17 South Sound Summer Adventures
Written by Heather Larson
Filed under: Outings and activities
Why explore the South Sound in the summer? We have amazing summer activities, the best prices and the least amount of traffic. The farther south you go, the better the traffic gets. In Tacoma, you can even park for free at the Tacoma Dome Station and take the Link Light Rail, also free, to many destinations.
The 17 ideas compiled below should keep your family busy. Because Pacific Northwest weather tends to lean toward the wet side more often than we’d like, the list is divided into indoor and outdoor activities. Check the weather, and choose your adventure!
1. Swim! Tacoma's outdoor pool options took a step up this year with the recent opening of Kandle Pool, in Tacoma’s north end. This outdoor pool features a gradual beach-like entry allowing easy access for everyone, a one-of-a-kind wave pool, and a separate shallow tot pool and sprayground. The Kandle Park makeover also features an accessible playground, skate options, basketball courts, picnic tables and lush green playfields. Stewart Heights Pool, also in Tacoma, offers a 160-foot water slide, lazy river, bubble pool, water basketball and tumble buckets. Note: Most pools offer swim lessons, which teach safe and secure behavior around pools, lakes and rivers, something everyone needs to know.
2. Summer Sounds at Skansie. Enjoy free outdoor concerts at Skansie Park on the Gig Harbor waterfront Tuesday evenings from June 26–August 28. From 6:30 p.m.–8 p.m. listen to the sounds of Danny Vernon, Perry Acker, The Funaddicts and more. Don’t forget your chair and blanket to optimize the enjoyment.
3. Pt. Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. ET, the walrus just turned 30 years old and celebrated the occasion with a giant fish birthday cake, and the clouded leopard cubs and red wolf pups are now taking visitors. A new live animal show called “Captain Adventure vs. Dr. Do-Nothing: The Quest to Get Outside!,” features low-flying barn owls, a slow two-toed sloth and a rope-climbing parrot. Visit the zoo’s website to find times for special educational programs, zoo camps and more. Pierce County residents receive a discount on admission prices.
4. Climb Port of Tacoma’s Observation Deck. Located at 1 Sitcum Way, in front of the Port of Tacoma Administration Building, is a structure with three flights of stairs. You can scale it any time and have a magnificent view of the ships in the Port loading cargo. Open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Free.
5. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. View river otters, minks, red-legged frogs, mallards, wood ducks, tree swallows and more in their natural habitat. Four miles of trails provide views of wildlife and offer access to observation platforms, a tower and blind. Indoor exhibits include films geared to younger children that teach them about local wildlife. During weekends in summer special programs are offered including how to photograph in nature.
6. Letterboxing. Blend a craft with a sport. Log onto www.letterboxing.org where you’ll find directions on how to carve your own stamp without using a sharp knife. Here’s how it works: Letterboxers hide small weatherproof boxes, containing a logbook, hand-carved stamp and an ink pad; in public places like parks and post clues online about how to find the box. When a finder locates a letterbox, he or she makes an imprint of the letterbox stamp on his/her personal logbook and imprints a personal stamp on the letterbox’s logbook. Unlike geocaching, GPS devices aren’t used; instead you use maps.
7. Beachcomb. Join naturalists on local beaches in Gig Harbor for hands-on interpretive programs, called “Get Your Feet Wet,” that bring awareness of the area’s marine life to light. On July 31 and August 29 at low tide, Point Defiance naturalists will be at Owen Beach for onsite exploration of the beach at low tide.
Comb the nooks and crannies at Kopachuck State Park or Penrose Point State Park on your own, but leave what you find and just take photos instead. Rocks and empty shells make good shelters for homeless marine life. If you choose one of the state parks, don’t forget to buy your Discover Pass before you go so you’re not denied entrance.
8. Miniature Golf. Mike N Terry’s Outdoor Fun Park, in Puyallup, offers two different courses where you can practice your swing. If you keep score, try to find the one person in your party who doesn’t cheat. Great for a sunny day and you can also try your hand at batting in one of the batting cages or older kids can drive go-karts. Bring cash — this park doesn’t take checks or credit cards.
9. Walk or Run. In order to participate in an organized race, you’ll need to train. A good training venue is the Ruston Way promenade on the Tacoma waterfront. Find the right race for your family at Active.com, whether you want a one-mile walk or a 5K run, this site has you covered. One run to consider is “Dragon’s Quest for Casen and Ty 5K Fun Run/Walk,” scheduled for Sunday, August 26. This run, which will take place at Bradley Lake Park in Puyallup, is a fundraiser for two local children with rare diseases.
10. Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm. Show your kids where their food comes from. Buy a bag of animal food in the store and let the children feed the baby animals — goats, chickens, pigs, calves, bunnies, lambs and more. If you get there early on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, savor a melt-in-your-mouth apple fritter. This Olympia farm overflows with fun and you can shop for fresh vegetables, apples, peaches, berries, plums and pears.
11. Puyallup Fair. This year the fair runs from September 7–23 — not quite summer, but definitely an activity kids love. Free entertainment, a trout fishing pond, food on a stick, farm animals to talk to and watch, roaming characters, thrill rides and more. New this year, the Rainforest Adventure hosts critters you’d find in a rainforest, and naturalists and interpreters explain this rare environment. Pirates, mermaids and Captain Green Beard all come together for the “Let’s Pretend Pirate Adventure,” along with a few lucky children from the audience.
12. Summer Movie Clubhouse. Federal Way’s Cinemark Century Theatres will run G- and PG-rated films for kids every Tuesday at 10 a.m. through August 21. Movies include Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, Yogi Bear, Charlotte’s Web and more. Tickets are $1 per show or if purchased in advance, 10 shows for $5.
13. Indoor swim. Most of the time the temperature of the lakes and rivers in the South Sound makes your teeth chatter just thinking about it. Indoor pools have warmth and safety going for them. At the Fife Swim Center, the main pool, the two-foot deep wading pool and the hot tub are all chlorinated with salt water, eliminating the need for harsh chemicals. The Federal Way Community Center has both a lap pool and a leisure pool. The leisure pool showcases a two-story water slide with banked turns plus an interactive play structure with water sprays and a smaller slide for the younger set.
14. Marine Science and Technology Aquarium. Discover what’s going on in the surrounding underwater communities. See and touch starfish the size of steering wheels, sea stars, urchins, anemones, snails, black-eyed hermit crabs, moon jellyfish and much more underwater life. Open Saturdays from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Free.
15. Washington State History Museum. When you enter this Tacoma museum with a child, he or she is given a fun treasure hunt flyer. The child’s job is to mark off the items on the flyer as he finds them and return it to the admission desk when leaving to receive a prize. Be sure to visit the History Lab Learning Center on the fifth floor, where you’ll find tools to help you think like a detective and try to solve a history mystery.
16. Star Center. Welcome to the newest recreation center in Tacoma, where a family pass, for $63 a month, lets you take advantage of kids’ activities in the indoor and outdoor playgrounds, Little Gym, discounted classes, a fitness room and kinesis studio, lap and family swims at Mt. Tahoma High School and discounts on party packages. Day passes for all ages cost $5 each.
17. Read. Visit your closest Pierce County Library to join the summer reading program. Enter weekly drawings, win prizes and attend events. Each library holds its own events — you can read to a dog, do a craft, sing songs, play games, build an airship — the possibilities are endless.
Heather Larson, a writer in Tacoma, enjoys visiting kid-friendly places in Washington with her grandchildren and then writing about the experience.