North Tacoma has one of the best neighborhoods in the South Puget Sound region: the Proctor District. Rows of historic homes run along the outer rim of the district, and a bustling business center is its beating heart. Grit City has some shine when it comes to Proctor, not only in its assortment of upscale shopping and dining options, but also in the friendly faces of visitors and residents alike.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all high-brow hot spots and flashy duds. Proctor is secure in its Tacoma roots. Neighborhood charm abounds. The state’s longest-operating bowling alley, Chalet Bowl, is located in Proctor, as is The Blue Mouse Theatre, which opened its doors in 1923.
But you will find premier shopping destinations here, such as Lapis, where you can shop for fine jewelry and accessories. I actually became emotional trying on a vintage-inspired ring there once, it was so beautiful. For more of a family-friendly experience, visit its sister store, Compass Rose, which has been in business for more than 20 years and stocks a gift for just about every style and individual, each with a distinct nod to the Pacific Northwest.
Emily Hennig manages Lapis and loves working, shopping and dining in the Proctor District.
“The sense of community and walkability are incomparable; it truly is a one-stop shopping destination,” says Hennig. “The district is full of local businesses. What makes it even more special is that by shopping and dining here, you are directly supporting family after family.”
Just walking the streets is an experience in itself. I love the lampposts and buildings, the storefronts and historic homes. The whole district exudes character and charm.
It’s impossible to list all of the local businesses that make Proctor so special, but a few staples do stand out. There’s the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, which offers local fare, buskers, balloon artists, handmade crafts and more. The market fosters a community of culture, highlighting the diversity in the area. For instance, to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the market highlighted Asian American and Pacific Islander vendors, such as Filipino American, Korean American and Indian American food makers and farmers, as well as Hmong American and Thai American flower growers.
My tummy is growling just thinking about all the awesome food at the market, let alone the local eateries! Toast Mi is a great spot to grab banh mi and boba tea, and Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. serves the best pastries and espresso. If you happen to be perambulating sans enfants, you have to check out Peaks & Pints for its sandwich and beer pairings. If it’s a family outing, however, don’t miss the Waffle Stop for a unique twist on your classic diner experience. Made-from-scratch waffles and creative toppings are the biggest draws. My teen loves the Nashville hot chicken and waffle: two spicy buttermilk-dipped fried tenders served over a pearl-sugar waffle, finished with a hot honey drizzle. Younger kids can order classics such as smaller waffles, grilled cheese and chicken tenders. Winner, winner, chicken dinners.
To wake you from your food coma, get some fresh air at a local park. Puget Park has plenty of playground on which to climb, swing and slide. While the playground equipment isn’t the best I’ve seen, you can’t beat the trail connections with Puget Gulch and the Ruston Way waterfront. For another outdoor option, make your way down Adams Street to Washington Elementary School, a cool historic building built in 1906 that features a covered play area, playground and turf playfield.
In August, check out the Proctor Arts Fest, a street fair on North 26th and Proctor streets. A staple since 1986, this event encourages community building and ample arts appreciation. Free to the public, it attracts more than 10,000 visitors and 160 arts and crafts vendors each year. What would a street fair be without live music? The Proctor Arts Fest hosts three stages, including one stage that is designated “The Family Stage.” A nearby kids’ area is a fun place for the littles to explore a bit more freely, with participation from the Metropolitan Park District.
For more than 55 years (apart from a 2019–2022 COVID-19 hiatus), the Junior Daffodil Parade has been delighting Proctor families and visitors with the state’s largest children’s parade. Typically held in April, this event invites young people to dress up, make music, show off their sports and dance moves, and more. Pets and nonmotorized vehicles are welcome, and of course, spectating is a given. It’s a great people-watching opportunity and a wonderful celebration of the creativity of kids!
Proctor has too much good stuff to fit into one neighborhood guide. But I’m certain of one thing: If you take your family there to explore it, you’ll come home with more than full bellies and fun keepsakes — you’ll have a lifetime worth of memories. North Tacoma’s Proctor District is truly a Washington state gem.
Three more for the road
- Each Halloween, local Proctor businesses hold a candy competition to see which biz gives out the best candy and the most candy.
- For kids of all ages, check out Teaching Toys and Books for puzzles, games and, of course, books. (There is a second location, Teaching Toys, Too, in Gig Harbor.)
- Stop in at The Fernseed, a must to get your plant fix. This pleasant shop features pottery and locally grown plants for your home and gift-giving needs.