Start Your Engines! What to See and Do at America’s Car Museum

Think your tyke’s Hot Wheels habit is out of hand? Wait ’til you see this record-breaking collection of cars, trucks, motorcycles and more at Tacoma’s LeMay Museum. With vehicles of all shapes and sizes filling the nine-acre, four-story museum and plenty of hands-on activities to keep the tiniest car-crazy kid happy, America’s Car Museum is your one stop shop for fuel-injected fun.

photo: LeMay Museum

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Life is a Highway
You can’t miss this museum from the freeway – the building looks like a chrome air-intake on a hot rod (or maybe it’s a muffler). Right across the street from the T-Dome, America’s Car Museum is a big draw for car aficionados – you may even spot some classics in the parking lot. The Grand Prix race car mounted on the wall grabs your attention as soon as you enter, and there’s an ever-changing display of lovingly-restored vehicles in the lobby.

 photo: Helen Walker Green

Pedal to the Metal
ACM is full of amazing vehicles from the 19th century right up to the 21st. Can you find the cherry red Deusenberg or the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost? What about the tiny Crosley Fire Engine or the Messerschmitt? It’s a great place for kids to get an eye-opening look into the history of the automobile – bet they didn’t know early motorists had to turn a hand crank to start their engine. It’s a good thing we don’t have to do that now!

 photo: Helen Walker Green

Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Head west on Route 66  – and show your kids the road and the automobiles that inspired the movie Cars. These are the kind of cars that cruise “low and slow” through Radiator Springs – sporting fins, shiny grilles, and whitewall tires. You’ll also see the rarest Corvette ever made. The art deco gasoline pumps and tin signs make you feel like you’re cruising down the “Mother Road.” Psst… If your kids are Cars fanatics, be on the lookout for a ’56 Hudson Hornet, several Model T Fords, and a car raced by Richard “The King” Petty.

 photo: Helen Walker Green

Back to the Future?
If you’re starting to feel like a time-traveler – ACM has two DeLoreans on hand (although we’re not sure if they’re equipped with flux-capacitors). Also, keep an eye out for the Flintmobile, built especially for the Flintstones movie.

photo: Helen Walker Green

Spoiler Alert
Feeling the need for speed? The NASCAR Legends of Motorsport exhibit is full of fast cars, from early stock cars that raced on dirt tracks to cars driven by current stars. Learn about the famous cars and their equally famous drivers and see how NASCAR cars are designed to keep drivers safe in 200 mph crashes.


photo: Helen Walker Green

Speed Zone
Could you drive as fast as Jimmie Johnson or Danica Patrick? Big kids and grownups can test their driving skills on three racing simulators – the same kind used to train professional drivers! You may find yourself negotiating hairpin turns at Brands Hatch or racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kids are good to go once their feet can touch the pedals and they feel ready to handle the controls. Staff and docents are very helpful and they even have cushions to help young racers get properly positioned in the driving seat.

photo: Helen Walker Green

Next door to the racing simulators you can take a spin on a fantastic hand-built slot car circuit. There’s a great assortment of cars to choose from, and four tracks, so the whole family can join in (watch out, Grandma just might lap you on that bend!).


 photo: Helen Walker Green

Road Trip!
When it’s time to shift gears, there’s hands-on fun in the Family Zone, where you can race pinewood derby cars down a super-speedy track – kids can add and remove weighted blocks from the chassis and experiment to see what combination makes their car go fastest. Find out how cars work and get an up-close look inside. Trace and color classic cars and take a pretend road trip across the country in a display that puts kids right inside the map. You can also “drive” an antique Dodge. (Psst! Make sure you turn the hand crank to make it go).

photo: LeMay Museum

Shaken, not Stirred
Think the British Invasion was just about pop music? Cars came across the pond in the swinging 60s too, including the Mini, MGB, Jaguar, and James Bond’s car of choice – the Aston Martin. Enjoy the music of the era as you look at the cool designs, from the racing green Lotus to the Morris Minor van.


photo: Helen Walker Green

The Age of Steam?
Did you know electric cars were being made back in the early 1900s? Car makers experimented with all kinds of propulsion back then, including steam. When your future driver gets behind the wheel, he or she may not be driving a gasoline-powered car. Get them ready for the future by checking out cars powered by alternative means (although steam cars are not likely to be that big in the 21st Century).

photo: Helen Walker Green

Get Your Motor Running…
If you think ACM is filled with just cars, think again. There’s no shortage of motorcycles at ACM including classic Harley-Davidsons, Triumphs and Yamahas. There’s also an awesome collection of vintage scooters, featuring Lambrettas, Vespas and more. If your family is really into motorcycles, be sure to check out ACM’s roaring Vintage Motorcycle Weekend held each summer (keep an eye on their website for more deets).

photo: Helen Walker Green

Pit Stop
After seeing all the museum has to offer, you’ll probably be “exhaust”ed (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves there). Fuel up at the Classics Café by Pacific Grill. It offers tasty fare for a pit stop, including salads, juicy burgers, bbq chicken sandwiches, chili brats and root beer floats. Then hit the ACM Store – packed with every car-related souvenir you can think of from VW bags and Mustang t-shirts to build-your-own internal combustion engine kits.

photo: Helen Walker Green

Good to Know
ACM hosts a STEM Family Day on the third Saturday of every month, where families can explore the world of cars and its relation to science, technology, engineering and math. Check out the details online. Summer camps are also offered for ages 8-15 and can be found online.

LeMay – America’s Car Museum
2702 E. D. St.
Tacoma, Wa 98421

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: $16/adults; $14/seniors (65+) & military; $12/students; $8/kids (6-12); children 5 & under and members free. Racing simulator $8; slot car track $3/driver.
Parking: $5. (Psst! Remember your parking spot number and pay inside when you buy your ticket).

The LeMay Collection is so huge, only about a quarter of it can fit in America’s Car Museum. The collection is rotated through, but If you want to see ALL THE CARS, you can. The rest of the vehicles are housed in the LeMay Family Collection, also located in Tacoma. More information can be found here

Have you taken your kids to LeMay – America’s Car Museum? What was their favorite part? Tell us in a comment below!

— Helen Walker Green


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