Planning on visiting Washington State? Before heading straight for Seattle, consider making your way to Tacoma, a vibrant city overlooking Puget Sound. From art galleries to lovely parks, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Tacoma, WA.
Tacoma is home to fantastic museums focusing on the Pacific Northwest. You’ll find lovely parks for picnics and outdoor fun with the family, including Point Defiance Park. And if you love old cars, don’t miss the LeMay Car Museum and some beautiful old classics.
Hike through old-growth forests, visit historic sites, and marvel at some incredible glassworks by glass artist Dale Chihuly: Tacoma is calling! Pack your bags and start planning your trip with this comprehensive guide to the best places to visit in Tacoma, WA.
Best places to visit in Tacoma, WA
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Visiting Tacoma with your family? Your first stop should be the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Located in Point Defiance Park, the sanctuary is home to a wealth of animals across a variety of species. Established in 1905, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has wonderful animal exhibits. It also has award-winning conservation and breeding programs for certain species.
Wander around Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and experience various parts of the natural world, from the Arctic to Asia. See polar bears at play in the Arctic Tundra area and meet Clara, the sea otter, at the Pacific Ocean exhibit.
Marvel at the beauty of Sumatran and Malayan tigers and learn more about the endangered red wolf in the Red Wolf Woods. You can even adopt a red wolf of your own!
The little ones will love the Nature Play Garden, where they can learn to appreciate nature on their terms. Take them on the vintage carousel for a fun ride on a zebra.
Point Defiance Park
Located on the banks of Puget Sound at the northern end of the city, Point Defiance Park is one of Tacoma’s gems. You’ll find something for everyone here, from biking and hiking trails to a marvelous aquarium.
Point Defiance Park is home to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and a lovely ocean beach where you can swim and sunbathe. Hike and mountain bike on trails through a beautiful old-growth forest and launch canoes and kayaks at a small marina.
The urban park boasts a wealth of fauna and flora and some stunning formal gardens. Keep an eye out for the animals that call Point Defiance Park home, such as red foxes, mule deer, and wolves.
Enjoy ranger-led nature walks through the park to learn about the importance of the ecosystems to the Pacific Northwest.
Museum of Glass
Tacoma has long been associated with glassmaking, and the Museum of Glass is the place to learn about this fascinating art form. The striking building is an artwork in itself, with an eye-catching conical design created by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson.
Wander around the galleries at the Museum of Glass and marvel at the amazing collections of 20th and 21st-century glass art. Don’t miss the exhibition of the works by Dale Chihuly, the world’s most renowned glassblowing artist—and a Tacoma native! Discover more about the art of glassblowing and watch glass-blowing demonstrations in the spacious amphitheater.
There’s a fantastic Kids Design Glass program featuring glassworks inspired by the drawings of children as inspiration. Visit the gift shop on your way out and take a few souvenirs home for family and friends.
Impressed by Dale Chihuly’s works? The Chihuly Bridge of Glass will leave you gob-smacked. Spanning the Foss Waterway and Interstate 705, the 500-foot pedestrian Chihuly Bridge of Glass links the Museum of Glass to Museum Row.
Tacoma Art Museum
Want to see more of Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass art? Make your way to the Tacoma Art Museum, where you’ll find his largest collection. Founded in 1935, the Tacoma Art Museum focuses on Northwestern art with an impressive collection of over 4,500 pieces.
Marvel at an extraordinary collection of jewelry by Northwestern artists and gaze at paintings by Degas, Pissarro, and Renoir. There’re some amazing Japanese woodblock prints from the 17th century and works by Georgia O’Keefe and Frederic Remington. The Tacoma Art Museum is also home to a remarkable collection of Western American art.
The Tacoma Art Museum is based in a spectacular building downtown. Join fun events like Neighborhood Nights every Thursday evening.
Washington State History Museum
Dive into the vivid history of Washington State with a visit to the Washington State History Museum. Located on Museum Row in downtown Tacoma, the Washington State History Museum draws on the cultural events that shaped the state as it is today.
Start your tour with the Great Hall of Washington History exhibit. Explore some amazing ancient artifacts relating to the state’s early history and migration into Washington. Learn about the Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest and the role they played in the history of the state. There’s a thought-provoking exhibit on the impact of the incarceration of the Japanese during World War II.
Don’t miss the fantastic model train layout on the top floor of the Washington State History Museum. The largest of its kind in the world, the model covers 1,700 square feet and displays scenes from 1950s Washington. Spot some of the state’s landmarks like Tacoma Union Station, the tunnel to Stampede Pass, and the towering Asarco stack.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Another fascinating part of Washington State’s history is the story of Fort Nisqually. The Fort Nisqually Living History Museum tells the story of the for that was once an important post for Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trading and farming.
After falling into disrepair, Fort Nisqually was restored to its former glory in the 1930s. Today, you can explore the buildings that were once part of the fort. Wander around a trade store and a working blacksmith’s shop. Visit an old kitchen and its garden and a dwelling house. Don’t miss the still-standing keeper’s house and granary.
Enjoy a variety of fun, interactive activities like baking bread and churning butter. Visit the small gift shop to pick up some souvenirs for family and friends.
LeMay – America’s Car Museum
If you love classic old cars, then the LeMay – America’s Car Museum should not be missed on your trip to Tacoma, WA! Owned by Harold and Nancy LeMay, the LeMay – America’s Car Museum is a culmination of their life’s work of collecting automobiles.
The best way to explore the LeMay – America’s Car Museum is on a guided tour. A knowledgeable docent will lead you through the world’s largest private car collection, where you’ll see a fantastic range of vehicles from all eras.
Over 500 cars, buses, motorcycles, trucks, and motorhomes are on display at any one time; be prepared to spend a few hours wandering around. You can also enjoy interactive experiences like riding in a racing simulator.
Odd Otter Brewing Company
Love a cold beer? Make a stop at the Odd Otter Brewing Company, where you’ll find an interesting and unusual range of locally made craft beer. Operated by a group of local war veterans, the award-winning craft brewery focuses on producing a range of delicious ales, IPAs, pilsners, and seltzers.
Head downtown to the bright blue taproom to taste some of Odd Otter Brewing Company’s top tipple. Purchase one of the homebrewing kits from the taproom and try your hand at brewing your own Odd Otter beer.
Stock up on Odd Otter apparel and merchandise from the online shop and give your beer-loving friends some great gifts.
Bluebeard Coffee Roasters
Need a caffeine fix after your visit to the brewpub? Head to Bluebeard Coffee Roasters on 6th Avenue for a great cup of coffee. Light and bright, Bluebeard Coffee Roasters has floor-to-ceiling windows and lovely views. It’s a good place to relax over a coffee and watch the world go by.
Opened in 2011, Bluebeard Coffee Roasters produces a range of world-class coffees for coffee lovers in and around Tacoma. The coffee is roasted and brewed using ethically sourced beans from countries around the world.
Kick back over an espresso from Ethiopia or a mocha java in the sunny coffee shop in downtown Tacoma. Stock up on your favorite roasted beans or some cool Bluebeard Coffee merchandise like a beanie or a peak cap.
Tuck into a fresh seafood platter at the award-winning Duke’s Seafood restaurant. Dotted about Puget Sound, Duke’s Seafood franchise hails from Seattle and is renowned for its sea-smackingly fresh and sustainably caught seafood.
Located in the heart of the bustling waterfront, Duke’s Seafood has a beautiful setting overlooking the water. Grab a seaside table with views of the Sound and enjoy fresh seafood from the Northwest and Alaska. You’ll find it hard to decide between the local Whidbey Island mussels and the fresh Dungeness crab. Try the award-winning seafood chowder.
If you prefer land-based food, there’re also grass-fed steaks, burgers, and all-natural cage-free chicken on the menu. Enjoy a pre-dinner bourbon or signature cocktail at the bar.
If you’re exploring Tacoma’s Theater District, head to the nearby Wright Park to enjoy a few hours in a beautiful urban park. Located on the north side of downtown, Wright Park spans 27 acres and is home to several species of trees. Learn more about each species of tree kind through interpretive boards throughout the park.
Wright Park is also home to the W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. You’ll find a spectacular display of flowering plants year-round, and it’s well worth a visit if you’ve got green fingers! The kids can play on the playground and large splash pad.
Take a picnic basket and head to the northwest side of Wright Park, where you’ll find a tranquil pond and fountain and a lovely spot for lunch.
Foss Waterway Seaport
Get a glimpse into the rich marine heritage of Tacoma and the vital role of boat and ship building throughout its history at the Foss Waterway Seaport. Located in a century-old wheat warehouse overlooking the water, the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum has interesting exhibits that’ll delight boat lovers.
Learn the story behind the warehouse in which the museum is housed and how it stocked wheat for transport by ship out of Tacoma. Marvel at the amazing models of commercial vessels made by local shipbuilders. Other fascinating artifacts include early scuba equipment, ancient marine debris, vintage fishing lures, and handcrafted canoes.
Don’t miss visiting the working heritage wooden boat shop, where you can watch volunteer shipbuilders hard at work and ask them questions. There’s also a fun, interactive craft area for kids of all ages.
Tacoma Nature Center
Get up close to nature and enjoy a few outdoor activities at the Tacoma Nature Center. Centered around Snake Lake and its lush wetlands, this 71-acre nature preserve is home to a wealth of fauna and flora.
Make your first stop at the interpretative center, where you’ll find excellent displays about the ecosystems and wildlife in the Tacoma Nature Center. Hike the many well-marked paths in the forest and try to spot some wildlife. Watch out for black-tailed deer, raccoons, black-tailed deer, and cottontail rabbits. If you’re a birder, keep an eye out for Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks.
Take the kids to the Discovery Pond, where they can climb through logs, scramble over boulders, and play in a treehouse. Knowledgeable naturalists are on hand to answer any questions the little ones have.
Browns Point Lighthouse Park
Another lovely spot for a relaxing picnic with the family is Browns Point Lighthouse Park. Located on the tip of historic Browns Point, Browns Point Lighthouse Park has spectacular views over the Sound. Browns Point Lighthouse stands sentry at the east entrance to Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay.
The old buildings on the peninsula have been beautifully restored, including the Light Keeper’s Cottage and boathouse. The restored keeper’s cottage is home to a small history museum. Pay a visit and learn about the lighthouse’s history. In the boathouse, see a replica surfboat and various historic maritime items on display.
Modern-day lighthouse keepers conduct tours and relay stories of the rich maritime heritage of Puget Sound and its lighthouse. Experience the life of a lighthouse keeper and sign up for a one-week tour of duty and a stay in the Light Keeper’s Cottage.
If you’ve got the urge to scuba dive on your Tacoma itinerary, then head to Titlow Park, a small park on 6th Avenue. This 75-acre Titlow Park is based right next to an estuary lagoon and offers a wealth of fun water activities. Once a roaring luxury resort that closed in the 1920s, the area later became a public park with loads of amenities.
The lovely beach on the edge of the lagoon is Titlow Park’s biggest drawcard. It has a sandy shoreline and fantastic views of the Narrows Bridge and the Olympic Peninsula. Launch your kayak or paddleboard at the end of the road near the railroad tracks, or explore the lagoon underwater with a guided scuba dive.
The little ones can enjoy a playground with a splash pad, and basketball and tennis courts for teenagers and adults.
Located in Point Defiance Park, Owen Beach is a peaceful spot to spend the day on the beach. Boasting breathtaking views of Vashon Island, Owen Beach has a pebbly shoreline bordered by grassy lawns with picnic tables. A kiosk sells refreshments when you need a snack or drink.
Spend the day sunbathing and braving the icy waters for a swim. Rent a kayak and explore the crystal-clear waters along the shoreline of Owen Beach. Enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the tables on the grassy lawns while you watch the beachgoers soak up the sun.
Take a relaxing stroll south along the paved Owen Beach Promenade to the Point Defiance Marina. Rent a boat from the marina and enjoy a meal at Anthony’s at Point Defiance.
Venture out of Tacoma and take a day trip to the nearby town of Gig Harbor. Named after the bay on Puget Sound, Gig Harbor is a charming maritime village with beautiful views of the snowcapped Mount Rainier.
This picturesque waterside town has a rich historical maritime history that you can explore at the Harbor History Museum. Soak up the culture of Gig Harbor with a stroll along the Waterfront History Walk. Enjoy a drink at one of the enchanting waterfront taverns. Browse the local boutiques that line the waterfront. Take a tour of Heritage Distilling and try some famous Brown Sugar Bourbon.
Hit the water on a Gig Harbor Gondola or rent an electric boat, kayak, or standup paddleboard and explore the waterfront.