Point Defiance Park is located at the very tip of Tacoma, which is shaped just about like a triangle jutting out into the Puget Sound. Point Defiance Park is a 760-acre forested park with a number of great green spaces and attractions located within its bounds. Go hiking, visit the zoo, hang out at a cool festival, kick back at a beach or just enjoy some time sitting in the grass with some friends—all at this lovely park in Tacoma.
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Located inside the park with picturesque views of the Puget Sound and mountains, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is not the world’s largest zoo by any means but is very worth a visit. Animal exhibits include an array of Northwest animals, as well as areas such as the Asian Forest Sanctuary and the Arctic Tundra. Long-standing favorites include the tigers, polar bears, elephants, and meerkats. This zoo is known in particular for its large cats breeding program and there are almost always several tigers, snow leopards or other cats to see growing up or playing (or napping...they like to do that too).
The aquarium shows off marine life ranging from sharks to what you would find beneath the pylons along the Waterfront. Zoo admission is cheaper for Pierce County residents, military, and children.
With big open expanses of grass at the entrance to the park, Point Defiance Park is ideal for festivals. The "Taste of Tacoma" takes place here each June and brings in live music, rides and games, and lots of food. Zoobilee takes place on the zoo grounds and is the most posh fundraiser in town with attendees donning formal wear. During the holiday season, Zoolights takes place on the zoo grounds as well and sees the entire zoo decked out in Christmas lights.
Five Mile Drive and Hiking Trails
Looping around the outer rim of the park is Five Mile Drive. The entire path is paved and has stopping points so you can take in the impressive views of the water, surrounding islands and landmasses, mountains and the Narrows Bridge. The path is open to both drivers and those on foot. Point Defiance Park is an excellent place to go hiking or walking. There are a number of dirt paths that crisscross the park and weave in and out of the forest and down to the water. Trail maps are posted throughout the park and you can jump onto the trails from any parking area.
If you stay on Five Mile Drive, the path is paved and relatively flat the whole way.
Follow signs along Five Mile Drive to get to Owen Beach. This area is an easy walk or drive from the entrance of the park. Once you're there, you can walk along the boardwalk, relax on the beach or rent a kayak (in warmer months). The beach has both sandy and rocky stretches and is a popular place to wade, take dogs and sunbathe. Facilities include a snack bar, restrooms, picnic tables and some sheltered areas for eating or relaxing.
Park just after you enter the park to walk to the Japanese Gardens (there is no parking right next to the gardens). These gardens are free to enter and feature pools, a waterfall, a bridge and lovely landscaped flowers and trees. At the center of the gardens is the Pagoda, a temple-inspired structure built in 1914 that is today used for weddings and events.
You can walk to this marina from Owen Beach or drive here if you veer right just before the entrance to Point Defiance Park. The marina offers moorage, rental boats, a boat launch, a fishing pier, and bait and tackle. The marina is located at 5912 N Waterfront Drive.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Fort Nisqually is a living history museum perfect for a family day out. Volunteers and staff members dress up as historical figures going about daily activities of the 1800s. A number of special events happen throughout the year, including a Summer Camp and often Halloween ghost stories around a fire. Fort Nisqually is a great family activity and perfect for older kids.
How To Get There
The entrance to the park is located at the north end of Pearl Street where the street terminates. You can get onto Pearl anywhere between Point Defiance and S 19th Street and head north. This will lead you straight into Point Defiance. Once you’re there, signs will lead you to the different attractions within the park. There is ample parking right inside the entrance and even more if you head toward the zoo.
If you are coming from north or south, take I-5 to I-16. Merge onto I-16 W. Take Exit 3 for 6th Avenue and then make an immediate right onto N Pearl Street. Take this to the entrance of Point Defiance. Follow signs to the zoo.