Things to Do in Tacoma With Family

by Evan Levy
Originally Published: 
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Looking for ways to get the most out of Tacoma, WA, with kids? We’ve got suggestions for enjoying the outdoors, finding indoor activities, and scoping out restaurants that are both kid-friendly and offer good food, below. Here are the best things to do in Tacoma with kids.

Family-Friendly Restaurants in Tacoma, Washington

You can definitely have lunch at Elmer’s, in Tacoma, but breakfast is the real draw here. The kids menu offers the Big Foot Breakfast (crepes, French toast, pancakes, but no actual feet) and adults, too, will want to check out those options—but in larger portions. Look for some of the more local/seasonal toppings, like Oregon Marionberry syrup, or seasonal fresh fruit. Omelets, Eggs Benedict, and skillet entrees can also be had.

It’s not the spaghetti that’s old at the Old Spaghetti Factory—it’s more the fact (we think) that the restaurant has been there for a while. There’s a kid menu and birthday club (not only a free meal on their birthday, but a free treat on their half birthday). The “famous” three-course meals come with bread, soup, or salad, and spumoni or ice cream. If you’re there for the pasta, you have plenty of options (marinara, white clam, meat sauce) but Chicken Parm or Marsala are also available, as are a number of gluten-free options.

If you’re looking for a splurge with a view—and some seafood—The Lobster Shop (on the waterfront) is the place to be. You can have lobster in pretty much any form, from atop a crostini, to stuffed into a mushroom, or just hanging out in all its glory on your plate. Non-seafood lovers can pretend it’s Thanksgiving and get the turkey cranberry sandwich.

Should you eat Southern when you’ve gone North? If you’re at Southern Kitchen in Tacoma, then yes. Food is locally-sourced whenever possible, and the menu includes Southern favorites like hush puppies and fried okra to start, plus catfish, fried chicken (this is not the place to eat light) and sides including corncakes and red beans and rice. Save room for cobbler.

At Shake Shake Shake, you may be reminded of the days of yore—at least, the days of yore as seen in movies about the ’50s that offer malt shops and drive-ins. The burger’s the thing to get here, served up pretty much any way you’d like it. Get onion rings and fries for the table, and some of the unique dipping sauces, like Umami Bomb or Curry ketchup.

Family-Friendly Activities in Tacoma, WA

Play is the name of the game (pretty much literally) at the Tacoma Children’s Museum. “Playscapes” include the Woods area, where kids can build a fort, send supplies up a pulley, or find a quiet reading nook. In other areas, they can experience water that falls, runs and flows (expect some dampness to occur—kids are encouraged to bring an extra set of clothes). And even more fun messes can occur in the Studio, where art making and experimenting take place.

Did you know that America has a car museum? Well, it’s right in the name—LeMay: America’s Car Museum. In the ACM Collection, visitors will see hundreds of cars spanning more than a hundred years of automotive history, plus artifacts and an open storage area. Separate exhibits focus on topics like Route 66, the British Invasion, and Lucky’s garage (a tribute to founder Harold LeMay). While you’re there, take advantage of the photo op in a Buick 1923 touring car, or check out the Family Zone, with car-centered hands-on activities.

The 760-acre Fort Defiance Park will keep you so busy that it could easily take up several full days. It includes a zoo and aquarium (don’t forget the Red Wolf Woods, to see creatures that were not that long ago on the brink of extinction), a marina (rent a boat and/or fish), and the Living History Museum, at which people in period costumes demonstrate 19thcentury crafts. Break this one up into several visits.

At the vaguely futuristic sounding Odyssey 1, kids can play laser tag, climb, crawl and bounce though tunnels and mazes in the Jungle Gym soft play area (kids 10 and under), or shoot some hoops. There’s also a game center (read: arcade) where your kids will try desperately to win tickets that they will exchange for tiny prizes that they will want more than anything and will most likely lose 10 minutes later. But they will have a great time doing it.

File this under “cool.” The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a 500-foot pedestrian overpass that links the Museum of Glass with downtown Tacoma. The three glass installations are open 24 hours a day. The ceiling of the Seaform Pavilion was made with over 2,000 glass objects; you’ll feel like you’re underwater (expect camparisons to “The Little Mermaid” from assorted members of your group). The blue crystal towers in the center change color depending on the time of day, and a multitude of Chihuly sculptures fill an 80-foot long wall.

Family-Friendly Hotels in Tacoma, WA

With a view of the waterfront, you may decide that you’re pretty much going to stay put at the Silver Cloud, Tacoma’s only waterfront hotel. All the rooms have water views, breakfast is complementary, and the hotel offers picnic areas and a waterfront walking pier (to take in even more of those water views.) You’re also two miles north of Tacoma’s museum district—plus, did we mention those water views?

Right in the heart of Tacoma’s financial and theater districts, the Courtyard by Marriott Tacoma Downtown is in walking distance of lots of local attractions, plus the light rail will take you to lots more, like the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Just want to stay put? There’s an indoor pool and on-site restaurants.

Billed as a luxury boutique hotel, the Hotel Murano is the place to go if you’re looking for a splurge. They offer a variety of workout options, plus a menu that’s strong on local ingredients. Bonus: You can have pint of local Tacoma ice cream delivered to your room—and a treat for Fido as well, plus a bowl and pet bed, if you’re traveling with your dog.

If you’re looking for a no-frills place to stay in Tacoma, the Clarion Inn has an outdoor pool and a free hot breakfast. Rooms come with a microwave and refrigerator, for more eating options. It’s also pet friendly, and rates are reasonable. You can request a late checkout and with a sun deck and fitness center, it’s got pretty much everything you need.

You’re near pretty much everything at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Wyndham Tacoma, from downtown Tacoma to the Museum of Glass. You get a free breakfast (cereal, waffles, fruit), a fitness center, outdoor pool, market and on-site restaurant. It’s also pet-friendly, because when Rover is happy, we’re all happy..

Family-Friendly Outdoor Activities in Tacoma, WA

At the center of the 71-acre Tacoma Nature Center is a 17-acre lake and wetland. Hang out at the first bridge and look for the gorgeously colored wood duck, and then traverse one of the soft-surfaced walking trails. Discovery Lake is a must-stop for kids—the natural play area features a boulder scramble and a pond with waterfalls. Stop by the nursery before you leave, and get a little piece of nature to take home with you.

When near the water, do water-themed things. Tacoma’s marine history is celebrated at the Foss Waterway Seaport. Learn the history of the Puyallup, who’ve lived on the namesake river for centuries. Explore the role of the railroad (and sit inside a life-sized model of a steam engine.) Visitors can even learn about humpback and fin whales, and kids can climb aboard a fishing boat (yes, they will want to).

If you need a “let’s just chill” kind of afternoon, a children’s play area and several picnic shelters are just two of the features that make Owen Beach a great choice for a hot afternoon. You can swim, rent a kayak, gaze at the great view of Vashon Island, and watch your dog (and children) romp. Tip: keep your eyes open for seals and sea lions!

With areas for both little kids and older ones, and great views of Chambers Bay, the aquatic-themed Playground by the Sound offers something for pretty much everyone. There are nice places to walk, you’re near an ice cream shop, and bonus—the restrooms are surprisingly clean.

If you’re seeking a park that has more than just slides and a swing, Kandle Park will give you mini waterpark vibes. It’s got a splash area and a big wave pool during the summer. A soft playground area will soften falls, while daredevils can check out the skate park. Tip: channel those Mary Poppins vibes—we hear it’s great for kite flying.

Tacoma is well known for its artists’ studios—you can try your hand at glassblowing and also buy some glass objects at the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio. At the Open Arts Studio, grab a brush for some painting, or perhaps you feeling like getting some clay under your fingernails—try out some ceramics at the Throwing Mud Gallery.


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