Washington’s third-largest city, Tacoma is home to many awesome attractions ranging from historic buildings and scenic botanical gardens to spectacular museums that focus on shipbuilding, vintage cars, and glass art. The state’s largest port city also offers plenty of outdoor activities including kayaking on the river, admiring the beauty of idyllic local parks and old-growth forests, and enjoying gorgeous vistas of the famous Mount Rainier National Park.
Whether you wish to explore the city’s scenic waterfront or dine at family-owned restaurants passed down through generations, there is no shortage of attractions in the city of Tacoma. Plan your visit to the “City of Destiny” with this list of best things to do in Tacoma.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
A part of the 5th highest mountain in the US, Mount Rainier National Park was opened at the end of the 19th century and features nearly 250,000 acres of diverse ecosystems, meadows, and forests, valleys. It’s a great place to visit with the entire family and reconnect with nature while vacationing in Tacoma. Expect to see plenty of wildlife including mountain goats, deer, black bears, and cougars. Bird lovers will be happy to hear that the national park is also home to owls, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. In case you wish to spend the night, special permits for camping are required.
2. Point Defiance Park
One of the largest urban parks in the US, Point Defiance Park is conveniently located right on the banks of Puget Sound and offers a wide range of attractions. From a fabulous zoo and a picturesque ocean beach to dozens of hiking trails and the lovely Point Defiance Aquarium, there is plenty to discover while exploring the park. There are also several scenic gardens such as the dahlia garden, Japanese garden, and the rose garden. Watch out for wild animals such as red foxes, bald eagles, and mule deer.
3. Museum of Glass
Searching for things to do in Tacoma in winter? Head out to the extraordinary Museum of Glass, a 75,000 square foot museum ideal for visitors who love glass art and glass blowing demonstrations. Located on the waterfront inside a modernist-designed building, the museum is home to permanent and rotating exhibits with 20th and 21st-century glass art. Don’t miss the functioning hot shop that offers amphitheater seating where guests can watch local artists creating plates, bowls, sculptures, and vases.
4. Wild Waves Theme and Water Park
Welcome to Wild Waves Theme and Water Park, a perfect place for travelers visiting Tacoma with children. This 50-acre amusement and water park boasts many thrill rides such as the Mountain Dew Slide Complex, Riptide, and Timberhawk Ride of Prey which is actually the largest wooden roller coaster in Washington. Apart from thrill rides, your kids can look forward to many classic water park attractions such as wave pools and a superb four-person tube slide.
5. LeMay – America’s Car Museum
There are many cool things to do in old town Tacoma and a visit to LeMay – America’s Car Museum is one of them. This is one of the best auto museums in the world and offers many rotating exhibits worth checking out. Home to cars from Ferrari and Lotus to British cars and alternative fuels, America’s Car Museum in Tacoma also boasts hands-on exhibits such as the Formula 1 racing simulator. During the guided tour, visitors will come across 12 rotating exhibits that include more than 300 vehicles at any given moment.
6. Chihuly bridge of glass
A 500-foot pedestrian overpass that connects the Thea Foss Waterway with the Museum of Glass, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass is one of the must-visit places in Tacoma. Apart from offering spectacular views of the downtown area, the bridge is home to three different glass installations where you can snap some cool photographs. At the center of the bridge, visitors will find the Crystal Towers that are made from blue translucent crystals. If you are visiting Tacoma with that special someone, you’ll be happy to hear that Chihuly Bridge of Glass is one of the most romantic destinations in the state of Washington.
7. W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory
Located in Wright Park, W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory is a Victorian-style conservatory that features hundreds of tropical flowers and plants from the region. With its 12-sided central dome that consists of thousands of panes of glass, the conservatory also offers meditation workshops and acoustic music performances throughout the year.
8. Emerald Queen Casino
There are two Emerald Queen Casinos in Tacoma. Both of these Vegas-style casinos are popular tourist destinations that attract thousands of visitors each day. Whether you wish to try your luck out at table games like Black Jack and Craps or you wish to check out the casino’s video slots, there is no shortage of games to keep you entertained at Emerald Queen. Don’t forget to check out the fabulous 2,000-seat concert venue and event center.
9. Titlow park
Located close to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Titlow Park is a 75-acre beachfront park that offers everything from running and hiking trails to playgrounds for the little ones, tennis and basketball court and an extensive beach frontage. Walk along the beach to discover crabs, plankton, and starfish or hike the 1.3 miles long Hidden Beach Trail. Travelers who wish to get something to eat will be glad to hear that Titlow Park is home to 2 superb restaurants: Steamer’s Seafood Café (seafood restaurant) and The Beach Tavern (gastropub with burgers and craft beers).
10. Owen Beach
A lovely ocean beach located in Point Defiance Park, Owen Beach is a great place to go sunbathing and swimming in summer. The beach boasts picnic tables, dozens of food stands, a nice children’s play area, and restrooms. Whether you wish to go for a walk along the paved seaside trail, rent a kayak or a canoe, or enjoy shore fishing, a visit to Owen Beach is one of the most relaxing experiences for travelers visiting Tacoma.
11. Tacoma Nature Center
Nature lovers staying in Tacoma will want to visit the famous Tacoma Nature Center. This 71-acre nature preserve has it all. There is the amazing Discovery Pond where kids can play around a lovely waterfall, as well as a forested park that offers some excellent hike trails and close wildlife encounters with rabbits, red foxes, ducks, geese, and raccoons. As for the nature center, it offers everything from nature programs to summer day camps.
12. Bob’s Java Jive
Opened back in the 1920s, Bob’s Java Jive is a Polynesian-themed speakeasy go-go bar famed for its mimetic architecture. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which definitely makes it a must-visit joint in Tacoma. With its 25-foot-tall concrete coffee pot, Bob’s Java Jive attracts all types of visitors including everyone from locals to tourists who come to enjoy the grungy vibe at this fabulous dive bar.
13. Browns Point Lighthouse Park
A public beach park, the Browns Point Lighthouse Park is an excellent spot to enjoy a picnic and just chill on the beach. If you wish to learn more about the history of the area, drop by the park’s Points Northeast Historical Society. Fishing is one of the most popular activities here and visitors can rent out cottages, as well as all the necessary fishing equipment.
14. Kandle Park
There is a bunch of free stuff to do in Tacoma and a visit to Kandle Park falls into this category. Home to dozens of walking trails, a skateboard area, and a kid’s playground with mini-golf, the park is an excellent place to visit for families exploring Tacoma with children. The most famous attraction is the small water park that features a large zero-depth wave pool with spray toys.
15. Dash Point Park & Pier
Located between Tacoma and Seattle, Dash Point Park & Pier is a hotspot for millions of travelers who wish to enjoy the park’s sandy saltwater beach, picnic facilities, kayak rentals, and miles of forested hiking and biking trails. Bird-watchers can admire the beauty of raptors and shorebirds, while vacationers looking for some quality beach time can get close to crabs and marine life. Dash Point Park & Pier is also a popular spot for skim boarding.
16. Wapato Park
Wapato Park is an urban retreat with a lovely lake and a forest. The main walking trail around the lake is a great place to take photographs and the park is home to picnic shelters and a historic pergola. The park’s dock offers ideal conditions for bird viewing, while families with the little ones can look forward to the Wapato’s Park large playground for kids. Keep in mind that it’s forbidden to feed the wildlife here. Some of the other attractions worth checking out are the display gardens and the historical boathouse.