Exploring Tacoma's LeMay - America's Car Museum

One of the Best Classic Car Museums in the World

Lemay Car Museum
••• Lemay America's Car Museum in Tacoma. Kristin Kendle

LeMay - America's Car Museum (ACM) is a world-class automobile museum located in Tacoma, Washington. Its flashy, bright-silver exterior is impossible to miss—and shouldn't be missed. This car museum is one of the finest museums in the Seattle-Tacoma region due to the incredible car collection within, and one of the largest car museums in the United States.

The automobiles here include selections from individual collectors, corporations, and the impressive LeMay auto collection, one of the largest car collections in the world. Displays and exhibitions at ACM periodically rotate in and out, so repeat visitors will usually find something new to see. Examples of special exhibitions include the Ferrari in America, Indy Cars, the British Invasion, classic cars and alternative propulsion.

Even if you don't usually enjoy car museums or car history, you may find that this one wins you over. It simply includes so many cars that it is hard not to gain an understanding of auto history as you venture through the galleries. Obviously, for car enthusiasts, this museum is a treat, or a trip down memory lane!

LeMay is not exactly a new name in Tacoma and there has been a LeMay car collection on display for many years at the LeMay Family Collection in Spanaway. However, America's Car Museum near the Tacoma Dome is a separate entity, housing only part of the LeMay collection as well as cars, trucks and more from other collections, too.

What You'll See

When you enter the museum, you'll see some special cars or displays right up front, even before you pay the cost of admission at the desk in the lobby. These might be cars related to an upcoming event, a TV show, an old fire truck—you never know what you'll find up front so take some time to check it out.

After you proceed into the museum, you'll be greeted with a mix of autos in a bright and expansive room, but soon after any exhibits up front, you'll be introduced to some auto history. Most of the oldest autos (and automobile predecessors) are located on this first floor. You'll see carriages and very early autos, including very early Daimlers and Model-Ts.

As you proceed through the collection, the museum winds downward with cars along the walkways the entire way. Take some time to read the plaques as you move through auto history, especially if you don't already have a foundation in car knowledge to help you connect with what you're seeing. You'll see things like wood paneling and spokes on wheels that hearken back to carriages, and you'll see the general shapes of autos morphing from boxy carriages to the sleek cars of today. If plaques are not your thing, you can also join in a docent tour to have a person give you more context to what you're seeing.

The farther through the museum you go, the more modern the cars get. Toward the lower floors, you'll also find some activities. There's a theater where you can take a break and watch a short film, the Speed Zone where you can pay a little extra to try your hand at a racing simulator, or have your photo taken in a 1923 Buick Touring car. You'll get a print of your photo for free! There are also a few games and activities for kids, too.

While ACM has cars from many collections within its walls, the LeMay car collection is one of the biggest draws to ACM, and is the largest private car collection in the world! The collection made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997 with 2,700 vehicles, but has topped 3,500 at some points in time! This is no average car collection. Beyond cars, it also includes buses, tanks, horse carriages, and more. If America's Car Museum just doesn't have enough car history for you, a great deal of the LeMay collection is on display at the LeMay Family Collection at the Marymount Event Center (325 152nd Street E, Tacoma).

Other Activities

America's Car Museum has an expansive nine-acre campus, a four-story-high building, 165,000 square feet of museum space. It is home to up to 350 cars, trucks and motorcycles at a time. Because the museum is perched on a hill, there are also incredible views of downtown Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma, Mt. Rainier, and the Puget Sound. Bring your camera and you can get great photos of downtown from the deck off the main floor.

The museum's facilities also include a restaurant, meeting and banquet space. Outside, in front of the museum entrance, is the large Haub Family Field where car shows, concerts, outdoor movies and other special events take place.

Who Was Harold LeMay?

If you don't know what LeMay is beyond a word on your trash can, then you are missing out on an important facet of Tacoma's history. Harold LeMay was an entrepreneur based in Parkland (just outside of the Tacoma city limits) from 1942 until his death in 2000. While he is most recognized for his waste and recyclables businesses in Pierce, Thurston, Grays Harbor, Lewis, and Mason counties, LeMay was active in his community and ran other businesses ranging from a bus service for port workers to Parkland Auto Wrecking.

For most of his life, LeMay and his wife collected autos and vehicles. This car collection became the largest privately owned car collection in the world by the mid-1990s and still today remains one of the most amazing and thorough car and vehicle collections anywhere. While the original LeMay Museum Marymount location is difficult to spot from the street, the museum in downtown Tacoma is hard to miss and finally gives this collection the attention it deserves.

Things to do Nearby

The museum location adjacent to downtown Tacoma is close to the city's other museums, which are also worth checking out. This is easy to do all in one day. The Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State History Museum, and Museum of Glass are all within a five-minute drive of LeMay. Visitors can also park near America's Car Museum (either pay to park in lots next to the museum or at the Tacoma Dome garages around the corner for free) and ride the Link lightrail to the other museums.

Pierce County Library has passes available for check out for Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, and Washington State History Museum. You have to catch the passes while they're checked in, but they're some of the best discounts out there if you do get them!

2702 East D. Street
Tacoma, WA 98421
Phone: 253-779-8490