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- FREE Fun Things to Do in Tacoma
- 1. Tour the Tacoma Art Museum
- 2. Play in Point Defiance Park
- 3. Free Art at the Courthouse
- 4. Chihuly Bridge of Glass
- 5. Third Thursday Artwalk
- 6. Tacoma Children's Museum
- 7. Enjoy the Ruston Way Waterfront
- 8. Flowers for Free
- 9. Ride the Free Tacoma Link Light Rail
- 10. View Mt. Rainier
- 11. Spend the Day at the Beach
- 12. Hotel Murano Art
- 13. Free Public Boat Launches
- Find Places to Stay Near Tacoma, WA
Tacoma isn’t as famous as its sister city in Washington state. Seattle gets all the press, good and bad. But Tacoma’s worth a visit when your family’s exploring the Pacific Northwest. There are many family friendly things to do. And, for budget-conscious travelers, may of these activities are free or close to it. Here are our favorite things to do when exploring the other half of Sea-Tac – Tacoma, Washington.
Most SeaTac tourists are Seattle-, or cruise ship-bound, but it would be a shame to miss all that Tacoma has to offer. This gritty city, which enjoys (or endures) the same Pacific Northwest climate as Seattle, has a charm all its own. It’s also a little more low-key than Seattle, with lower-priced hotels and restaurants. Even parking downtown is a bargain.
FREE Fun Things to Do in Tacoma
There are definitely attractions in Tacoma that you’ll want to include in your vacation budget. America’s Car Museum, the LeMay, is a must-visit. It celebrates America’s passion for the automobile and is routinely rated as one of the top car museums in the world. The Fort Nisqually Living History Museum transports visitors back to the 19th century. The museum’s historic craft programs are popular with kids. And the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium also tops most family’s Tacoma’s itineraries.
Stretch your trip dollars by including one or more of these free things to do in the city.
1. Tour the Tacoma Art Museum
Located in Tacoma’s downtown, the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) exhibits focus on the artwork produced by Pacific Northwest creatives, like the renowned Tacoma native, Dale Chihuly. Read on for more ways to see Chihuly’s work in Tacoma for free.
If you’re a fan of bling, the museum’s studio art jewelry collection is not to be missed. TAM hosts Neighborhood Nights every Thursday from 5 – 8 pm. Admission is free for all.
The path connects downtown Tacoma with Point Defiance Park, the largest city park west of the Mississippi.
2. Play in Point Defiance Park
Include a stop at Point Defiance Park when visiting Tacoma. With 702 acres, there’s plenty to do here. Check out the park playgrounds or gape at the old growth forest. Prefer a more passive park experience? Enjoy the Inner Loop five mile drive.
The Pacific Northwest is known for its roses.The rose garden in the park is over an acre in size and features specimens ranging from shrub to rambler and everything in between. Love cherry blossoms? Check out the Park’s Japanese Garden in the spring.
If you have the dollars to splurge, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium are worth a visit. If you’re a member of your local zoo at home, you might be eligible for a 50% discount on admission because it participates in the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program.
3. Free Art at the Courthouse
One of Tacoma’s landmark buildings is Union Station. The last train stopped at this glorious, copper-domed building in 1984. It was redeveloped after a period of disrepair as a federal courthouse.
Show your ID and you can see magnificent Chihuly works of art. Dale Chihuly donated the five artworks, which include a huge chandelier. Make sure you go to the lower level of the building to see historical photographs and artifacts from the train station era.
4. Chihuly Bridge of Glass
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian bridge that opened in 2002, connects downtown Tacoma to the waterfront. It also serves as an outdoor gallery of Chihuly works. There are two 40-foot towers of giant blue crystals, a walk-through pavilion with a ceiling of 1,500 glass “Seaforms” and a wall of Venetian vessels.
The bridge takes you from the Tacoma Art Museum to the Museum of Glass. Bill it as a museum to entice kids who are art museum averse.
If you want to see how all of this beautiful art glass is created, visit Tacoma for Glass Fest Northwest. The FREE festival’s taken a COVID hiatus, but will return in the summer of 2022. Kids and adults alike will be dazzled by glassblowing demos.
5. Third Thursday Artwalk
On the third Thursday of each month, Tacoma sponsors an Artwalk. In addition to TAM, participating free admission museums include: Washington State History Museum, Foss Waterway Seaport Museum and Museum of Glass.
The Washington State History Museum is free from 3 pm – 8 pm and the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass are free from 5 pm to 8 pm. The Foss Waterway Seaport is free from 4 pm – 8 pm. And downtown art galleries stay open late, so you can meet the artists and see local works.
6. Tacoma Children’s Museum
In order to encourage all children to engage in play, the Tacoma Children’s Museum features a pay as you will admission policy. The museum is one of two operated by Greentrike, a children’s advocacy agency.
Exhibits at the children’s museum include a wooded play structure, with a special toddler area, a water play area and a ship where kids can “sail” on an adventure. There is also a creative art studio, dramatic play space, building opportunities and a quiet area where kids can read.
Check out the website during your visit to see the museum’s current programs and events.
7. Enjoy the Ruston Way Waterfront
Whether you like to bike, power walk or stroll, you’ll enjoy the Ruston Way Waterfront. It’s an easy two mile paved path along the South Puget Sound.
8. Flowers for Free
The W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park will reopen in May 2022 after a renovation. The Conservatory features over 250 individual plant species and hundreds of orchids. Opened in 1908, it anchors Wright Park, a 27-acre arboretum filled with specimen trees. There is also a large playground and sprayground in the park.
9. Ride the Free Tacoma Link Light Rail
This 1.6 mile rail is perfect for kids who love to ride trains. The streetcar easily accommodates strollers, bikes and wheelchairs.
The rail line links the following downtown locations: Tacoma Dome, South 25th Street, Union Station, the Convention Center, South 11th Street and the Theater District.
The light rail runs daily, with streetcars spaced about 12 minutes apart. Free parking’s available at the Tacoma Dome stop.
10. View Mt. Rainier
One of the highlights of any visit to the Puget Sound is catching a glimpse of snow-capped Mount Rainier. Stop at Tacoma’s Cummings Park on a clear day and chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to see it on the horizon.
Then plan a day trip from the city to Mt. Rainier National Park for more awesome-ness. Directions to the southwest Nisqually Entrance and additional park information can be found here.
11. Spend the Day at the Beach
Dash Point State Park is worth a visit, at high tide for fishing or low tide for shore exploration. It’s a popular destination for skim boarders, although most might find the water way too cold. And there are kid-friendly hiking trails too.
Parking is $10 daily. But Washington State Parks waive the fee on a number of Discover Pass FREE days: Here are the 2022 dates:
- Jan. 1 — First Day Hikes; New Year’s Day
- Jan. 17 — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- March 9 — Billy Frank Junior’s Birthday
- March 19 — State Parks’ 108th Birthday
- April 22 — Earth Day
- June 11 — National Get Outdoors Day
- June 12 — Free Fishing Day
- June 19 — Juneteenth
- Sept. 24 — National Public Lands Day
- Oct. 10 — World Mental Health Day
- Nov. 11 — Veterans Day
- Nov. 25 — Native American Heritage Day
Owen Beach is another popular Tacoma beach. Check the city’s website for details about its reopening. There is an extensive renovation underway to address climate change impact.
12. Hotel Murano Art
This boutique hotel, named after the iconic glassblowing region in Italy, has a gallery of glass art, including a Chihuly vase and rare Chihuly pencil drawings, open to the public. You can also see glass art from local artists on the mezzanine level, where the restaurant, Bite, is located.
The check-in desk is also truly spectacular. If you stay at the Hotel Murano, be sure to explore every floor; each floor features a different glass artist.
13. Free Public Boat Launches
Brought your kayak? If you’re looking for a free public boat launch, head over to Pierce County’s Gig Harbor, across the bay from Point Defiance Park.
Find Places to Stay Near Tacoma, WA
There are lots of options for hotel stays near Tacoma, including vacation rentals. Use this interactive map to help you find a place to stay in the area.
This is an update of a post originally written by Judy Antell.
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