TacomaBy Stephanie Montague, Military Spouse

Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is often considered one of the best CONUS duty stations, especially if you like the outdoors. When you explain to civilians where it’s located, you might simply say “it’s near Seattle,” because many people don’t know where Tacoma is.

Tacoma Local Favorites

Tacoma definitely doesn’t have the same reputation as the “Emerald City.” But those who are familiar with the area know that you don’t have to brave the traffic on I-5 just to have a great time, a delicious meal, or the best donuts you’ve ever tasted.

Whether you’re new to JBLM or just looking for new spots to try, here are some Tacoma local favorites you’ll love!

Good Eats

  1. Original House of Donuts

This amazing donut shop has been in Tacoma since 1959 and is the #1 place to get your sugar fix. They have a huge variety of donuts and very high turnover, so the donuts are always fresh. Be sure to try the Apple Fritters and the Maple Bars. Original House of Donuts has two locations, one in Lakewood, the other in Tacoma. The Lakewood location is only a short distance from the McChord gate and opens at 6 a.m., so you can always start your day with a donut.

  1. Fujiya Japanese Restaurant

This local favorite was around long before sushi became trendy in the U.S. Located in downtown Tacoma, the owner and head chef is Japanese and makes fresh, authentic sushi. Fujiya is not bargain-basement sushi; it’s a good value for high-quality food.

  1. The Bair Bistro

This restaurant, located in the historic Bair Drug & Hardware building, is considered the best breakfast place in Steilacoom (they also serve lunch and dinner). Bair Bistro is focused on high-quality comfort food, and most menu items are made to order. The restaurant is also a museum; it contains old photos and memorabilia from the original store. You can even have a soda or ice cream float from their original 1908 soda fountain! Active military with ID receive a 12% discount.

  1. Señor Taco

This joint is in Federal Way, but it’s well worth the trip from Tacoma. A family-run restaurant that is famous for their fish tacos, they also offer several types of beef, barbecued pork, and grilled chicken tacos and burritos. Señor Taco is located in a small strip mall, so you might not stop and eat there if you didn’t know how good it is. Now that you have the recommendation, give it a try!

  1. Katie Downs Waterfront Tavern & Eatery

Katie Downs is a seafood restaurant, but they are especially famous for their pizza. A local favorite since 1982, their location on the Tacoma waterfront is a great place to enjoy views of the mountains and Puget Sound on a summer day. You can also watch the game on one of their many TVs and dig into a gourmet hamburger or delicious appetizers.

  1. Stanley and Seafort’s

This Tacoma landmark is a great place to enjoy an elegant dinner or celebrate a special occasion. If you’re in the mood for steak, Stanley and Seafort’s is the place to go. They also have amazing fish and seafood, including lobster.

  1. Marlene’s Market and Deli

This natural food grocer and deli is a local version of Whole Foods that has been around for decades. They have two locations, one in Tacoma, one in Federal Way. Marlene’s has a full range of healthy foods and personal care products, amazing organic produce, and a large bulk foods section. If you go there to shop, be sure to allow time to eat in their delicious deli, which also has a salad bar and amazing well-priced smoothies.

Outdoor Recreation

  1. Point Defiance Park

This massive park at the north end of Tacoma has beautiful hiking trails, a marina with boat rentals, covered picnic areas, and a zoo and aquarium. It’s a great place to spend the day with family without spending a lot of money.

  1. Whispering Firs Golf Course

For great golf, look no farther than Whispering Firs golf course at McChord Field. A well-kept course with lush greens and tree-lined fairways, Whispering Firs will challenge golfers at all levels. It’s hard to beat their rates for such a beautiful and challenging course.

  1. Chamber’s Bay Golf Course

This public golf course was the site of the 2015 U.S. Open Championship. It is nestled on a beautiful property in University Place with sweeping views of Puget Sound and is a true links course. Members of the military receive the same rate as Pierce County residents. While not as great a bargain as Whispering Firs, it’s an incredible opportunity to play an iconic course.


A Fun Day (or Overnight) Excursion

  1. Museum of Glass

This unique museum was inspired by the art of Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native, whose distinctive glass bridge links the museum to downtown Tacoma. Dale’s art can be found throughout the world’s most famous museums.

  1. The Blue Mouse Theater

This historic second-run movie theater was built in the 1920s and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Dale Chihuly (mentioned above) designed the neon mice above the marquee outside the theater. It’s an experience to simply visit this theater and a great way to enjoy a movie off base for only $4 – $6 per person.

  1. LeMay Car Museum

If you are a car enthusiast and stationed at JBLM then you are in luck. The LeMay Car Museum has more than 250 vintage and classic cars spanning over 100 years. You will find all the cars you have only read about, all located in one museum in Tacoma. Check their website to see what special exhibits are going on, and check out their other activities, including a race simulator and Family Zone.

  1. Silver Cloud Inn

If you need a little getaway, this romantic hotel located on the Tacoma waterfront is the perfect choice. All rooms have water views, and you can enjoy a delicious complimentary breakfast buffet. Silver Cloud is in a quiet location but very convenient to downtown Tacoma and the many restaurants along the Tacoma waterfront where you can stroll, shop, relax, or go to the movies.

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Stephanie MontaguePCSgrades Author: Stephanie Montague is the founder of Poppin’ Smoke, a website designed to encourage members of the military community to use their military benefits for (fun) travel. Stephanie and her husband have been traveling the world since he retired from the Army in 2015.