Point Defiance Park is located at the tip of Tacoma, which is shaped like a triangle that juts out into the Puget Sound. Defiance Park is a 702 acre wooded park with a number of large green spaces and attractions located within its boundaries. Go on a hike, visit the zoo, hang out at a cool festival, relax on a beach, or just enjoy some time sitting on the grass with some friends – all at this beautiful park in Tacoma.
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Located within the park with picturesque views of the Puget Sound and mountains, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is not the largest zoo in the world by any means, but it is worth a visit. Animal exhibits include a variety of animals from the Northwest, as well as areas such as the Asian Forest Sanctuary and the Arctic Tundra. Long-standing favorites include tigers, polar bears, elephants, and meerkats. This zoo is known in particular for its big cat breeding program and there are almost always several tigers, snow leopards or other cats to watch grow or play (or take a nap… they like to do it too).
The aquarium displays marine life from sharks to what is found under the pylons along the shoreline. Zoo admission is cheaper for Pierce County residents, military, and children.
With large open lawns at the park entrance, Point Defiance Park is ideal for festivals. The “Taste of Tacoma” takes place here every June and brings live music, games and games, and lots of food. Zoobilee takes place on the zoo grounds and is the fanciest fundraiser in town with attendees wearing formal wear. During the holiday season, Zoolights also take place on the zoo grounds and see the entire zoo decked out in Christmas lights.
Five Mile Drive and Hiking Trails
Looping around the outer edge of the park is Five Mile Drive. The entire trail is paved and has stopping points so you can take in the breathtaking views of the water, surrounding islands and land masses, mountains, and the Narrows Bridge. The road is open to both drivers and pedestrians. Point Defiance Park is a great place for hiking or walking. There are a number of dirt roads that run through the park and into and out of the forest towards the water. Trail maps are posted throughout the park and you can jump onto the trails from any parking area.
If you stay on Five Mile Drive, the road is paved and relatively flat the entire way.
Follow the signs along Five Mile Drive to get to Owen Beach. This area is easy to walk or drive from the park entrance. Once there, you can walk the boardwalk, relax on the beach, or rent a kayak (in warmer months). The beach has sandy and rocky stretches and is a popular spot for walking, taking dogs, and sunbathing. Facilities include a snack bar, restrooms, picnic tables, and some sheltered areas for eating or relaxing.
Park right after entering the park to walk to the Japanese Gardens (there is no parking right next to the gardens). These gardens are free and feature pools, a waterfall, a bridge, and beautiful landscaped flowers and trees. At the center of the gardens is the Pagoda, a temple-inspired structure built in 1914 that is used today for weddings and events.
You can walk to this marina from Owen Beach or drive here if you detour just before the entrance to Point Defiance Park. The marina offers mooring, boat rentals, boat launching, fishing dock and bait and tackle. The marina is located at 5912 N Waterfront Drive.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
Fort Nisqually is a living history museum perfect for a family day out. Volunteers and staff members dress up as historical figures conducting daily activities from the 19th century. Various special events happen throughout the year, including summer camp and often Halloween ghost stories around a fire. Fort Nisqually is a great family activity and perfect for older children.
How to get there
The entrance to the park is at the north end of Pearl Street, where the street ends. You can get to Pearl anywhere between Point Defiance and S 19th Street and head north. This will take you directly to Point Defiance. Once you are there, the signs will take you to the different attractions within the park. There is ample parking just inside the entrance and even more so if you are heading towards the zoo.
If you are coming from the north or south, take I-5 to I-16. Merge onto I-16 W. Take Exit 3 onto 6th Avenue, then make an immediate right onto N Pearl Street. Take this to the entrance to Point Defiance. Follow the signs to the zoo.