12 Fun Things to Do in Tacoma, Washington

View of Tacoma with Mount Rainier at sunset
Meleah Reardon Photography / Getty Images

While it sometimes gets overlooked in favor of its larger neighbor, Seattle, Tacoma, Washington state's largest port, has plenty to offer in its own right. In the late 19th-century, the city served as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Not only can you still visit the beautiful old station, but you can also explore world-class museums, old-growth forests, beaches, and enjoy the scenic waterfront and mountain views. 

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Walk Across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Tacoma Narrows Bridge, WA
Veni / Getty Images
Address
Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Washington 98335, USA

If you luck out on a spell of good weather, walking across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is a fantastic way to spend a morning or afternoon. The bridge sits 200 feet above the Puget Sound and from this vantage point you can take in fantastic views of the city of Tacoma and, on a clear day, the impressive peak of Mount Rainier looming in the distance.

The best way to get on the bridge is to start at War Memorial Park and cross Jackson Avenue to find the bridge path. You will have to walk along the freeway, but a barrier separates the traffic from the pedestrian path and once you get onto the bridge, the views will be worth it. You'll see the Olympic Mountains and might even be able to spot seals in the water. If you're walking round-trip, the distance is about four miles so make sure you check the weather and have a plan for how far you're going to walk.

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Explore 5 Mile Drive

Point Defiance Park

TripSavvy / Kristin Kendle

Address
Five Mile Dr, Tacoma, WA 98407, USA

If you're up for a drive, you can explore the scenic 5 miles of roads that wind through Point Defiance, the area of Tacoma that juts out into Puget Sound, offering beautiful views of the water, mountains, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It is made up of an inner loop, which connects attractions like Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, the rhododendron gardens, and Owen Beach, and an outer loop, which is only open to cars Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you'd rather park and stretch your legs, there are many well-marked trails for hiking and cycling and you'll find many locals getting in their daily exercise with a side helping of old-growth forest scenery.

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Tour America's Car Museum

Entrance to LeMay, America's Car Museum in Tacoma, WA

Gregobagel / Getty Images

Address
2702 E D St, Tacoma, WA 98421, USA
Phone +1 253-779-8490

 

4.5

This vast museum focuses on automobiles and explores the impact they have had on American culture. The museum's permanent collection shows off everything from a 1906 Cadillac to a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray to custom vehicles from movies. Special exhibitions will change throughout the year but have recently included historic BMWs and NASCAR vehicles. The LeMay Museum includes indoor and outdoor spaces for special events, car shows, and concerts. 

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Visit the Washington State History Museum

An exhibit at the Washington State History Museum

Lamb Family Photos / Flickr

Address
1911 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA
Phone +1 253-272-3500

The Washington State History Museum, located on the waterfront in downtown Tacoma, displays a fascinating collection of artifacts from the state's history. You'll find exhibits that feature Native American art and people, early European settlement, state industry and labor, and geology. In addition to the permanent collection, the WSHS always offers a variety of special exhibitions on subjects ranging from Lewis and Clark in the Northwest to the photography of Edward S. Curtis.

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05 of 12

Browse the Galleries at Tacoma Art Museum

Outside the Tacoma Museum of Art in Tacoma, WA

Barry Winiker / Getty Images

Address
1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA
Phone +1 253-272-4258

The new and improved Tacoma Art Museum almost doubles the amount of exhibition space found at the previous museum facility. As visitors meander through the galleries, they will move upward from street level to the second floor. If you are ​a fan of Chihuly glass art, the Tacoma Art Museum features a more extensive collection than you will find inside the Museum of Glass.

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See Animals at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Beluga whale in the viewing window at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

 Gary Braasch / Getty Images

Address
5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407, USA
Phone +1 253-404-3800

Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium features animals from the Pacific Northwest and around the world. Their Rocky Shores exhibit includes adorable sea otters, tufted puffins, and clever beluga whales. In the Asia Forest Sanctuary, you can view Sumatran tigers, white-cheeked gibbons, and Asian elephants. In other exhibits, you'll see sharks, ​seahorses, jellyfish, and octopi.

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Marvel at Contemporary Glass Art

Outside view of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma

Brendan Hunter / Getty Images

Address
1801 Dock St, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA
Phone +1 253-284-4750

The Museum of Glass is the only American museum that exclusively features contemporary works made with glass—there are just three in the world with such a focus. Here, you can watch glass artists at work in the hot shop amphitheater located in the metal-clad cone attached to the museum. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass links the waterfront Museum of Glass to the museums on the south side of I-705, including the Washington State History Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum.

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See Tropical Plants at the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Carefully landscaped tulip bed surround the greenhouse of the Wright Park Conservatory in Tacoma, Washington

 John McAnulty / Getty Images 

Address
316 S G St, Tacoma, WA 98405-4733, USA
Phone +1 253-404-3975

The W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory is located in Tacoma's Wright Park. The historic glass conservatory, with a distinctive 12-sided central dome, is listed on the City of Tacoma, Washington State, and National historic registers. Exotic tropical plants and floral displays can all be seen in the lovely structure, where 3,500 panes of glass make up the dome and wings of the Conservatory.

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09 of 12

Learn About Tacoma's Historic Waterfront

Foss Waterway Seaport at sunset

 Foss Waterway Seaport

Address
705 Dock St, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA

The Waterfront Maritime Museum inside the Foss Waterway Seaport offers visitors an opportunity to view heritage displays of maritime artifacts and to watch the restoration and construction of small watercraft. Children's activities and a maritime research library are also available.

Located downtown, the Maritime Museum finished construction of its permanent venue in a section of the historic Puget Sound Freight Warehouse, which is also managed by the Foss Waterway Seaport Project. Filled with historic wooden boats, exhibits highlight a range of local legends, from the nautical milestones of the Puyallup tribes, who navigated the river for over a millennia, to the railway station that marked the end of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century. The museum also delves into the underwater world with whale skeletons and educates visitors on the evolution of the area's fishing industry.

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Gamble at Emerald Queen Casino

The Emerald Queen Casino at sunset

 Emerald Queen Casino

Address
5700 Pacific Hwy E, Fife, WA 98424-2515, USA
Phone +1 253-594-7777

Tacoma is home to not one, but two, Emerald Queen locations: One in Fife and another off of I-5 in Tacoma. Both supply Vegas-style gambling, including video slots, live-action Keno, and table games including Let it Ride, Blackjack, Spanish 21, Fortune Pai Gow, Craps, Roulette, and Caribbean Stud.

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Admire Beaux-Arts Architecture at Union Station

Outside the Historic Union Station, Tacoma, Washington

Lfreytag / Getty Images

Address
Tacoma, WA 98402, USA

Tacoma's historic railroad station was once the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and it served as a train station into the 1980s. Now, the stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture serves as a lobby of a Federal Courthouse. The Tacoma building is worth visiting at any time and luckily, the lobby, which is filled with installations of Dale Chihuly's mesmerizing glass art, can be viewed on weekdays during business hours.

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Drink a Beer Inside a Tea Pot

Exterior of World Famous Bob's Java Jive

 Kenji Ross / Flickr 

Address
2102 S Tacoma Way, Tacoma, WA 98409-7515, USA
Phone +1 253-475-9843

Bear with us here, but where else but Tacoma can you literally have a drink inside a giant building shaped like a teapot? Bob's Java Jive is a giant teapot-shaped dive that opened in 1927 and now holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It certainly makes for a memorable photo opportunity.

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Having Fun Times in Tacoma, Washington