Close this search box.

Top things to do with kids at Point Defiance Park and Ruston Waterfront in Tacoma: A Family Guide

Dad and toddler walking at Point Ruston with Mount Rainier in the background

Tacoma, Washington, boasts exceptional destinations perfect for family outings, with Point Defiance Park and Point Ruston being the highlights. Each location offers a diverse array of activities that guarantee delightful days for visitors of all ages. Whether you’re a resident or just visiting, these spots are vibrant and bustling with opportunities for fun and exploration. To help you get the most out of your visit, here are eleven fantastic activities to enjoy with your kids while exploring the scenic beauty and entertainment at Point Defiance Park and the Ruston waterfront in Tacoma.

Table of Contents

Bike and Walk on Ruston Way Waterfront

Start your day with a leisurely stroll or a bike ride along the picturesque Ruston Way Waterfront. This two-mile paved trail is stroller-friendly and offers stunning views along Commencement Bay, stretching all the way to Dune Peninsula Park. It’s an ideal spot for walking, jogging, rollerblading, or biking. The scenic trail is also a great way to spot local wildlife, including harbor seals and jellyfish, adding a touch of nature study to your walk.

Explore the Ruston Waterfront from our immersive 360 photo below!

While exploring Point Ruston, consider renting a surrey to traverse the scenic waterfront pathways! Wheel Fun Rentals offers both regular bikes and the option to upgrade to a 4-wheel multi-person bike, perfect for families. Our toddler absolutely loved it and is already eager to return. With rates starting at $29, an hour is sufficient to enjoy a leisurely ride along the waterfront.

Enjoy the Waterfront Playground and Summer Spray Park at Point Ruston

Check out the Point Ruston playground through our immersive 360-degree photo below!

The playground at Point Ruston is a must-visit for families all year around. The Point Ruston Playground is a popular spot that’s bustling with activity. It features a delightful climbing boat structure and a swing set, all set against the stunning backdrop of the sound and Mt. Rainier. Surrounded by a variety of restaurants and entertainment options, it’s a perfect spot for family outings. The playground is inclusive, with swings suitable for babies and toddlers

However, if you are visiting during the summer, kids can enjoy the innovative “sprayground,” a free public splash pad, which mimics salmon swimming upstream — a unique feature that educates while it entertains. During summer months, the spray park operates until late and includes a stunning LED fountain light show from dusk until 10 pm daily, bathing the area in colorful lights that captivate children and adults alike.

Check out the expansive free splash park at Point Ruston through our immersive 360-degree photo below!

Dine and Relax - Point Ruston

Dining at Point Ruston offers a convenient and delightful experience with its array of family-friendly restaurants along the waterfront. Whether you’re in the mood for casual bites or prefer a more upscale dining option, there’s something to please every taste. Additionally, many restaurants provide parking validation, which is a great convenience given that parking in the area can sometimes be difficult. When visiting with kids, be sure to check out Farrelli’s Pizza or stop by the Ice Cream Social for a sweet treat!

Chutes and Ladders aka Stairs and Slides at Wilson Way Bridge

Located between Point Defiance Park and Point Ruston, prepare for an exhilarating adventure with the kids at the Stairs and Slides. This unique outdoor adventure is akin to playing a giant game of Chutes and Ladders, set against the stunning backdrop of the Dune Peninsula. Featuring six large staircases and exciting slides that allow for quick, joyful descents, this attraction offers endless fun and activity.

Before you set off on your adventure to the Point Defiance Stairs and Slides, dive into our immersive 360 virtual tour photo.

The Stairs and Slides are designed to be kid-friendly but are robust enough for adults to join in the fun too. This setup ensures that families can enjoy this activity together, making it a memorable part of your visit to Point Defiance Park. Whether you’re looking for a place to let your kids expend some energy or you want to partake in the fun yourself, the Stairs and Slides provide a delightful experience for all ages.

About a 10 min walk from the slides, enjoy the Duck Pond and Rose Garden in Point Defiance Park! (about 0.25 miles)

Explore the Rose Garden at Point Defiance Park

One of the most enchanting places in Point Defiance Park is the Rose Garden, a splendid area that’s not only a feast for the eyes but also a perfect setting for memorable photographs. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply looking for a peaceful spot to enjoy nature, the Rose Garden offers a colorful escape with its vibrant and varied blossoms.

Note: Point Defiance Park is connected to Point Ruston by a footbridge. Cross the footbridge and enjoy other family friendly activities on the waterfront (~1 mile from the Rose Garden)

Experience the beauty of the Rose Garden through our immersive 360-degree photo below!

To truly experience the garden at its best, plan your visit between June and September. During these months, over 1,500 rose bushes bloom in a spectacular display of colors ranging from deep reds to bright yellows. The abundance of flowers during this period ensures that every corner of the garden is bursting with life and color. And while you are there, be sure to check out the rose tunnel walk!

The garden paths are stroller-friendly, making it easy for visitors of all ages to explore every nook and cranny of this floral paradise. It’s an ideal spot for a family outing where everyone, from toddlers to grandparents, can enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the sweet fragrance of roses in the air.

Relax by the Duck Pond at Point Defiance Park

A visit to the Duck Pond at Point Defiance Park is a delightful experience for both young visitors and adults. This serene spot is a favorite among families, offering a chance to see ducks, geese, and turtles up close in their natural habitat. For parents, it provides a peaceful setting to unwind and enjoy a moment of tranquility.

Experience the tranquil Duck Pond at Point Defiance Park through our immersive 360-degree photo below!

The Duck Pond area is well-loved for its vibrant wildlife. Children are often thrilled to watch the ducks and geese glide across the water or to spot turtles basking on the rocks. It’s a great opportunity for a gentle introduction to wildlife and the joys of nature watching.

One of the bonuses of the Duck Pond is the proximity to restrooms, making it especially convenient for families with small children. This accessibility ensures that visitors can enjoy a longer stay at the pond without any hassle.

Tips for Your Visit

Bring a Blanket and Picnic: There’s plenty of space around the pond to spread out a blanket and have a leisurely picnic. But watch out for geese poop!

Look for Wildlife: In addition to the ducks and turtles, keep an eye out for other local wildlife that may visit the pond.

Take Time to Relax: The Duck Pond is designed to be a peaceful retreat, so take the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty around you.

Whether you’re looking to engage with nature, give your kids a fun and educational experience, or simply enjoy some quiet time, the Duck Pond at Point Defiance Park is a charming spot that caters to all these needs.

Family Fun at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

A highlight of any trip to Point Defiance Park is undoubtedly a visit to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Renowned as a top family destination, this zoo captivates visitors with its diverse exhibits and interactive experiences. It’s an ideal place for children to stay engaged and entertained while gaining valuable knowledge about the animal kingdom and conservation practices. Whether you’re watching colorful cockatoos, marveling at majestic tigers, or learning about marine life in the aquarium, a day spent here is both fun-filled and educational.

For younger visitors, the zoo offers several specifically designed interactive areas. The Kids’ Zone is a dynamic play area where children can climb, crawl, and explore in a safe environment that stimulates their curiosity and love of nature. Additionally, the zoo frequently hosts special events like Zoo Boo during Halloween and Zoolights during the holiday season, which are perfect for family outings.

Waterfront and Dune Peninsula

Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park is a relatively new addition to Tacoma’s array of outdoor attractions, having been completed in June 2019. This expansive waterfront area is named after Frank Herbert, the famous Tacoma-born author of the best-selling novel “Dune.” The park features the Frank Herbert Trail loop, an inviting path for walking, running, and biking that connects the park directly to Ruston Way.

As you traverse the Frank Herbert Trail, you’ll find it a perfect spot for enjoying panoramic views of the bay, engaging in some people and dog watching, and immersing yourself in the natural beauty that Tacoma has to offer. The trail itself serves as a tribute to Herbert’s literary legacy, making it a culturally enriching experience for fans of his work and those new to his stories alike.

This part of your visit combines scenic beauty, physical activity, and a glimpse into local literary history, making Dune Peninsula an essential stop for families exploring Tacoma’s waterfront attractions. Given the considerable distance, we recommend driving or renting bikes to accommodate younger children who may find the walk challenging. We opted to rent a surrey (a 4-seater bike) from Point Ruston, which made the journey to the park enjoyable and accessible.

Beach Fun at Owen Beach

Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park offers a wonderful blend of natural beauty, family-friendly facilities, and abundant recreational activities, making it a prime destination for visitors looking to enjoy the outdoors. With its rocky shores and stunning views of Vashon Island, it’s a picturesque spot for a day of exploration and fun.

Family-Friendly Amenities and Activities

Owen Beach is not only beautiful but also equipped with excellent amenities that enhance the visitor experience. The beach features real restrooms with soap, which are always a plus for families with small children. A wide, flat slide located near the play area is a hit among the younger crowd, with kids often spending hours playing on it.

For those looking for physical activity, the beach offers great walking trails along its rocky shores. Joggers can take in miles of scenic paths with breathtaking views of Vashon Island in the distance. The area is also incredibly pet-friendly, making it a great spot for families and their fur babies to hang out.

Kayak Rentals and Safe Access

Kayak enthusiasts will appreciate the kayak rental facilities available, allowing for an adventurous day on the cold, wave-rich waters of Puget Sound. The parking lot at Owen Beach is notably user-friendly, featuring an extra-large pedestrian shoulder that provides a safe pathway for families, away from the hazards of parked cars. This design is especially helpful for parents trying to corral their kids safely around the area.

Natural Charm and Spacious Environment

The rocky beach itself is a highlight, with each stone appearing as if it’s been polished by nature. Despite its popularity and the number of visitors it attracts, Owen Beach is spacious enough to spread out and enjoy a bit of privacy. The waters of Puget Sound are chilly and lively with waves, enhanced by the occasional big boat passing by, adding to the dynamic environment.

Owen Beach is highly recommended for anyone looking for a fun and rocky beach with pretty views. It’s an ideal place for kids, adults, and pets to spend a day enjoying everything that Puget Sound has to offer. Whether you’re into kayaking, jogging, or simply relaxing by the water, Owen Beach provides a welcoming and picturesque setting for all.

Explore the Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance Park

Conclude your visit to Point Defiance Park with an excursion along the Five Mile Drive, renowned for its breathtaking views and opportunities to observe local wildlife. The outer loop of Five Mile Drive is now permanently closed to vehicles, ensuring a safe and serene experience for cyclists and pedestrians. This makes for a stress-free ride or walk, with a few hilly sections that are a breeze on e-Bikes.

The inner loop of Five Mile Drive remains open to vehicles and offers a scenic drive through the lush park. Use this route to access Owen Beach and various lookout points that provide spectacular views. Make sure to stop at Defiance Point Park to stretch your legs and admire some of the most stunning floral displays in the area.

Although simply driving through is delightful, taking the time to explore some of the pull-off areas enhances the experience significantly. It’s a perfect spot for a full day of adventure with essential visits to Owen Beach and the Point Defiance Zoo.

For a perfect day out, consider having lunch at Anthony’s on the waterfront. Enjoy delicious food accompanied by stunning views of Puget Sound. After lunch, head across to the slides near Anthony’s for a fun way for the kids to expend some energy. The Five Mile Drive encapsulates the natural beauty and recreational variety that makes Point Defiance Park a must-visit destination.

Step Back in Time at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum

While visiting Point Defiance Park, don’t miss the chance to explore the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum with your kids. This engaging museum offers a unique glimpse into the 19th-century Pacific Northwest through the eyes of its European settlers and indigenous people.

Fort Nisqually, originally a fur trading and farming post of the Hudson’s Bay Company, has been meticulously restored to reflect its historical significance. The museum organizes a variety of activities that are both educational and entertaining. Children can participate in hands-on projects like candle making, butter churning, or even a scavenger hunt that takes them around the fort, exploring different buildings and learning about their purposes and the lives of the people who lived there.

Throughout the year, Fort Nisqually hosts special events and workshops that delve deeper into historical practices and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the area. These events often include music, storytelling, and special demonstrations not regularly available during the usual museum hours.

Visiting the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is not only a fun outing but also an educational journey that enhances understanding of local history. It’s a fascinating way for children and adults alike to connect with the past and gain a greater appreciation for the pioneers and indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest.

Including a visit to Fort Nisqually in your trip to Point Defiance Park enriches your experience with historical insights and memorable interactions that are sure to captivate the entire family.

Get Curated Post Updates!

Sign up for my newsletter to see new photos, tips, and blog posts.