wait to see you again soon!

    • Marcie in Mommyland Reply

      Thanks Erich! We had a great time and we look forward to exploring more next time!

    • Marcie in Mommyland Reply

      That’s awesome, Jen! What a perfect spot to show an exchange student about our beautiful state!

  2. Thanks for sharing , my kids love museums, looks like another good one to try.

    • Marcie in Mommyland Reply

      We love museums too and I can’t believe I didn’t know how kid-friendly this one is!

  3. This is great! I have lived in Washington for about 13 years now but I sure don’t know enough about local museums.

    • Marcie in Mommyland Reply

      Thanks! I hadn’t heard anything about this museum before so I felt compelled to write this post!

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