11 Top Things To Do In Tacoma, Washington

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If you are planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Tacoma would be an ideal location for at least a portion of your trip. Wondering if there is anything there you might enjoy doing? After researching it, I think the variety of cultural attractions, museums, nature, unique locations, and well-developed brewery and farmers market scenes make Tacoma an ideal location for everyone!

11 Top Things To Do In Tacoma WashingtonHere are the top 11 things to do in Tacoma, Washington:

  1. Chihuly Bridge of Glass
  2. Museum of Glass
  3. Point-Defiance Park
  4. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
  5. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
  6. Tacoma Arts Live
  7. LeMay Collections at Marymount
  8. Tacoma Art Museum
  9. Foss Waterway Seaport
  10. Tacoma Nature Center
  11. Local Breweries & Farmer’s Markets

Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these attractions, including the cost, hours of operation, and links to the attraction’s websites. In addition, I have included a list of the best places to stay while enjoying the top things to do in Tacoma at the end of this post.

Why visit Tacoma

Tacoma is like Seattle’s sister. Many would even say “Stepsister”. The two cities are almost joined at the hip. If you’re flying to the area, you’re probably be landing at SeaTac Airport. SeaTac, in case you didn’t know, stands for Seattle-Tacoma.

There’s a historic sense of rivalry between the two – and if you ever take a guided tour in either city, you’re bound to hear all about it. Seattle tour guides – perhaps under the influence of too much coffee! – may tell you that Tacoma stinks. Well, it doesn’t – and don’t let that deter you.

They’re really referring to what’s known as “The Aroma of Tacoma” – a sulphuric smell that’s present in the city’s tideflats. It won’t affect your visit to any of the attractions we have listed for you here today.

While Tacoma has its issues – as any other modern city does – it also offers visitors many fantastic things to see and do. Nearby Seattle does tend to overshadow Tacoma, but hopefully, this post will encourage you to dedicate at least one full day to explore the less-known yet very attractive city.

1. Chihuly Bridge of Glass

Dale Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Tacoma WA | Photo by Joe Wolf

This is a 500-foot pedestrian overpass connecting the Museum of Glass and the Thea Foss Waterway. It houses three separate Chihuly glass installations, according to visitors each is unique and mesmerizing.

The Seaform Pavilion’s ceiling is comprised of over 2,000 glass objects creating a feeling of being inside a magical world entirely created of glass. At night this fixture is backlit, providing visitors with a vibrant and colorful escape from the night sky!

At the center of the bridge are the Crystal Towers. Made from large blue translucent crystals, the appearance of the two towers change with the sun’s location in the sky and at night they are illuminated from below creating areas of light and dark that add to the mystique of this amazing artistic feat.

The Venetian Wall is an 80-foot long wall separated into 109 boxes, each filled with a different Chihuly sculpture. During the day, natural light floods in from the back of the wall to allow the sculptures to be viewed and appreciated. At night, each box is lit from within to highlight the beautiful glass art contained within.

The bridge is free to the public and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At the very least, this the Chihuly Bridge of Glass a sight to visit at least twice, once during the day and once again at night. No wonder people claim it is one of the most romantic places to visit in Washington!

2. Museum of Glass

Water Forest at Museum of Glass, Tacoma | Photo by Michael & Sherry Martin

The Museum of Glass is located on the waterfront in a modernist-designed building with an attached 90-foot cone made of stainless-steel towering over the museum. There is a functioning hot shop with amphitheater seating, so visitors can watch artists create vases, bowls, plates, and sculptures live.

Live glass demonstrations occur every day the museum is open by the Hot Shop Team or visiting artists. They are able to walk visitors through the fascinating process of how to create a work of art from molten glass.

The Museum of Glass is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday through Saturday they are open from 10 am to 5 pm, and on Sundays they are open from noon until 5 pm.

The cost for adults to tour the museum is $17, for children ages 6-12 it is $5, and children 5 and under are free. Check their website for additional prices and concessions available.

Museum of Glass’ Website

3. Point Defiance Park

 

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Point Defiance Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Its location on Puget Sound’s banks makes it more than just your typical park.

It consists of 700 acres and offers many different attractions, including Fort Nisqually Living History Museum and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, described in more detail later in this list.

Five Mile Drive refers to the inner loop of the park which allows vehicle traffic, and the outer loop which is only open to pedestrians and cyclists. Trails range from ¼ mile to 4½ miles. Visitors say that the combination of forest, beaches, and cliffs make the hiking exciting, even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot a bald eagle or a migrating humpback whale.

The view at Point Defiance

Owen Beach is allegedly a wonderful location within the park to swim, catch some sun, fish, or picnic. Sea lions and seals often come ashore and sun themselves so be prepared to share the beach with some local wildlife!

In addition, there are many historic structures within the park including the Pagoda. Originally built as a streetcar waiting room, this structure was restored in 1988 and then nearly destroyed in a fire in 2011. In 2013 it reopened for public use and is often used to host weddings and private parties.

It is free to enter the park and while the times vary throughout the year, the park opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset. Check out their website for detailed trail maps and information on the many attractions found within the park.

Point Defiance Park’s Website

4. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Penguins at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium | Photo by Jon Acuna

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium sits on 29 acres and, in addition to the animal exhibits, it boasts spectacular views of Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, and Puget Sound. It is the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Pacific Northwest and is found within Point Defiance Park.

Broken up by habitats, the zoo and aquarium offer views of the animals in the Pacific Seas, the South Pacific, the Asian Forest, the Arctic Tundra, the Rocky Shores, Red Wolf Woods, and a collection of Budgies from Australia.

Stunning Red Wolf | Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region

While in the park, you can be a zookeeper or marine biologist for a day, giving you a behind the scenes view of the zoo or aquarium. If you prefer something a bit more action-packed, they offer eye-to-eye shark dives for visitors at least 8 years old.

The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is open year-round but the hours vary by season, check their website for the times they will be open during your visit.

Tickets for the zoo and aquarium are available online for a $2 discount. At the front gate, it is $20 for adults and prices vary from $15 to $12 for children, check the website for more detailed pricing.

Wonder how big the Megalodon is?

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s Website

 

5. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum Entrance | Photo by Steven Pavlov

Originally Fort Nisqually was an important fur trading and a farming outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Built in 1832, the Nisqually house and Granary were relocated to the Point Defiance Park and are now part of a living history museum.

Volunteers and staff dress in period clothing, speak using historical dialogue and demonstrate the crafts common in the 19th century. Everything on site is run without electricity and there are authentic period games for visitors to play.

 

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Hours for the living history museum vary, and there are different events and workshops offered throughout the year, check the museum’s website for detailed event calendars, operating hours and the cost of attending one of their special events.

Regular admission, which includes crafts of the past, is $8 for adults, children 4-17 are $5, and children 3 and under are free. Family passes, which are good for 2 adults and up to 6 children are available for $22. Check their website for additional prices and concessions available.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum’s Website

6. Tacoma Arts Live

 

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Tacoma Arts Live (formerly Broadway Center for the Performing Arts) is made up of the historic Pantages and Rialto theaters, as well as the newer Theater on the Square.

The block the Pantages Theater is located on once housed a saloon, Tacoma’s first library, and Tacoma’s first department store. Construction on the theater started in 1916 and was completed in January 1918. Restoration began in 1978 and the Pantages Theater officially reopened in February 1983.

 

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The Rialto Theater opened in September 1918 and was considered “the ultimate photoplay house.” Many of the original replicas of cupids and patriotic eagles are still in place on the renovated building in use today.

Tacoma Arts Live is the home of the city’s opera, symphony, concert band, and ballet. They also host many events throughout the year, check their website for what events will be held during your visit and the cost to attend.

Tacoma Arts Live Website

7. LeMay Collections at Marymount

 

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According to the Guinness Book of World Records published in 1997, the LeMay family’s collection of antique and vintage vehicles is the largest ever recorded. With more than 1900 vehicles that is easy to believe!

This impressive collection is housed in an equally interesting location, Marymount. This sight was purchased by the Sisters of St. Dominic and consisted of a farmhouse on 100 acres of land.

 

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The sisters set out to open a school and The Marymount Military Academy was opened on May 30th, 1923. It was run successfully until 1975 when the Sisters decided to close the school.

In the 1980’s upkeep became too much for the Sisters and they had to put the estate up for sale. While Harold LeMay’s bid was not the highest they received, he was the only one committed to preserving the history of the location so the Sisters sold to him.

In addition to LeMay’s vintage vehicle collection, there is a wide variety of Americana memorabilia on display, a Rodin Sculpture Garden, as well as the original Marymount Academy and Chapel. Visitors say this a location full of engaging history, even if cars aren’t your thing.

Marymount is closed on Mondays. Tuesday through Saturday it is open from 9 am to 5 pm, and on Sundays from noon to 5 pm. The last tour of the day always starts at 3 pm, so plan accordingly.

Entrance for adults is $15, youth ages 6 to 17 are $5, and children 5 and younger are free. Check their website for additional prices and concessions available.

Lemay Collections at Marymount’s Website

8. Tacoma Art Museum

Part of the museum’s facade | Photo by Joe Wolf

The Tacoma Art Museum houses a collection of more than 4,500 works from artists originating in the American West. These works include studio art jewelry, contemporary native art, photographs, prints, outdoor sculptures, as well as an extensive – and still growing – collection of glass art.

There are three permanent collections; the Haub Family Collection, the Legacy Collections, and construction is currently being done on an expansion that will house the Benaroya Collection.

The Legacy Collections include early American modernism art, American prints and drawings, Japanese woodblock prints, and European Art.

The Haub Family Collection is more than 295 works of western American art ranging from the 1790’s to current installments.

The Benaroya Collection is comprised of 150 glass art installments that represent some of the finest pieces in the world. Once completed (it is set to open on January 9, 2019), the Tacoma Art Museum will be viewed as one of the premier glass art museums in the country.

The art museum is closed on Mondays. Tuesdays through Sundays they are open from 10 am to 5 pm.

 

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Admission for adults is $15, children 5 years of age and under are free, students are $13. A family pass is available for $40 and includes up to 2 adults and 4 children under the age of 18. Check their website for additional prices and concessions available.

Tacoma Art Museum’s Website

9. Foss Waterway Seaport

 

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The Foss Waterway Seaport is Puget Sound’s maritime culture, education, and event center. It is located on the waterfront in a centuries-old wheat warehouse built for cargo “arriving by rail and departing by sail”, the Seaport offers exhibits and hands-on activities so visitors can explore the regions maritime heritage.

Inside visitors are able to view models of boats built in Tacoma throughout history. From canoes to early scuba diving equipment to fishing gear, the Seaport offers a glimpse into the important maritime history of Tacoma.

 

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Many people claim the highlight of this attraction is the working heritage wooden boat shop where you can watch volunteer shipbuilders at work and ask questions about this captivating legacy.

Foss Waterway Seaport is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday through Saturday they are open from 10 am to 4 pm and on Sundays from noon to 4 pm.

Adults cost $10 each, children 5 years of age and older are $8, and anyone under 5 is free. There is a family pass available for $25 which is good for 2 adults and up to 4 children. Check their website for additional pricing and concessions.

Foss Waterway Seaport’s Website

10. Tacoma Nature Center

 

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This 71-acre nature preserve is home to Snake Lake, a popular recreation area in Tacoma, as well as numerous hiking trails and Discovery Pond, a play area designed to encourage children to learn about the environment in a fun and engaging way.

Discovery Pond includes a tree house, a slide built inside a hollow log, a boulder scramble, a log crossing over the pond, waterfalls, and rain gardens. In addition to a fun-filled area, there are volunteers on hand to answer questions. (This area is able to be reserved, so check the website below to make sure it is available for your children to enjoy!)

 

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The trails within the forested park are soft-surface, making them ideal for runners to enjoy but they are specifically tailored to bird-watching and other passive recreation activities. Check the website for a checklist of animals you might glimpse while exploring the many different trails.

The Tacoma Nature Center is free to the public and is open from 9 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sunday. Different attractions within the park are open various days and times, check out their website for more information.

Tacoma Nature Center’s Website

11. Local Breweries & Farmer’s Markets

Among the culture, museums, and natural aspects of Tacoma is a thriving brewery and farming community. These are just a few of the breweries and farmer’s markets you can check out while enjoying the sights around the city. Tap on the name of the brewery or farmer’s market below to access their website for additional information.

7 Seas Brewery & Taproom

 

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Housed within the historic Heidelberg Brewery with no televisions (but they do have a projector to show Seahawks games) the owners promote socializing within the taproom. Visitors say this creates a friendly atmosphere and people are often found talking to each other by the end of their first beer!

The taproom is open daily from 11 am to 10 pm. Brewery tours are available on Thursdays at 6pm for $5, this includes a souvenir glass and tasting.

Broadway

this market offers not only local, high-quality fresh produce, but also hot food vendors and artisans! Broadway street offers café seating, live music, and you can check out the historic theaters while you stroll along Broadway.

The Broadway Farmer’s Market is open on Thursdays from May until October. Check their website for more information on exact times and special events.

Narrows Brewing Company 

This waterfront taproom and brewery is part of the historic mill building at Tacoma’s Narrows Marina. Visitors say between its view out onto the calming waters of Puget Sound and the collection of 14 different craft beers this is a must see. With the brewery visible from the taproom there is not a boring seat in the place.

Monday through Thursday the taproom is open from 4 to 9 pm. On Friday and Saturday, they open at noon and close at 11, while on Sunday they are only open from noon until 6 pm.

Odd Otter Brewing Company

 

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They offer many different types of beers on tap and on any given night of the week they have trivia, karaoke, open mic nights, and live music, check their site to see what is going on during your visit. Recent visitors suggest trying their Ottzel Quatzel Pale Ale which won gold at the Washington Beer Awards in 2018.

Monday through Friday they are open from 2 pm to 2 am. On Saturday and Sunday, they open at 11 am and close at 2 am. Children are allowed on the premises until 9 pm.

Point Ruston

The Point Ruston Farmer’s Market is surrounded by Commencement Bay, miles of walking trails, and provides a variety of fresh produce, foods, and flowers. Plan for a full day of fun here!

The Point Ruston Farmer’s Market is open on Sundays from June until the end of September, 10 am to 3 pm.

Where should you stay in Tacoma?

Now that you are excited to visit this city full of things to do, the question becomes where should you stay? Have no fear, I have researched that and even included links to make the booking process as easy as possible for you! (These links go to booking.com which is the site I use when making my own reservations!)

  • Hotel Murano (if you are looking to pamper yourself, or wanting to have a romantic getaway)
  • Clarion Inn  (if you are traveling with your four-legged family members)
  • Silver Cloud Inn (if you want a waterfront location)
  • Quality Inn & Suites (the most commonly recommended hotel, and also the highest rated budget-friendly hotel)

What do you think?

Between the amazing attractions in Tacoma, the temperate weather, and the ease of access to nearby cities of interest, I think Tacoma is a wonderful location to find yourself in!

Have you been to Tacoma? Which of these activities would you rate as the best?

Leave us a comment to let us know!

11 Top Things To do in Tacoma Washington

11 TOP THINGS TO DO IN TACOMA WASHINGTON

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