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'Toytopia:' A Playful Trip Down Memory Lane

Everything you need to know about the Washington State History Museum's new toy exhibit

Published on: February 28, 2018

toytopia potato heads
Photo:
Courtesy Washington State History Museum

Play your way down memory lane! The traveling exhibit Toytopia!, now on view at Tacoma's Washington State History Museum, will delight both adults and kids. Displays of popular toys through the decades feature tons of opportunity for interactive play. Just some of the activities include a walk-in dollhouse, old-school arcade games and a giant piano keyboard which kids step on to play a tune.

Highlights

This exhibit is huge and packed with interesting tidbits. My 14-year-old daughter and I started with two exhibit areas called Collections Selections and Playdates; these displays complement the main Toytopia exhibit. In the Collections exhibit, you can see how toys have changed over time, especially regarding gender stereotypes. On display are items such as a Suzy Homemaker oven from the 1960s and a 1950s-era Barbie doll, displayed next to the more current doll, the newer one featuring a more realistic body shape.

Across the hall, the Playdates exhibit, a reproduction of a 1900s Day Nursery, can be viewed but not touched. This is really charming with authentic toys from the time period and reproduction wallpaper.

The highlight is the Toytopia exhibit which offers a great mix of history and interactive play. Popular toys from various generations such as Furby, Cabbage Patch Kids, Mr. Potato Head and many more are on display. These are sure to bring a smile for adults as they see the toy trends from their own childhoods.

Giant Etch A Sketch at Toytopia exhibit
Credit: Courtesy Stage Nine Productions​​​

Kids will love the giant walk-through doll house with buttons that make sounds such a a phone ringing, doorbell or toilet flushing. A variety of smaller dollhouses are available for free play as well. My daughter was impressed by the eight-foot-tall Etch A Sketch but was disappointed that she couldn’t draw on it. Luckily, behind it are several regular-sized Etch A Sketches for kids to use. Other fun includes items from the Tom Hanks movie “Big” such as the carnival fortune teller machine Zoltar Speaks, who will tell your fortune, and the giant piano keyboard that you step on to play a tune.

More hands-on play stations featured Legos, Keva blocks and Lincoln Logs with various heights so kids of all ages can build. A giant Lite Brite for creating pictures is located at kid-height and my daughter loved playing with it.

The old-school video arcade was my daughter’s favorite area. The machines are set on free play so you can play games such as Donkey Kong to your heart’s content!

Toytopia gear wall
Credit: Stage Nine Productions

Tips for parents

  • I recommend hitting the arcade area last or that might be all you see! It’s hard to pull the kids away from there.
  • This exhibit and its hands-on activities are suitable for preschool-age kids and up. There are some small toys such as Lego bricks, so if you bring younger tots, keep a close eye on them.
  • The exhibit is spread over more than one room, so if you have several kids who might want to go in different directions, bring a buddy to help keep an eye on your crew.
  • You could easily spend several hours in the Toytopia exhibit alone — plan on about two, and then add a little extra time check out the rest of the museum. Highlights include the newer "Washington, My Home" exhibit and the model railroad layout.
  • Visit for free (but expect a crowd) the third Thursday of the month when the museum stays open until 8 p.m. and offers free admission from 3–8 p.m.

If you go...

When: Toytopia is on view now through June 10, 2018. The museum is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Every third Thursday of the month the museum stays open until 8 p.m., and offers free admission from 3–8 p.m.

Where: Find the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma at 1911 Pacific Ave.

Cost: The Toytopia and tandem exhibits are included with regular History Museum admission: $14/adult; $11/senior, military or youth ages 6–17; and children ages 5 and under are free. A family rate of $40 includes up to two adults and four kids for $40. There are significant discounts available for Washington foster parents and Washington Quest Card holders with I.D.

Getting there: Tacoma Link stops right by the museum. There are two paid lots next to the museum or metered parking available on the street.

Snack time: Anthem Coffee and Tea is right next door and offers a full menu as well as beverages. 

Date night: If you want a fun flashback to the toys of your childhood coupled with a fun date night, consider checking out this over 21 event

Parties: The museum is offering Toytopia-themed birthday parties.

More to explore: You might be all played out — is that possible? — but if not, the Children's Museum of Tacoma is right down the street and offers pay-as-you-will admission everyday. The exhibits here are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.

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