Tacoma has six great museums, waterfront restaurants, and a breathtaking urban park.
Tacoma Washington is a historic port city located 35 minutes south of Seattle on Commencement Bay. It takes about 45 minutes to drive from Seattle down to Tacoma.
Tacoma is home to six excellent museums, the stunning Point Defiance Park with a zoo, japanese garden and rose garden, and trendy waterfront restaurants at the stunning Point Ruston development.
Stay at the chic downtown hotel Hotel Murano, or McMenamins Elks Temple Hotel in Tacoma Washington.
10 best things to do in Tacoma Washington
1. See the best collection of Pacific Northwest Art at the Tacoma Art Museum.
The Tacoma Art Museum's permanent collection includes Northwest Art, 19th Century European Paintings and Sculpture, Japanese Woodblock Prints, and Glass Art. There's also some striking paintings by Renoir and Degas.
2. Learn about the lives of early settlers at the Washington State History Museum.
Gain a deeper appreciation for the events and people that have shaped Washington State's history at the Washington State History Museum. Kids will love the interactive exhibits, including a working replica of Washington State's railroads.
This is the grand entrance to the Washington State History Museum, with the silver dome of the Museum of Glass visible in the background.
3. Watch talented glass blowers at work at the Tacoma Glass Museum.
The space-age silver dome of the Tacoma Glass Museum is a striking part of Tacoma's skyline. This silver dome houses a theater and Hot Shop where visitors can watch talented glass blowers at work. There's also rotating exhibitions and exquisite glass sculptures outside. The Chihuly Glass Pedestrian Bridge demonstrates how an ordinary streetscape be transformed into something magnificent. Cross the pedestrian walkway to the magnificent Tacoma Union Station building on Pacific Avenue.
4. See the largest private car collection at the LeMay Car Museum.
The impressive $60 million LeMay Car Museum houses the largest private car collection in North America, inside a modern, multi-level building.
5. Visit the free Tacoma Children's Museum with five playspaces for kids.
The Tacoma Children's Museum has a fabulous children's play space. This includes a treehouse with ramps, nooks and platforms, a water area with pools and cascades, a ship to climb onboard, blocks and magnaforms, and a messy art studio.
6. See wooden boats and canoes at the Foss Waterway Seaport maritime museum.
Explore Tacoma's maritime heritage at the Foss Waterway Seaport, with historic wooden boats, canoes, a life-sized model of a locomotive, and a humpback whale skeleton.
7. Enjoy soaring views from the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.
The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is a must-see attraction with a wonderful vantage point overlooking Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. The Zoo is spacious and well planned with an array of fascinating animals like Polar Bears, Clouded Leopards, Malayan Tapir's and Sumatran Tigers. The shark tank is very impressive and a little scary! Some fun activities for the kids include the carousel and camel rides.
8. See a Japanese and Rose Garden, Fort Nisqually and Owens Beach at Point Defiance Park.
When visiting Point Defiance Park don't miss the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum with historic re-enactments. There's also a Japanese Garden and a Rose Garden, and forested trails throughout the park. In summer, the lovely Owens Beach is the place to be with jaw-dropping views of Mt Rainier.
9. Check out waterfront restaurants and shops at lovely Point Ruston.
Eat at trendy restaurants at the Point Ruston waterfront. The new Point Ruston waterfront development is just near the south end of Point Defiance. It has a playground, splashpad for kids, waterfront path, bike rentals, a cinema, and plenty of trendy, waterfront restaurants. Choose from the Jewel Box Cafe, Wildfin American Grill, and Stack 571 Burger and Whiskey Bar. Take the breathtaking 1-mile Waterwalk along Commencement Bay, from Point Ruston up to Point Defiance Park. The views don't get better than this!
10. Stroll along the 2-mile Ruston Way Waterfront Pathway.
The Ruston Way Waterfront has a 2-mile waterfront path along spectacular Commencement Bay, that passes waterfront restaurants, parks, beaches and piers, and ends at Point Ruston. Some of the best waterfront restaurants are the RAM Restaurant and Brewery, C.I. Shenanigans, Katie Downs Waterfront Tavern, the Lobster Shop, and Duke's Seafood. The highlight is the stunning Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park.
11. Visit the historic Tacoma Theater District.
See a show in the historic Tacoma Theater District. There are three theaters managed by the Broadway Center for Performing Arts, and are all within one block of each other. Pantages Theater was completed in 1918 as part of a vaudeville chain of theaters, founded by Greek immigrant Alexander Pantages. Rialto Theater is a beaux-arts Style Theater opened in 1918 as a movie house. Theater on the Square is a modern performance space built in 1993, and overlooks a lovely square with a mural of a classic temple. Check performance schedules here.
Beautiful Pantages Theater is a vaudeville theater completed in 1918. The ornate theater is incredible inside.
Rialto Theater is a beaux-arts Style Theater opened in 1918 as a movie house.
12. Find something unique at Tacoma's Antique District.
Take a historic walk through Tacoma's Antique District starting at 9th and Broadway. Continue walking north along Broadway to discover a cluster of interesting antique and memorabilia shops. This stretch also provides a great vantage point for some of Tacoma's most memorable historic buildings.
Hotel Bostwick [9th & Broadway] is a narrow hotel on a triangular block across the road from Pantages Theater, built by Tacoma's first doctor and completed in 1889.
Northern Pacific Building [621 Pacific Avenue] is the original headquarters for the Northern Pacific Railroad, built in italianate style with a round tower. It was completed in 1888.
Elks Lodge & Spanish Steps [565 South Broadway] opened in 1916, and is a magnificent white building with an ornate facade. The Spanish Steps adjacent to the lodge are modeled after the Scala di Spagna of Rome. The new McMenamins Elks Temple Hotel is now at this location, with restaurants, bars and lodging.
Take the Spanish Steps, adjacent to the McMenamins Elks Temple.
Old City Hall [625 South Commerce Street] is an Italian Renaissance style red brick building with a clock-tower, completed in 1893.
Union Station [1713 Pacific Avenue] opened in 1911, and is now a courthouse. Its distinctive copper dome can be seen from miles away. This building is not part of Tacoma's Antique District, but worth a drive down to Pacific Avenue.
What's the history of Tacoma?
Tacoma has a vibrant history, once a boom town in the late 19th century when it was selected as the Western Terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. After a period of turbulence and re-organization, the Northern Pacific Railroad eventually prospered and served as the primary railroad link to the Eastern United States. The city thrived during this era, with impressive buildings and theaters that still stand today.
However by the 1950s Tacoma's downtown core was in decline. A dramatic revitalization effort has gained momentum since the early 1990s, with world-class museums and galleries, and condo developments along the waterfront. Old warehouses and factories have been transformed to loft apartments, commanding spectacular views over the Bay. The newest chapter in Tacoma's history has unfolded with the Ruston Point development, with gorgeous waterfront shops and restaurants in a breathtaking setting, and unparalleled views of Mt Rainier.
Tacoma is a fascinating city that's transforming at a rapid pace. However it's most powerful asset is the fact that its historic downtown core remains intact. When standing in the middle of downtown and looking up at the ornate building facades, you can almost imagine what life was like in this port city over 100 years ago. The process of gentrification is still underway, but there are still many gems for visitors to explore.