It was not that long ago that the notion of Tacoma being a “walkable city” raised just as many eyebrows as speed walker heart rates. That has changed. The rise of public art installations, a growing appreciation of the city’s history and the prevalence of handheld technology have fueled people getting out of their cars and hoofing it around the City of Destiny. Here are a few ways to enjoy Tacoma on foot.

Downtown On The Go

Downtown On The Go, the nonprofit that champions alternative modes of transportation, for example, has a roster of six maps for two-mile walks around the various neighborhoods of downtown that highlight the landmark buildings and the history of the particular area. The maps are available for free in most downtown business and government lobbies. You can also find them on the group’s website to either print out or view on any smart phone or tablet. The trek maps provide point-by-point directions as well as descriptions of the sites along each route. And since walking is a healthy way to travel, the brochures also offer a range of how many calories walkers will likely burn as they venture through the routes.

The maps cover the history of the Brewery District, Hilltop, Wright Park, the North Waterfront and South Waterfront as well as the Museum District. If you would rather walk in a large group, Downtown On The Go hosts monthly Walk and Talks during the summer.

Tacoma Old City Hall
Old City Hall always seems to be a stopping point on all walking tours of Tacoma. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

Office of Historic Preservation Self-Guided Tours

Adding to the overall wealth of historical walks available in Tacoma, the city’s Office of Historic Preservation offers its own roster of 10 walking tours that reach outside of the downtown core. Sure, it offers self-guided tour information about the Prairie Line Trail, Old City Hall and Union Station, but it has also branched out with walking maps of South Tacoma Way as well as Tacoma’s Historic Sacred Spaces and Historic Schools to list just a few. All of the information is available from a smart phone and leverages the usability of Google Maps to offer historical photographs and linked site information that can either be browsed for general information as walkers stroll by, or delved into if a particular site gains the attention of an exercise-minded historian.


Yet another techie option is GPSmyCity’s walking tour that starts from the Washington State History Research Center and snakes through the Stadium District to end at the Theater District. It’s a fairly standard route, but what makes the app and site unique is that walkers can easily create their own tours by simply selecting the sites they want to see and where they want to start. The free app does the rest and creates a point-by-point map to all the places on the stroller’s must-see list. What is also great is that the app works offline so a stroll through the neighborhood doesn’t munch through data plans.

Whitney Church Japantown
The Japantown Walking Tour app provides a self-guided tour that includes the Whitney Church. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

Japantown Walking Tour App

Another great historical walking tour app to check out is Tacoma Japantown Walking Tour. The free download helps walkers connect to the history of Tacoma’s all-but-lost Nihonmachi – or Japantown – that once anchored the city’s downtown. Dating back to the earliest days of the city, Japanese immigrants and their families created a vibrant Japantown just outside Union Station that included grocery stores, shops, restaurants, places of worship, and a gathering hall. The neighborhood largely disappeared in May 1942, when its residents were ordered to report to internment camps during the hysteria of the early days of World War II.

Guided Tours and Other Options

If the self-guided options won’t get people out and about, the city is also home to two guided walking tour companies, Pretty Gritty Tours and Tacoma Ghost Tours. Of course, there is also the fact that Tacoma has a concrete boardwalk that runs the length of the Ruston Way Waterfront and connects to Point Defiance Park, a route that offers some of the best water views in the city as well as its share of cultural and historical landmarks.

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