The port city of Tacoma is a thriving metropolis with a diverse population and countless recreational activities. Its rich history dates back to its incorporation in 1875 as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, as well as to the Native American tribes that inhabited the area long before then.
With a hilled landscape and water to the east and west, Tacoma boasts breathtaking views throughout the city. Its lively cultural scene is fun and eclectic, and nature is never more than 15 minutes away.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or prefer to explore a city through its dining and architecture, Tacoma has plenty to offer. From museums to beaches, we searched high and low to find the top 25 things to do in Tacoma.
1. Take a Ride Down Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance Park
Point Defiance Park highlights the city’s unique location and is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Tacoma. Comprised of 760 acres that come to a point at the northern end of the city, the area features numerous attractions that include:
- Japanese Garden
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
- Rhododendron Garden
- Owen Beach
- Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
- The Science and Math Institute (SAMi)
- Northwest Native Plant Garden
Five Mile Drive is a 5-mile double loop through Point Defiance Park. Starting at Pearl Street, the Inner Loop leads past each major attraction and is accessible by car.
The connecting Outer Loop was also once drivable but is no longer open to vehicles due to corrosion concerns. However, cyclists and pedestrians can still enjoy the paved path that circles the tip of Point Defiance.
Unpaved hiking trails connect throughout the park, and multiple viewpoints along the way offer views of Gig Harbor, Vashon Island, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. You may even come across some local wildlife, including deer, woodpeckers, and raccoons.
2. Learn About Early Settlers at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Before exiting the park from Five Mile Drive, you’ll come across the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. Although the original fort was located in DuPont, this life-sized replica teaches the lives and stories of early settlers in the area.
Established in 1833 by the British Hudson’s Bay Company as a fur trading outpost, Fort Nisqually was the first globally connected settlement on the Puget Sound. It later changed its focus to commercial agriculture and was a thriving establishment as American territories expanded throughout the area.
The museum has 21 areas to explore, including a kitchen, smokehouse, and granary, as well as the laborers’ dwelling and a men’s dwelling house for bachelors. A walled perimeter with bastions surrounds the fort, while field crops and an orchard can be found outside of the walls.
3. Catch a Show at the Tacoma Dome
The massive Tacoma Dome greets visitors entering the city from the south. As one of the largest wood-domed structures in existence, it’s an architectural feat to behold, and it’s hosted some of the area’s biggest performances.
The city’s goal was to build a flexible sports and convention center that could host various types of events, and in 1981, nearly 20 months of construction began. With a varix dome shape, the 434,699 square feet of space from the field to the upper seating area can accommodate up to 21,000 visitors.
The Tacoma Dome has hosted over 500 performers since its opening. Popular names have included Eric Clapton, the Spice Girls, and Elton John, and it continues to be Tacoma’s main entertainment venue.
4. Take a Tour of Stadium High School
The history of what is now Stadium High School can be traced back to Tacoma’s early days as it sprang into existence with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was originally intended to be a luxury hotel resembling a French chateau when construction began in 1891, but plans changed following a series of complications that included financial shortcomings and a fire.
What remained after the fire was bought by the Tacoma School District in 1904. The building, which has undergone several renovations and redesigns since remains an active high school and enjoyed a centennial celebration in 2006.
Commonly called the Brown Castle, Stadium High School is situated up on a bluff overlooking Commencement Bay and the Puget Sound. It features towering turrets, French-style mansard roofs, and copper accents, all inspired by the architecture of the French Renaissance.
The adjacent Stadium Bowl, which was built only a few years later, drops away from the building while retaining the breathtaking view of the sound. This iconic venue has hosted speakers like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and it was made popular in the 1999 movie 10 Things I Hate About You.
Today, architecture and ghost enthusiasts alike can partake in late-night tours of the Stadium High School campus. These 1.5-hour tours are open to all ages, and a small additional fee will get you an EMF detection device to use along the way.
5. Explore the Shops and Restaurants Along 6th Avenue
Spanning the city from east to west, Tacoma’s 6th Avenue is home to an eclectic assortment of businesses. It begins at the Tacoma Narrows bridge, travels past shopping centers and under the freeway to the lively Sixth Avenue Business District, then goes downhill past Wright Park and on toward Ruston Way.
Although there’s a lot to find along the whole 6th Avenue stretch, the Business District that sits between North Alder St. and Sprague Ave. has the most to offer visitors. This stretch is easy to walk and offers countless restaurants, bars, and cafes, as well as tattoo shops, gaming stores, thrift stores, and more!
The historic E9 Firehouse & Gastropub is located along 6th Avenue, as are several of the Best Pizza Places in Tacoma and the best cafes in Tacoma. Live music can be found at Jazzbones and O’malleys Irish Pub, while The Triple Knock, Tower Lanes, and the Tacoma Comedy Club offer even more entertainment options.
6. Step Back in Time at the Job Carr Cabin Museum
Job Carr was Tacoma’s first permanent settler and the Job Carr Cabin Museum gives a glimpse into life in those early days of the city’s history.
As the story goes, Job Carr first saw the 168-acre plot of land that he would purchase as he and a friend were fishing in Commencement Bay. He foresaw the coming Northern Pacific Railroad and built a log cabin much like the one that can be visited today.
This replica of the first non-Native residence in the area is also an interactive living history museum. It aims to show what life was like for Carr and other settlers, as well as the effects that these settlements had on the area and the Native tribes that resided there before him.
7. Experience Tacoma’s Cultural Evolution at Bob’s Java Jive
Bob’s Java Jive is a quirky roadside attraction that’s been a staple in Tacoma since 1927. Shaped like a giant coffee pot, this Tacoma bar has seen the city evolve through the ages and treats patrons to a glimpse of the past.
The building was originally a breakfast joint known as the Coffee Pot Restaurant before it became a diner drive-in, then a speakeasy, and finally a public bar. When it changed ownership in 1955, lyrics from a pop song by the Ink Spots inspired the funky name and the present-day venue was reborn.
Although the menu has changed with the years, Bob’s Java Jive has always been a place for artists to gather, and it’s caught the attention of some big names. It is often rumored that Nirvana used to play shows here, while actor Keanu Reeves discovered it in the filming of the movie Love You to Death and tried to buy the building for $1 million to bring it to Hawaii.
These days, the bar remains a popular spot for karaoke, pool, and a true vintage atmosphere. Keep your eyes peeled for it off Highway 99 and stop in for a drink to experience a piece of Tacoma’s cultural history.
8. Basque in the Beauty of American Lake
A freshwater lake provides countless recreation options, and that’s why American Lake is one of the top things to do in Tacoma. Although it’s not technically in Tacoma city limits, its Lakewood location near Joint Base Lewis-McChord is right next door. As the largest natural lake in Pierce County, it’s an ideal destination for Tacoma residents and visitors alike.
Two public access parks on American Lake offer an array of activities year-round. The American Lake North Park features a boat launch area for both motorized and not motorized vessels, while the newly renovated Harry Todd Park has tennis courts and boat docks.
The lake is a popular destination for fishing, hosting popular game fish such as:
- Cutthroat trout
- Largemouth bass
- Rainbow trout
- Rock bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Sockeye salmon (Kokanee)
- Yellow Perch
Both parks also have playgrounds, picnic areas, and restrooms, as well as swim beaches and ample space for lounging.
9. Discover Local Art at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM)
Since 1935, the Tacoma Art Museum has been bringing the arts of the Northwest to Tacoma. Through a mix of rotating exhibits and collections of historical artifacts, TAM aims to transform communities “…by sharing art that inspires broader perspectives and cultivates a compassionate future.”
The rotating exhibits feature everything from jewelry to bronze sculptures and blown glass, including local community art installations. They also hold a collection of Northwest and Western American art with the goals of preserving history and teaching about the region.
In addition to the exhibits, TAM has an assortment of youth and family programs, including clubs, after-school programs, and a free art-making studio.
10. Have Some Fun at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Families with little ones will love the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. Run by the nonprofit organization Greentrike, this interactive museum encourages playful experiences and hands-on learning.
The museum includes in-house play areas as well as summer camps and at-home projects. Programs are available for toddlers and teens alike, and memberships are available for regular visitors.
Best of all, they offer a donation-based Pay As You Will admission fee, ensuring that everybody can come and play.
11. Enjoy Golf and a Sunset at Chamber’s Bay
The 930-acre area known as Chamber’s Bay sits on the western shore of Tacoma with mesmerizing views of the sound. Whether you’re a golfer, hiker, or dog owner, or you simply enjoy a good sunset, Chambers Bay is easily worth the short drive south to University Place.
Originally a sand and gravel quarry, this space was redesigned into the 250-acre Chamber’s Bay Golf Course that’s now situated on the slopes overlooking Puget Sound and one of a select few courses to host a PGA Championship in the Northwest.
Visitors can also visit the surrounding Chambers Creek Regional Park, which includes an off-leash dog park, a playground, and a bridge to the shore. At the foot of the bridge, you’ll also find the “Love Lock” project made to hold the locks that were previously placed on the bridge.
Two paved hiking trails lead around the perimeter of the bay. The Grandview and Soundview Trails can be walked individually or combined into the 3.25-mile Chambers Bay Loop.
12. Enjoy an Afternoon in Wright Park
Wright Park is a 27-acre arboretum with plenty of space to walk, lounge, and enjoy a moment of nature in the heart of downtown. The land was donated to the city by Charles B. Wright through the Tacoma Land Company in 1886 to develop a public park, which has grown and evolved into the beautiful green space we can enjoy today. In addition to the over 600 trees, this city park is home to the following attractions:
- W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory
- Spray Park
- Lawn Bowling Field
- Basketball Courts
- Horseshoe Pits
- Duck Pond and Walking Bridge
The W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at the center of the park is an attraction on its own. Opened in 1908, it is one of three Victorian-style conservatories on the West Coast and is filled with tropical plants as well as some endangered varieties. Admission is free, and the space is also an excellent venue for photo backdrops or special events.
13. Learn Another Side of History at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum
The country was built on the backs of countless people, but not all are remembered equally. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in downtown Tacoma remembers the African American soldiers who served between 1866 and 1944 and became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
The museum was founded by former Buffalo Soldier William Jones, whose daughter opened the museum to preserve his memory. The collection includes memorabilia and artifacts from Jones’ years in the service, including uniforms and tools. The museum also hosts regular community events and educational programs.
14. Take a Ride Around Swan Creek Park
This 290-acre green space caters to any kind of outdoor activity you may be into. Featuring a mix of paved and unpaved paths, Swan Creek Park is a forested escape on the eastern edge of the city and is ideal for hikers, bikers, and four-legged friends.
Named after the small flowing creek that flows through it, Swan Creek Park is filled with interconnecting trails. The upland forest features designated mountain bike trails of varying difficulty, while the lower wooded canyon can be explored on the 2.4-mile Swan Creek Trail.
The park is also home to a forested off-leash dog park and a community garden. Picnic shelters and restrooms are convenient for day trips, while the Pause n’ Play Path features an assortment of activities made to stimulate visitors and bond generations through play.
15. Taste International Cuisine in the Lincoln District
Known as Tacoma’s international district, the Lincoln District is home to an assortment of shops and restaurants with Asian-inspired flavors and goods. Situated along 38th St., the stretch features everything from a Chinese Herb and Grocery store to restaurants, boutiques, and gift shops.
Favorite restaurants include Lunar’s Pho, Dragons Crawfish, and Viet Dong. Some iconic restaurants from Tacoma’s past are located along this stretch as well, including Burger Ranch and the Flying Boots Café & Spur Room.
The Lincoln District also hosts several community events throughout the year. These include a Lunar New Year celebration, monthly food walks throughout the summer, and an evening of trick-or-treating on Halloween.
16. Get Nostalgic at Dorky’s Arcade
Dorky’s Arcade in historic downtown Tacoma is one of the most unique places to hang out on a budget. This bar and arcade features retro vibes and 25-cent games that will entertain kids of all ages. Located within walking distance of some of the Best Downtown Tacoma Restaurants, Dorky’s Arcade is a fun stop to incorporate into a night out on the town.
Classic arcade games like Asteroids and Qbert bring out the nostalgia in adult visitors, while Guitar Hero and Mario Kart are great for multiple players. There are also plenty of pinball machines throughout the arcade, and several seating areas are available for when you need to recharge.
Food options include a tasty pizza menu and daily food specials, as well as homemade soup and Taco Tuesdays. Beers, ciders, and other canned alcoholic beverages are also available, and the whole venue becomes 21+ after 9 pm with a DJ and extended hours on weekends.
17. Expand Your Knowledge at the Washington State History Museum
The Washington State History Museum is a massive complex with vaulted arches and a red brick façade. Located across from UW Tacoma and adjacent to the old Union Station, it features permanent and rotating exhibits that showcase everything from early migration into Washington State to WWII artifacts.
There are three permanent exhibits at the museum. These include one on Washington’s history and relation to the Pacific Northwest, as well as an interactive history lab and the state’s largest model train layout.
In addition to showcasing the history and cultures of the area, the Washington State History Museum regularly hosts events aiming to engage and educate adults and youth in the community.
18. Explore the Puget Sound at Owen Beach
Owen Beach is one of the most popular beachfront in Tacoma. The 1,000-foot-long stretch was originally established in 1957 and recently underwent some major renovation completed in 2022. This popular water access spot is perfect for family outings and caters to all ages. Some of the most notable features include:
- Boat launch
- Reservable picnic shelter
- Kayak rentals
- Party room
- Concession stand
The entrance to the beach is located along the Five Mile Drive Inner Loop and can be accessed by foot or car.
19. Enjoy Local Foliage at the Tacoma Nature Center
The Tacoma Nature Center is a gorgeous green space and nature preserve located in the heart of the city. Once a wetland that provided abundant resources such as berries and reeds for the local Native American tribes, this area surrounding Snake Lake evolved into a nature preserve as the city and its inhabitants grew around it.
These days, the center features over two miles of walking trails and an interpretive center. There is also a discovery pond as well as various youth programs.
General admission is free, making this an excellent neighborhood spot to breathe some fresh air and learn about native plant and animal species. Since this preserve is a safe habitat for local wildlife, no pets or bicycles are allowed in the park.
20. Ride Through Time at Le May – America’s Car Museum
Across the street from the Tacoma Dome and visible from the freeway as you enter the city from the south is the Le May – America’s Car Museum. The four-story gallery with a glass façade is made for car enthusiasts, aiming “to celebrate America’s love affair with the automobile.”
Exhibits include classic and custom automobiles, as well as motorsport vehicles and international influences. There are also several immersive exhibits, including:
- Speed Zone Simulator
- State Farm Theater
- Photo Car
- Family Zone
The on-site Full Throttle Café is accessible without museum admission, and interactive events are hosted to promote community engagement.
21. Shop, Dine, and Stroll Around Ruston Way and the Dune Peninsula
Ruston Way is a 2-mile stretch along Tacoma’s eastern shore, connecting Point Defiance with the downtown area. The paved walking trail passes several beaches, parks, and restaurants, and visitors will enjoy views of Commencement Bay, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic Mountain Range along the way.
Some of the attractions along Ruston Way include:
- Chinese Reconciliation Park
- Dickman Mill Park
- Jack Hyde Park
- Les Davis Public Fishing Pier
There are also several restaurants along the stretch, including some of the Best Tacoma Waterfront Restaurants with a View.
Ruston Way commences at Point Ruston, a premier waterfront neighborhood with a mix of living, dining, shopping, and recreation. Follow a day of shopping with a movie at the Cinemark Century Point Ruston theater, or ride a scooter down the 11-acre Dune Peninsula for breathtaking views of Puget Sound.
22. Marvel at the Colors in the Museum of Glass
At the southern end of the Thea Foss Waterway sits the Museum of Glass, a cone-shaped contemporary art museum that has been showcasing spectacular glasswork from across the West Coast for over 20 years.
The museum includes rotating exhibits and live demonstrations in the Hot Shop, which also hosts a Visiting Artist (VA) Residency program. This program has sparked a growing permanent collection comprised of one piece of art from each visiting artist.
Before leaving, be sure to take a stroll up the grand staircase to the outdoor Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Connecting the museum to Pacific Ave., the bridge features three collections of colorful glass sculptures from the renowned Tacoma native artist Dale Chihuly.
23. Discover Wildlife at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Established early in the city’s history, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) has been around since 1905. Totaling 29 acres and accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, it is the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Pacific Northwest.
They focus on community engagement to address the challenges facing wildlife and their ecosystems with the mission statement, “Awakening a connection to Wild Life in everyone in the Pacific Northwest.”
Some of the exhibits you’ll find at PDZA include:
- Asian Forest Sanctuary
- Rocky Shores
- Arctic Tundra
- Red Wolf Woods
- Penguin Point
- Pacific Seas Aquarium
- South Pacific Aquarium
There is also a Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater, a Budgie Buddies bird center, and a Kids’ Zone petting zoo.
24. Stroll Along the Shore at Titlow Park
Whether you’re looking to take an iconic Tacoma photograph, spend the day at the park with the kids, or stroll the beach at sunset, Titlow Park has it all. This 75-acre park along the western shore of Tacoma offers fantastic views of the sound and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. There are several grassy areas as well as a beach stretching the length of the park, while interconnecting walking trails create an approximately 1.5-mile loop throughout.
Some of the amenities at Titlow Park include:
- Spray Park
- Basketball Courts
- Tennis Courts
- Baseball Field
- Duck Pond
The waterfront also has tide pools to explore at low tide, and the active train tracks provide a fun reminder of the area’s industrial history.
Look out towards the water and you may catch sight of some local wildlife, including sea lions, bald eagles, and harbor porpoises. You’ll also find several picnic tables on a deck overlooking the water at the southern end of the shore, where you’ll see the name “Tacoma” spelled out on a collection of old wooden posts with the iconic Narrows Bridge in the background.
25. Find History and a View at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is the city’s most iconic landmark. The nearly 6,000-foot-long twin suspension bridges span the Puget Sound strait known as the Tacoma Narrows to connect Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula.
The bridge has undergone several renovations since it was first built. The original deck, built in 1940, was known as the “Galloping Gertie” because it experienced severe vertical movement, particularly on windy days. Only four months after it opened, the bridge collapsed into the sound.
WWII followed shortly after, and reconstruction was delayed until nearly a decade later. Finally, in 1950, a replacement bridge opened, once again providing a quick connection between Tacoma and Gig Harbor.
In 1998, votes for a second bridge for eastbound traffic was approved. Construction began in 2002, and the twin bridges opened in 2007.
Today, visitors can drive, cycle, or walk the bridge from the Living War Memorial Park in Tacoma to the Narrows Park in Gig Harbor. The nearly 3.5-mile stretch has multiple lanes for traffic as well as a paved walking path to take in stunning views of the sound.