In a nutshell: Seven months after moving to Tacoma, Washington I’ve fallen in love with the place. So I’ve listed out 25 of the awesome things that make this a city what it is.
An un-pretentious city
Tacoma has a legacy of hard work and perhaps hard times. It’s never been a glamorous city or had a particular reputation to live up to. I didn’t know much about Tacoma before moving here, but over the last eight months I’ve discovered a fascinating, friendly place which offers much more than meets the eye.
I call Tacoma an “unpretentious” city because it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is and what its people do. Behind the gritty industrial image one sees at first blush lie fun bar and food scenes, active fitness and art communities, extensive and compassionate social services nonprofits, and much more.
So in this moment of really appreciating the communities, restaurants, and other gems in Tacoma I’ve written up a list of 25 things I’ve discovered and really dig about the city.
25 awesome things about Tacoma
Point Defiance Park
This beautiful 700-acre park at the very northern tip of Tacoma juts out into the Puget Sound. I love Point Defiance for the amazing trail running on tens of miles of forest trails, for the magnificent views of the Sound, for the Zoo and the overall awesomeness of the place. It even has batting cages and a go-cart track.
Ruston Way runs along the waterfront on the north eastern side of Tacoma. Fun restaurants line Ruston Way, providing great seafood, pizza, Sunday brunches and peaceful water views. The wife and I love to wake up early (5:30) on a weekday and run along the wide pedestrian path along Ruston Way while the sunrise paints the sky that reflects in the quiet waters.
The Office is a bar (not an office). It’s on this list partly because I just love that name for a bar, but also because they have tasty food, a good happy hour, friendly staff and are in a great location. The Office sits on Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma and offers a fun trivia night on Thursdays. The special on Thursday nights? Office Nachos, which are like normal nachos but with tater tots instead of tortilla chips.
Another gem that one may not discover immediately is Wright Park, a large urban park in north eastern Tacoma near downtown. Wright Park, which is long and spans several city blocks, includes an arboretum, basketball courts, many winding paths, a large water fountain for kids to play in, lawn bowling, statues and more. The park is filled with trees and gently sloping grass hillsides perfect for an afternoon lounge or picnic. On summer weekends it bustles with families, birthday parties, pickup basketball games, and all sorts of fun organized activities. Surrounding Wright Park you can find fun bars, restaurants, and stores.
The only thing stranger than the name of this little restaurant is the place itself. Quickie Too is a cafe that serves outstanding vegan sandwiches and other meat-and-dairy-free creations – who’d a thunk from the name? You’d barely know it’s a restaurant from the totally unassuming exterior of the building on MLK Jr. Way, and the inside feels like a cheap college campus cafe. But the sandwiches are incredible and help me to completely forget I’m missing out on meat (what I typically consider an absolutely critical element of a good sammy).
Views of Mount Rainier
On a sunny day, Mount Rainier stands majestically in the distance, though seems so close you could almost reach out and touch it. I’ve never lived near a mountain so beautiful and magnificent. Every time I see it, often wrapped in clouds from its own weather system, I feel I should pray to it or something. My wife and I feel fortunate to live in a place where we can just look up while driving down a random street and see such a strikingly beautiful natural monument.
The Tacoma Museum of Glass highlights yet another unexpected treat in Tacoma: A rich recent history of glass art in the Pacific Northwest. The museum show cases glass art from around the world and is sort of a monument to Dale Chihuly, perhaps the most well known modern glass artist. The Tacoma Museum of Glass is another one of those surprises you find beneath the gritty industrial exterior of this town. My favorite exhibit? Kids Design Glass, a program that gives children’s color drawings to house glass artists who make exact replicas. With names like “Cucumber All Dressed Up for the Night” the pieces in this collection are whimsical, beautiful and heart warming.
Tater tots & teriyaki
Teriyaki ain’t much to write home about and neither are tater tots. But these two “t” foods are both staples of the Tacoma restaurant scene. When we first moved here I was surprised to see teriyaki shops on every other corner and am still intrigued by the common teriyaki burgers I see advertised, which I have yet to try.
It took me a little longer to notice the prevalence of tater tots. It turns out just about every bar and restaurant around serves ’em, sometimes in unique and exciting ways. The Pacific Grill, one of Tacoma’s nicest restaurants, has blue cheese tater tots on the bar menu and The Office serves tater tot nachos. Every time I eat these crispy little taters I’m reminded of childhood and the many tasty treats that today I find so nostalgic.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge connects Tacoma with the town of Gig Harbor and other towns beyond. It’s a beautiful bridge that rises high above the water and connects two majestic forested land masses. The bridge’s long, prominent slope looks charming but puts runners and bicyclists through the ringer. Shortly after being built in about 1940 the first version of the bridge collapsed. You may have seen videos of “Gallopin’ Gerdie” online. That’s the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The new bridge is much safer.
Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club
I’ve not even played here yet, but I love the fact that lil’ ol’ Tacoma has a fancy tennis club that dates back to 1890. The courts are no longer grass, but the place is still surrounded by brick and ivy fences and carries a slight mystique (at least for me).
Doyle’s Public House
Me and the babe went to Doyle’s Public House for the first time on a pleasant Saturday while a Red Sox game was on. Walking into the pub we were happily surprised to see Red Sox jerseys hung on the walls and the Sox game playing on a few screens. The kicker: They were playing the game via satellite on NESN – the New England Sports Network – which meant we got to see all the cheesy furniture commercials from Boston-area stores like Bob’s and Bernie & Phil’s. The nostalgia alone was worth the price of our lunch. Also, they have a tasty Irish-American menu, classic pub atmosphere and a surprisingly tasty veggie quesadilla.
1022 South is a great bar, not for its size (because it’s tiny) but for the delicious craft cocktails they serve. The decor is sort of upscale homey and a scooch romantic, classy all around. They change the drink menu seasonally and provide the most thoughtfully made classic concoctions and creative new cocktails around. The vegan mojito cake (made specially for them by Corina Bakery down the street) tastes incredible and all the food on their small menu is presented simply and elegantly.
Tacoma is full of pubs of all types. Some of the ones I’ve been in I don’t plan on returning to, but many others offer friendly staff and unique tastes of Tacoma. From Dirty Oscar’s Annex (D.O.A.) on Sixth Ave to the Goldfish Tavern by Point Defiance, Tacoma’s character comes through in the wide variety and ubiquity of its pubs.
I. Love. The. Tacoma. Runners.
I’m a new resident with a hankerin’ for running and the Tacoma Runners group has been an incredible boon. I discovered it through Facebook and immediately joined the group. Every Thursday night the Tacoma Runners gather at a bar and run a 3 mile loop that returns us all to the starting line at the bar. Each week the organizers decide on a different bar and map out a run. The runs have given me the opportunity to meet other residents, both long-timers and newly landed, in a fun and informal setting organized around a shared interest. Every town needs a group like this!
Tons of folks bicycle here and Tacoma has several great bike shops. A lot of folks ride to work and back and the city provides decent bike lanes and bike paths. I love seeing the independence of all the cyclists, especially considering the commitment it takes to make it up some of the mighty hills throughout the city.
I don’t play much golf and when I do, it’s pretty bad. But I like to golf and am grateful for the collection of courses throughout Tacoma. We have a couple of well-renowned courses where the fancy and moneyed folks play, as well as courses for the common man. It’s a treat to have quick access to so many courses, several of which are well-maintained public courses owned by the city.
Parks & Recreation
The Tacoma landscape is dotted with parks, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs. The fairly new Y downtown has great facilities, including an on-site masseuse. Tacoma has really excelled at providing sites for outdoors fun, fitness and community activities and seems to be continuing in those efforts.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland
Like most of us, she’s not perfect. But I dig the genuine energy of this Tacoma native politician. My first experience of Mayor Strickland was at the University of Puget Sound’s celebration of Martin Luther King Junior, which also included a keynote speech from Spike Lee. I guess I just think it’s cool to have an African-American lady mayor. It may not be politically correct to say that, but I believe we need more women in politics and find it easy to be inspired by Mayor Strickland.
Freighthouse Square is a landmark old train station recently remade into a galleria for local businesses. While the building isn’t full yet and hasn’t reached it’s potential, you can find cute shops, tasty snacks and various surprises here. The long, long building includes an events hall at one end where back in February we attended a fun drag show fundraiser to support the local AIDS hospice.
It’s nice to have an Amtrak station just down the street from my house, even if I don’t ride the train all that much. The Amtrak routes through the Pacific Northwest are quite popular and make it easy to travel between Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC and all the points in between.
Extensive bus system
A lot of folks in Tacoma rely on the buses to get to work, school and the grocery stores. All throughout town I see buses and bus stops – a good sign that says the city of Tacoma is doing a good job at helping folks get around.
University of Puget Sound
I’m a little biased because my wife works here, but I’m a big fan of the University of Puget Sound. The beautiful campus offers a classy, classic university feel created by the large brick buildings and immaculately maintained grounds. This private school seems to care deeply for the well being of its students and provides rich experiences of all types. Also, my wife can’t stop raving about their dining hall.
I wasn’t familiar with the term “craftsman house” before moving to Tacoma, but now I can point one out from a mile away. The Wikipedia definition of “American Craftsman” provides fascinating background on the artistic and social movement behind this style of architectural design. Simply put, Craftsman style houses built around the start of the 20th century broke with the tradition of ornate Victorian style houses, instead baring simple lines and emphasizing originality. Having grown up in a suburban town built mostly in the 1970s, I get a kick out of the fascinating Craftsman designs that fill many neighborhoods in Tacoma.
Stadium High School
Weird name for a high school, I know. But the school really does have a beautiful stadium, with the northeasterly end open and overlooking Puget Sound. The school itself boasts incredible architecture and looks almost like a castle. Locals like to run the stairs at the stadium and the school is well known in some circles for being one of the locations where the movie Ten Things I Hate About You was shot.
The Apple Store
This one’s kind of dumb and shouldn’t really make the list. But we’ve got an Apple store in the Tacoma Mall. I think of Apple stores as big-city joints and like the fact we’ve got one so readily accessible here in Tacoma. Also, when my hard drive and motherboard completely crashed earlier this year I was grateful to have a Genius Bar nearby. They didn’t fix it, but at least the replaced everything under the extended warranty I had the prescience to buy when I first got the computer.
There are tons of awesome sights and places in Tacoma I couldn’t fit on the list of 25. Here I’ve listed a few great things about Tacoma that didn’t make the list.
Hidden parks: They’re everywhere.
Happy Hours: Almost every bar has one!
Pizza places: The Rock, Garlic Jim’s, Ferrelli’s, Puget Sound Pizza, RoundTable, etc.
Tatoos: Seems like everybody’s got ’em