THE REVIVAL: Except for a brief heyday in the 1880s, when the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed and "the City of Destiny" became its western terminus, this Puget Sound port has been overshadowed by Seattle, 30 miles north. In the 1980s, trains stopped running to Union Station, and Tacoma's business district became a dead zone
But nothing breathes new life into an inner-city ghost town like a couple thousand college kids. In 1990, the University of Washington opened its Tacoma campus, on Pacific Avenue, and Union Station was resurrected as a federal courthouse. Plus, with the renovation of a number of 1920s-era vaudeville theaters and the construction of several new museums, Tacoma's now known as a vibrant arts center. The city's 2006 cleanup of the Thea Foss Waterway, once a toxic Superfund site, prompted a major rethink of the languishing Commencement Bay waterfront. "Our vision is to increase urban density while respecting the natural space," says the city council's Marilyn Strickland. "We've tapped only about one-tenth of its potential." An $84 million initiative will expand an already extensive parks system, which includes 702-acre Point Defiance. With 15 miles of trails, a kayak launch, and squid jigging off Tacoma Narrows, it's one of the largest city parks in the country.
THE LIFE: On a clear day, Rainier's snow cone looms, just 40 miles away, and it's just 60 to the slopes of Crystal Mountain. Divers take the South Sound plunge at Titlow Beach, but kayaking Commencement Bay is the after-work adventure du jour. On Sixth Avenue, locals enjoy fresh oysters at Asado and live music at Jazzbones.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: TACOMA
"Mount Rainier, a mild climate, Point Defiance Park, scuba diving, clean air, Commencement Bay, no state income tax "