The immensely popular Point Defiance and Point Ruston area is far from a hidden gem for locals, but these two sites are relatively unknown as vacation destinations outside of Tacoma. With the recent opening of the luxury Silver Cloud Hotel Tacoma at Point Ruston, you need to put this area on your bucket list. With all the gloom and doom of global warming and climate change, Point Ruston is an environmental success story. This area was once a Superfund site so polluted that it inspired local author Frank Herbert to write his groundbreaking science fiction masterpiece Dune.
A beautiful new park opened in July of 2019, replacing a smelter’s slag heap after decades of work and money transformed the site. Dune Peninsula Park at Point Defiance Park is now open as well as a paved pedestrian trail named after Herbert which connects Point Ruston and Point Defiance Park. Point Ruston is now a waterfront resort with dining, shopping, recreation, and entertainment. It is known for its panoramic views of the Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the Port of Tacoma, and the Olympic Mountains. Point Defiance is the crown jewel of Metro Parks Tacoma and my favorite place in the city. It has been a city park since 1888 and has developed into so much more. Stunning gardens and an old-growth forest anchor this park which also includes a beach, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Fort Nisqually, and much more.
I live in the area, so I have visited Point Defiance and Point Ruston many times. On my recent visit, the Silver Cloud Hotel Tacoma at Point Ruston hosted me for a press trip which included a night’s stay and dinner.
Stay At A Luxurious Hotel
The one thing Point Ruston needed to become a perfect vacation destination was a luxury hotel. With the opening of the Silver Cloud Hotel Tacoma at Point Ruston, everything you need to enjoy a vacation is now available. This hotel gives new meaning to the word luxury with its rooftop pool, magnificent spa (opening Fall 2021), trendy interior design, and stellar staff. The architect designed this hotel to take advantage of the incredible views while the interior design has a Pacific Northwest vibe with opulent artwork and a modern fireplace that just works. I stayed in a suite and was blown away when I walked in the door. Two almost floor-to-ceiling windows come together in a corner to give a panoramic view of Commencement Bay, Dune Peninsula Park, and Vashon Island. I have a high bar for service as my first job was at Walt Disney World, where the guest is always right. The staff at the hotel are so well trained. Everyone I encountered was courteous, helpful, and genuine. I was very impressed.
Explore The Gardens And Old Growth Forest At Point Defiance Park
There are eight gardens at Point Defiance, nine if you include the zoo, and they are gorgeous. Every time I visit, I feel like I discover something I haven’t seen before. When you first enter the park, you will find lots of parking, and it is easy to access the gardens. The walking trails in this area are mostly flat and well maintained. My favorite is the Northwest Native Garden which was established and maintained by the Tacoma Garden Club. This garden is all about the native flora of the Pacific Northwest. The trails are rougher here and there is some elevation. Print off the brochure that details all the flora and fauna. The paths weave you past a beautiful pond and a waterfall. The wooden gazebo Thomas Church helped design is a lovely place to relax and enjoy this special garden.
Other gardens include the largest official Dahlia Trial Garden in the U.S. and Canada. Tubers are planted from growers from all over the U.S. and the Commonwealth. The Japanese Garden is just so aesthetically pleasing. Designed with a pond, waterfall, footbridge, a small tea house, and even Japanese lanterns, these features enhance the azaleas, cherry trees, rhododendrons, crabapples, and the many pines on the site. There is more than an acre of Rose Gardens with over 1,500 roses; the oldest dates to 1895. Pass through picturesque arbors covered with climbing roses, enjoy the miniature rose garden. The whole area is just gorgeous.
Point Defiance has one of the largest undisturbed, old-growth forests in Puget Sound. It is National Park-worthy, with some trees believed to be more than 400 years old. The forest is more than two-thirds of the park, and you will often encounter deer or foxes along the trails or see bald eagles in the area. The nice thing is you can tour on foot by hiking the many trails that weave through this forest or you can drive and see many of the sights from your car. A highlight is the Mountaineer Tree which can be seen from Five Mile Drive. The large Douglas fir is over 450 years old.
Shop And Dine At Point Ruston
Unlike many mixed-use developments, you won’t find any chain businesses at Point Ruston. The shops are locally owned boutiques with eclectic selections. Also located on top of the parking garage is the Point Ruston Public Market. It is a fun mix of permanent shops and day stall vendors, so the offerings are constantly changing. There is a full-service butcher as well as local produce and flowers. You’ll also find gift items as well as gourmet food offerings. During the summer months, a farmer’s market is held on Sunday.
The dining at Point Ruston offers something for everyone. Enjoy happy hour at WildFin American Grill and have their Instagram-worthy WildFin Appetizer Tower which includes garlic prawns, calamari, and ahi crostini. It is served like high tea on a server with multiple plates. Farrelli’s Pizza is a local family-owned chain of restaurants and this is their flagship. Lots of great menu items and the family is very generous in supporting the local community with their giving.
My favorite restaurant at Point Ruston is the new Copper & Salt Northwest Kitchen located in the Silver Cloud Hotel. There are nice views in the waterfront restaurants along Ruston Way but Copper & Salt by far has the best views. Stunning floor-to-ceiling windows provide a panorama of Commencement Bay, Vashon Island, and the mountains. The wait staff shared stories with me of seeing Orca whales from the dining room. The craft cocktails are so flavorful. I had a PNW Bramble which was Big Gin, blackberry sorbet, and lemon in an ice stuffed glass. It tasted like a fruity gin and tonic but was not sweet at all: perfect on a hot summer day. A highlight on my recent visit was the burrata starter, which layered a plate with pea shoot pesto and burrata drizzled with a first press olive oil and topped with English peas and served with crostini. Chef Josh Balague is sure to be popular in the local dining scene.
Go For A Bike Ride
Just a short walk from your hotel, Wheel Fun Rentals rents a variety of bicycles to include the brightly canopied surreys which look like human-powered cars. The surreys are fun to ride and explore the mile-long Waterwalk trail along Ruston Way which is relatively flat. I recommend renting an electric bike and taking the self-guided bike tour. Your rental includes an electric bike, a route map with points of interest and historical tidbits, a helmet, a bike lock. It also includes a basket or bike bag to hold your belongings, which is such a nice touch. The tour is 7.6 miles and should take about 3-4 hours. There are also options for detours that can extend your ride if you like. The tour route will take you along the water and through Point Defiance Park. The electric bike gives you that little bit of push needed to zip up the Wilson Way Pedestrian Bridge connecting the two parks. Some of the highlights include the Rhododendron Garden, the Mountaineer Tree, the Stairs and Ladders, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, and so much more.
Point Defiance Zoo And Aquarium
I just love this zoo, and now that I am an empty nester, I still enjoy a visit. It is a great value as you have two attractions in one: both a zoo and not just one, but two aquariums (much better than Seattle’s aquarium). The zoo is not just the animals, it is a beautiful botanical garden with plants from all over the world that recreate natural habitats for the animals. A walk through the zoo also has views of the Tacoma Narrows. Go in the morning when it first opens. The crowds are smaller and the animals are more active.
The zoo offers a variety of extra animal experiences and tours but the most unique is the Eye-To-Eye Shark Dives. You don’t even need a swimsuit. A dry suit slips on over your clothes and no scuba experience is required. After some instruction, you are immersed into the Outer Reef habitat in a dive cage and you can watch nurse, sandbar, blacktip reef, zebra, and sand tiger sharks as they float by.
Pro Tip: The experience is for a group of four. The guides will open the cage door for an unobstructed view, but only if all in the group agree.
Point Ruston and Point Defiance’s close proximity to downtown Tacoma opens even more leisure time activities. There is a world-class museum district, a theater district with both local and traveling Broadway productions, and shoppers will love Antique Row. Point Ruston is on Ruston Way with a variety of waterfront restaurants. The Ruston Way waterfront is a 2-mile-long scenic trail with panoramic views of Commencement Bay including several small parks.
Pro Tip: The Chinese Reconciliation Park is about 2.7 miles from Point Ruston along the paved waterfront trails. It is a gorgeous walk or bike ride. The park itself consists of a Chinese garden with sculptures and artwork throughout. The interpretive pathways are a place of healing and harmony and are a way to celebrate our cultural diversity and shared humanity.