At one-third the size of Seattle, the city of Tacoma is nestled at the Southern point of the Puget Sound and is a fun weekend getaway for the outdoor adventurer, foodie, art enthusiast, and those looking for a little respite from the big city. Don’t let the smaller size of Tacoma fool you though! As an old postcard reads, “This is a year ‘round playground – a great place to spend your next vacation.” As a city at the heart of the evergreen forest with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Tacoma has attractions for everyone. Below, you’ll find our top things to do in Tacoma for nature lovers, artists, and foodies alike!
Tacoma is a Nature Lover’s Paradise
Traveling to Tacoma’s greenspace is surprisingly straightforward with public transportation. You can take the local bus, Pierce Transit – Route 41, to Swan Creek Park. This lush wooded greenspace features nearly 400 acres of evergreens, ferns, and a salmon-bearing stream. The park is divided into two prominent sections, including a wooded canyon and a second growth Douglas fir forest. You’ll find trails for hiking and mountain biking, as well as community gardens and picnic areas. This trail map will help you catch the bus back to Tacoma at night.
Roosevelt & E. 42nd St., Tacoma, WA 98404
When visiting Tacoma, you can also hike along Puget Sound with a trip to Defiance Park. This is a popular destination for visitors and locals, who are looking for things to do in Tacoma, and includes the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, as well as hiking trails and a lush rhododendron garden. You can easily complete an out-and-back hike on the Spine Trail or Triangle Trail, which range between 1.3-3.3. miles. Enjoy coastal views of the peninsula, while walking beneath lush everglades.
5400 N Pearl St., Tacoma, WA 98407
With 300 miles of hiking and mountain biking, Maury Island Marine Park is one of the largest natural reserves located on the Puget Sound. While hiking along the water, you can absorb breathtaking vistas of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountains. If you’re interested in seeing local wildlife, then the park is known for its salt marshes that contain eelgrass beds, blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, Chinook salmon, orcas, and bull trout. As a part of Tacoma city tour, you can take the Point Defiance-Tahlequah ferry to Vashon Island and then take the 119 Dockton Bus to Maury Island, where the park is just a short .3 mile walk (10 min) from the bus station.
5405 SW 244th St., Dockton, WA 23208
Aside from local green spaces, you’ll also find larger wildlife refuge centers, considered one of the best places to visit in Tacoma area. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is at the southern tip of the Puget Sound with over 700 acres of land. Victor B. Scheffer, a scholar and author, wrote about the Nisqually Delta, saying, “Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change…It will be proof of our ability to survive…if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness, and to love them for their power to move us.” As the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest, this natural space is likely to give you some perspective from the city.
You won’t find public transportation to this nature preserve, but you can find a Zipcar in downtown Tacoma at affordable rates and drive 25 min. outside the city to this destination.
100 Brown Farm Rd NE, Olymbia, WA 98516
Explore more than 6,000 acres of wildlife throughout Pierce and Thurston counties when you visit this natural habitat filled with deer, elk, fox, river otters, beaver, muskrats, and much more. In addition to these common species, you’ll also spot endangered wildlife, including a variety of songbirds. When visiting the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, you’ll be able to explore wetlands and coastal valleys. You can reach this wildlife destination by catching the 574 to 212 bus.
South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, Lakewood, WA 98498
Tacoma is an Artist’s Place
With ongoing special events and an assortment of local artists, 253 Collective is a cooperative space that represents the spirit of the community. The collective is composed of artists who produce work in a variety of mediums, including photography, sketches, jewelry, and more. If you want to meet the local artists, every 3rd Thursday there is an Art and Mingle from noon to 8pm. You can speak with artists about the inspiration behind their work and get to know the people behind the stories and voices of the collective.
253 Collective, 1901 Jefferson Ave, Suite 100, Tacoma, WA
Among other places to visit in Tacoma, check out B2 (pronounced “b-squared”), a well-respected fine art studio in downtown area that frequently curates art exhibits of historical importance. If you’re interested in art history, then you’ll appreciate the rotating exhibits featured at B2. Past exhibitions include Nature in the Making, geology interpreted through woven textiles, and WET, an abstract expressionism in fluidity, movement and space. You can also stop by for events, such as exhibition openings and music celebrations.
711 Saint Helens Avenue, Suite 100, Tacoma, WA, 98402
With a collection of local and international contemporary art, Mavi art gallery exhibits both paintings and sculptures. Twenty-three local artists work upstairs from the gallery, where they’re busy dreaming and creating contemporary pieces. Beyond paintings and sculptures, two passions of the founders, Mavi also has installations, jewelry, and occasional surprises. One of our favorite pieces from the gallery is titled Into the Estuary, featuring beautiful purple and pink hues.
502 Sixth Avenue Tacoma, WA, 98402
You can explore the different neighborhoods in Tacoma, from the downtown district to costal hilltops, by traveling between the different creative spaces coordinated by Spaceworks Tacoma. 1120 Creative House features 11 art studios and creative offices filled by graphic designers, photographers, and other imaginative makers. At 1120 Creative House, you’ll often find community events, so be sure to check out their Facebook page for the most up-to-date information. You can also checkout the Tollbooth Gallery, which is another installation by Spaceworks Tacoma, featuring experimental art pieces inside of an old tollbooth.
1120 Pacific Avenue, 2nd Floor Tacoma, WA 98402
Once you’ve wound your way through the local studios, it’s worth paying a visit to a road more often traveled – the Tacoma Art Museum. Located in downtown Tacoma, TAM features collections, exhibitions, and learning programs on a wide variety of subjects. Ongoing collections include a combination of Northwest, American, Japanese, and European Art. If you only have time to see a couple exhibitions, then check out the more unique aspects of the gallery, including contributions from the Aloha Club, a private women’s organization in Tacoma.
1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98402
Tacoma is Full of Food & Fun
The founder, Arturo Garcia, settled in South Tacoma in 1978 and was passionate about bringing his love for Mexican food to the city. His son, Bernie Garcia, now carries on the same passion as his father throughout each dish. With recognition from the South Sound Magazine in 2013, 2014, and 2015 as the ‘Best Mexican Restaurant,’ this is one you won’t want to miss during your Tacoma city tour. Their menu includes everything from savory tortilla soup to cinnamon-spiced horchata.
4102 56th Street, Tacomwa, WA, 98409
Pay a visit to Jazzbones, a live concert venue and nightclub, while you’re in the Tacoma area. You can take a break from the Seattle music scene and enjoy the tunes that city has to offer. With weekly dance nights and concerts, you’ll be able to find a fun event in Tacoma. HAHA Tuesday is a weekly dance party and past concert performers include Zion I, Doctorfunk, Paperboys, and Samantha Fish. You can experience the local music culture and dance your vacation away.
2803 6th Avenue, Tacoma, WA, 98406
Leaving Seattle does not mean you have to leave behind the delicious natural food. When visiting Tacoma, make sure that you stop by Viva 4 Life, a local plant-based restaurant pioneered by award-winning chef “Paco” Hernandez. If you have unique dietary requirements, or are traveling with friends and family who do, then this menu will have something for everyone. The menu features everything from nori rolls to tofu chorizo tacos. It’s a vegetarian’s dream!
2602 N. Proctor Street, Tacoma, WA, 98407
Between visiting the natural wonders around Tacoma, stopping by art galleries, and dancing the night away, you won’t find a shortage of fun things to do in Tacoma! Which one would be at the top of your list? Let us know in the comments!