When it came time to choose a retirement destination, my husband and I had different needs. He likes a bigger city atmosphere, whereas I had hoped for a small-town environment. We found the perfect fit in Steilacoom, Washington.
Steilacoom is a darling hamlet hugging the Puget Sound and featuring expansive views of the Olympic Mountains, yet it’s just a short drive to Tacoma, with everything you’d want in a bigger city.
Our circumstances are what we call a “soft retirement.” My husband finished up his military career but felt too young to retire permanently, so we wanted a location where he could utilize his skills for a less stressful job.
Here are the things we love about Steilacoom, Washington:
1. The Sunsets
Summer sunsets in Steilacoom are just stunning. The sun dips in the sky in the late evening and it is suddenly like a switch turns it on and the whole sky erupts in bright pink, peach, yellow, and orange. I’ve never lived anywhere that had sunsets like these. For those that don’t live here, you can visit Steilacoom and dine at Topside Bar and Grill on their upper deck. This is where we saw our first Steilacoom sunset and started the process of “I would love to live here.”
2. A Community
Oftentimes, small towns can be a bit insular, but we have found the longtime locals to be a friendly and welcoming group. The local community has a very active Kiwanis Club. You’ll also find coffee groups, lunch groups, and a garden club.
I recently interviewed longtime residents Randi Slatten, 73, Lenore Rogers, 79, and Jane Bair Light, 94, about why someone would want to retire here. The three reminisced about what it was like growing up here; where “dogs and kids ran free.” It sounded idyllic and just like Mayberry. According to Jane, people come here for the view, and because it is close to everything and not commercialized.
Randi said, “The water is a huge draw.” No wonder it is with Steilacoom’s two beaches on the Puget Sound. “We have a taproom, a bistro, a post office, and ‘The Bair’ [a restaurant in the historic Bair Drugstore and Hardware].”
Lenore finds Steilacoom to be an oasis. “It is not far from big-city life and only a 2-hour drive to the beach or Mt. Rainier. Every outdoor activity you can think of is nearby. This is a town that, if you are bored, it is your own choice because there is so much going on every day.”
The three attribute the town’s welcoming aspect to the fact that new people have always been part of the community due to being close to three big employers: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the prison on McNeil Island, and Western State Hospital.
3. Farrell’s Marsh
Steilacoom is blessed with beautiful urban woods and a marsh. The 62-acre property has 15 acres of freshwater pond with 3,500 feet of freshwater shoreline. It is a popular spot for residents to hike the trails which radiate out from the “Big Tree.” There are three viewpoints where you can observe waterfowl, western pond turtles, and with luck, the resident beavers.
It is such a peaceful destination and has served as an inspiration for local artists and poets. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have experienced the marsh for years. Jack Curry is the most recent scout to complete an Eagle Scout project in partnership with the city. Residents can now enjoy a picnic table at the park entrance.
Steilacoom is a walking community where you will find people walking rain or shine. There are plenty of stop signs throughout the town, and a well-enforced speed limit of 25 miles per hour keeps traffic slow. Lots of hills are physically challenging but worth it for the stellar views you’ll find as you climb higher. I walk with two friends a few times a week for about 3 miles and find it as one of the perks of living in this town. I am always seeing groups walking together and it is a very popular activity.
5. Views For Miles
One of the requirements for my retirement home was either a mountain view or a water view. Here in Steilacoom, I have breathtaking vistas of both the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound. I love how the view changes throughout the year. In the winter, the mountains become covered with snow making them stand out against the sky. From fall to summer, the clouds and storms roll in creating a very gray sky. Often the mountains will disappear behind the clouds, but you can still enjoy views of the sound and Anderson, McNeil, and Fox Islands. I’ll often find people out walking and stopping by my driveway to take in the views. It really is stunning when you experience it for the first time. During summer, the mountains change colors as the snow melts and sunny days make the view much larger.
6. Military Base
It was important for us to be near a military base to access all the benefits we have as a retired military family. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is just a short 15-minute drive, and my husband works as a civilian on the base giving him a very short commute. We have access to two commissaries which are grocery stores where we save about 30 percent on food each trip. Both my husband and I receive our medical care on-base as well as prescriptions with no copays, which is a huge benefit.
Steilacoom has a very active garden club which maintains various public spaces around town. You’ll also find gardens and landscaped yards that provide bright pops of colorful, beautiful flowers beginning from April through November. Avid gardeners sell starts of their plants at the annual garden sale. I was so glad when we purchased our home. We had mature landscaping from an experienced gardener. Something blooms in our yard just about every month and it is truly beautiful.
8. Steilacoom Historic Districts
I was a history major and I love living in a historic town. The Steilacoom historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places. The town works hard to preserve the features and buildings that define the architectural character of this historic place. Steilacoom is a town of firsts, including the first incorporated community in the Washington Territory. The first jail, Protestant church building, library, and U.S. presence in the Washington Territory were introduced in Steilacoom. You can learn more about the history at the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association.
9. Celebrations And Festivals
Steilacoom hosts a variety of events throughout the year. The largest is the 4th of July Festival which includes a market, parade, and legendary fireworks display paid for by donations from the community. During the summer, enjoy live music on Wednesday evenings during the farmers market.
An annual salmon bake is hosted by the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association and is its biggest fundraiser. Fall brings the annual Apple Squeeze, which includes a street fair, live music, apple pie, and ice cream in the Town Hall.
Learn more about the premier Pacific Northwest location of Washington State: