Taking a day trip from the Tacoma area can be a great way to get to know the surrounding area better. It’s also the perfect way to get out of town for a vacation, but not have to spend money on airfare. Fortunately, there are tons of great places to go any time of year within a three-hour drive of Tacoma! These places range from other Puget Sound locations to Eastern Washington, Oregon to Canada. Or, if you want to stay in town, check out local spots like the Tacoma Art Museum or Washington State History Museum.
Only about an hour drive from Tacoma, Mt. Rainier is a great place to get in touch with nature. There are five entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park, but the Nisqually entrance is the most popular and most accessible (not all entrances can access all parts of the park). Once you enter the surrounding national park, hiking trails and scenic view spots abound. Spots like Christine Falls and Silver Falls both provide great hikes and rewarding scenery. You can even stay the night at Paradise, or at one of the campgrounds in the park. You get a pamphlet at the entrance to the park to help you locate things to do.
While Washington’s beaches are not nearly as well-known or popular as Oregon’s, Ocean Shores and West Port offer places to go and enjoy the ocean, go deep sea fishing, build a bonfire at the shore and more. Both beach towns have some shops and restaurants, but aren't as developed as Oregon beaches. Washington also has plenty of undeveloped beach towns within driving distance of Ocean Shores, as well as Long Beach to the south. For a planned community, Seabrook just north of Ocean Shores offers adorable Cape Cod appeal. And Long Beach to the south also has shops and restaurants to explore as well as exactly what it sounds like...a very long beach.
Forks is famous as the setting of the Twilight books series. While this may not be the best destination for just anyone, if you are a fan of the books or movies, this place is hard to beat. The entire town has risen to the occasion of recreating the settings of the stories in real life—visit Forks High School, Carlisle’s hospital, Bella’s house, and more. Special stores have also popped up so you can bring home all the Twilight merchandise your heart could ever desire. Located on the Olympic Peninsula.
Located in the Cascades along Highway 2, Leavenworth is a cute little Bavarian town unlike any other town in Washington. Enjoy German culture, food, and events in this atmospheric mountain resort. Even though the roots of this town are not authentically German, they might as well be. Beyond the Bavarian appeal, Leavenworth is also an amazing gateway to the area's hiking, white water rafting and other outdoorsy adventures.
In 1980, Mt. St. Helens quite literally blew its top. This makes it one of the more interesting mountains in the Northwest and it is just a 2.5 hour drive from Tacoma. As you turn off of I-5 and head into the national park area, there are stopping points along the way that offer views of the mountain and increasingly in-depth information about the mountain. Also notice the fallen trees and tree stumps that were singed in the eruption.
The Olympic National Park is a vast and wild forested area taking up the greater portion of the Olympic Peninsula. Visiting this area can entail anything from simply driving the loop around the forest to camping and hiking within it. A staggering 95% is designated as wilderness here, and the ecosystem includes beaches, rainforest, rivers, and more.
The San Juan Islands are accessible from Seattle, Anacortes, and Bellingham via ferries and offer cool getaways with some unique things to do. Whale watching is big here as orca whales frequent this area. You can venture out into the water via kayak or boat, or sometimes even spot them from the shores. Cute towns like Friday Harbor are ideal places to stay filled with shops and boutiques, but there are also lots of completely undeveloped islands such as Guemas Island where you can truly commune with nature.
Portland, Oregon, is a two to three hour drive from Tacoma. The vibe in this town is cool and laid back and residents are proud of their quirk. One of the best things about Portland is that you can park and take the MAX and light rail around most of the popular areas of town and not have to deal with parking, and the city is also very walkable. Great places to visit and hang out include Pioneer Square, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Nob Hill, the many attractions within Washington Park, and the Saturday Market. Don't miss Portland's food scene, which includes everything from stellar breakfast spots to a vast collection of food trucks.
While most of these take longer than three hours to get to, they are worth visiting. Beaches line the coast here and serve up a variety of experience. Spots like Newport, Cannon Beach, and Seaside are perfect if you want more things to do, while places like Cannon Beach are better if you want pure natural beauty.
Eastern Washington can be as short as a little over two hours to get to and as long as five or six if you venture to the eastern border of the state. There are many, many places to go for a weekend over the mountains. Just a few amazing destinations include Lake Chelan, Moses Lake, Yakima, Walla Walla, and Spokane.
Vancouver, British Columbia, is less than three hours from Tacoma via I-5. This is a cosmopolitan town with fantastic shopping, museums, and world-class attractions like the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Vancouver Aquarium. Also nearby is a fantastic place to go skiing that trumps anything location in Washington—Whistler.
Victoria, British Columbia, is not far from Vancouver and is accessible from Washington via a ferry from Port Angeles. This town is known for being quite Old World with a heavier British influence than Vancouver. Take in high tea at the Empress Hotel, visit beautiful Butchart Gardens, or walk around the lovely Old Town area.