The top floor at America’s Car Museum, with a view of downtown Tacoma. Photo credit: JiaYing Grygiel
When my oldest was born, we lived in a condo overlooking Highway 99. The worse the gridlock, the better for examining all the cars outside our window. It’s no wonder my son has loved anything on wheels since birth.
The great thing about having a passion for cars is that you have a lot of company. Almost every community hosts its own car celebration. You can find a comprehensive listing of this year’s Pacific Northwest car events here. Keep reading below for our own hand-picked, kid-tested guide to car attractions to visit with your family, plus a list of other upcoming car shows, touch-a-truck events and more.
Where: 2702 E. D. St., Tacoma
Cost: $18 for adults, kids under 6 are free; $5 to park in the museum’s lot
America’s Car Museum opened in 2012 and everything inside is sleek and modern. The building is intuitively laid out with gentle ramps winding down to the four levels of exhibits. Pace yourself so you save enough time for the large children’s area on the lowest level.
ACM offers lots of hands-on activities for kids that are included with admission. Snap a photo in a 1923 Buick touring car, race pinewood derby cars and play an interactive touch-screen game in a 1998 Ford Mustang. My kids’ favorite stop in the museum is climbing into a 1922 Dodge Standard A Roadster and pretending to drive. For a small fee, you can also try a racing simulator ($8) or slot cars ($3).
The museum has more than 300 vehicles on display, from classics to sport cars to just plain unusual, such as the Flintmobile from the 1994 Flintstones movie.
Time your visit for the third Saturday of each month, when ACM puts on a family STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) day. Or visit on the fifth day of any month this year for $5 off admission prices and other perks in honor of the museum’s fifth anniversary.
Hot tip: Through June 30, America’s Car Museum is offering new family memberships for free to AAA members.
Driving tip: If you need to head north out of Tacoma after your visit, take 509, which runs parallel to I-5, until you get to Fife to avoid the worst of the I-5 jam near the Tacoma Dome.
Where: 325 152nd St. E., Tacoma
Cost: $15 for adults, kids under 6 are free
Tacoma businessman Harold LeMay made his money building his garbage truck empire, and spent it on his passion for collecting cars. While LeMay helped start America’s Car Museum, the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount houses his personal collection. LeMay died in 2000.
The LeMay Family Collection includes some 2,600 cars, officially the largest collection in the world. This venue is harder for kids because nearly everything is for looking, not touching.
Wander through the first building by yourself, then a volunteer docent will personally guide your family through some of the 600 cars on display in two adjacent buildings. The earliest original car at the LeMay Family Collection is an 1899 Baldwin steamer, and the cars go up through the 2000s, because, as our guide told us, “Just like you and me, it’ll be old someday.”
If you're with kids who are dying to touch something, some guides will steer you toward a few vehicles that can be touched and explored. Just ask.
Where: 1501 Pike Place, Suite 525, Seattle
Cost: Free to look
This tiny shop, located on the Down Under Mezzanine, is packed floor to ceiling with toy die-cast metal vehicles. I asked Guillermo Huizar, who was running the store for his brother Jaime on the day we visited, how many cars are in the store’s inventory. “No idea,” he said. “One thousand? Two thousand? Three thousand? Kids’ heaven.” Some of the flashier cars are even featured on revolving displays, just like at fancy-pants dealerships. It’s hard to leave without a new addition to your miniature fleet at home.
Where: 3333 S. 38th St., Tacoma
Cost: Free to look
When you think of taking your car to the mechanic or visiting an auto supply store, you might picture a grease-stained concrete floor and grubby lifts. Nope. The flagship store of Griot’s Garage is sparkling and stylish, designed with a red, black and white retro theme. In the garage, employees will show you how to detail your car like a pro. Attached to the retail store is an auto display room, which is like a mini museum. Exhibits change up every month: May’s theme is Lamborghinis, June is Porsches and July is all-American.
Griot’s isn’t for your average Brown Bear customer. It sells a special cleaner to remove bug splats, another one for cleaning wheels (also in heavy duty and chrome formulas), and a spray just for cleaning the car’s undercarriage. Even if you’re not in the market for $249 handmade Italian driving loafers, Griot’s is a fun place for car fanatics to visit.
Save the date: Griot’s holds a “Caffeine and Gasoline” cruise-in car show on the first Saturday of every month, from 8 to 10 a.m. The event is free and everyone is welcome. Check out cool cars, hang out with other car lovers and enjoy free coffee and doughnuts.
Where: 98 N.E. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah
Cost: Free to look at cars outside, burgers starting at $6.25 (no credit or debit cards accepted)
At Triple XXX Root Beer, you can order a burger the size of a dinner plate, with a fountain drink in a personal pitcher. The sign on the door clearly warns, “Nothing you eat or drink here is good for you.” Fair enough.
The restaurant’s interior is plastered with pictures of cars and car memorabilia. Outside, Triple XXX hosts 35 car shows this year, pretty much one every weekend over the warmer months. The combination of fun cars and artery-clogging diner fare is alluring. Check the online schedule for show dates and themes. One of the summer’s biggest events, Fenders on Front Street, is a free vintage car show on Father’s Day, June 18.
When we visited a Triple XXX car show, we saw a few other kids, but the scene was more “college spring break in Florida” than “family picnic.” The crowd was mostly guys in their 20s, with clouds of cigarette smoke and dogs everywhere. A car gunned its engine – VRRRRRR! – and even the DJ snickered on his microphone, “Don’t be that guy.” My son was excited to see a tricked-out purple car creeping down the street. There are cars of all shapes and colors waiting to be admired here.
Upcoming car events
When: Sunday, May 21, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.; horn-free hour 9–10 a.m.
Where: Magnuson Park, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle
My son wants to be a bus driver when he grows up. Last year, it was his dream come true to get a turn in the driver’s seat of a real articulated Metro bus. Is your kid into emergency vehicles or construction trucks? Those are available for exploring too at the Junior League's 7th annual Touch-a-Truck event.
Last year’s event drew more than 4,000 people, and this year organizers are expecting an even bigger turnout. The crowds make the event a logistical challenge: shuttle buses from an overflowing parking lot, long lines in the hot sun, too many truck enthusiasts and not enough trucks. If you decide to go with the kids, get there early and bring an umbrella for shade. Team up, so one adult waits in the long line while the other walks around with the kids. Or, check our list below and try another Touch-a-Truck event.
When: Saturday, June 24, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Where: Greenwood Ave. N., between N. 67th and N. 90th Streets, Seattle
Every June, a 1.5-mile stretch of Greenwood Ave. shuts down to traffic and some 700 to 800 classic and custom cars line the street. The Greenwood Car show is Seattle’s largest car show, the biggest one-day car show in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s free. More than 100,000 people attend this annual event.
Last year, we found booths handing out balloons to kids, the fire department gave out plastic helmets, and businesses hung up signs inviting visitors to use their restrooms. At one point, an engine revved loudly, startling my kids to tears. An older man walked by and smiled sympathetically, “That bad man with the loud motor.”
The Greenwood Car Show draws the usual car guys, but it’s also a really fun community event. You’ll see tons of families and strollers. Look for a free play zone for kids at N. 86th Street, and vendors selling food and die-cast metal cars all along Greenwood Ave.
When: Sunday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Where: Museum of History and Industry, 860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle
Imagine if a swarm of kids climbed into your chair at work and rearranged everything on your desk. Seattle firefighters are super nice about letting kids crawl all over their trucks while their parents take a million pictures.
At the annual Fire Day event held at MOHAI, kids can climb onto a real pumper truck and ladder truck outside the museum. Visitors can also see a historic rig from the Last Resort Fire Department. Admission to the museum’s first floor is free for the event. Inside, kids can try on firefighter gear, practice dialing 9-1-1, make crafts and listen to firefighter story time. You’ll go home with a free plastic fire helmet and some very happy junior firefighters.
More upcoming events for car and truck show fans
by Nancy Chaney, assistant editor – out & about
Cool Rides Car and Bike Show
Federal Way Touch-a-Truck
Cruzin' to Colby Show and Shine
Monroe Christian School Touch-a-Truck
Fenders on Front Street
Fife Family Car Show
Kids’ Safety Day emergency vehicle fair
Classic Car and Truck Show