After decades of decline, Tacoma has been steadily undergoing a renaissance in recent years, with development around the waterfront and in other parts of downtown showing dramatic progress—a number of urbane galleries, bars, and restaurants have popped up around Union Station and nearby blocks. Several of the Victorian homes in the charming Stadium Hill neighborhood, high on a hill overlooking Commencement Bay, have been converted to bed-and-breakfast inns. Still, even on the busiest nights, Tacoma can seem a little quiet considering its population of 204,000. In this sense, proximity to Seattle is both a blessing and a curse, as locals still tend to drive there for a big night on the town.
Tacoma's got character, however, and it does have plenty to fill a day or two. The museums (which are vastly underrated), waterfront promenade, lush and expansive Point Defiance Park, and attractive old neighborhoods make for a very pleasant side trip or overnight adventure. The waterfront stretches west from the busy port, past the city and Puget Sound islands to the cliff-lined Tacoma Narrows. Renovated 19th-century homes, pretty beaches, and parks pocket the outskirts, and a young, diverse population gives the city a spirited character. The city's convenient setting provides easy access to Seattle to the north; Mt. Rainier to the southeast; Olympia to the south; and the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas to the west.
Tacoma was the first Puget Sound port connected by train to the East, and its economy was once based on the railroad. Old photos show tall-masted windjammers loading at the City Waterway, whose storage sheds were promoted by local boosters as the "longest warehouse under one continuous roof in the world." The city's shipping industry certainly weathered the tests of time, as Tacoma is roughly tied with both Portland and Seattle as the busiest container port in the Northwest.