Visiting the Mount Rainier National Park is one of the best things to do in Tacoma, Washington

23 Best Things to Do in Tacoma, Washington (in 2023)

👉 Jump to: Things to Do | Museums & Cultural | Eat, Drink, Play & Shop | Free & Cheap | FAQs

Gritty, industrial, and unpretentious, Tacoma is a historically underrated city in Pierce County that’s one of the coolest places to visit in Washington

With an edgy art scene and world-class museums, beautiful parks, unique restaurants, landmark eateries, and incredibly well-stocked vintage shops, there are fun things to do in Tacoma, WA for every type of visitor.

Tacoma is one of the easiest places to take a day trip from Seattle, and one of my personal favorites. Not sure where to begin? Not to worry! I’m a local ready to walk you through all of the best things to do in Tacoma!

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23 Best Things to Do in Tacoma

Point Defiance Park

Explore a giant park full of amazing Tacoma attractions

The author taking a selfie in Point Defiance Park
The Tacoma Point Defiance Zoo continues to play a key role in the conservation of America’s red wolf population. It’s one of my favorite exhibits!

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 305-1088 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 8:30 pm daily | Entrance: Park entrance only free

Point Defiance Park is an enormous park on the northernmost tip of Tacoma, Washington. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, a living museum, rose garden, numerous trails, Owen Beach, and Five Mile Drive are just a few of the attractions within it. 

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is easily one of the best things to do in Tacoma. Home to red wolves, sea otters, Asian elephants, sea lions, and more, it’s a fascinating place to learn about animals and the zoo’s conservation efforts.

You can’t go wrong exploring the forested park outside the zoo, but head to Owen Beach if you want to relax by the water and watch the Vashon Island Ferry crossing the Puget Sound. The Dune Peninsula is also a fantastic place to take a stroll or relax and watch for seals.

👉 Pro Tip: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is currently on a timed reservation system. Book your tickets in advance to make sure you get in! After you explore the zoo and rest of the park, make sure to grab a delicious sandwich or a slice of pie from The Antique Sandwich Co. You won’t regret it.

Ruston Way Waterfront

Take a scenic stroll along a gorgeous waterfront

View from the Les Davis Pier in Ruston Way Waterfront
A view from the Les Davis Pier along the waterfront

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 330-8828 | Website | Hours: ½ before sunrise – ½ hour after sunset, daily

When the weather’s right, the waterfront along Ruston Way is one of the prettiest spots to get outdoors in Tacoma. What used to be an industrial area with boatyards and lumber mills has transformed into a family-friendly destination equipped with delicious seafood restaurants, picnic tables, and fishing spots. 

Jog, bike, or walk a 2 mile stretch along Commencement Bay, making sure to stop at the various parks along the way. I recommend starting your stroll on the east end at the Chinese Reconciliation Park, a beautiful spot dedicated to Tacoma’s commitment to healing its past with its Chinese residents.

6th Ave

Eat, bar hop, and shop on one of Tacoma’s coolest strips

The author posing for a picture while holding a hotdog from The Red Hot
Me excitedly showing off my hot dog at The Red Hot

📍 Google Maps | Website 

If you want to go to Tacoma and do as the locals do then checking out the shops, bars, and restaurants along 6th Ave is a good way to get a taste of Tacoman living. The strip between State and Alder is where you’ll find some of the best this area has to offer. 

Start by grabbing hot dogs and beer at The Red Hot and then head over to Hi-Voltage Records to peruse their vinyl collection. Find unique vintage clothing at Scorpio Rising, and grab a stack of good reads from Stargazer Comics. In the evening wander down to Jazzbones for karaoke, a live show, or a dance party. 

Museum of Glass

Marvel at stunning glass sculptures

View inside the Museum of Glass
The view when you look up while walking beneath the Chihuly Bridge of Glass is beautiful even at night! (photo: Colleen Michaels / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 284-4750 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Wednesday – Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday | Entrance: $18 adults, $10 children (6-18), free children under 6

Gorgeous glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly await visitors at the Museum of Glass. Here you can view awe-inspiring exhibits, see live demonstrations, and learn about the detailed process of making glass into an art form.

The MOG is connected to the rest of downtown Tacoma by the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian bridge that gives you a little preview of what you’ll see in the contemporary art museum. You’ll be surrounded by stunning blown glass sculptures as you walk the 500-foot bridge. 

Museum hopping in Tacoma made my list of the best things to do in Washington State, and a trip to the Museum of Glass is a great way to check that item off your list. It’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in Tacoma. After visiting you just might be inspired enough to sign up for a class at the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio to try your hand at making glass art.

👉 Pro Tip: Recent Tacoma transplant or Pierce County resident? With a Pierce County library card, you can get free admission to this museum and others in Tacoma!

Mount Rainier National Park

Hike an incredible mountain

View of the Port in Tacoma and the Mount Rainier from afar
Mount Rainier seems to loom over the Port of Tacoma, creating jaw-dropping views like this

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 569-2211 | Website | Entrance: National Park Pass ($55 annual, $30/car for 7-day entry) | 👉 Browse Mt Rainier Tours on Viator

Because it’s only an hour and a half from the city center, Mount Rainier makes a perfect escape for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. You can get close to Washington’s favorite mountain via one of the many hiking trails, by taking a scenic drive or even riding a gondola over it from the Crystal Mountain Resort. 

Mount Rainier is one of the oldest National Parks in the country and one of the top places to visit in the state of Washington. So it’s definitely worth taking a day to explore its forests, meadows, and waterfalls no matter how you go about it. 

📚 Related Reading: Check out my article on the best hikes near Seattle where I highlight a few of the best Mount Rainier hikes so you can add one to your list!

Museums & Cultural Attractions

Foss Waterway Seaport

Learn about local maritime history in a restored 100-year-old building

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-2750 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 4 pm Thursday-Sunday, Closed Monday-Wednesday | Entrance: $10 adults, $8 youth (6-17), free children (5 and under)

You’ll learn about maritime history and culture in the Puget Sound area at the Foss Waterway Maritime Museum. Built on a historic dock along the Thea Foss Waterway, the Foss Waterway Seaport is a bit of a hidden gem. 

With a wooden boat exhibit, information about the history of the Tacoma waterfront, articulated skeletons of humpback and fin whales, maritime artifacts, and so much more, visitors will be swept away by all there is to do and discover here.

💰 Want to save some cash? The museums on museum row in Tacoma’s downtown are open late and offer free admission on the third Thursday of every month! Included in this is the Foss Waterway Seaport, the Museum of Glass, the Washington State History Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum. Times vary for each of these, so just be sure to check before you go!

LeMay – America’s Car Museum

Admire hundreds of classic cars

Cars display inside the LeMay-America's Car Museum
One of many pristine cars on display at the museum (photo: Robert Mullan / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 779-8490 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Thursday-Monday, Closed Tuesday and Wednesday | Entrance: $18 adults, $14 young adult (13-18), $10 youth (6-12), free children (5 and under)

Whether or not you’re a classic car fan, a visit to America’s Car Museum is a fun one. Here you can see the museum’s collection of 250 domestic and foreign automobiles with a variety of unique and unusual models. 

In addition to marveling at the LeMay family collection, you can also spend time here testing your speed on the racing simulator, trying out slot car racing, and learning about the history of cars throughout the United States. 

Tacoma Art Museum

View gorgeous, curated art

The Tacoma Art Museum building from the outside
(photo: aca09595 / 123RF)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-4258 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Wednesday, 10 am – 8 pm Thursday, 10 am – 5 pm Friday – Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday | Entrance: $18 adults, free 18 and under, free for all ages Thursdays 5 pm – 8 pm

An extensive collection with evocative permanent and rotating exhibits makes a visit to the Tacoma Art Museum worth it for most visitors. The museum features contemporary and historical art from artists of the Northwest and those in the greater western region. 

While it’s relatively small, the Tacoma Art Museum is meticulously laid out. Works from contemporary Native artists and the studio glass art displays are particularly lovely installments. Be sure to check out the website before you go to see upcoming and current exhibitions. 

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

Go back in time to a museum of living history

The clear blue sky and the green grass field in Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
The Fort Nisqually Living History Museum will take you back to the 1800s

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 404-3970 | Website | Hours: 11 am – 4 pm Wednesday – Sunday, Closed Monday – Tuesday | Entrance: $11.94 adults, $8.58 youth (4-17), free children 3 and under

You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back to the 19th century when you visit the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. Back then, this area along the Puget Sound was a European settlement, and some of the buildings you’ll see on your visit are the original structures from that time. 

Take a self-guided tour through the premises and speak to volunteers and staff in period-appropriate clothing. You can even attend one of their workshops to learn things like traditional leatherwork, butchering, and making cookie cutters – just like they would have in 1855.

Washington State History Museum

Learn about the history of the Evergreen State

The Washington State History Museum from the outside
On our way down to the Washington State History Museum

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-3500 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Tuesday-Sunday, Closed Mondays, 10 am – 8 pm third Thursdays every month | Entrance: $14 adults (18+), $11 student (6-18), free children 5 and under, free admission third Thursdays (3 pm-8 pm)

The Washington State History Museum covers it all – geological history, information about Native people and their cultures, and early pioneering history to the modern era. The building has three floors of exhibits that give visitors a thorough look at Washington’s history. History buffs and anyone looking to learn more about how Evergreen State came to be will want to dedicate a few hours here. 

The Tacoma Dome

Catch a show in an epic arena

The colorful sky above Tacoma Dome during sunset

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-3663 | Website

At some point on your visit to Tacoma, WA you’ll probably see the Tacoma Dome, one of the more notable buildings in the city. Anything from sports events to concerts to monster truck rallies are hosted here. Make sure you check out the website to see what’s happening during your trip so you can grab your tickets and check off a visit to this classic Washington arena.

👉 Read Next: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Washington State

What to Do to Eat, Drink, Play & Shop

Bob’s Java Jive

Drink beer in a coffee pot

The author in front of Bob's Java Jive in Tacoma, Washington
You wouldn’t expect a coffee pot-shaped building in an area like this… but that’s Tacoma for ya!

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 475-9843 | Hours: 4 pm – 2 am daily 

You’d think a building shaped like a coffee pot would serve you coffee, but Bob’s Java Jive isn’t a cafe at all. Instead, this no-frills spot is a bar that serves up burgers and beer, and it’s the perfect place for a fun night out.

Stop by for karaoke nights, live music or to sit back and play pinball or shoot pool. The building was built in 1927 and is currently on the national historic register so if nothing else, you should drive by just to see this quirky attraction. 

The Church Cantina

Eat delicious Cuban food in a gothic-themed bar

A skeleton display inside The Church Cantina in Tacoma
The delightfully spooky view from our table while waiting for our food

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 292-0544 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 2 am Tuesday-Saturday, Closed Sunday and Monday

The Church Cantina is yet another quirky Tacoma establishment. It’s a gothic horror-themed bar serving up Cubano eats and creative, delicious cocktails.

The food is tasty with large portions, the bartenders are friendly and the decor will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a spooky movie in the best possible way – there’s something to look at in every corner. They also have a few arcade games, pool, and a photo booth to keep you entertained before or after your drinks. 

👉 Know Before You Go: Washington State currently mandates that restaurants require proof of vaccination or a negative covid-19 test to sit inside. Some places do also offer take-out service, just call ahead to be sure!

The Grand Cinema

Watch indie films in a volunteer-run theater

View of The Grand Cinema signage on the entrance
Trying to decide which movie to see next

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 593-4474 | Website | Hours: vary depending on showtimes

The Grand Cinema is a movie lover’s dream. This beloved Tacoman theater plays indie, foreign and local films and offers post-film talks after some of the movies as well.

They host the Tacoma Film festival during October and other film events throughout the year. Grab some local snacks and a glass of beer or wine to sip as you watch something great in this classic arthouse theater.

Dorky’s Arcade

Game the night away

Arcade games inside the Dorky's Arcade in Tacoma, Washington
There are tons of games to play as soon as you enter

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 627-4156 | Website | Hours: 3 pm – 12 am Tuesday-Thursday, 12 pm – 2 am Friday-Sunday, 11 am – 2 am Saturday, Closed Mondays

Pizza, pinball, and a variety of vintage and newer arcade games are what you’ll find at this popular arcade. Dorky’s is located in the heart of downtown Tacoma and it’s a great place for all ages.

Kids are welcome during the daytime, but the arcade becomes 21+ after 9 pm. Be sure to bring a roll of quarters to play all night, and don’t miss coming early in the week for taco Tuesdays.

Antique Row

Search for vintage and antique treasures

Clothes and accessories inside a store in Antique Row
There are so many treasures in the well-curated collection at Savoy Special Vintage

📍 Google Maps 

Antiquers and shoppers who like to support small businesses will adore Tacoma. Located downtown on Broadway between 7th and 9th St, several small shops filled to the brim with vintage goodies make up Antique Row. They’re all within walking distance of each other, which makes treasure hunting a breeze. 

Check out the vintage clothing at Glenna’s Clothing and Savoy Special Vintage, search for retro toys at Lily Pad Antiques and Old Toys, and scan Sanford and Son Antiques for furniture, art, and other fun knick-knacks.

🛎️ Need a Hotel?: The McMenamins Elks Temple Hotel is the best one to book, especially if you’re interested in staying downtown and want to stay in a place that’ll be as cool as your surroundings. For more tips, check out my full guide to where to stay in Tacoma.

King’s Books

Wander through a maze of books

The author reading a book in King's Books
It’s easy to get swept away in the many stacks of books they have here

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-8801 | Hours: 11 am – 7 pm, daily

Part comic book store, part new and used bookstore with a vintage clothing shop attached make King’s Books a one-of-a-kind place that you can easily spend a few hours in.

They’ve got a wide selection of books and comics to keep any book-lover happy, and the friendly store cat, Herbert, is a welcome presence in the store. It’s near many other downtown tourist attractions which makes this the perfect place to visit on a rainy day. 

Free & Cheap Things to Do in Tacoma

Wright Park

Take a stroll through a beautiful park

The author and her friend and the pond in Wright Park on their background
Me and a friend posing in front of the pond in Wright Park on a typical rainy day

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 305-1000 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 9 pm daily

Exploring Wright Park is one of the best free and cheap things to do in Tacoma! This beautiful urban park and arboretum is filled with over 600 trees (each with a plaque to identify its type) and gorgeous statues. In the summertime, it’s a great place to try lawn bowling, picnic, or take kids to the spray kid and playground. 

Within Wright Park is the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory and across the street is the Manuscript Museum.  The Conservatory is filled to the brim with exotic plants and has a sweet gift shop. 

The Manuscript Museum houses tons of original manuscripts (including ones from Charles Darwin to Che Guevara). Exhibits rotate every so often and the curator is friendly and knowledgeable and will be happy to tell you all about them.

Charlotte’s Blueberry Park

Go blueberry picking

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 305-1000 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 7 pm daily

One of the best family-friendly Tacoma activities for a summer day is going to Charlotte’s Blueberry Park. Here you can pick as many blueberries as you like at no cost! This farm-turned park is a hidden treasure and a local favorite.

After you pick your blueberries you can wander along the walking paths and enjoy the playground with kids as well. Just be sure to bring your own bags, buckets, or bins to collect your blueberries.

Frisko Freeze

Munch on some delicious, cheap, late-night eats

The illuminated Frisco Freeze sign at night
A late night Frisko Freeze run is a must in Tacoma

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 272-4800 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 11 pm Sunday – Thursday, 10 am – 2 am Friday – Saturday

Quick and delicious describes the type of meal you’ll get from Frisko Freeze. This restaurant serves up cheap burgers, fries, onion rings, milkshakes, and more off their old-school menu.

Order via drive-through or walk-up counter. If you need an easy lunch or some late-night snacks that will hit the spot, this 58-year-old Tacoma, WA staple is the place to go after a good day of exploring.

Stadium High School

Admire an architectural beauty

The Stadium High School building from the outside

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 571-3100 | Website

Fans of the ‘90s movie “Ten Things I Hate About You” will recognize the iconic Stadium High School. Originally built to be a luxury hotel in the 1800s, this present-day high school was featured in this movie for good reason – it’s an architectural beauty that certainly makes an impression. 

Visitors are welcome to come by and take pictures of the outside. You can even take a tour of the inside and learn more about the history of the building through Pretty Gritty Tours (currently paused due to covid). Just be sure to respect boundaries if you visit when school is in session.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Walk the famously shaky bridge

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington

📍 Google Maps | Website 

Nicknamed Galloping Gertie in the ‘40s, and popularized by the videos of it violently waving in the wind, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is another Grit City landmark. It was completely rebuilt after its collapse so it’s now structurally sound and no longer nearly as wobbly. But it’s still a sight to see. 

You can walk across the beautiful bridge where you’ll have breathtaking views (especially if you go during sunset!) Keep in mind that it will be loud because of all the car noise, and it may be very windy, depending on the day. If you choose to drive across instead, make your destination Gig Harbor, a quaint port town on the other end of the bridge.

🚗 How to Get There: Wondering how exactly to walk the bridge? Just park at War Memorial Park and take the Scott Pierson trail across it. If you want to drive across instead, you can rent a car via Discover Cars which will make it that much easier to explore Gig Harbor.

Tacoma Nature Center

Search for turtles in the middle of the city

View of a man in Tacoma Nature Center
We didn’t spot any turtles during our winter walk, but there sure were a lot of ducks!

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (253) 404-3930 | Website | Building hours: 10 am – 2 pm daily 

Tacoma Nature Center is made up of wetlands, forests, a lake, and several trails which make it a good place to get away for some peace and quiet right in the middle of the city. Because of the wetlands, it’s a great environment for turtles and waterfowl, so you’re sure to see some wildlife here. 

Kids will adore exploring the nature playground as well as the interpretive center which has more information and learning material for anyone else interested in learning about the Center and what it provides for the city.

👉 Read Next: Where to Stay in Seattle, WA

FAQs About What to Do in Tacoma

What is there to do in Tacoma for free?

There are many things to do for free in Tacoma Washington. You can visit Wright Park, the Seymour Botanical Conservatory, and the Manuscript Museum, walk along Ruston Way and explore Point Defiance Park. Some museums also allow free entry on the third Thursday of the month. 

Is Tacoma WA worth visiting?

Tacoma, WA is absolutely worth visiting. This gritty, historic city has a lot to offer visitors in the form of outdoor exploration, art, and cultural experiences along with eclectic shops, restaurants, and bars.

How do I spend a day in Tacoma?

There are several ways to spend a day in Tacoma. You could start at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and then bike down the waterfront on Ruston Way before stopping for lunch or dinner. You could also spend a day in downtown Tacoma checking out the museums and local shops.  


Ready to explore all the best things to do in Tacoma, Washington? Grit City won’t disappoint. Also, if you’re planning more day trips, check out my article about things to do in Bellevue to explore another city with totally different vibes! 

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  1. Good list for locals and non-locals alike. I might have included a walk around Chambers Bay (technically University Place), a stroll through the Farmers Marker and shops in the Proctor District, or the Brewery District for local craft beers. Honestly, there are just so many good spots and unlike Seattle, they are not as packed and it’s easier to get around. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Jared! I’m glad you enjoyed the list. All of those are also great options for spending some time in and around Tacoma. The Blue Mouse Theater in the Proctor District is a real gem (among so many others!).

  2. WOW awesome article
    I was born and raised in Tacoma in 1944. Reading you great article brought back so many wonderful memories. I learned to drive a 48Merc on 5 Mile Drive, Water Ski at Owen’s Beach. I lived on what is now called “The Hill Top” on 19th and Sprague. Way back then it was a safe family neighborhood
    We could walk anywhere
    I would ride my bike to Wright’s Park
    For 4 yrs I walked to Stanley School, then
    I took the city bus to St Leo’s school, later to Stadium Hi where I Graduated in 1962.
    My friends dad had just Driven across’Galloping Gurtie before ” She crashed” I took swimming lessons at Titlow Pool.
    Wow and the Most Spectacular WAS
    MT RAINIER . Which provided amazing Views, biking, camping and Skiing.
    THANKS 👍


    1. Thanks for sharing, Patricia! Those sound like some amazing memories and it’s nice to know that people are still able to experience so much of what made Tacoma such a special place for you. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for mentioning lawn bowls! We have so much fun in Wright Park, but people still ask us if the green is a dog park.

  4. Thanks for reading, Nathan! And you’re welcome. I can imagine how confused they must be, but hopefully they come back and actually try out lawn bowling!

  5. Loved the article. So true Tacoma is and was a great town to grow up in. We sleded down Vasault hill rode and raced our derby car next to Chaney Stadium before Foss High School was built. I still love going to point defiance and walk the beach to Owen’s beach and watch the guys and gals fishing off the dock. Thanks for the memories. Gary

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