By Sonia Garza
Mountains and hiking and coffee, oh my! If you’re new to the Pacific Northwest because of the military, or if you’re just new to Washington State, you will find that there are so many wonderful things to see and do. I’ve compiled some suggested activities, mostly my favorites, in an effort to help you become better acclimated to the area and feel like a long-time resident rather than a newbie.
Head to toe
First off, get a good rain jacket with a hood and buy a pair of rain boots. Trends come and go, but when living in this area these two items are a must.
All signs point to Tacoma
You could easily spend a day in Tacoma and still have not seen all it has to offer. From 6th Ave lined with restaurants and shops to Pacific Avenue, the lifeline that runs through downtown, you will have a blast. A fun way to spend the day is to park free at the Freighthouse Square by the Tacoma Dome and hop aboard the free Tacoma Link light rail to the University of Washington where you can delight in restaurants and shops. Stroll through the bridge that connects to the Museum of Glass or head to the Tacoma Art Museum. Are you a history buff? Visit the Washington State History Museum, which is located on the same street.
Cheer on the local team
Cheney Stadium in Tacoma is home to the Tacoma Rainiers. This minor league baseball team has played in the Pacific Coast League since 1960, making it the longest current active streak of membership in the league. During their season you can enjoy warm nights beneath the stadium lights singing while Rhubarb, the reindeer mascot, cheers on the team and fans.
Lakes, Creeks and the Puget Sound
American Lake, accessible from Lakewood as well as JBLM, offers public access docks and lakeside beaches for boating, fishing and picnicking with easy rentals for a kayak or canoe. Sunnyside Beach is a beachfront park in Steilacoom with views of the Sound and the Tacoma Narrows Bridges. Chambers Bay is a 950-acre golf course running along the Puget Sound in University Place and will be host to the 2015 US Open this year, for the first time in history. Its rolling hills and breathtaking landscape was created to pay tribute to the lands of Scotland.
Get yourself a cup of java
You will be hard pressed to drive down any main street and not find a quirky coffee shop. You will find Starbucks in plethora here but venture out to all the small coffee houses and pop up coffee drive-thrus like Bigfoot Java, one of my personal favorites.
When spring hits the most favored outdoor must is to attend a local farmers market. This is the go-to place for freshly picked produced straight from the farm and gorgeous bouquets of flowers. Local artisans sell unique goods and homemade crafts while food trucks satiate your appetite. The Puyallup Farmers Market is held at Pioneer Park, while the Olympia Farmers Market is downtown on the waterfront. There are many held in Tacoma, as well as in surrounding towns. For a complete list of local farmers markets, click here.
Trails and parks
Residents don’t wait for the weather to clear up to go outside. Instead, they embrace the natural beauty that is the Pacific Northwest. You will find that there are many gorgeous days here and because of the mild weather and temperature, you can take advantage of many great parks. Point Defiance Park in Tacoma covers 765 acres of walking trails and features the popular Owens Beach, a saltwater beach offering kayaking and more. Sequalitchew Creek in Dupont starts at City Hall and winds 1.5 miles through forestation and greenery to an open rocky beach where you will find spectacular views.
Animals of the Pacific Northwest
There’s nothing like seeing animals of the Pacific Northwest. The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is one of my favorite places. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge provides a window into the world of over 200 species of birds that visit throughout the year as well as beavers and reptiles that live off the wetlands. Northwest Trek provides a more interactive experience with a tram ride through 435 acres of land filled with elk, moose and mountain goats. If you’re feeling brave, take the walking tour through the forest to see grizzly bears, wolves, cougars and foxes.
Head to the fair
Puyallup is home to the Washington State Fair, the largest annual event in the state and ranks one of the largest fairs in the world. The fall fair is held every September with a rodeo and huge musical headliners. There is also a spring fair in April. If you go, make sure to try a fair scone with jelly, which locals absolutely love.
A list of places to visit in the area would not be complete without mention of the 14,410-foot active volcano, Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. It’s hard to miss and on gorgeous days you can see the snow covered summit from almost anywhere. The Mount Rainier National Park encompasses 235,625 acres. For superb views, drive up to the 5,400-foot overlook at Paradise and hike through the numerous connecting trails. Pack a picnic and head 3 miles east of Paradise to see a spectacular view of the mountain in the reflection lakes.
Have fun and let me officially welcome you to the area. I hope this list will make you feel right at home.