The Year of the Ox is right around the corner, and if you’re looking for a new way to celebrate, we’ve got just the thing. Monkeyshines is a secret art scavenger hunt that gives families a reason to get outside and explore. Plus, if your hunt is successful, you’ll take home a gorgeous glass orb as your prize. Ready for a new kind of hide and seek game? Here’s what you need to know…
Editor’s note: Please remember to mask up, maintain social distance and follow state and local group size guidelines when you head out to find a Monkeyshine. Happy (and healthy) hunting!
Go Bananas for Monkeyshines
Guerrilla art. Hidden treasure. No matter what you call it, Monkeyshines is a beloved Tacoma tradition. It’s a citywide scavenger hunt that starts around the Lunar New Year—the exact start date is a secret—that anyone can join. Seekers are on the lookout for blown glass floats or medallions, stamped with a Lunar New Year animal design. This year, there are two new Year of the Ox designs, in addition to a historical one (a stamp used 12 years ago) hidden around the city. Where you’ll find them? Nobody knows. That’s sort of the point. Seeking a Monkeyshine is about getting out and exploring T-town with your kids. If you find a hidden treasure along the way, you’re one of the lucky ones.
In the Beginning
Monkeyshines started 18 year ago by Ms. and Mr. Monkey as a way to bring joy to the community. In an effort to cheer themselves up during the gloomy winter months, they organized a whole hot shop’s worth of artists and volunteers to make 200 Monkeyshines they then hid around the city. Now Ms. Monkey and her band of mischief makers spend the better part of the year designing and producing the 2,000 glass orbs they eventually hide. It’s a true labor of love and a gift to the city; a way for people to make their own fun, explore Tacoma and connect with community.
The excitement surrounding Monkeyshines is contagious. In fact, years ago it inspired Marble Man to hide colorful marbles in anticipation of the big hunt. Now “going rogue” is kind of a thing. Area makers create Lunar Near Year art and hide it in the weeks and days leading up the official Monkeyshines hunt. So while you’re out seeking orbs, keep your eyes peeled for other guerrilla art (think: wood ornaments, stamped paper, metal coins and more) you may find tucked into trees, hanging from sculptures or carefully placed along popular paths. How will you know if you’ve found a Rogue? All this art incorporates this year’s lunar animal as well.
The Heart of the Hunt
Ms. Monkey says it best. At its core, Monkeyshines is about the hunt more than the find. It’s about creating a positive experience in the community and finding wonder along the way. Whether you find an orb, or someone else does, it’s the memories of your time together that matter. There’s an ethos that guides the hunt. For starters, Monkeyshines find you. That’s why you never know when you’re going to stumble across one. Seekers are asked to only take one Monkeyshine per year. And trade-ups are allowed. So if you find a Monkeyshine medallion and later come across an orb, leave one so you can take the other. Our favorite part of the hunt? There’s no way to know what’s been found any given year, so it's possible to find Monkeyshines hidden years ago at any time.
Where to Seek & (Hopefully) Find
Only the volunteers who hide the Monkeyshines know exactly where they are, but if your family is ready to head out in search of this coveted treasure, these spots are always worth exploring. Try looking in…
Wright Park is a 27-acre oasis in the middle of the city. While you’re looking for your Year of the Ox treasure, wander the winding trails, play at the playground and stop in to smell the azaleas, cyclamen and orchids at the W.W. Seymour Conservatory with a timed ticket.
Downtown Tacoma is another great spot to happen upon elusive art. While the usual haunts aren’t currently open, families can still walk around the UW Tacoma campus, cross the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and walk the Prairie Line Trail near TAM in search of Monkeyshines. Also consider exploring Old Town Tacoma if you’re still on the hunt.
Dune Peninsula Park and Point Ruston have lots to do in addition to seeking hidden treasure. The playground, trails and amazing views will keep the kids busy for hours. It’s a bike and scooter paradise on a sunny day!
Wherever you plan your hunt, remember that Monkeyshines are hidden all over, and never on private property. Don’t forget to look for them in trees and ponds (Ms. Monkey’s favorite hiding spot is in the water), as well as on the ground.
Insider tip: Check out #Monkeyshines on Instagram and Twitter to see where people have found treasures in past years for inspiration.
Good to know: The pandemic has been especially tough on local artists, including many who volunteer their time to put on the Monkeyshines hunt. That’s why this year Ms. Monkey is working to pay artists for their time and talent. If you’d like to show your support, it’s as easy as donating to the Monkeyshines fund.
—Allison Sutcliffe (all photos courtesy Sierra Hartman, unless otherwise noted)