Point Defiance Park Bucket List, Tacoma

list with black font and tree and ocean clip art

It’s officially the first day of fall and I’m already feeling the pull to explore every outdoor inch of Pierce County before I have to layer up in 15  jackets just to leave the house again.

That feeling, paired with recently diving head-first into the research rabbit hole of how Point Defiance got its name (more on that soon), I now know of approximately 513 cool things I haven’t seen there yet, and I’m having some major FOMO over it.

So I made the following Point Defiance Park Bucket List to help encourage me to get out there (and hopefully you too!). Here we go!

A Park for the People

Tree -Point Defiance Park is 760 public acres of tides, trails, and trees – each offering its own spin on family-friendly things to do in Tacoma.

As Point Defiance shifted from a federal military reserve to a public tourism destination in 1888, people instantly loved it as a reverie of peace and nature within the city.

Today, the park is a major regional destination and is run by public rec agency Metro Parks Tacoma. The site has the modern Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, newly renovated Owen Beach, trails abound, a boathouse marina with watercraft rentals and fishing gear, some crazy cool gardens, a playground, and a Japanese-style Pagoda original to 1914.

To my delight, it’s also home to a rich history of quirky-cool attractions that have come and gone, all with some amazing stories and photos attached.

Attractions Then & Now

Typical me, I’m always fascinated with “what was.” So you better believe any and all remnants of past cool things are on my list of sights to see there! Luckily, in addition to my bucketlist, I have a whole map of throwbacks to refer to, thanks to the local newspaper.

On June 28, 2005, the Tacoma News Tribune celebrated 100 years of Point Defiance Park in an extensive special report. The centennial series included the below site map of all the old locations of the park’s previous attractions. Gone are the Nereides Saltwater Baths from 1906; Funland Amusement Park from 1933 and Never Never Land‘s giant Humpty Dumpty landscape of storybook friends from the 1960s.

And I want to see it all, even if it’s just an empty spot now. So I’m definitely printing the map and taking it on our next trip.

map rendering of green peninsula with with photos on it

Family fun at Point Defiance isn’t all about the past, however. In fact, the park currently has 10 official attractions to explore:

shaded boxes with texr
Metro Parks Tacoma

Of them, the kids and I have been to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Owen BeachDune Peninsula, and the Chutes and Ladders.

But, as always, there’s more to see! Here’s a look at what’s next:

trees and kid stick figures drawing

 I’ll update these items with checkmarks as we see them!

  • Find this sign!
  • Play at the Point Defiance Playground: This playground is supposed to be all old and plain – two elements I actually ADORE in swings and slides and climbing things because those are the parks of this 1982 kid’s childhood. And, they’re usually less busy AND make playtime much more open-ended.
  • Marvel at the locally famous Mountaineer Treea Douglas fir estimated to be 450 years old!!
  • Identify old rocks and stuff from the 1898 bear pit ruins (!!!)
  • Toss pennies in Rose Garden wishing well.
  • Scope out the math and science high school. (kid goals!)
  • Walk 5-Mile Drive – (I know – ‘no cars allowed’ – but is it safe for kids to ride scooters?)
  • Step back in time at Fort Nisqually.
  • Walk through Washington State’s favorite flowers in the Rhododendron Garden.
  • Find any and all old bathhouse remnants. (I hear there were two?) 
  • Stand among the flowers and think about the park department’s sweet old Ebenezer who asked schoolchildren in 1895 to donate rose clippings to start the park’s rose garden.
  • Scout out Fun Land‘s former location.
  • Dig in the dirt for Never Never Land character paint pieces like these guys did. Or look for the ruins shown in this YouTube video.
  • Play at the revamped Owen Beach  Did it! Here’s the post.
  •  See the tiger at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
  • Walk Ruston Way Did that, too!

And as you plan to see all these sites, here are some lovely Point Defiance Park newspaper archives to browse to your heart’s content:



About Tonya Strickland

Tonya Strickland is a journalist and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. A former newspaper reporter, Tonya shares unfiltered #momlife content about places to go with kids. Her family moved from California's Central Coast to Washington state in August 2020. Their adventures now continue in the Pacific Northwest.

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