Free things to do in Tacoma are plentiful, especially in the downtown area. Tacoma's free attractions largely gravitate toward art, but of course include many parks to visit, museums with free days, and more.
A highlight of any visit to Tacoma is to visit the Dale Chihuly architectural art glass installations, many of which are free. Chihuly, known worldwide for his monumental glass installations in parks, botanical gardens and museums, was born in Tacoma. He has developed and placed art glass public exhibitions all over the world including Venice, Jerusalem, and Montreal.
Walking through downtown Tacoma is the perfect way to view several installations by glass artist Dale Chihuly for free. Take a self-guided tour using your cell phone at the 13 stops at five locations in Tacoma’s Museum District. At each stop, you'll enter the three-digit number listed on the EAR for ART label or on the map in the brochure. Throughout the tour, you will hear Dale Chihuly talk about his work and artistic processes.
Tour stops include the Tacoma Art Museum (costs to go past the reception desk, but not to step inside), Union Station, Bridge of Glass, art galleries, and a promenade along the Thea Foss Waterway—all free.
If you don't want to walk all around downtown, visiting single attractions is also free. Union Station is a federal courthouse (so make sure you have an ID on you as you'll be checked at the door), but its rotunda is open to the public and has a number of installations by Chihuly to view, as well as beautiful views of the Port of Tacoma, Mt. Rainier, and marinas. The huge central glass chandelier is best viewed from the second floor.
You can get onto the Bridge of Glass by going behind the Washington State History Museum and it is completely free to view. There are many pieces of Chihuly glass artwork on the Bridge, more than you will find at most exhibitions, including a ceiling, two giant blue towers and a wall filled with glass sculptures. The views of Mt Rainier and downtown are great during the day. At night the whole bridge is lit for a magical view of the art.
If you go behind the Museum of Glass, there is a promenade along the Thea Foss Waterway that passes by several marinas, at least one restaurant and leads down to the Murray Morgan Bridge. The views of the water and boats are pleasant, it's not overcrowded, and it's a great short walk to add to viewing the glass downtown.
The Waterfront in Tacoma is free to stroll and is one of the best places to walk in town. There are several small parks along the paved path to stop and admire the view, watch boats come and go from the port, or even see the occasional sea lion. The Foss Waterway Seaport is a museum worth spending some time touring. There are exhibits covering Tacoma maritime history, actual boats, and touch tanks with sealife. Every Third Thursday of the month the Seaport is open late (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and admission is free
Point Defiance is no ordinary park. There are a number of non-free attractions here, like the zoo, but there are many free things to do as well. A Japanese garden, Five Mile Drive, and Owen Beach are just a few examples. Owen Beach is one of the best beaches in Tacoma and has a boardwalk as well as a sandy beach to relax on.
Five Mile Drive’s outer loop is closed to vehicle traffic so that walkers, runners, and cyclists are able to enjoy this forest experience free from cars on:
- Saturday and Sunday until 1 p.m.
- Monday thru Friday until 10 a.m.
Go to a Park
Tacoma is filled with parks that offer a range of different experiences. Playgrounds and spray grounds (open during warmer months) are highlights at Wright Park, Titlow Beach Park, and Kandle Park.
If you're looking for a hike, look to Swan Creek or Snake Lake (or even walk the Narrows Bridge by parking at War Memorial Park). You'll be walking 200 feet above the Puget Sound and can look down to see ship and boat traffic and look out to see the mountains on this level, paved path.
Tour Metropolitan Market
Metropolitan Market, a favorite local grocery store, is a treasure trove of free food experiences. There are almost always cheese samples out to taste, but there are free wine tasting events regularly, too (check the events calendar available in bins near the cash registers).
Riding the LINK light rail is a fun free thing to do, especially if you have kids because it's like taking a little train ride. The LINK is always free and trains arrive every 10-30 minutes depending on the time of day. The route travels between 10th and Commerce and the Tacoma Dome, largely along Pacific Avenue.
Along the way, you'll get views of the Tacoma Dome, Union Station, Washington State History Museum, Tacoma Trade and Convention Center, and the Theater District.
Tacoma Art Walk
The third Thursday of each month is the Tacoma Art Walk. Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum, and the Washington State History Museum are all free during selected hours for this evening event. Downtown art galleries stay open late and often host artist openings during Art Walk.
- The Washington State History Museum offers free admission from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- The Foss Waterway Seaport has free admission from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- The Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass are free from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Stroll the Arboretum
The W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park features over 250 individual plant species and hundreds of stunning orchids always in bloom. You'll wander through paths shaded by over 700 mature trees, both local varieties and international trees. The conservatory, opened in 1908, is filled with warmer weather plants. Admission is free but a suggested $3 donation is gladly accepted.
You can climb the Port of Tacoma's observation deck to watch how they load cargo ships. On scheduled days you can take a free tour of the Port of Tacoma to learn about the history of the port and all its activity. The Port likes to educate the public so they offer free, guided bus tours of port operations nearly every month. Also, watch for free boat tours once a year.