Arts & Entertainment Community

Two in Tow & On the Go: A whole lotta fun at the Harbor History Museum

Posted on July 14th, 2023 By:
A boy and a girl looking at toys behind glass at a museum.

Clara and Wyatt check out a trinket-themed collection.

This week, the kids and I played out some epic 1990s throwback skills at the Harbor History Museum’s new “I Spy: The Secret Museum” exhibit inspired by the brain-teaser pop culture picture books of (almost) the same name.


 bookshelf in art exhibit

The concept is based of the “I SPY” book series.

We grown-ups probably all remember what the puzzle-packed “I Spy” books asked of readers: find a bunch of random objects within a larger scene. As an exhibit, the museum folks put the same general idea into action.

Although, admittedly, I couldn’t quite picture how that would all look until I actually saw the exhibit in person. If you’re in the same boat, think: Gallery-art show meets rummage-sale treasure hunt.

Minus the shopping. 🙂

On display now through Sept. 23, this playful, engaging (and free!) activity is located inside the museum’s 1,000-square-foot special exhibit room currently dedicated to colorful scenes of collage posters of photographed objects laid out in engaging ways, as well as clusters of physical items scooped up and salvaged from museum archive boxes not usually on display.

How it works:

letters and pictures replacing some words on sign in yellow, green and blue

An example of one of the rhymes.

words on a poster with images of objects over some wordsThemed collections are presented in poster collages or object displays

Visitors are tasked with spotting specific objects (a mixing bowl, a glass bottle, a toy clown, etc.)words on a poster with images of objects over some words

Objects are located somewhere in each theme

Fun rhymes printed in big and bold letters, which aren’t exactly riddles, tell visitors which items to find.

woman showing boy posters on the wall in museum

Museum docent Janet Stahnke helped the kids navigate the exhibit and presented us with lots of fun facts.

Collages & Objects

In fact, according to my little calculator kids, there were 18 themed scenes in total: 15 photo collages on the walls plus three physical displays behind glass.

(TIP: Ask your kids to count the number of posters they see around the room as a ninja-parenting distraction move so you have time to take in all the glorious details). 

What: “I Spy: The Secret Museum” exhibit

Where: Harbor History Museum, 4121 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; special exhibition gallery room

Cost: Free (admission to the museum is also free!)

Times: Now through Sept. 23, during regular museum hours 

We lucked out and got the helpful talents of museum docent Janet Stahnke to stay by our side and explain the whole setup piece by piece as we explored. She was SO good with the kids and kept them engaged and looking for new objects to spot. She was also great at pointing out the generational anomalies that a 9- and 7-year-old might not know about like straight pins, flip phones and some sort of zig-zag fabric trim Google is not helping me find the terminology for right now. (Apparently, some anomalies apply to 40-year-old Home Ec dropouts too).

Girl pointing to toys in poster

Clara points to the two clowns she spotted from the vintage toy theme challenge.

Our Faves

Some of our favorite details included a collage of vintage baking goods stacked in a worn, wooden cupboard, and the primary-color goodness in the vintage toy collage. Clara was very excited to spot the required “two clowns” that her mama effectively could not. (Those tricky museum peeps got me by placing a little wood circus ringmaster in the mix that looked deceptively similar to the second clown).





The rhyme used for the two clowns Clara spotted from the vintage toy theme challenge read:


A tug boat, two clowns, three colorful hands,

A Viewmaster, four bells, two Tinkertoy cans,

A shark, three bears,

Mr. Potato Head, A Frisbee, a plane,

a caboose that is red,

A dump truck,

a horse pulling a sleigh,

A baseball, a forklift, and four blocks that spell PLAY.

Speaking of play, look for the two small baskets of toys and blocks out in the open where kids are invited to experiment with designing their own object collections. Wyatt, and later Clara, too, made neat arch block towers, and then docent Stahnke hid a plastic dino under it. Too cute!

Harbor Finds

Near the back, a real painted rowboat filled with seafloor finds was also a hit. We spent a good amount of time looking in the little boat, actually, spying a brown glass bottle covered almost entirely in white pokey barnacles, a small and rusty wheel the kids could spin by hand, and even a spoooooky, haunted house-style old doorknob! And it was all said to be pulled from the watery depths of the actual Gig Harbor itself. Seriously, how stoked would you be to find that door knob??

Green and grey door and bookshelf in art exhibit

Themed entrance to the “I SPY” exhibit, special exhibition gallery room

Overall Thoughts

The museum also incorporated some cool “spy”-themed features into the logistics: describing the organizers as the “Harbor History Museum detective squad” and placing a “spy manual” in the exhibit to flip through for location clues. (The museum tells me the manual is out for repairs but will be back soon!)

kid points to vintage objects in row boatIf I were to make a couple of suggestions, it would be to have printed sheets for visitors to mark off the items they find in a more interactive, scavenger-hunt way. My kids love a good checklist, and it keeps their hands busy. I’d also like to see a printout of maybe five or so riddles (also in a scavenger-hunt way) for objects that are super hard to find, without naming the themes they’re in or what type of object they are, but just give riddles to their locations. Just some ideas, though. I also love how the exhibit is set up now. In all, we recommend checking out this interactive indoor activity for kids and their adults over the next two months. It’s arty, it’s free and it’s a whole lotta fun.

See ya out there!

Mom and two kids standing with water and boats in the background.


Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two, longtime journalist, and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. Her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen recently moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (9) and Wyatt (7). When they’re not adventuring, Tonya stays busy navigating how umbrellas are unacceptable life choices now, giant house spiders exist but only in September, and that salted parking lots are absolutely not weird at all. Find her on Instagram  and Facebook  for all the kid-friendly places in and around Gig Harbor.