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Best of Tacoma 2019: The eclectic Sixth Avenue scene

Readers' Pick: Best Nightlife, Best Singles Scene, Best Street Fair

Revelers take in the sun, sights, sounds and smells at the recent Art on the Ave, the city’s biggest annual art-focused festival, which also features live bands along Sixth Ave. Photo courtesy 6th Ave Business District

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It's hard to envision now, but there was a time when the terms like "quaint," "chic" and "trendy" would not have been used by visitors to Tacoma's Sixth Avenue.

Over the decades, "the Ave" has gone through many different phases, from its very early days as a genteel and proper business district, to edgy and tough, to happening and hip. Transitioning from prosperity through downturns and blight, Sixth Avenue has emerged as a shining example of urban renewal and neighborhood connection.

In fact, the shopping and dining district is so popular, it took top honors among readers for Best Neighborhood for Nightlife, Best Neighborhood for Singles and Best Street Fair -- Art on the Ave.

So, what's the attraction of this stretch of street which is a magnet for everyone from hipsters to families? Most activity is centered within a walkable area of Sixth from State to Alder streets. An extended area of the business district reaches further west to Sprague Avenue and east to Stevens Street.

Walking the area is the best way to enjoy some of Sixth Ave's most unique and engaging aspects -- things you might miss going by in a car. A prime example is the plentiful and colorful public art you'll encounter and admire, all of it by local artists and students.

Scattered along Sixth there are stalwart, longtime businesses such as Engine House No. 9 and Primo Grill, which have served Ave scenesters for decades. Drastic Plastic is a local institution, holding down a spot on Sixth selling records and paraphernalia since 1982. For at least that long, Sluggo Music has provided for the instrument and equipment needs of Tacoma musicians from its Sixth Ave storefront.

Jazzbones long ago added a live music spot to the mix on Sixth, and still hosts popular touring acts, local musicians, themed nights and karaoke events. Asado brought elevated Argentine fare and craft cocktails to the strip, and longtime local favorites Crown Bar and Dirty Oscar's Annex have both been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

These days, of course, new eateries and bars abound, and there are even more quality food, drink and shopping choices than ever. With new places popping up on a seemingly continual basis, the ever-growing mix of businesses is an eclectic collection: vintage and new retail shops, cafes, bistros, dive bars, fine-dining, game shops and record stores, specialty spirits and wine purveyors, event spaces, dispensaries, even spas and salons to pamper people and pets.

In terms of festivals, Art on the Ave is another Tacoma icon. The annual music and art festival turns multiple blocks of Sixth into a pedestrian street fair. Live entertainment stages, along with stalls and booths full of vibrant arts, crafts and food, line the street for the day, as Sixth Ave is closed to vehicle traffic. Drawing thousands of visitors, the festival is Tacoma's largest arts-based event held on a yearly basis. The mid-July festival, hosted by the Sixth Ave Business District, just marked its 19th year.

Even if you missed the excitement of the most recent Art on the Ave, you can step out on Sixth with a more relaxed vibe monthly during Art Walk. Held on the third Thursday of each month, the event lets art lovers stroll storefronts and galleries from 4-7 p.m., check out awesome artwork and meet the artists along the way. The next Art Walk is scheduled for Aug. 15.

As for accessing all that Sixth Ave has to offer, parking along the bustling street can be challenging during busy times. Luckily, these days there are multiple options and alternatives. Walk, bike or take one of the now-ubiquitous rental scooters around the area. Ride services such as Uber and Lyft are great for a night out, or utilize good old public transportation with the Pierce Transit No. 1 bus that serves Sixth.

If you do drive, street parking and side-street parking exists all along Sixth Ave, and there is a central pay parking lot. Some clubs and restaurants do offer valet parking at night.

Sixth Avenue Business District,

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