Let’s face it, Tacoma isn’t a college town. Yes, it is the home to the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington Tacoma, but both universities populations do not account for the majority of residents in the City of Destiny. This may have deterred some applicants, but it’s one of the reasons I was drawn here. Tacoma is full of charm and hidden gems that just need to be sought out.
So, if you’re visiting for the first time (whether college touring or not) here’s a list of some of my favorite attractions – food, sights, shops, and parks – mostly within a college student’s budget.
Just south of campus, 6th Ave is home to restaurants, boutiques, and a ton of tattoo parlors. On the west end, toward the freeway, lies Artco (my favorite art and craft supply store) and Goodwill in the same shopping center.
A little further west lies the 24-hour mecca of fun and gaming, Tower Lanes. This is the best place to go when you’ve suddenly got the urge to bowl and/or mini golf…but it’s 4 am. Or maybe you want to throw it back to middle school and get all your friends together to have a birthday party there.
Going the opposite direction, located close to campus, Memo’s is a Tacoma classic. Open at all hours of the day and night for whenever you might need carne asada fries, a creamy cinnamon horchata, or a churro. Always fast, always delicious. (And sometimes the car in front of you takes too long so you’ve gotta get out of the car and read the menu.)
One of Tacoma’s best breakfast spots that’s great for pancakes bigger than the plate, delicious breakfast sandwiches, and great coffee. You have the option to dine full service or place your order and attend to your own needs. This place is bumpin’ on the weekends, so make sure you get there early.
As I like to call it, the “Voodoo Doughnuts of Tacoma.” Legendary offers a ton of doughy creations that are mouthwateringly delicious. They offer 9-inch doughnut cakes (one of which is in the shape of a burger and fries), or if that’s not your thing (how is that not your thing?!), you can get an 11+ pound “King Kong” doughnut.
All natural, homemade, locally sourced ice cream at the best smelling place in Tacoma (they make their own waffle cones and they’re heavenly). They’ve got five staple flavors and rotate between two dozen seasonal flavors. These flavors aren’t your everyday combinations, so don’t hesitate to taste one…or all of them.
#SpoonTip: Spoon at University of Puget Sound recently teamed up with them to #ForkCancer, check it out here.
(Not technically on 6th, but it’s suuuuper close to Memo’s) Open from 10 am to 11 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 2 am on weekends, Frisko Freeze sells quite possibly the best fries in Tacoma.
#SpoonTip: Dip your fries in your shake/malt. It’s the perfect combination of hot/cold/salty/sweet.
This district gets its name from Stadium High School, which was used in the film 10 Things I Hate About You. #TacomaTrivia
Tacoma’s Metro Park system is amazing – it’s the Parks department that Leslie Knope would dream about. They take care of the nearly 70 parks all over Tacoma.
Wright Park is one of my favorites because it’s got a little something for everyone: a botanical garden, pond, places to BBQ and picnic, a mile long loop to stroll, and a playground (and I haven’t even been judged for using the swings there yet).
An adorable eatery with great shakes, burgers, and fries. (If you’re lucky, like me, you’ll run into a barbershop quartet and they’ll sing for you.)
Attached to a comic book shop, this shop sells fair-priced books. They have tons of chairs to sit and relax once you’ve made your selection. It’s a magical place worth visiting. You might be able to find one of these must-read books if you’re a foodie like me.
Point Defiance is 702 acres of exploration including a beach, parks, gardens, zoo, boardwalk, and much more. In fact, it’s one of the largest urban parks in the country. It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon with friends and family, or even by yourself. Most of the attractions the park has to offer are free, with the exception of zoo entrance.
Downtown Tacoma — Pacific Avenue
Here you’ll find UW Tacoma’s campus, restaurants, bakeries, museums, and some boutiques. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon if it’s a little gloomy out.
If you’re anything like my dad, you’ll visit this museum every single time you come to visit Tacoma. Le May hosts car shows, as well as drive-in movies, and even is a venue to host private events. They’ve got tons of beautiful classic cars that are worth checking out.
A beautiful museum with rotating artwork. You can rent a headset to get a more in-depth tour. Plus, it’s free for students on certain days. Get some culture.
Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native, is known around the world for his glass sculpting. The museum is beautifully designed and offers a special room where you can watch craftspeople blow glass.
#SpoonTip: If you don’t want to pay to go into the museum itself, you can still appreciate glass artwork on the glass bridge for free.
This candy factory is dangerously close to campus. What’s even more dangerous is their 99¢ pound specials, aka candies with factory mistakes because they’re unwrapped or broken (but tbh, can you really make a mistake with chocolate?).
If you want to make something else out of the candies, try making these cookies.
Pricey but oh-so-worth-it! (I suggest going there when your family is in town and they’re paying.) They make amazing food and have quite possibly the most beautiful ambiance of any restaurant in Tacoma.
My favorite dish is the “Three Flavor Salmon” – a mixture of sweet, spicy, and savory. It’s big enough to share, but if you’re anything like me, you won’t want to.
This store has a wonderful vibe and a huge collection of books. Pricing is fair and they have a special 25¢ rack near the door to entice you upon entering.
I once spent two and a half hours here sitting on the floor in the back of the shop reading past the time the store closed and the owner didn’t kick me out.
Places to shop on Pacific
If you’re like me, food is nice and stuff, but clothes are nicer. Check out Bleach, Satori, and Urban Xchange, three local clothing stores that carry amazing things. I wish I had endless funds to support these local businesses. (It’s okay, though, you too can live vicariously through their Instagrams.)
Not only does this street have tons of restaurants and boutique type shopping, if you follow it down you can get to Puget Park which has a pathway down to Ruston Way.
Metropolitan Market AKA “The Met”
The Holy Mecca of grocery stores. They offer tons of prepared options but are best known for “The Cookie,” AKA happiness. You’ll just have to go experience one for yourself.
#SpoonTip: The Met is open 24 hours. It’s never too late to make a grocery run.
This was the very first restaurant I took my parents to when they came for Parent’s Weekend my freshman year (oh, the memories…). Portions are generous and make for great leftovers.
Ruston is flat and on the waterfront, making it perfect for walking and/or biking while taking in the view. There are a handful of restaurants to stop at if you get hungry along the way.
Northern Fish Co. has some really delicious fried fish, chowders, and sandwiches. They also sell fish you can take home and prepare yourself. They’re also conveniently located right next to a great pier to sit and look out at the view on.
There are a ton of places worth checking out that I didn’t mention. You’ll just have to go exploring and find them yourself. (Or just use trusty ol’ Google.)