Tacoma is a beautiful port city and is the third-largest city in Washington state. Home to the stunning Commencement Bay, it combines natural, cultural, political, and historical sites with great entertainment options. The city got its name after the nearby Mount Rainier, originally called Tahoma, and is a short distance from Mount Rainier National Park.
Known as the City of Destiny due to being the western end of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century, Tacoma is a bustling metropolis. It has the state’s highest density of art and history museums, including Washington State History Museum, Museum of Glass, and America’s Car Museum.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Tacoma (WA)
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Located about 48 miles southeast of Tacoma, the Mount Rainier National Park is the ultimate destination for alpine climbing and regular recreation like hiking and picnics. Established in 1899, this 236,381-acre park is the fifth national park in America and attracts almost 1,5 million visitors each year.
The main feature is the dreamlike Mount Rainier, a 14,411-foot active volcano also known as Tacoma. Surrounded by valleys, waterfalls, and an enormous forest, Mount Rainier is one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. The park offers the Wonderland Trail circling the mountain and Mount Rainier Gondola, showcasing this natural wonder’s beauty.
2. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is a 29-acre area of zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden combined. Founded in 1905 with the aquarium joining in 1935, this is the first-rate attraction for any Tacoma’s visitor. It’s home to about 367 animal species, including many representatives of the marine world. There are so many animals and creatures to engage with, from octopuses to red wolves to jellyfish to musk.
A few of the coolest exhibits include Asian Forest Sanctuary with tigers, leopards, primates, and elephants. Check out the Arctic Tundra and Rocky Shores exhibit with polar bears, walruses, an Arctic fox, and friendly sea otters. You’ll see green sea turtles, sharks, eagle rays, and tropical fish in the aquarium. Kids can enjoy the camel ride and a few playground areas. If traveling in winter, don’t miss the chance to see a fantastic holiday show called Zoolights.
3. Emerald Queen Casino I-5 in Tacoma
Looking for a fun night out? Head out to the Emerald Queen Casino I-5, a Native American Casino with a modern twist and touch. This 300,000-square space is full of fun gambling, delicious dining, and live entertainment.
Feel like in Las Vegas and indulge in over 1600 gaming machines, including Progressive Jackpot and Keno, and about 56 table games, like Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette. Get some energy from one of the tasty dishes in either the casino’s International Restaurant & Buffet, Asian Café, or Palace Deli. After that, continue your fun at the Showroom, 21,000-square-foot event center, or the Bridge Nightclub with live local bands every Friday and Saturday night.
4. Point Defiance Park
Point Defiance Park is a 760-acre urban park attracting more than three million visitors each year. It’s a genuine Tacoma gem, being home to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, many gardens, hiking trails, saltwater beaches, and a beautiful waterfront promenade.
It’s also home to a large forest area with excellent hiking trails and magnificent 450-year-old Douglas fir trees. Visitors can head out on Point Defiance Park Outer Loop 7km trail, featuring beautiful wildflowers. Make sure to visit the Gig Harbor Viewpoint Site for a short lunch break and incredible views of Gig Harbor. There’s an off-leash dog park for those traveling with pets, where you can spend quality time with your furry friend.
5. Tacoma Dome
Tacoma Dome isn’t an architectural or historical site, but an impressive multi-purpose arena in Tacoma. Opened in 1983 and completely renovated in 2018, it’s the world’s largest arena with a wooden dome. Its maximum capacity is 23,000 people, but the cool feature about this stadium is that seating is flexible and adjusted based on the game or event.
At Tacoma Dome, visitors can enjoy various concerts and shows (the first one ever was David Bowie’s concert), American football games, and basketball games as well. It’s an extraordinary building with many restaurants and shops nearby for visitors to enjoy after the entertainment.
6. Wild Waves Theme and Water Park
Grab your swimsuit and indulge in the summer fun in Wild Waves Theme and Water Park, located in Federal Way, only 20 minutes from Tacoma. This leisure paradise is a combination of an amusement park and a water park (one of the two in the whole state!). The park opened in 1977 under Byron Betts’ patronage and has been a top-notch summer destination.
The 70-acre park has more than 50 rides and slides, including the Shark Frenzy thrill ride, the Mountain Dew Triple Slide Complex with three fabulous twisters, and the Hooks Lagoon for young explorers. You’ll be glad to jump around in the park’s wave pool equipped with the new WaveTech wave-making technology, float around in the Lazy River, or watch a family-friendly movie in the park’s Dive-In Movies.
7. Museum of Glass
Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is a 75,000-square-foot art museum dedicated to contemporary glass art. 13,000-square-foot gallery space will spark any visitor’s curiosity and creativity. Founded in 2002, the museum’s design results from Arthur Erickson’s work, an architect from Canada. He designed impressive concrete stairways spiraling around the building and three reflecting pools, which perfectly match Tacoma’s surroundings.
The best museum’s feature is the 7,000-square-foot Hot Shop Amphitheater, the world’s largest hot shop where all the action takes place. There, visitors can watch glass artists at work while describing this fascinating process to the public. You can create your glass souvenir in the Education Studio and grab a bite at the Museum Café.
8. LeMay – America’s Car Museum
America’s Car Museum, located right next to the Tacoma Dome, opened in 2012 with a massive donation from Harold LeMay. He was the proud owner of the world’s most extensive private car collection, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. In the present day, the museum attracts many domestic and international visitors as one of the ten best automotive museums in the world.
Offering fantastic views of Downtown Tacoma and the Olympic Mountains as a bonus, the museum features 165,000 square feet of exhibit space. Visitors can appreciate a collection of more than 350 cars and a motorbike gallery. All vehicles on display have a distinguished status because of their speed, technology, design, and history. After exploring the museum, stop by at a cafe with tasty hamburgers and root beer.
9. Owen Beach
Unwind and let yourself go at Owen Beach, located in Point Defiance Park, ideal in any season. It’s a vast stretch of beach with magnificent views of Mount Rainier and the surroundings. If you pay attention, there’s a chance to spot a humpback whale or local harbor seals.
In the summer you can swim in the crystal-clear water, go paddling or kayaking, sunbathe, or have a lovely picnic. In the colder months, pebbly Owen Beach is still an attractive destination with a 2-mile paved trail for a pleasant stroll.
10. Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Children’s Museum of Tacoma opened to the public in 1986 and moved to its current location in 2012. Today, this museum is accessible to anyone as it works on the “pay as you will” principle. It celebrates the kid’s ability to learn through play through innovative design and hands-on experiences.
Ideal for families with younger kids, the museum consists of five areas – Woods, Water, Voyager, Invention, and Becka’s Studio. These areas help children sparking their creativity, developing social skills, critical thinking, and more. The exhibits offer interactive and engaging activities, like water tables, an indoor playground, a building station with tools, an art station, a slide, a treehouse, and a spaceship.
11. Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience
Debbie Dolittle’s Animal Experience is an indoor open zoo located in Tacoma’s Parkland neighborhood, open to visitors year-round. People travel here from afar for an interactive experience of petting farm pets and exotic animals. The petting zoo, named after the owner’s late wife Debbie Doolittle, is home to about 30 different breeds.
At this smaller zoo, you can see many miniature and baby animals. Some of them include cows, lambs, wallabies, bunnies, capybaras, sloths, goats, and even sea otters. Spend a few dollars on a cup of vegetables, which you can feed to the lovely animals. Take a pony ride or do some yoga with goats.
12. Tacoma Art Museum
Founded in 1935, Tacoma Art Museum has been bringing people together through art and focusing on artworks and artists from America’s Pacific Northwest region. The museum moved to a new bigger location in 2013. It offers over 5,000 artworks on display, including studio art glass, paintings, and sculptures.
The museum is proudly home to some unique exhibits, like the collection of Tacoma native Dale Chihuly’s glass artwork, a compelling collection of jewelry made by Northwest artists, and more. Visitors can create art and learn about it at an interactive TAM Studio, which offers work stations with art supplies and tools.
13. Washington State History Museum
Washington State History Museum opened in 1996 and is located next to the historic Union Station. It’s an interactive museum on Washington state’s history. Visitors can look forward to three permanent exhibits, a few rotating displays, and an interactive experience with recorded messages and other fascinating technology.
Among lots of artifacts and historical data, visitors can enjoy the state’s most extensive model train collection, which recreates Union Station scenes and brings you back in time. There are also moon picture exhibits, a display of local tribes’ languages, and a hands-on History Lab. Don’t forget to buy a Tacomas souvenir at the gift shop.
14. Greater Tacoma Convention Center
Attending an event at Greater Tacoma Convention Center is a marvelous experience. The complex opened in 2004 and has over 118,000 square feet of space for meetings, conferences, exhibitions, social gatherings like balls, and holiday events. It’s the second-largest space of such kind in Western Washington.
When visiting the Center, you can expect modern architecture, extraordinary interior design with glass walls, and striking views of Mount Rainier and Commencement Bay. The Center’s location is very convenient, so you’ll have plenty of dining and entertainment options after the event.
15. Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Tacoma Narrows Bridge is a pair of twin suspension bridges stretching across the Tacoma Narrows strait. They connect the city with the Kitsap Peninsula and offer the way to and from Gig Harbor. Cross the bridge in fair weather and derive pleasure from the gorgeous views that open up.
The bridge has a fascinating history. The original bridge, called Galloping Gertie, opened in 1940 and collapsed four months later due to strong winds. The new replacement bridge opened in 1950, and the second twin bridge opened in 2007 to better regulate the traffic. Today they are the world’s fifth-longest suspension bridges.
16. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is the ultimate destination for those who want to get a glimpse of daily life in the 1850s. Fort Nisqually was a fur trading and farming post, owned and operated by The Hudson’s Bay Trading Company. Located originally between Tacoma and Olympia, it was the first European settlement in the area.
Today the complex is located in Point Defiance Park and represents seven historically furnished buildings, including The Fort Nisqually Granary and the Factor’s House. These two buildings are originals, moved to the current location. The Granary is the state’s oldest building. In the museum, visitors will come across interactive historical exhibits, with museum staff dressed in period clothing and interpreting life on Puget Sound in the mid-19th century.
17. W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory
According to Tacoma Weekly magazine, W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, located in historic Wright Park, is the best place to relax in Tacoma. This Victorian-style conservatory, opened in 1908, is an important historical, architectural, and botanical landmark.
There’s a permanent exhibit of about 250 species of exotic tropical plants and a few seasonal shows with almost 500 blooming plants on display. Occasionally, the garden offers Yoga & Meditation class for its visitors. The building is an integral part of the experience, featuring a twelve-sided dome made up of 3,000 glass panes.
18. Thornewood Castle
Thornewood Castle, located in Lakewood (15 minutes from Tacoma), is a former private castle and a current bed & breakfast. Built by Chester Thorne in 1911 from the remains of the 15th-century English house, the mansion is one of the few genuine private castle estates in the U.S.
The 27,000-square-foot mansion has three stories, 54 rooms, crystal windows, and stained glass panels. There is also a 35-acre English garden with gorgeous plants, secret smaller gardens, and passages outside the house. Known for its paranormal activity, the castle attracts many curious visitors. After being featured in Rose Red, Stephen King’s horror movie, it gained even more popularity.
19. Cheney Stadium
The baseball Cheney Stadium, which opened in 1960, is home to Tacoma Rainiers and two soccer clubs – Tacoma Defiance and OL Reign. With a capacity of 6,500 seats, all of which offer amazing views, the stadium is the city’s ultimate sports site. The stadium got its name after Ben Cheney, a local businessman who introduced baseball minor league to Tacoma.
The stadium offers a classic old-school style feeling. Its construction took less than four months, and the workers used only local materials with Tacoma surroundings in mind. While enjoying a thrilling game and cheering in the American style, grab some food and drinks from the stadium’s concession stands. There’s a wide selection of beer and wines and traditional game food, like hamburgers, hot dogs, and chips.
20. Brown & Haley Factory Store
If you’re a fan of Brown & Haley’s world-famous Almond Roca, a log-shaped buttercrunch treat, then visit their headquarters in Tacoma. If you’re not familiar with their candy, the Brown & Haley Factory Store is a must-visit site, as they offer free samples of every treat in store. To find the store, look out for the vintage neon pink sign.
Two friends founded the company in 1912, and it has been producing delicious chocolate and other confections since then. In Tacoma’s outlet store, you’ll find many variations of Roca, Mountain Bars (aka Mt. Tahoma Bars), Caramel Clusters, Buttercrunch Thins, and more. Visitors can find items that aren’t available in other stores or buy the so-called “factory seconds” – candy unsuitable for retail but still delicious and offered with a discount.
21. LeMay Collections at Marymount
Reserve a few hours to spend at the LeMay Collections at Marymount Museum, located at the historic Marymount Military Academy. It’s separate from the similar museum in downtown Tacoma and run by LeMay Family Collection Foundation. Some of the museum’s unique features are a Rodin Sculpture Garden and an annual LeMay Car Show.
The museum is home to Harold and Nancy LeMay’s vintage car collection, with about 500 vehicles on display. There are also trucks, military vehicles, fire trucks, RVs, and buses. There are many classic American memorabilia for those who might not be into cars, like toys, antiques, vintage radios, farm tools, and more.
22. Foss Waterway Seaport
Foss Waterway Seaport is a museum located on the historic Thea Foss Waterfront. It showcases Tacoma’s history and Puget Sound’s maritime heritage while celebrating the community’s art, culture, and skills. Founded in 1996, the museum is home to many historical artifacts, with some unique items like Jacques Costeau’s original diving suit.
Visitors can get to know marine life and birds by exploring the museum’s Touch Tanks, check out Heritage Boat Shop to explore the craft of working on a wood boat or enjoy the views of the gorgeous waterfront area. The youngest guests can explore the Lego boat with pirate figures and materials for building a ship.
23. Pacific Bonsai Museum
Pacific Bonsai Museum, located in Federal Way, is only a 15-minute drive from downtown Tacoma. This stunning bonsai display has more than 150 types of trees from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, and the U.S. It is home to the broadest public collection of bonsai in North America.
The museum opened in 1989, and its primary purpose has been to depict local Japanese American history and explain the cultural significance of the bonsai in World War II. You’ll enjoy a peaceful stroll in the green area with multiple bonsai trees. Most of them are outdoors, while some are in a small greenhouse. Some of the trees date back to the 1500s.
24. Tacoma Nature Center
Visiting Tacoma Nature Center is a beautiful one-day natural retreat. The 71-acre preservation area offers a tranquil experience for its visitors. The main feature is the 17-acre serpentine-shaped Snake Lake, where you’ll spot ducks, turtles, Canada geese, and snakes.
You can spot some other exciting animals on the park’s territory, like anthills, small reptiles, and bees. Enjoy a relaxing walk on the park’s trail and cross over a lovely small bridge. The kids can play on a playground built with natural elements and offering fun activities, like slides, a climbing boulder, and a treehouse.
25. Duke’s Seafood
When traveling to Tacoma and looking for mouth-watering fresh seafood, you can’t go wrong with Duke’s Seafood. Located on Ruston Way, the restaurant offers exceptional dining with a picturesque view of Commencement Bay.
Tacoma location is part of a Seattle-based chain that’s been operating for about 48 years. Visitors can look forward to delicious classics like clam chowder and crab cakes, and a few specialties like salmon pasta, Halibut covered in macadamia nuts and cucumber Mojito.