Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Tacoma, WA

  • Published 2022/12/05

Tacoma is Pierce County’s metropolitan hub and the third-largest city in Washington.

Pierce County, Washington, can be found around the southern end of Puget Sound.

Tacoma is called the “City of Destiny” because it is the western terminal of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

It was named after Mount Rainier, commonly called Takhoma or Tahoma.

Nearby Commencement Bay, Tacoma‘s deep-water harbor, is ideal for various watersports.

The city’s many free attractions, like parks and museums, offer visitors many ways to have fun.

Here are the 15 best free things to do in Tacoma, Washington:

Take a Hike at Point Defiance Park

Hiking trail at Point Defiance Park

Faina Gurevich /

The roads and trails of Point Defiance Park wind through old-growth forests.

Puget Sound’s inlets and bays form the area’s natural boundaries.

The beautiful natural environment is juxtaposed with urban elements at Point Defiance Park.

Its paths frequently wind through unspoiled woodlands.

There are breathtaking vistas, magnificent wooded landscapes, and fun things to do for people of all ages.

Only hikers are allowed on the trails in Point Defiance Park, and bikes are strictly forbidden.

Rose garden at Point Defiance Park

GeorgeColePhoto /

The only roads open to cyclists are the inner and outer loops.

The zoo, gardens, and amusement park are just a few features that have been added to the park over the years.

The Point Defiance Rose Garden is a tranquil oasis in the middle of the dense woodland.

There are places to sit beneath the arbors, making this the perfect spot for contemplation among the blooms.

Visit N Pearl St, Tacoma, Washington, and enjoy the fresh air and natural beauty for free.

A pond at Point Defiance Park

Reflections Studio /

Walk around Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park

Pavilion at Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park

Jill Shepherd /

The 3.9-acre parkland that now makes up Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park was originally part of a 7-acre site developed in the late 1800s for industrial use.

It has a coastline on the Bay measuring around 1,100 ft.

Unfortunately, the area was contaminated by the waste products of several companies throughout the years.

The National Guard cleaned up the property between 1996 and 1997 and turned it over to the City of Tacoma for public use.

The park is part of a community-led effort to remember the 1885 deportation of Tacoma’s Chinese and foster a peaceful, diversified community.

Today, this gorgeous beachfront property has unobstructed waterfront views.

Trail leading to the waterfront at Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park

Jill Shepherd /

The layout of Chinese Reconciliation Park combines elements from a classic Chinese garden with those of a scenic waterfront location.

The location’s highlight areas are the Grotto, the footpaths, and the coastline.

In addition, there is a 6,000-square-foot pond filled with fresh water.

Enjoy a stroll or sit back and marvel at the magnificent views.

They are located at N. Schuster Parkway, Tacoma, Washington.

Sculpture at Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park

Colleen Michaels /

Stroll along Ruston Way Park

Ruston Way Park is a two-mile stretch of beautiful shoreline perfect for strolling, running, rollerblading, and even fishing on Commencement Bay.

It stretches from downtown to Point Defiance, just a short distance from the city’s Museum District.

The Ruston Way Waterfront comprises various smaller parks, including Judge Jack Tanner Park, Dickman Mill Park, and others.

There are various spots with water access along Ruston Way.

Jack Hyde Park on the eastern end, and Les Davis Pier on the western end, are two of the best places to launch kayaks or paddleboards.

So if you’re looking for a great area to spend a sunny day in Tacoma, go no further than Ruston Way.

Play Some Hoops at Titlow Lodge and Park

Daytime view of Titlow Park

Douglas Graham, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Titlow Park is situated next to a lagoon and Puget Sound.

It’s a vast, 75-acre park with miles of oceanfront and paths for hiking, biking, and other adventure activities.

You can take the kids out for the day and enjoy the scenery of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

People flock to the park to enjoy the expansive beachfront and estuary lagoon.

Tennis courts, basketball courts, playfields, pathways, spraygrounds, playgrounds, and picnic spots are all available on the premises.

The park’s focal point is the historic Titlow Lodge, previously the Hotel Hesperides, built in 1911.

You may pick between two great trails: the 1.3-mile-long hidden beach trail and the 0.75-mile-long Lagoon Loop.

The sprayground is fun for kids to run around and cool down.

There is something for everyone at Titlow Lodge and Park, at 6th Ave Tacoma, Washington.

Enjoy the Outdoors at Wright Park

Scenic view of Wright Park

Dawn Umstot /

Located in the heart of Tacoma, Wright Park is a large and well-liked public space with various amenities, including a pond, playgrounds, and sports fields.

In this beautiful 27-acre arboretum, you’ll find more than 600 species of trees.

The city’s parks department keeps it in pristine condition, making it ideal for a day trip with loved ones.

The Tacoma Property Company, led by its president Charles B. Wright, gave the city of Tacoma a 20-acre plot of land in 1886 for use as a park.

Water fountain at Wright Park

Jonathan Park /

The park quickly expanded from its original 20 acres to its current 27 acres.

Wright Park is a great place to take a walk, exercise, or enjoy the outdoors.

Wright Park is the perfect place to take the kids.

You can visit Wright Park at 501 South I St, Tacoma, Washington.

A duck at Wright Park

Abbie Madlem /

Go Back in Time at Tacoma Historical Society Museum

The Tacoma Historical Museum is an offshoot of the Tacoma Historical Society.

Thanks to the generosity of donors and museum members, everyone is welcome to visit the museum for free.

The Tacoma Historical Society was established in 1990, making it a relatively new institution.

The Tacoma Historical Society is a non-profit organization based in Washington, run entirely by volunteers.

They are committed to preserving, promoting, and presenting the history of Tacoma and its inhabitants.

They put a lot of effort into providing educational opportunities for the community through online discussion boards and printed materials.

Their ever-expanding collection of historical items, documents, and photographs was first digitized and cataloged in 2011.

Since then, it has presented engaging exhibits and increased awareness of Tacoma’s rich history.

The Provident Building, located at 919 Pacific Avenue, was transformed into a museum in March 2014.

So come visit and learn about Tacoma’s interesting history.

Take a Free Ride at the Tacoma Link Light Rail

A Tacoma Link Light Rail along the road

Colleen Michaels /

The Tacoma Link Light Rail is a convenient and cost-free way to travel within the city center.

It transports riders 365 days a year and has free parking on a six-story Link garage next to the Tacoma Dome Station.

In addition, Tacoma Link Light Rail runs for free between both ends of downtown.

A Tacoma Link Light Rail terminal

Oran Viriyincy, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kids and adults alike who enjoy train rides will adore this 1.6-mile track.

You can catch a ride to any of its six destinations, which include the Union Station, Tacoma Dome, the Convention Center, South 25th Street, South 11th Street, and the Theater District.

There is plenty of room on the train for baby strollers, bicycles, and wheelchairs.

Enjoy the Local Plants at W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Wooden bench surrounded with flora in W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Angela Dukich /

On the West Coast, W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory is one of only three public Victorian-style conservatories.

Among the numerous rare and endangered plants on display are ferns, palms, figs, bromeliads, orchids, and many more.

There is no entry fee; however, there are boxes for voluntary contributions.

More than 250 types of rare tropical plants and a stunning, ever-changing display of flowering plants await you in the Conservatory.

Dedicated in 1908, it is now included on local, state, and federal registers of historic places.

Gorgeous flora in W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Angela Dukich /

The W.W. Seymour Conservatory’s interior provides a lovely setting for a small wedding.

The Gazebo can also be rented and is a beautiful setting for an outside ceremony.

There’s plenty of room to set up a hundred seats around the Gazebo, surrounded by a lovely landscape.

It has almost 3,500 individual glass panels and a central dome with 12 sides.

Spend a few hours at no cost exploring their diverse plant collection on South G St in Tacoma, Washington.

Purple flowers in W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Angela Dukich /

Explore the Karpeles Manuscript Library

Karpeles Manuscript Library, located at South G St. Tacoma, Washington, is a unique museum that exhibits one of the world’s largest private collections of manuscripts.

David and Marsha Karpeles, wealthy developers and serious bookworms founded the museum and donated their collection.

The museum displays their ever-expanding manuscript collection to the public.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Tacoma is only one of several places where you may see these rare manuscripts.

To promote cultural literacy, the museum provides free admission.

Explore historical documents in Tacoma, including the Bill of Rights, Charles Dickens’ works, and more.

Each exhibition runs for a total of four months.

So it’s well worth your time to check out the Karpeles Museum in Tacoma.

Learning about history at the museum is an interactive experience.

Go Across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass

Daytime view of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass

Chamomile_Olya /

In 2002, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass opened to the public, providing a pedestrian link between Tacoma’s downtown and the harbor.

It’s an outdoor museum devoted to the works of Chihuly.

Using the bridge, you can cross to the Museum of Glass from the Tacoma Art Museum.

The 500-foot pedestrian bridge features three spectacular Chihuly glass installations that are free and open to the public.

It’s arguably the most romantic spot in the nation’s capital.

View from the Chihuly Bridge of Glass

Ian Dewar Photography /

It’s a great location to spend the evening with your special someone and watch the sunset.

Almost two thousand glass tiles make up the pavilion’s ceiling, creating the illusion of swimming through a coral reef.

The crystal spires of the bridge soak up the sun’s rays, causing them to sparkle from within.

Like glacial ice, the blue translucent crystals shift their appearance throughout the day.

To get a one-of-a-kind experience without spending a dime, head to South G Street in Tacoma, Washington.

Visit the Tacoma Children’s Museum

Signage of Tacoma Children's Museum

Colleen Michaels /

Tacoma, Washington, is home to the Tacoma Children’s Museum, a lively, play-based facility aimed at youngsters from 0 to 8.

The Children’s Museum of Tacoma is a great place to take the kids during their time off from school.

In addition, the displays here encourage parental participation in their children’s imaginative play.

The children’s museum features interactive exhibits such as a ship where visitors can “sail” on an adventure, a water play area, and a wooden play structure with a designated space for toddlers.

This is the ideal location for kids to grow and learn since it combines a laid-back atmosphere with a stage, Legos, and an art studio.

The museum’s entrance fee is “Pay As You Will,” which means donations are accepted.

They have a variety of initiatives that allow for free entry, such as First Fridays are always free, and Free Market Play days and library passes.

They are located at Pacific Ave, Tacoma, Washington.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Go Fishing at Chambers Creek Regional Park

The waters of Chambers Creek Regional Park

Jose Nguyen /

Washington’s Chambers Creek Regional Park is a beautiful green space perfect for outdoor activities.

Chambers Creek Regional Park is located on the picturesque Chambers Bay Golf Course.

The park includes routes for hikers and bicyclists, fishing in the creek, horseback riding along the riverbank, and picnic sites with barbecues and tables.

Pre-booked or walk-up camping reservations are accepted at Chambers Creek.

This 930-acre location features nearly two miles of saltwater shoreline, two and a half miles of urban creek and canyon, and spectacular mountain and Puget Sound views.

It won’t cost you a dime to take advantage of the beach or the public paths there.

You can also go golfing or eat at one of the many restaurants in the area.

They are located at Grandview Dr. W. 9850 64th St W University Place, Washinton, just a few minutes’ drive from Tacoma.

Take Your Furry Friends to Fort Steilacoom Park

Tall trees at Fort Steilacoom Park

sc_images /

The 340-acre Fort Steilacoom Park is home to Waughop Lake, an off-leash dog area, and multiple baseballs and soccer grounds.

Lakewood, Washington, is home to several parks, the largest of which is Fort Steilacoom Park.

The Western State Hospital is the site of Fort Steilacoom.

Visitors of all ages will find Fort Steilacoom to be an excellent resource for learning about the everyday lives of soldiers, officers, and their families, as well as those of the garrison’s employees and visitors.

Playground at Fort Steilacoom Park

Travisl at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fort Steilacoom Museum’s officers’ quarters were renovated in the 1980s by the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, Heritage League of Pierce County, and HFSA.

The Fort Steilacoom Historical Association (HFSA) hosts monthly events and activities to spread awareness of the fort’s history and legacy.

In addition, the park offers Volunteer organize events, including building tours, living history shows, and educational seminars.

They are located at 87th Ave SW Lakewood, Washington, just a few minutes’ drive from Tacoma.

Explore the Harbor History Museum

Visitors to the Gig Harbor Peninsula can learn about its fascinating past at the Harbor History Museum.

The museum was rebranded as the Harbor History Museum in 2007.

It has an exhibition area of 7,000 square feet, a conference room, and a library that spans 900 square feet.

In addition, it features a fully restored one-room schoolhouse from 1893 and a 65-foot fishing vessel undergoing restoration.

You can visit the museum for free.

The museum offers community and educational programs for locals, tourists, academics, and students.

They have a permanent exhibit that features larger-than-life experiences.

Travelers can learn about the area’s long and storied past.

The museum’s permanent exhibits feature video kiosks, hands-on displays, computer interactives, and theater.

There are constantly new things to see at the museum, as they rotate between three and five exhibits each year.

Visit them at Harborview Dr. Gig Harbor, Washington.

Visit the Pacific Bonsai

A bonsai tree at Pacific Bonsai Museum

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

The Pacific Bonsai Museum, located at S 336th St, Federal Way, Washington, bridges the gap between urban living and the natural world by showcasing the vibrant art of bonsai.

This hidden gem will blow your mind.

There are more than 150 unique Bonsais on display.

Lone bonsai tree at Pacific Bonsai Museum

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

Depending on the time of year, visitors can see anywhere from a dozen to sixty distinct tree species on display at the museum.

In addition, they showcase exceptional bonsai from across the Pacific Rim, including Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States.

This cultural gem is free to visit six days a week and hosts workshops, guided tours, and other special events.

Bonsai tree with thick branches at Pacific Bonsai Museum

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

Final Thoughts

When you visit Tacoma, you can choose from a wide variety of activities, many of which are inexpensive or even free.

Tacoma is a city noted for its magnificent parks and outdoor spaces.

Tacoma is home to various attractions, from its famous glass-art scene to historic theaters and local playhouses.

The downtown area is home to several free museums, including the Tacoma Children’s Museum, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass Museum, and the Tacoma Historical Society Museum.

There is always something for everyone in Tacoma.

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