Turns out when you said you wanted to head south this summer, you meant Tacoma. And who can blame you? With new venues and attractions opening all the time, this little sib south of Seattle has lots to offer families this summer—a new Simpson’s art exhibit at the Tacoma Art Musuem is just the beginning. Read on for 18 Tacoma stay and play ideas.

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Bart at TAM

Cowabunga! Bart, Homer and the whole Simpson fam are making their debut at the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) this summer. Reminisce with your kids as you wander through this thoughtfully curated collection of original, hand-drawn animation cels from the show's early years (you remember them on the Tracey Ullman Show, right?) through its first decade. With over 100 cels, scripts and show tidbits posted throughout the exhibit, you’ll fall in love, not only with the old school process of animation, but with America’s favorite animated family, all over again. And be sure to pose for your own “couch gag” when you’re there. It’s got winter holiday card written all over it. Be sure the check out TAM’s online calendar for the exhibit to get the low down on upcoming events, like Cartoon Trivia Night.

1701 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: tacomaartmuseum.org

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photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Dune Peninsula Park

Metro Parks Tacoma has breathed new life into an actual wasteland this summer, turning the Superfund site that inspired the book Dune into a water front park that’s not to be missed. Families can expect the fantastic views the South Sound is known for, coupled with expansive grassy areas that make picnicking a breeze (be sure to bring a sunshade). Plus, plenty of paved paths that work for everything from strollers to longboards to bikes and even surreys you can rent from Wheel Fun at Point Ruston. Be sure to check out the "chutes and ladders" portion of the addition when you’re there. You’ll find six flights of slides that start at the top of the Wilson Way Bridge and bring you down to the ferry landing parking lot. Everyone needs to ride them at least once!

5361 Yacht Club Rd.
Tacoma, WA 98407
Online: metroparkstacoma.org/project/dune-peninsula-at-point-defiance-park

McMenamin’s Elks Temple

Whether you’re a seasoned McMenamin’s fan or a newbie to this Pacific Northwest original, you’ll want to check out the latest from the renovating duo. They’ve put the McMenamin’s spin on the old Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma, transforming it into a restaurant, hotel and music venue that draws visitors from all over. Check out the original artwork and learn about the Elks’ history in Tacoma as you wander the halls with your kids. Then sit down for a bite at the Pub (make a reservation if dinner is on the menu) before you head out in search of the secret bar, the phenomenal views and the hanging lights of the 7th floor balcony.

565 Broadway
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: mcmenamins.com/elks-temple

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Ice Bumper Cars

Put a different kind of twist on your Tacoma adventure at Sprinker Recreation Center where ice bumper cars are the hot new attraction. The human sized hockey pucks are powered by a small motor that you control, spinning this way and that as you avoid—or maybe try to collide with other riders. $12 gets you a 15-minute ride, or you can add in a skate combo for $19 total. Get all the important details here.

Sprinker Recreation Center
14824 C St. S.
Tacoma, WA 98444
Online: co.pierce.wa.us/1310/Sprinker-Recreation-Center

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Get ready to earn those Instagram hearts with the newest thrills to explore at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. First stop, this year's outdoor sand art titled, Species in the Sand, an impressive structure held together by just sand and water, depicting the sea and land life you'll find at the zoo. Next up, it's off to the Pacific Seas Aquarium, where your kids can ooh and ahh at jellyfish, touch tanks and serene hammerheads swimming overhead. Stop and say hello to the elephants and tigers before heading to the petting party happening at Stingray Cove, where kiddos (and parents) can dip a hand in and feel squishy stingrays and scaly sharks. Want to pump up those hearts even more? Register for the Eye-to-Eye Shark Cage Dive and jump in the water with five species of jaw-droppingly large sharks while secured in a cage or braving the open tank.

5400 N. Pearl St.
Tacoma, WA 98407
Online: pdza.org

Museum of Glass

Easily the hottest museum in Tacoma, the Museum of Glass will heat up your crew for a day trip adventure. Before entering the studio, make your way through the Chihuly Bridge of Glass where a rainbow of glass objects are suspended above an overpass from downtown to the museum. Once in, check out the Kids Design Glass collection that features creations based on child submitted drawings. Then, get fired up at the Hot Shop while watching featured artists demonstrate the magic of turning molten glass into works of art.

1801 Dock St.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: museumofglass.org

Children's Museum of Tacoma 

This Tacoma family destination has five distinct learning areas to get those big imaginations to take flight. Enter the Woods where a prominent tree house is waiting to be discovered and head into Beca's Studio where mini-Picassos can paint, print and sculpt away. Splash around with a flowing water table and put your building skills into action using over sized materials in the Invention space. If your tykes haven't had enough, send them on a pretend playing adventure in the out-of-this-world Voyager play structure while you sit on a comfy bench and drink some joe.

1501 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: playtacoma.org

LeMay Museum

Vroom! Vroom! Even if you don't have all the Cars movies on repeat at your house, the LeMay Museum is a destination sure to captivate imaginations while looking back at the history of the automobile. Acclaimed as the largest car museum in North America, the uniquely shaped building is located next to the Tacoma Dome and houses up to 350 cars with rotating exhibits and a family zone, plus a cafe to enjoy while dad talks about the first car he ever bought. Check out the summer drive-in movie series while you're there. They run through the end of August.

2702 E. D. St.
Tacoma, WA 98421
Online: lemaymuseum.org

Washington State History Museum

Kids have a lot of questions, but before telling them you haven't the foggiest about Washington State history because you snoozed through that class, take them to this museum and fill in the gaps of what you missed. With plenty of interactive displays, hands-on activities and buttons to push, the booooring has been replaced with...well...actual fun!

1911 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: washingtonhistory.org

Proctor District

Add Proctor to your list of Tacoma visits when you head south. This revitalized neighborhood has great kid-focused shops, like Teaching Toys & Books and Blooming Kids, vintage and upcycled clothes, next door to shops parents will love like Compass Rose, The Fernseed modern plant shop and Lapis. Check out their sidewalk sale, scheduled for August 3, 2019. Or head down any Saturday to take full advantage of the farmers market. It opens at 9 a.m. and is bursting with farm fresh meat, produce and dairy items alongside locally grown flowers, and foodie finds.  

Online: theproctordistrict.com

Tinkertopia

From the moment you walk through the doors at Tinkertopia, you get the distinct feeling that you’ve never been in a store quite like it before. More than an art studio, different from an artist supply store, it’s the exact space one would imagine if Fred Sanford and Geppetto designed a workshop over drinks. Owners Darcy and R.R. call it a Creative Reuse Center, or an alternative art supply store. And they pretty much nailed it on the head. Shop the store, drop-in at the maker space, take a workshop, or book a party. The fun never ends here.

Insider Tip: You never know what you’re going to find on any given day, but typically stocked craft items often include snow shoe frames, beads, cosmic ray shields, storm trooper masks, bottle caps, crayons, slideshow wheels, and kiln clips. Come with an open mind and leave with a bag full of creativity.

1914 Pacific Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Online: tinkertopia.com or on Facebook

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Cheney Stadium

Play ball! Whether your kids love baseball or soccer, Cheney Stadium is the place to take it all in. Kiddos will love getting a taste of America's favorite pastime watching the minor-league Tacoma Rainiers play there. Or they can indulge their World Cup Fever, when they grab seats to a Reign FC match. The men's minor league FC plays there too. It's the inaugural year for the Tacoma Defiance at Cheney, in fact. A great time to see them play. And when there isn't a bad seat in the house and prices are easy on the wallet, there's hardly a reason to stay home. What more could you ask for?

2502 S. Tyler St.
Tacoma, WA 98405
Online: milb.com/tacoma/ballpark/cheney-stadium

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Owen Beach

At the northeastern edge of Point Defiance Park resides the popular Owen Beach with its majestic views of Vashon Island, Mount Rainier and ferry boats. A perfect picnic spot worthy of a day trip on its own, but can be combined with a visit to the park or Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Take the scenic walking path from the marina along the waterfront or cruise through 5 Mile Drive to the parking lot at the beach. Amenities include picnic shelters, kayak rentals and a concession stand.

Insider Tip: During the summer months, Point Defiance Zoo hosts a free Explore the Shore learning program for little beach combers. Walk the shore with a naturalist and explore the creatures found in the tide pools while taking actual scientific records of what you find.

5605 N. Owen Beach Rd.
Tacoma, WA 98407
Online: metroparkstacoma.org

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Tacoma Nature Center

If getting the family away from the hustle and bustle of the city is on your to-do list, the Tacoma Nature Center is packed with all the bells and whistles to entertain outdoor enthusiasts. Little ones will love Discovery Pond, a natural playground with a playhouse, tree slide and pond to explore and inspire curiosity. Stop by the Visitor's Center to get an up close look at some local wildlife and pick up a trail guide to take with you through the rest of the park. The two-mile walking trail surrounding Snake Lake offers an urban oasis for native wildlife and visitors alike, and plenty of run around room to make those kiddos drowsy enough for the drive home.

1919 S. Tyler St.
Tacoma, WA 98405
Online: metroparkstacoma.org/tacomanaturecenter

Fort Nisqually

There's no time like the present to journey to the past at Fort Nisqually's Living History Museum. This first European settlement in the Puget Sound has been reinvigorated with period dressed re-enactors demonstrating life in the mid-19th century. Kids can ask questions from lumberjacks and blacksmiths, try out cool skills from back in the day and get a real taste of life before those beloved electronic devices.

5400 N. Pearl St., #11
Tacoma, WA 98407
Online: metroparkstacoma.org

Wright Park

This must-see urban green space located in downtown Tacoma has just about everything you need for an awesome outdoor play day. Run around the nearly one mile loop surrounding the park and take notice of more than 600 amazing trees, statues dating to the late 1800s and a kiddo acclaimed duck pond featured in the landscape. Want more? Swing over to the playground, take in a game of bocce ball, tour the Victorian styled botanical conservatory or park it on the lawn for a family picnic.

316 S. G. St.
Tacoma, WA 98405
Online: metroparkstacoma.org

Titlow Beach & Park

Look no farther than Titlow beach and park for the complete package of outdoor adventure all kids want. Pack your buckets and an extra pair of shoes for a beach walk while taking in an epic view of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. If tromping through the woods is more your crew's thing, then take a trail walk around the estuary lagoon. Some kids can't do outdoors unless a playground is involved and this one will not disappoint with swings, web-like climbing structures and a sprayground for the warmer months. Don't forget to pack a lunch and spend some quality time on the lawn in front of the historic Titlow Lodge.

8425 6th Ave.
Tacoma, WA 98465
Online: metroparkstacoma.org

Kandle Park 

Found in the northwest part of town is one of Tacoma's best kept secrets, and where locals flock to during the summer months. Kandle Park is home to the only outdoor wave pool in Pierce County and that alone is worth the drive. But while you're there you can also hang out at the bonus toddler pool and mini sprayground. Plan to grab tickets for a half day session (2:30 p.m.-5 p.m.) or a full day (noon-5 p.m.), depending on your day's schedule and pack plenty of sunscreen or a sun tent to pitch when you're there. On a hot day it's hard to find shade cover, but that makes the pool feel twice as nice. If the kids are still itching for more, head to the recently renovated playground, or the skate park where your kids can throw down some sick ollies.

5302 N. 26th St.
Tacoma, WA 98407
Online: metroparkstacoma.org/kandlepark

The Best Upcoming Events for Kids in Tacoma

If you’re looking for events and activities, don’t miss our local Tacoma family events calendar, which has everything from story times to seasonal activities like apple picking, pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms.

—Allison Sutcliffe & Rachael Brandon

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