Part of the idea of Jack Cameron’s Tacoma is to give you a tour of my hometown in a way that only I can. Everyone has their favorite places and I just feel like sharing some of mine. The other part of this is just to make it so this site has regular updates that aren’t always about homicides in Tacoma (which by the way, have been way down this year).
So I’ve told you about Pete Lira, the best barber in Tacoma. And I’ve told you about John Munn’s comic book shop, Comic Book Ink. And I’ve told you most recently about The Red Hot and the Parkway Tavern. What’s next? Well how about I tell you about my favorite place in Tacoma?
I’ve been going to Point Defiance Park as long as I can remember and though I’ve been known to go to church from time to time, it’s the only ground in Tacoma that I feel is holy. Point Defiance is a 702 acre oasis from the rest of the world. Growing up in South Tacoma, Point Defiance really was the opposite of my neighborhood and somehow the place I feel most at home.
My parents used to take me to the Point Defiance Zoo when I was a kid. And sometimes we’d go down to Owen Beach or play on the play ground or even play at the Japanese Gardens. I enjoyed all of this, but really Point Defiance didn’t come alive until I started going there on my own.
Though I lived on South 40th and had gone to Stewart Middle School, I had decided that I’d go to high school in the North End where I knew nobody. So I went to Wilson High School, which just happened to be only a couple miles from Point Defiance. Needless to say, I ended up there a lot, whether I was by myself or with friends, I enjoyed exploring trails throughout the park. I even found one trail that went down to a secluded area of the beach. Unfortunately, I found it when I was with my friend Charlie.
So the next chance I had, I took my girlfriend down this trail. I thought it’d be a great place to make out. Turned out we got into and argument and broke up. This pissed me off. Not so much because of the break up, but because up until that point I’d only ever had good memories of being at Point Defiance and she’d ruined that.
I decided the thing to do was flood my mind with memories of this place. Whenever I didn’t have any other plans, you could find me at Point Defiance, usually exploring trails or climbing the cliffs by the water. It got to the point that when my friends thought of me, they thought of Point Defiance. A few years ago when they put speed bumps throughout Five Mile Drive, four friends called me to let me know. I was their first phone call and they were genuinely concerned I’d be upset. I wasn’t. I’d already gone through Five Mile Drive at sixty miles an hour. I didn’t need to do it again.
I think the thing that makes Point Defiance such a wonderful place is that it has this amazing diversity to it. As you enter the park, there’s the Rose Garden where hundreds of people have their weddings every year. One late summer afternoon, I was walking with a friend of mine. She was just about to move back east. We’d never worked out romantically, but were good friends. We went by some maintenance guy who gave her a rose and we kept walking. It was one of the most romantic walks I’ve ever been on. We both said so and then said how we wished we were other people.
Just past the Rose Garden are the Japanese Gardens. It’s such a small part of Point Defiance but it has a lot of character. There is a red curved foot bridge over these little stone ponds and there are benches everywhere. There’s also this little stream that has a series of rocks you can step on to cross the stream. This may not seem like much but crossing those rocks when I was a little kid made me feel like Indiana Jones.
If you walk down from the Japanese Gardens, across a wooden overpass, you end up at the Point Defiance Boathouse. It’s primarily a place to rent little motorboats and fishing equipment, though you can pick up a few souveniers if that’s your thing. From time to time, Charlie and I used to rent a motorboat ($50/a day back then) and explore Commencement Bay. We didn’t really have any interest in fishing.
Walk to the right of the Boathouse and you’ll end up at Anthony’s, an okay seafood restaurant that showed up sometime in the late 90’s. Past that is the Vashon Ferry dock where you can take a Ferry to Vashon Island. In my entire life I think I’ve been to Vashon Island three times so I can’t really tell you anything about the place.
Walk to the left of the Boathouse and you’ll end up walking where I’ve walked over a thousand times. It’s Owen Beach and though there are bigger and better beaches, it’s still my favorite. At some point they decided to put a sidewalk in and when they did, they etched original poetry from local poets in some of the sidewalk sections. None of it is good. And really, I would have preferred it with no sidewalk at all. Still, with a forest on one side of you and the water on the other, it’s a great place to take a walk. And if you really can’t stand the sidewalk, you can always go into the forest and follow the trail that runs parallel to it, though it’s not always the most accessible trail.
Owen Beach really has two sections. There’s the Boathouse side and then there’s the other side. You’ll notice a clearing at the half way point and a trail with stairs that goes up to the playground. Also there’s an abandoned building that I think was a bathroom at some point. Now it’s just a place that the local kids occasionally try to break into. Also there are stone steps leading from the elevated sidewalk down to the rocky beach. At the top of these steps, there used to be a wooden bench. For many years, that bench was my favorite place in the entire world. I don’t know that I can fully explain why that bench meant so much to me. I think part of it was that it was the center point between the two parking lots so it was as far as I could easily get away from everything. Even now, I’ll stop right there just for a moment.
In fact, let’s pause until next week when I post Part Two.