With a total of 765 acres, Point Defiance Park includes manicured areas such as the Botanical Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and Rhododendron Garden. Amenities include the Point Defiance Lodge Visitor Center, tennis courts, playgrounds, countless picnic and barbecue areas, picnic shelters, a 7-acre off-leash dog area, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, a marina, a boathouse, a paved promenade along Owen Beach that runs just under a mile, and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum.
The park also features nearly 400 acres of pristine old-growth forest and Puget Sound shoreline that is home to mule deer, foxes, bald eagles, native Douglas squirrels, sea lions (winter only), and harbor seals. To explore this more "wild" northern end of the park, hike along the park's roughly 10-miles of primary trails, including the scenic Outside Loop Trail, or bike the appropriately named Five Mile Drive that encircles the entire park.
Interestingly, the park was originally preserved as a military reservation following the recommendation by Charles Wilkes, whose expedition during the early 1840s set out to map the Puget Sound. By 1888, however, the area had never been used for this original purpose, and U.S. President Glover Cleveland authorized the the land to be used as a public park. Since then, aside from its existing attractions, the park has also hosted a streetcar line, the Point Defiance Greenhouse (1901 through the 1920s), the Nereides Baths (Tacoma's first indoor swimming pool, 1906 through the 1930s), and Funland Amusement Park (1933 through the 1960s).
All of the park's five picnic shelters (Main Picnic Shelter, Rhododendron Garden, Owen Beach, Gig Harbor, and Fort Nisqually) can be reserved between April 1 and September 30 up to one year in advance by calling Metro Parks Tacoma at 253.305.1010. Most of the shelters feature potable water, sinks, and electrical outlets. The Pagoda, Fort Nisqually, Rose Garden, and Zoo are also available for large group rentals.