This Washington Town Shed its Stinky Reputation to Become a Gem of the Northwest

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Anyone who drove I-5 along the southern end of Puget Sound over the past decades knows exactly what you’re talking about when you say “the aroma.” For years, the Port of Tacoma was home to numerous industrial plants, including an oil refinery, paper mills, aluminum smelters, and rendering plants.

These plants and the products and waste they produced led to a distinct aroma that would fill your car along a few-mile stretch of I-5 right as you pass by Tacoma.

A view of the Port of Tacoma and Mount Rainier from Ruston, Washington.
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Luckily for drivers, residents, and visitors alike, the aroma has since disappeared, and the South Sound town known as Grit City has reinvented itself as a destination rather than an afterthought.

What Makes Tacoma A Great Place to Visit

Peel back the industrial past and you have a gem that stands up to any city on the Puget Sound. With breathtaking views of the Sound and Mt. Rainier, charming neighborhoods, and miles of waterfront to explore there is so much to do in Tacoma.

Explore the Ruston Waterfront

Mt. Rainier looms large over north Tacoma and Sailboats Ruston Way waterfront Nautical Landscape
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The Ruston Waterfront is a 4-mile stretch of trails, restaurants, and endless views between downtown Tacoma and Point Defiance Park. Along the way, you’ll find paved walking and biking trails that are perfect for taking a stroll along the lovely Puget Sound.

Don’t miss lunch at Duke’s Chowder House, where, if you’re lucky, you can grab a seat out on the patio to watch the boats slowly motor by as they make their way in and out of the Port of Tacoma.

At the end of the waterfront trail is Dune Peninsula, which was transformed into a stunning park from its former heavy industry past.

Wander Around the Mansions in the Stadium District

Stadium High School
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The hills overlooking the water just north of downtown Tacoma are filled with massive mansions that are a delight to explore.

The Stadium District and Old Town District are two very walkable areas filled with old buildings, funky eateries, and massive trees that look like they have been standing for centuries.

90’s movie buffs will recognize the football field at Stadium High School as the setting for numerous scenes in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You. The home from the film is located nearby, but it is a private residence, so don’t go knocking on the doors.

Take a Walk in the Woods in Point Defiance Park

Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance Park with mossy trees. Higher resolution.
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Point Defiance Park is one of the best city parks you’ll find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Home to miles of trails that wind through the park’s dense forest this is a great place to get lost on a hot summer day.

The park is also home to the popular Owen Beach, stunning views across the Sound to nearby Gig Harbor, the Chutes and Ladders slides, gardens, and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum.

Visit the park on any day of the year and you’re sure to find residents and visitors alike enjoying the solitude that this forested retreat offers.

Visit the Revitalized Proctor District

Tacoma’s hottest neighborhood, the Proctor District, has been transformed from a once sleepy neighborhood into one of the city’s hottest areas.

Here, you’ll find hip restaurants, outstanding coffee at Olympia Coffee Roasters, to-die-for cookies at Metropolitan Market, and cute boutiques, which are all nestled amongst turn-of-the-century homes.

Ride the Streetcar

Tacoma, Washington, USA cityscape with East 21st Street Bridge at night.
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If you’re looking to get around Tacoma without a car, it has been made much easier in recent years with the extension of the streetcar line. Once confined to downtown, the streetcar now runs up through the Stadium District and over to the Hilltop Neighborhood.

Along the way, you can stop off for a burger at Shake Shake Shake or grab a latte at Manifesto Coffee.

Take in the Sights in Downtown Tacoma

Tacoma Museum of Glass exterior
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Last but certainly not least is downtown Tacoma. Here, you’ll find a mix of old and new buildings that showcase the city’s past and its forward progress into the future.

During the week, the city is buzzing with activities like farmers markets and concerts at the nearby Tacoma Dome.

Don’t miss a stop at the Museum of Glass, which showcases the glass art of Tacoma native Dave Chihuly. Here, you can walk through breathtaking glass displays and watch live glass-blowing demonstrations.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest