If you automatically think “zoo” when you hear “Point Defiance,” you are by no means wrong. But you could be missing out on much, much more.
Point Defiance Park is a gem, and it is absolutely worth the drive to Tacoma.
On that note, here are some of the best things to do with kids in Point Defiance Park.
Point Defiance: 6 things to do
Stop and smell the flowers: Point Defiance has gardens featuring rhododendrons, roses, dahlias, fuchsias, Northwest native plants, herbs and even a traditional Japanese garden.
Explore Five-Mile Drive: There are a few ways to go about this, so consult a map as you plan. There are two primary loops: First, the inner loop is open to vehicles and connects the park’s primary attractions. The Outer Loop has limited hours. It is open to vehicle traffic from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; at other times it is reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists. There’s a good map and explanation here on the park’s website. There are lots of trails, and many of them offer great views of the water, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and more.
Important note: The popular Owen Beach is closed for summer 2021 as improvements are made. (The promenade is open for pedestrians with access available from the end near the boathouse.)
Go back in time at Fort Nisqually: This living history park dates to 1833 when Hudson’s Bay Company established the original fort. It was a fur trading outpost near what is now DuPont. This facility was reconstructed in the 1930s and includes two of the original structures. It offers tours and hands-on activities (and school field trips!)
Talk to the animals (or just watch them): The zoo is worth a visit. For one thing, it has some exhibits that are different than Woodland Park’s (a big red wolf population, polar bears, to name a few) and also on-site aquariums included with admission.
Walk across this bridge: The 600-foot-long, 50-foot-tall Wilson Way bridge and trail, above, link Point Defiance Park to Ruston Way. On a recent visit, we saw both a bald eagle (super close-up!) and a marriage proposal.
Spend some time at Dune Peninsula
This park is amazing. That’s in part because it makes the most of its spectacular location and history as a very contaminated industrial site. There are great water and mountain views, art installations and an homage to author Frank Herbert, a local resident and author of the “Dune” novels. (A movie is in the works, according to this website.) The science-fiction works were inspired by the destruction of nature that he witnessed at this site.
In addition, if you want to learn more about this part of the park, here’s a parent review from when it first opened. (For instance, she offers pro tips for the popular “Chutes and Ladders” structure.)