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Planning Your Day at Point Defiance Park, Tacoma 🏞🐙 | Point Defiance Zoo, Owen Beach, Fort Nisqually & More [Hours, Prices, What to Do]

Planning a visit to Point Defiance Park, the crown jewel of Metro Parks Tacoma? This sprawling, 760-acre urban park receives over 3 million visitors annually and boasts an excellent zoo and aquarium, pristine beaches and bay views, a boathouse, the Fort Nisqually museum, an old-growth forest, and ferries to Vashon Island.

There’s too much to see in a single day, so you’ll want to plan your visit carefully to see the best sights and attractions. This guide will cover what to do at Point Defiance and all the details you need to know.

Point Defiance Park Overview – Location, Parking & Hours

  • Address: Point Defiance Park, 5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407
  • Phone: (253) 305-1088
  • General park hours: 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset
  • Amenities: barbecue grills, boat lockers, drive-up boat launch, boat moorage, bike racks, fishing pier, picnic shelters, off-leash dog park, year-round and seasonal restrooms, trails, drinking fountains, and free parking
  • Point Defiance trails map

Point Defiance Park was originally a military reservation established when the Wilkes Expedition visited the area in 1840s. Wilkes is believed to have noted that forts at this location and across the narrows in Gig Harbor would allow one to “defy” the world. It was never used for any military operations, and Point Defiance was authorized as a public park in 1888.

Today, the park is one of the top Tacoma attractions. Visitors marvel at the old-growth forest paths, views of Mount Rainier from the shore, and sweeping vistas from the high cliffs. The Tacoma Point Defiance Park is home to bald eagles, woodpeckers, red foxes, mule deer, harbor seals, and seal lions.

There are several major attractions and amenities in the park worth exploring:

  • Fort Nisqually, a replica of the historic Hudson’s Bay Company trading post with original, restored buildings and costumed performers.
  • The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA), the Pacific Northwest’s only combined zoo and aquarium.
  • Owen Beach, one of the most popular Tacoma beaches for collecting driftwood and picturesque walks along the shore.
  • Dune Peninsula, a new, restored park area with walking and hiking paths.
  • Boating facilities including a marina, boathouse, and the Tacoma Yacht Club.
  • Anthony’s At Point Defiance, a waterfront eatery serving Pacific Northwest-based seafood.
  • Point Defiance Ferry Terminal with ferries to Vashon Island.
  • Point Defiance playground, tennis courts, and other options for recreation.
  • Several gardens including the Japanese garden.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

The Tacoma zoo and aquarium at Point Defiance was founded in 1905 and it’s not only the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Pacific Northwest – it’s also the largest zoo in Washington State. The Tacoma zoo covers 29 acres in Point Defiance Park with more than 9,000 animals and over 365 species. About 600,000 people visit the Point Defiance Zoo and Tacoma aquarium every year which makes it one of the top tourist destinations in Pierce County, WA.

One of the most anticipated Tacoma events each year is the Point Defiance Zoo Lights event. Zoolights has been an annual event since 1988 with over 800,000 lights and special exhibits. It’s the region’s longest-running light show. Parking is free for the walk-through exhibit, but special Zoo Lights tickets are necessary.

Make sure you check the calendar of Tacoma Zoo events for other upcoming events like World Tiger Weekend and Pride Celebration. You’ll also want to check the Tacoma Zoo map from PDZA.

Point Defiance Zoo Exhibits & Activities

There’s so much do to at the zoo, it can be hard to know where to start! Here’s a quick overview of the main exhibits and zoo attractions you won’t want to miss.

  • Pacific Seas Aquarium with sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and more
  • South Pacific Aquarium with sharks, touchable stingrays and more (reopens 2023)
  • Asian Forest Sanctuary, a 5-acre habitat with a bamboo forest, waterfalls, tapirs, elephants, and tigers
  • Arctic Tundra
  • Red Wolf Woods
  • Rocky Shores with sea lions, seals, otters, and seabirds
  • Budgie Buddies
  • Kids’ Zone with meerkats, reptiles, goats, lemurs & amphibians
  • Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater with animal shows
  • Nature Play Garden (new in spring 2022!)
  • Art at the zoo including glass jellyfish and bronze statues
  • Daily zoo keeper chats and animal experiences
  • Paul Titus Carousel ($2 per ride)

Point Defiance Zoo Tickets & Membership

  • Adult admission: $20 online, $23 at the gate, $20 for military
  • Youth (3 to 12 years): $15 online, $17 at the gate, $15 with military discount

You don’t need separate Tacoma aquarium tickets – the aquarium is included with zoo admission.

With proof of residency, Pierce County residents receive free admission on any Point Defiance Zoo Free Day. There are usually several free zoo days announced every year.

Discounts on Point Defiance Zoo ticket prices and memberships are offered for Washington residents receiving income assistance or participating in foster or kinship care.

Point Defiance Zoo memberships are a great way to save money and get discounts on zoo purchases and special events. A regular membership comes with free Point Defiance Zoo admission, 50% off Zoolights, 10% Point Defiance Zoo gift shop discount, discounts and early registration for summer camps, and free events for members. With a combo membership, you also get discounts and free admission to Northwest Trek.

Tacoma Zoo membership is $90 for individuals and $165 for households and grandparents with other membership options.

Point Defiance Zoo Hours & Location

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

As if a zoo, aquarium, beach, and marina aren’t enough, Point Defiance Park is also home to a living history museum, an interactive family-friendly attraction. Sometimes called the Point Defiance village, Fort Nisqually is the restored Hudson’s Bay Company outpost of Puget Sound. This Tacoma landmark includes the Factor’s House and Fort Nisqually Granary, relocated from their original location in present-day DuPont, are the only surviving examples of Hudson’s Bay Company buildings in the country and date to 1843.

Fort Nisqually was a major international trading outpost exporting beaver pelts primarily as well as livestock and crops, the latter of which were exported to Alta California, the Kingdom of Hawaii, and Russian Alaska.

Experience what life was like on the Puget Sound in the 1850s through costumed actors, interactive displays, and the museum.

Fort Nisqually WA Location, Hours & Tickets

Owen Beach

Owen Beach @ Point Defiance is one of the most popular beaches in Tacoma for all ages. Dotted with driftwood, note that the beach is rocky so sturdy shoes are recommended. On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier from the shore!

Open Park and Owen Beach reopened in June 2022 after being closed for about 18 months for upgrades. There’s now a beach pavilion, the fun Owen’s playground area with a whale sculpture, better accessibility with a ramp to the water, and a climate-resistant design.

When the weather is good, spend a day on the water with an Owen Beach kayak rental starting at $19 or book a guided kayak tour.

Owen Beach Tacoma location:

Point Defiance Marina

The Pt Defiance boathouse and marina is a Metro Parks Tacoma facility. The marina offers boat rentals, a public fishing pier, tackle and fishing supplies, and an adjacent 8-lane boat launch. You can also purchase your WDW fishing license, shellfish license, or hunting license at the bait shop.

You can catch black mouth, Chinook Salmon (King Salmon), Silver Salmon, Chum Salmon, and Pink Salmon in the area. Rent a rod and reel or salmon net for just $10. You can enjoy fishing for salmon and bottom fish, crabbing, and squid jigging from the Point Defiance Marina Boathouse fishing pier!

Point Defiance Boathouse Marina location & hours:

Point Defiance Boat Launch

Next to the ferry terminal is the public Tacoma boat launch. The Point Defiance boat launch has 8 lanes and it’s open year-round from sunrise to sunset. The gate to the boat launch opens at 5 am daily.

The launch fee is $14 or $7 for non-trailed kayaks and human-powered vessels. Buy a six-pack of launch fees for a discounted $70 or an annual pass for $275 ($130 for kayaks). You can pay at the self-pay station with Discover, Mastercard, or Visa.

Point Defiance Ferry Terminal

Fun for tourists and locals alike is the Pt Defiance ferry from the terminal in Point Defiance Park to Tahlequah on Vashon Island. The Point Defiance – Tahlequah Ferry is operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation with daily ferries between Vashon Island and Point Defiance.

Check the Pt Defiance ferry schedule below!

Pt Defiance Ferry Terminal Location, Fares & Ferry Schedule

Dune Peninsula at Pt Defiance Park

Dune Peninsula is a gorgeous 11-acre section of the Tacoma, WA Point Defiance Park on the breakwater peninsula. Located next to the Tacoma Yacht Club, the Dune Peninsula park offers sweeping bay views with paths for bicycling, running, and walking. The Frank Herbert Trail is a pedestrian path circling the entire peninsula.

Dune Peninsula location & hours:

Other Point Defiance Park Attractions & Things to Do

There’s a lot more to see and do during your visit. Here are some other great things to do at Point Defiance!

Chutes and Ladders Slides @ Wilson Way Bridge

One of the most fun new features at Point Defiance is the “Chutes and Ladders” slides. You can find the series of six slides and stairs at the east end of the Wilson Way Pedestrian Bridge. Kids and adults alike love taking the fast way down to the marina complex!

Point Defiance Dog Park

One of the top dog parks in Tacoma WA, the Point Defiance Off-Leash Area offers a full 7 acres of park area for your four-legged friend to explore! Located south of Fort Nisqually off Five Mile Drive, the areas by the waterfront and roadway are fully fenced. There is also a small 1/8-acre fenced dog run for small dogs.

There are a few parking spots just in front of the entry gates to the Point Defiance Dog Park. You’ll also find parking by the Fort Nisqually picnic area or on Mildred Street.

Point Defiance Gardens

One of the many things that makes Point Defiance Park one of the best places to visit in Tacoma is its diverse, manicured gardens. There are eight themed gardens throughout the park:

  • Point Defiance Rhododendron Garden
  • Iris Garden
  • Dahlia Trial Garden
  • Fuschia Garden
  • Point Defiance Japanese Garden with Japanese cherry trees, small pines, rhododendrons, and azaleas. The Tacoma Japanese Garden features a small “tea house,” Japanese lanterns, footbridge, and waterfall.
  • Northwest Native Garden
  • Point Defiance Rose Garden with 1,500+ rose bushes covering more than an acre and some dating to 1895
  • Herb Garden

At the Japanese Garden, you’ll find the iconic Point Defiance Pagoda, one of several popular wedding venues in the park. Built in 1914, the Pagoda at Point Defiance Park is surrounded by cherry trees, a waterfall, and an authentic Shinto shrine and Tori gate.

Playground in Point Defiance Park

Visiting the Tacoma park with kids? Make sure you plan to spend some time at the playground, a small but well-maintained play area close to the rose garden. You can see the ocean from the playground and explore more of the park from several nearby trails.

Point Defiance Tennis Courts

The tennis courts are free to use with tennis equipment available to borrow for up to two hours with no charge. Stop by the Point Defiance Visitors Center and leave your driver’s license as security.

Duck Pond

Enjoy a relaxing stroll over the foot bridge to watch the ducks and turtles in the pond.

Five Mile Drive & Point Defiance Trails

Point Defiance Park is accessible to vehicles via the inner loop of 5 Mile Drive. The inner loop allows you to reach parking at the dog park, Fort Nisqually, Point Defiance Zoo, Owens Beach, the Pagoda, the gardens, and the marina.

You can explore more of the park on foot with several Point Defiance Park trails open only to foot traffic.

  • Rhododendron Garden Loop (0.52 miles)
  • Triangle Trail (3.3 miles)
  • Square Trail (4.6 miles)
  • Spine Trail (2.6 miles)
  • Owen Beach to the Marina (0.79 miles)
  • 4+ miles of additional trails with limited maintenance and signage

Point Defiance Map

Now you have everything you need for a fun and action-packed day at Point Defiance Park! Make sure you note the resident discounts and membership options if you’re moving to Tacoma and give us a call at PDX Movers for a free, affordable moving estimate.

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