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The 20 Best Things to Do in Tacoma, WA, for First Timers

Marine Heritage at Foss Waterway Seaport

Located in Washington state, Tacoma is a city that sits on the banks of the Puget Sound. It is also known as the City of Destiny due to its history as the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the 19th century. Not only does this city have a long and interesting history that appeals to tourists, but there are also plenty of things to see and do when you visit this city. The range of activities and attractions is diverse, so there is something to appeal to all tastes and to people of all ages. If this is your destination of choice, here are the 20 best things to do in Tacoma, WA, for first-timers.

Washington State History Museum

20. Go to the Washington State History Museum

According to Trip Savvy, you should include a trip to the Washington State History Museum in your trip to Tacoma. This museum is on the waterfront in downtown Tacoma, and this displays a variety of artifacts about the history of the state. The permanent exhibits include a collection of Native American art and artifacts, items relating to the state industry and labor, the early European settlement, and geology. There are also temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

Destiny Harbor

19. Take a Boat Tour from Destiny Harbor

A fun activity that people of all ages can enjoy is taking a boat trip from Destiny Harbor. There are two different tours available from Destiny Harbor Tours, both of which use their two restored U.S. Navy Boats. Both tours will allow you to view the coastline of Tacoma from a different perspective and to enjoy the ocean air. You will also have the chance to see marine life during your boat trip.

Swan Creek Mountain Bike Park

18. Go for a Ride in Swan Creek Mountain Bike Park

Those who want to enjoy physical activities during their trip should consider hiring a bike for a ride at the Swan Creek Mountain Bike Park. This park is between Pierce County and East Tacoma, with the Puyallup River running through the park. People who simply want to enjoy a walk can keep to the paved trails throughout the forested park, while adventurous bikers can explore the natural trails, the wooded canyons, and the new mountain bike park. There is also a nice community garden to enjoy.

W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

17. Enjoy a Day at the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Located next to Tacoma’s Wright Park, the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory is a wonderful place to visit for nature lovers. It is a historic glass conservatory that boasts a 12-sided dome that is listed on the National Historic Register. There are more than 3,500 panes of glass in the wings of the conservatory and the dome. Inside, you will see interesting floral displays and many exotic tropical plants.

Museum of Glass

16. Visit the Museum of Glass

The full name of this attraction is the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art in Tacoma. This attraction is the only museum in America that focuses on contemporary glassworks. There is an amphitheater that allows visitors to view the hot shop to see the glass artists at work, and this is one of the highlights for many visitors.

Owen Beach

15. Spend Some Time on Owen Beach

A great place to get away from the city and enjoy beautiful surroundings and ocean views is at Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park. In warmer weather, it is a fantastic spot for walking, sunbathing, swimming, shore fishing, or playing with the kids on the beach. There are picnic tables along the beach where people can sit and enjoy a bite to eat, and there is a children’s playground to keep younger visitors entertained. You might see sea lions and seals, as these creatures often come ashore to enjoy the sun. If you want to enjoy the water, you can rent kayaks and canoes.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

14. Visit Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Trip Savvy lists Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium as one of the top attractions in Tacoma to visit. This attraction features animals from both the Pacific Northwest and from elsewhere around the world. The zoo is divided into sections according to the animal’s natural habitat. Some include the Asia Forest Sanctuary and Rocky Shores. The aquarium is home to an array of marine life, include fish, seahorses, jellyfish, sharks, and octopi.

Mount Rainier National Park

13. Explore Mount Rainier National Park

If you enjoy spending time outdoors, then one of the best places to visit is Mount Rainier National Park. Opened by William McKinley in 1899, this was the fifth national park created in the United States. The mountain is the fifth highest in the country, and it is surrounded by 236 thousand acres of parkland. It is a geographically interesting place to visit as there are forests, meadows, gorges, valleys, waterfalls, and glaciers. This park has many diverse ecosystems. Many animals live in this park, including mountain goats, deer, elk, black bears, bobcats, and cougars. The park is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and climbers. Other activities to enjoy include sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. It is possible to camp in the park, although you will need a permit.

Job Carr House Museum

12. Go to the Job Carr House Museum

Job Carr was Tacoma’s first European settler. Although he was born in New Jersey, Carr was a restless man who moved around a lot. He did a stint in the Union Army and was badly wounded. He then moved to Iowa, followed by Indiana. Finally, he sold his land and moved to Tacoma in 1864. Along with his cat, Tom, he lived beneath a cedar bark shelter while he was building them a log cabin. Visitors can see the original cabin with an interior restored to look as it would when Job Carr lived there. There are documents on display that reveal a lot about this man’s life and his beliefs. There are also costumes for children to play dress-up.

Tacoma Glassblowing Studio

11. See Artists at Work in the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio

Tacoma is well-known for its glassmaking, and one of the best places to learn more about this is at Tacoma Glassblowing Studio. This glassblowing studio was founded by a married couple in 2006. Visitors to the studio can see the glass being created, admire a display of glass art, and buy pieces of art from the shop in the studio. There are also various workshops available for people to learn about the art of glassmaking.

Nisqually Living History Museum

10. Visit Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

Fort Nisqually Living Museum is an excellent attraction for all the family to visit, says Time Out. This is based around a preserved 19th-century trading post that is a National Historic Landmark. It is an interactive attraction that allows visitors to find out what life was like in the late 19th-century before Washington became a state. In addition to the Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading and fam post, there are many interesting structures that are some of the oldest in Puget Sound.

Children’s Museum of Tacoma

9. Take the Kids to the Children’s Museum of Tacoma

If you are visiting Tacoma with children, then one of the top attractions to visit in the city is the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. This attraction is aimed at children up to the age of eight, and it is divided into zones for children to explore. Children can enjoy a variety of interactive experiences that allow them to learn through play. There are opportunities to climb, play in the water, get creative, and build in the different sections. This attraction also has a snack bar.

American Lake

8. Go Fishing at American Lake

If you enjoy fishing, then the best place to visit in Tacoma is American Lake, which is located in the community of Lakewood just south of Tacoma. The lake is stocked with kokanee and rainbow trout. There are also natural populations of brown bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, coastal cutthroat, rock bass, and yellow perch.

Chihuly Bridge of Glass

7. Walk Across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass

An unusual landmark in Tacoma is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. The bridge connects the Museum of Glass to downtown Tacoma and the Museum of Glass, crossing the Foss Waterway. The covered section of the bridge contains a collection of more than two thousand glass objects that are predominantly created by Tacoma-native and renowned glass-maker Dale Chihuly. The bridge also has glass sculptures, blue translucent crystal towers, and a large glass wall. It is free to cross the bridge and admire the glass art.

Broadway Center for the Performing Arts

6. Enjoy a Performance at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts

The Pantages Theater and the Rialto Theater are both within the Broadway Center for Performing Arts. Both these theaters were completed in 1918. You will also find the newer Theater on the Square, which was established in 1993. The Broadway Center is home to the Tacoma City Ballet, the Tacoma Symphony, the Tacoma Opera, and several other performing organizations. If you want to see a performance during your stay, you should check out the schedule and book tickets in advance.

LeMay- America’s Car Museum

5. See the Exhibits at LeMay- America’s Car Museum

America’s Car Museum is home to an impressive collection of cars. Most of these belonged to businessman Harold LeMay. This businessman had 3,500 cars, which was the world’s largest private collection. Approximately 350 of his cars are now on display in America’s Car Museum. Some of the cars on display include race cars, British cars, classic cars, and alternative fuel cars. The museum also looks at the impact automobiles have had on American culture.

Tacoma Nature Center

4. Go to Tacoma Nature Center

Nature-lovers should visit the Tacoma Nature Center. This is a nature preserve that covers 71 acres and includes forest, wetlands, and Snake Lake. Visitors can walk through the trails in the forest to see the wildlife, which includes raccoons, red foxes, black-tailed deer, and cottontail rabbits. When they reach the lake, they will see western painted turtles, Canada geese, mallards, and wood duck. Visitors can then go to the interpretative nature center to learn about the preserve, animal life, and ecosystems. Discovery Pond is one of the highlights of the visit for younger visitors as there are a playground and opportunities to learn through play.

Five Mile Drive and Trails

3. Explore Five Mile Drive and Trails

File Mile Drive and Trails are within Point Defiance Park in Puget Sound. There is an inner loop and an outer loop. While the inner loop is for people to drive around the park, the outer loop is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. The trails vary in length and in difficulty as some cover forest land, steep cliffs, and beaches. From many points around the trails, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of Puget Sound, Vashon Island, and Puget Sound. This is an excellent place to visit if you want to get away from the buzz of the city.

Marine Heritage at Foss Waterway Seaport

2. Learn About Tacoma’s Marine Heritage at Foss Waterway Seaport

At Foss Waterway Seaport, visitors can learn about the importance of boat and shipbuilding in Tacoma’s history at the Waterfront Maritime Museum. It is set within an old wheat warehouse, and it is filled with exhibitions such as models of commercial vessels, canoes, early scuba equipment, sculptures of marine debris, recreational boats, and vintage fishing lures. Visitors can also go into a working heritage wooden boat shop. There are also children’s activities and a maritime research library.

Tacoma Art Museum

1. Visit the Tacoma Art Museum

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Tacoma, WA, for first-timers is to visit the Tacoma Art Museum. This attraction was founded in 1935, although it was not in its current presentation until 2003. The focus of this museum is showcasing Northwestern art. The displays include more than 4,500 items. The collection includes works by 19th-century European artists, Japanese woodblock prints, and the largest collections of jewelry and glass by Northwestern artists. A highlight for many people is the Haub Family Collection of Western Art.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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