Don't Overlook Tacoma When Planning Your Weekend Getaway

Take a quick trip up Interstate 5 to the under-appreciated city with unique history, food, and drinks.

By Cami Hughes

Mount Rainer from Tacoma, Washington

If you’re looking for a quick weekend adventure or day trip, check out the city of Tacoma. Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from Portland, Tacoma was originally built to be the major city in Washington—until Seattle came around and took over. It has a little bit of something for everyone, with top-ranking sports teams, theater, shopping, history you won’t find elsewhere, a whole lot of delicious and unique food, and ample opportunities to explore nature without traveling far.

Here are our recommendations to make the most of a weekend in Tacoma.

What to Do

History buffs and art lovers will fawn over Tacoma's varied museums. Art lovers will enjoy the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum. The Museum of Glass, as befits the birthplace of well-known American glass artist Dale Chihuly, has an array of exhibits that highlight the versatility of glass as an art medium, and hosts live glass-blowing demonstrations. TAM features art from the Pacific Northwest, such as contemporary Native American artwork by local indigenous artists, and it also documents and studies the recovered artwork stolen by the Nazi Regime.

Tacoma is also home to the largest private car collection in the world from the LeMay family, and you can view some of it at America’s Car Museum. After you get your art and car fix, head to the Tacoma branch of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, which is the world’s largest private holding of original manuscript documents. Though it has no fixed exhibits, KMLM trades manuscripts with other branches of the museum, so you’ll find new artifacts every time you visit. (You might see the original draft of the Bill of Rights or Einstein’s notes for his famous E=MC2 formula.)

If museums aren’t your thing, check out the Tacoma Nature Center, which has hiking trails surrounding Snake Lake, a visitor’s center with interactive displays for the kids, and a natural playground with slides made from logs, boulders for climbing, and a tree house.

Point Defiance Park is the second largest urban park in the US, second only to Central Park. It’s filled with rose, rhododendron, and dahlia gardens, beaches, trails, and Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. You could spend a whole day hiking in the park, checking out the bears and sharks, and finish the day at the old-growth forest or with walk along the beach. 

Cheney Stadium hosts Washington’s minor league baseball team, the Tacoma Rainiers and the women’s soccer team, OL Reign (now featuring soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe). Check out the Tacoma Dome, which hosts everything from musical performances to the annual RV and garden shows, for upcoming events as well.

Where to Eat

The Red Hot is the location for a damn good hot dog in Tacoma, and it has many local craft beer options (28 on tap currently). Even their vegan dogs are raved about by vegans and non-vegans alike. You can stick to the classics like the Coney dog, or switch things up and try the Hound Dog, which comes with peanut butter and two slices of bacon, or the Mister Mac, which comes with mac n’ cheese, red pepper ketchup, and seasoned breadcrumbs.

Indo Asian Street Eatery is consistently highly recommended by locals for an incredible Southeast Asian street food experience. Try everything from the Korean hot wings, to the Vietnamese banh mi, to the spicy Singapore curry shrimp. Their top chef, Chef Yu, is from Bangkok, Thailand, and taught himself how to cook like the street vendors in his hometown.

Wooden City offers an intriguing and delicious mix of options, such as the lamb bolognese, beet ravioli with goat cheese, bacon pesto pizza, and blistered Hungarian peppers. The restaurant is a community staple and is currently donating $1 of every cocktail to the Tacoma Action Collective, Tacoma Urban League, and Black Lives Matter. You’ll eat good food and feel good doing it.

Not in Tacoma, but just over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Gig Harbor (about 20 minutes away), is BBQ 2 U, which has freshly smoked brisket, ribs, and chicken every day. It stays true to its Texan roots with sides like mac n’ cheese, sausage links, and even the hard-to-find “Big Red” soda. 

Where to Stay

Tacoma has no shortage of places to stay. You can eat and sleep at McMenamins’ Elk Temple, which has sixth- and seventh-floor rooms with expansive views of the Puget Sound and Tacoma’s landscape. With a total of six bars and tasting rooms throughout its first five floors, make a night out of working your way up the building and checking out the uniquely themed spaces. 

If you’re looking for a more romantic getaway, try Thornewood Castle, a historic Tudor Gothic home with a history going back more than 500 years. It’s described as “the house that love built,” and each room holds a unique theme, so it’s up to you what kind of vibe you’d like to set for the weekend. With views of the expansive grounds and garden, as well as American Lake, you’ll feel like royalty. 

Tacoma is also home to multiple bed and breakfasts. The Geiger Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Tacoma’s historic district boasts a Victorian-era aesthetic. Or you could try The Villa Bed and Breakfast, which is on the outskirts of the city near Commencement Bay and has a garden filled with native and exotic plants, as well as a tree house (although children under 10 are not allowed).

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