Downtown Tacoma is a relatively small area of Tacoma overall, but in the past decade, it has grown to include some of the best restaurants, landmarks and things to do in town. After a long period of downturn in the 1970s and 80s, downtown T-Town began a process of renewal and revitalization in the 1990s that has largely been successful. Today, there are several major museums, a range of dining spots, theaters, and public artwork galore. These things combine to make the downtown area a great place for a walking tour or a day or night out with a date or friends or family.
Attractions and Things to Do
Of the many things to do in Tacoma, some of the best are found in downtown. Downtown Tacoma's best things to do are mostly within walking distance of each other, but the Link Light Rail is also a great option to hop around the Pacific Avenue area. Museums in downtown include the Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass, LeMay - America's Car Museum and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. All are worth a visit, but perhaps the best all-around are Tacoma Art Museum and the car museum.
Downtown Tacoma is also an excellent place to view the many public art installations found here. The Bridge of Glass is the preeminent artwork installation but also has the practical purpose of linking downtown to Dock Street where the Museum of Glass is located. Other artwork installations can be found up and down Pacific Avenue. Union Station is also a great place to visit if it's art you seek. The architecture of the building is quite cool and to complement that, there are installations by artist Dale Chihuly throughout the building. Entrance is free.
Taking a walking tour to view the public artwork installations can be an excellent day out.
The theater district is also found downtown near the 9th and Broadway area. Here the Pantages Theater, Rialto, and Theater on the Square are linked to the rest of town via Link Light Rail and put on shows from classical music performances to jazz and blues to world-class plays. Near the Theater District, Antique Row is the best place in town to go antiquing as there are about 20 antique stores all within a couple of blocks of each other.
University of Washington - Tacoma campus is also located in the heart of downtown, across from Union Station. The campus is attractive and has a bookstore open to the public. It's also the location of the bulk of Tacoma's ghost signs (signs painted onto historical buildings that are often about a hundred or more years old).
Restaurants in downtown Tacoma include some of the best spots to eat in town - you'll find just about every kind of cuisine or price range. Cheaper options abound and include Jack in the Box, Taco del Mar, and several pretty good teriyaki spots, but the real deals here are not found at your typical chain restaurants.
For a sit-down meal of delicious yet still affordable cost, head to Harmon Brewing Co and Restaurant, Old Spaghetti Factory, or The Swiss. The Rock Wood Fired Kitchen is also headquartered in Tacoma, right next to The Swiss. The Rock also has a pizza buffet some days of the week for lunch.
For date night or other special occasions, downtown Tacoma restaurants also have you covered with options from The Melting Pot and El Gaucho to the Pacific Grill and Indochine. All of these are great options for a special occasion with a beautiful settings and amazing food as well.
Tacoma's nightlife tends toward more laid back than nearby Seattle's, but includes plenty of places to spend an evening on the town.
The Theater District at 9th and Broadway is made up of three theaters all right next door to each other. Most Friday and Saturday nights, you'll find music performances, plays, headliners or something else going on at one or more of these. Within walking distance of the theaters are several pubs and night spots, especially a few blocks down on Pacific.
Tacoma Comedy Club is also not too far from the downtown core and brings in a full range of acts, from local up to nationally known.
For local history buffs, downtown's biggest draw might be its history, which includes periods of boom and bust. During the first half of the 1900s, downtown was the place to be. Many of the top retailers were located here and so shoppers came to fill the streets on weekends. After Tacoma Mall was built in the 1960s, many of the retailers relocated, leaving downtown dilapidated and empty. For much of the '70s, '80s, and early '90s, this part of town was the last place for families or visitors.
However, in recent times, an effort has been made to gentrify this area, including bringing in cultural institutions such as the museums and fine dining establishments. Several condo buildings and upscale apartment buildings have been added since the mid-200s. While there are still patches of downtown Tacoma that remain rough around the edges, the revitalization efforts have largely made it a great place for a day or evening out.