Exploring Awesome Point Defiance Park in Tacoma

point defiance japanese garden

Sometimes when you go to a place all the time, you forget just how awesome it is. This is the case with Point Defiance Park in Tacoma for me. My family frequents the park as there are many things to do there, which range from exploring the expanses of grassy lawn, to sports courts, to trails and a beach, to a zoo. On a good day and with a little strategy, you can even go whale watching from Point Defiance!

What to Know

  • Point Defiance Park is located at 5400 N Pearl Street, Tacoma, WA 98407.
  • The park is a whopping 760 acres.
  • A number of wild animals call the park home. You will probably see deer and raccoons along Five Mile Drive. Don’t feed them as there is a fee if you get caught.
  • Point Defiance is home to a zoo, a beach, trails, viewpoints, gardens, and more.
point defiance rose garden
The Rose Garden is a beautiful spot in the summer.

Things to do at Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park is one of the largest urban parks in the nation and it’s more than just a natural expanse – although, the natural expanse is one of the best reasons to visit or hang out here.

Five Mile Drive and other trails: The main trail through the wooded area of the park is a loop trail called Five Mile Drive. The name doesn’t lie. This trail is five miles long, paved, and you can walk, drive, or bike the entire distance. There are several viewpoints along the way where you can sit on a log or picnic bench and enjoy the view out over the Puget Sound. The viewpoints are hundreds of feet above the water so the scenery is pretty sweet. There are a number of dirt trails crisscrossing the center of the forest if you want to cut across rather than doing the full five miles, too, or smaller areas like the Rhododendron Garden where you can take a mini hike with small children. There is old growth forest within Point Defiance as well, including giant sequoias. Most notably, watch for the Mountaineer Tree, which sprouted around the time William Shakespeare was born!

point defiance zoo and aquarium
The walruses at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium are one of the highlights of a visit.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium: The zoo is a huge draw to the park. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is not a huge zoo, but it’s large enough that there are plenty of animals to see, lots of space for kids to explore, and spaces especially for children, including two playgrounds. Animals include both native Northwest animals like musk ox and red wolves, as well as primates, an elephant, walruses, seals, otters, puffins, and a thriving community of tigers. The zoo has a full-fledged aquarium as well, which was completely rebuilt a few years ago. As soon as you enter the aquarium, you’ll be greeted by a view of the huge main tank that’s home to sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and stingrays. You’ll get to see all kinds of other sea animals before looping back around for another view of that same tank at the end.

Fort Nisqually: Fort Nisqually is a living history museum where you’ll find costumed reenactors showing what life was like inside the fort during the 1800s. The Fort also has a few events throughout the year.

Owen Beach: Owen Beach is a popular stretch of rocky and sandy beach complete with a boardwalk, lots of driftwood to climb on, a lawn, picnic areas, and kayak rentals during warmer weather.

Owen Beach
Owen Beach is one of my favorite places in all of Tacoma!

Gardens: Point Defiance is home to several gardens. Near the entrance, you’ll find a lovely Japanese garden that has a pond, a wooded area, and a pagoda used for event rentals. Also near the entrance is a rose garden that is most beautiful to visit in July and early August. The Rhododendron Garden is located off of Five Mile Drive and has dirt trails leading through it that are a short stroll for adults, but an adventure for small children. This was one of my favorite areas to take my two-year-old on a “hike.” Near the exit of the park is a Native Plants Garden, too.

Sports courts: Point Defiance has a few sports courts near the entrance of the park. 

Whale watching: It’s true. You can whale watch from Point Defiance Park. This is not to say that I’ve ever had any success with it, but if you follow the Orca Network, which keeps track of where orcas and often other whales too have been spotted in the Puget Sound, your chances improve drastically. 

point defiance raccoons
You’ll usually spot these guys all along Five Mile Drive, hoping you’ll toss food out your car windows to them…you’re not supposed to do that, though.

Marina: There’s a marina within Point Defiance as well, complete with a boat launch, public fishing pier, and a shop where you can grab a few essentials or rent a small boat.

Ferry: Near the marina is also a ferry dock. The only ferry that leaves from this dock takes a short jaunt over to Vashon Island, which you can see across the water. Even if you don’t want to explore Vashon Island, this ferry is fun to walk on and take the trip across the water.

For more information about the park, you can visit the Point Defiance Park website.