20 Best Things to Do in Tacoma, Washington

|   Last Updated on April 7, 2021

Tacoma is a city located in Washington. Its name comes from Mount Rainer, previously called Tacoma or Tahoma. It is also called “The City of Destiny” because the area was the western end of the rail of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

If you are planning to visit Tacoma for a relaxed holiday, you are in luck! The city has a small population, plenty of outdoor activities and abundant wildlife to see. You can go for a hike through its beautiful forests early in the day.

Later in the afternoon, you can choose between a lot of cultural offers the city has, like the museums or the old train station.

At night, you can dine in one of the many places the city has to offer. People from all over the world visit Tacoma to check the beautiful glass work done there. In 2006, Tacoma was named the “most walkable” city in the U.S.

If you find yourself planning a trip to Tacoma and are wondering where to go when you arrive, wonder no more! Here is a list of the best choices the city of Tacoma has to offer for an unforgettable experience.


1. Mount Rainier National Park

Founded in 1899, the Mount Rainier National Park has an immense 236 thousand acres wide territory and the fifth-biggest mountain standing tall at 14 thousand feet.

It is an incredible opportunity for anyone that loves outdoor activities and nature. The National Park is filled with wildlife, diverse flora and fauna. Everything from forests, glaciers, waterfalls and more can be found right at the heart of the Mount Rainier National Park.

The landscape is alive with all sorts of animals such as cougars, black bears, peregrine, hawks and many more.

You can hike, camp, climb, and a lot more outdoor activities. If you want to camp overnight, you can, but you are going to need to get a permit.

2. Tacoma Nature Center

If you do not want to go as far as the Mount Rainier National Park but still want a taste of Tacoma’s wildlife, do not worry! Tacoma Nature Center is right at the heart of the city and has a big space to explore. 71 acres worth of land filled with ducks, raccoons, foxes, deer among many other wild animals for you to spot.

If you have kids, you can let them explore Discovery Pond. A children’s play area with fun for kids’ activities like a treehouse or a waterfall where they can play around. They also offer birthday parties, if you want a different kind of birthday.

Naturalists work there and are at your disposal to answer any doubts or questions you might have about the wildlife exposed there.

3. Owen Beach

If instead of forests and mountains you are looking for more of a beach experience, do not fear! Tacoma has the beautiful Owen Beach for you to visit. You can bring your dog, your kids and some food for a beautiful picnic at their picnic tables. If you don’t want to cook, Owen Beach has more than enough places for you to eat.

After eating, you can rent a kayak or a canoe and go sail through the waters. But if you wait long enough, you might catch sea lions sunbathing at the shore regularly. Be advised, State regulations demand that people give the wild animals 100 yards of space and dogs are not allowed near the wild animals.

4. Wright Park

If you want to have a picnic but you don’t want to have it at the beach or travel to the national park, you can still have your chance to do so at Wright Park. It is an amicable place for kids and youngsters. They can have fun at the playgrounds, at the basketball courts or at the fountains that are available for boys and girls to play in the summer.

If you are a wildlife enthusiast you can dwell deep into the park and find yourself at the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. A gorgeous glass building filled with extravagant plants and exotic flora to check out!

5. Fuzhou Ting

If you are looking for something more culturally diverse, this city also has a place for you. Tacoma’s people have decided to honor their sister city, Fuzhou, with an exotic Chinese garden that imitates the ones found in Fuzhou.

Just like in the city of Fuzhou, you are going to wander into this little yet exuberant garden and be amazed by the cultural differences.

Located in Jack Hyde Park, Fuzhou Ting was constructed following Chinese ways of architecture and botany. You can also find Chinese stone sculptures, the only ones in the city. It is truly a unique and different place, unlike any other in the city of Tacoma.


6. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

The zoo was opened in 1905 and the aquarium was added later on, in 1935. A smaller place than the first few entries on this list, Point Defiance stands only at 29 acres. But don’t let the small location fool you, it’s home to a plethora of animals: more than 360 species with an incredible amount of over 9000 animals.

It not only has Tacoma wildlife, it is also a sanctuary for endangered species from far away lands like the Malayan tiger. They also have an artic exhibit with polar bears. If you are feeling bold in the Aquarium, you can take the unique opportunity of scuba diving in a shark tank!

If you are traveling with kids you have tour guides and a children’s zoo for them as well.

7. Children’s Museum of Tacoma

If your kids loved the children’s zoo at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, you might want to check out this next opportunity that Tacoma has to offer.

An incredible, ingenious idea, the people that founded the museum realized that children learn the most when they play, not when they work. And that’s how kids learn in the Children’s Museum of Tacoma: playing!

The Children’s Museum of Tacoma has different wings such as the woods, water, and a ship. Each scenario has different elements and teaches different lessons.

In the woods they have a fort, in the water section they can play in the waterfall and the ship, called the Voyager, kids can let their imagination let loose between the ropes to climb, wheels to turn and more.

8. Destiny Harbor Tours

If you are interested in a little adventure at sea, you can do so at Destiny Harbor Tours. Founded in 2007, you can choose from two different tour routes done on U.S. Navy Boats.

If you want to go on a more nature-oriented tour, you should take the Gig Harbor Tour: It will take you around Mount Rainer and the Olympic Mountains. If you are more interested in the city and its surroundings, the Puget Sound Tour is the right choice for you. This tour will take you through the Old Town and will let you enjoy a gorgeous view of the city.

9. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

If you are not interested in sailing through the season restored ships, maybe a time-traveling trip will interest you more. Step into Fort Nisqually Living History Museum and you will also have stepped into the nineteenth century.

You will not only find information about the time and the way of life in yesteryear but also will get to witness how they live thanks to the actors working there who will reenact with amazing accuracy the everyday happenings of that time.

The fort has seven areas, all decorated accordingly to the century were you just traveled to. They also have a visitor store for you to pick up and take a little piece of history with you.

10. Job Carr House Museum

After the tour at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, you can stay in the 1800s for a little longer. You should visit Job Carr’s cabin, or rather, the replica of his cabin, located in Tacoma. Even though it isn’t the original house, it is close to identical to it, filled with memorabilia from the epoch.

Why is Mr. Carr important, you might ask? Job Carr was born and raised in New Jersey and after a stint in the army, he decided to move from home and travel to a new location. He decided to settle in the beautiful city of Tacoma, Washington. And in doing so, he became the first European settler of the city.


11. LeMay Family Collection

If you are not ready to step back into the twenty-first century, after visiting the 1800s, in Tacoma you don’t have to! Started by Harold and Nancy LeMay, you can find in the LeMay Family Collection the biggest car collection in the world!

A lot of cars from the early 1900s to the late 1980s are in this huge place. And we are not talking only about cars, but buses, bikes and any kind of motorized vehicle you can think of!

If you want to check out the beautiful pieces of machinery you can do so by yourself. But if you want to learn about the cars, their history and more you can do right here with the help of highly trained tour guides that are happy to help and teach a lesson or two about cars.

12. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Another huge collection of things is also found in the city of Tacoma. This time, instead of cars, California based David and Marsha Karpeles decided to collect books and literature related memorabilia. They have eleven museums to display their literature collection, the largest in the world, and one of the eleven places is situated in Tacoma.

Anyone interested in their private manuscripts is allowed to see them as they do not want to hoard their objects but rather share them with the world. Their noble goal is to improve the literacy rate in the U.S.

You will not only find rare manuscripts, like a Bill of Rights manuscript stored in Tacoma’s museum but many objects that are culturally relevant like Norman Rockwell’s early drawings.

13. Tacoma Art Museum

If you are still interested in more of what Tacoma’s rich cultural tradition has to offer, you can step into the Tacoma Art Museum. Founded in 1935 and moved in 2003 to its new location, the Tacoma Art Museum is a place to gather and view both timeless and contemporary art.

Remember, Tacoma is known for its glass art and the Tacoma Art Museum is no exception. The most important pieces are related to glasswork and jewelry. On a completely different note, it also has Japanese art dated back to 1600 and 1800s.

If you decide to stay in Tacoma for a little longer than a vacation, the Tacoma Art Museum offers multiple education programs and a diverse list of workshops.

14. Museum of Glass

If you were amazed by the glass art exhibits in the Tacoma Art Museum, you can expand your knowledge of it in the Museum of Glass. Filled with glass art from the 19th and 20th century the Museum of Glass is a great place to visit. It also has the original display of glass art based on children’s drawings.

If you loved the glass art and wonder how they can create such beautiful pieces, wonder no more! If you go to the Museum of Glass you might be able to catch a glass blowing exhibition and dwell on the glass art mysteries.

15. Tacoma Dome

If you had your fair share of art for this vacation, you can go to the Tacoma Dome and see what they are offering when you are staying in Tacoma. It is the best place in Tacoma if you are looking for a music festival or recital. If you want to hear some good jokes, a lot of stand-up artists have done their act there as well.

It also has a sports museum and many restaurants for you to choose from.

Unlike many of the places listed here, the Tacoma Dome heavily rotates its activities throughout the year and you might not find the same thing twice there, it is highly recommended to check what’s available before going there!


16. Emerald Queen Casino

After watching the beautiful landscape and hiking across the mountain. Or going to the beach, having a picnic and kayaking. Or perhaps after going to the museums, learning the history and learning about art movements. You probably spent some cash. It was worth it. But if you are feeling lucky you can try to get it back at the Emerald Queen Casino.

You need to pick two things. The first one is where are you going to go. Tacoma is home to two Emerald Queen Casinos. The second and most important thing is what are you going to play to earn some quick cash: the Emerald Queen Casino has most games you can find in Las Vegas, from video slots to Blackjack.

Just remember: It’s just a game, don’t let gambling get in the way of a fun holiday.

17. Asado Cucina Argentina

If you made some serious money in the Emerald Quick Casino, you can treat yourself to real Argentine cuisine. Few places in the U.S. offer this South American take on BBQ among other delicacies like pasta, empanadas, chorizos and many more things that will make you want to come back or at least, get some takeout before you go.

You can watch everything that they cook before it lands on your plate in their display kitchen where the expert cooks work hard near the fire to get your steak cooked just the way you like it.

If you liked what you saw and want to try it again or you are planning to have a party and would love for them to cater to you, you can! They offer off-site service in Tacoma.

18. Pacific Grill

If you don’t want to risk it and go for something more secure, you can try the American style steakhouse, Pacific Grill. It is a sure thing as it was recently voted the best restaurant in the city. The menu offers seafood but is mainly focused on beef.

After the main course, you can enjoy one of their many desserts, done by their very own pastry chef who works especially to create mind-blowing pieces for you to enjoy.

If you want to enjoy the food and deserts within a private environment you can, Pacific Grill offers private dining rooms for gatherings and parties.

19. Pick Quick Drive-In

If you have no time to wait for a meal you can quickly get in your car and drive off to Pick Quick Drive-In. As their name indicates they are fast food restaurants that will serve you and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your car seat. You can get it to go or you can eat there in the parking lot.

The best thing about the whole thing is that they are ecofriendly, from their natural ingredients to the use of sustainable packaging.

20. Bob’s Java Jive

For a different experience, you can go to a giant teapot and have tea. Bob’s Java Jive is a bar-shaped like a teapot with a lot of history, as it’s nearing its 100th anniversary. It was founded in 1927 and it’s probably one of the most unique buildings you will ever see.


Last Updated on April 7, 2021

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  • Rovology is leveraging advice from Vagabonds, Tourists, Digital Nomads, Wayfarers and Travel Writers to give our readers a guide on the best things to do no matter where they go.