Tacoma spurred from its selection, in 1887, as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad at Commencement Bay, the most westward stop for the transcontinental rails. More and more individuals arrived, expanding the station into a small city until the 1898 discovery of gold in Seattle transferred much of the area’s flourishing development there. After a few decades of high crime, Tacoma today is viewed as a highly livable city, thanks to the efforts of many local organizations. Resting beneath the magnificent Mt. Rainer and beside the gloriously placid Bay – one of the chief economic harbors in the northwest, this city boasts museums, parks, and plenty of various activities and destinations. Here are ten best things to do in Tacoma.
10. Union Passenger Station
It could conceivably be argued that without the railroad industry, the adjacent town might not exist today. The town was almost entirely considered upon the anticipation of the arrival of railroad, and Union Passenger Station serves as a beacon for that hope, and commerce and travel in general. The construction of the station’s current architecture was finished in 1911, to immediate critical appraisal. Trains haven’t arrived or departed from the station since the mid 1980’s, but it has been since been open to the public. Central to its design is a 90-foot tall dome that majestically looms overhead in the main concourse. Today it serves as a federal courthouse, but visitors can enter during business hours, paying nothing more than subjection to a security check,
9. Mount Rainier National Park
It is difficult to visit the area and not acknowledge Mount Rainier, the 14,000+ volcano that rises to the southeast city. Mount Rainier National Park is the fifth largest national park, signed into law by President William McKinnley at the turn of the twentieth century, and is currently a national historic landmark. The park contains the entirety of the volcano and the surrounding area, containing miles of hiking and driving, waterfalls, and the contiguous US’s largest glacier. Paradise, Washington is the most popular stop within the national park, including a lodge inn and a golf course. There is plenty of hiking here, enough to fill an entire week, but some of it can be strenuous and the temperatures can be quite cool. For vehicle entrance $15 fee is charged.
8. Point Defiance Park (Five Mile Drive)
One of the central tourist attractions of Tacoma, Point Defiance Park stretches for over 700 acres, which is quite impressive for an urban park. Originally reserved for the military, the land was eventually turned over to the city without being used. Jutting out into Puget Sound, the park has extensive hiking trails, plenty of waterfront space, and numerous rental spaces. Of particular interest is Five Mile Drive, which is a biking/driving path that travels throughout the peninsula, hitting on all the visual highlights.
7. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is also located in Point Defiance Park. Having just celebrated its 25 anniversary, the zoo is a great activity for the family with a couple kids or more. With an extensive Asian Forest Sanctuary, an Arctic Tundra exhibit, a Red Wolf forest, and plenty more, the zoo covers a great array of animals both native to the area and not. Furthermore, the zoo is a leader in conservation in the area, having helped to increase the Red Wolf population from 14 to over 250. Tickets are $17 per adult; $13 per child.
6. Bridge of Glass
An extension of the large Museum of Glass, the Bridge of Glass connects the facilities to the city itself and showcases a design contributed to by both blown glass artist Dale Chihuly and architect Arthur Andersson. The bridge is stunning, using both Chihuly’s signature colorful glass and careful placement of lights to both disorient and provoke awe. Split into three different installments – the Seaform Pavilion, the Crystal Towers, and the Venetian Wall, the bridge is best experienced with a romantic stroll at night. Free of charge, museum visit notwithstanding.
5. Tacoma Art Museum
Founded in 1935, the Tacoma Art Museum opened the doors of its current location in 2003, welcoming the public in once again to be astounded by its diverse and striking collection. The organization has always made an effort to focus on local artists and, as a result, over two-thirds of its permanent collection is works from the Northwest. Featuring glass piece by renowned artist Dale Chihuly, and a disorienting installation by architect Richard Rhodes, the museum is the one of the main cultural heartbeats of the city. Closed only on Mondays, admission begins at $14 per adult.
4. W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory
Built with the funds of a generous gift from William Seymour to the city at the turn of the twentieth century, this conservatory is one of very few Victorian-style conservatories west of the Mississippi. For many early residents, the conservatory was their first encounter with tropical plants. Today, the conservatory is home to over 250 plants species from all over the world, arranged in natural looking setting beneath a geometrical glass dome. Admission is completely free; guided tours are available with reservations for an additional $2 per person.
3. LeMay – America’s Car Museum
This is a must-see for both car fanatics and history buffs. With over 350 cars from all across history, the car museum puts one of America’s great obsessions on display. Originally founded in 1997, the museum was opened by Harold and Nancy LeMay, who were the proud owners of over 3,000 automobiles. As the museum continued to grow, the LeMays continued to amass classic cars, aided by funding from both the city and federal level. In addition to touring the grounds themselves, visitors can also engage in guided tours and educational series that are posted on the LeMay calendar. Admission begins at $16 for adults.
2. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Fort Nisqually was one of the first European settlements in the area, and grew due to its heavy involvement in the fur trade. Still standing, the fort is now inhabited by re-enactors of the mid-19th century, who are more than willing to share their knowledge about how their world works. A fun experience for the family with younger children, the outdoor museum offers guided tours in which the intricacies of the fur trade are explained by guides and their friends in full period clothing, with special events on the weekend. Be sure to make reservations for your tour. Cost is $7.50 per person.
1. Port of Tacoma
As the railroad terminus continued to grow outward, the resulting town became more and more of an integral node of commerce. Now, it is one of the largest ports in North America, covering almost 3,000 acres. The port is industrial and under heavy use – meaning under normal circumstances visitors are not allowed. However, once per month, guided tours of the port are offered wherein patrons take a bus around the port to learn about the economic power and importance various port jobs create. The tours fill up fairly quickly, so it is recommended you book in advance.
Once symbolizing the end terminus of a journey Tacoma today has evolved into a complex and dynamic city, offering educational, commercial and natural experiences all within a quick drive from one another. Pair these opportunities with the city’s livability and liberal bent, and you end up with a population who cares deeply about their city, both its aesthetics and government, which will be immediately crystal clear to anyone who passes through. All of these places to visit in Tacoma paint a picture of a small town with a big heart.