We asked readers to share their hidden gems of the South Sound — and wow, did they respond! Take a look at some amazing options to explore via foot, bike or belly:

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Reader Lacey Wright and family packed a picnic and spent three hours at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge: “It was a gorgeous 5-mile walk with stunning views of Mount Rainier. It was easy to physically distance as it wasn’t overly crowded, and parking is just $3 for the day. Definitely something we’ll do again this summer!”

Vashon Island

Cole Kennaly says two of his favorite hidden gems are just a ferry ride away on Vashon Island: Maury Island Marine Park and Dragon’s Head Cider. “This is such a beautiful park, with trails that roam through the forest and along the beach. We love spending the day here with our dog, spotting otters in the water and looking at beautiful Mount Rainier in the distance.” Cole recommends grabbing a glass or a flight of crisp, delicious cider at Dragon’s Head. “Wander the little orchard or find a spot in the shade to relax,” he says. (Editor’s note: Make a reservation ahead of time to secure a tasting spot under the COVID-19 rules for cider operators.)

Mica’s Kitchen gets a thumbs-up from Howard Svigals for great breakfasts served all day. “The excellent coffee and pastries can’t be beat. For lunch or dinner, I love the ribs or the outstanding chicken pot pie.”


For a quick day trip, explore this super-cool small town! Tenino not only prints its own currency, it’s also known for sandstone (check out this historical self-walking tour)! Monarch Sculpture Park also gets a nod from Grace Amundsen Barnkow.

“Nice social distancing, really cool sculptures and a great trail right there, too.” The primitive park only allows walk-in and bike-in, with no vehicular access to the public. Find parking in several locations close by the Chehalis Western Trail and use it to walk the short distance to the park.

A couple of readers recommended Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen in Tenino, noting its hospitality, fresh, clean food, Mexican foodgasm and margarita explosion!

Banner Forest

Staying home has led to more local exploring for Shannon MacKinnon. A friend’s tip led her to Banner Forest Heritage Park near Olalla, which features walking, biking and equestrian trails. “How is it possible I’ve lived in the South Sound for 17 years and never been to this glorious park? Stunning. Beautiful. Quiet. What a wonderful gift to find!”

Pipeline Trail

Looking for your next urban adventure? Readers recommended walking or biking the Pipeline Trail. It runs from East D Street near the Tacoma Dome through East Tacoma to 72nd Street and Waller Road. Friendly for all ages, it will also take you past Swan Creek Park for another side adventure!

Mount Rainier Gondola

Back with another rec, Grace Amundsen Barnkow notes that with expansive views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range, a gondola ride up Crystal Mountain is “…gorgeous and very safe in these COVID times.”

The gondola takes you up more than 2,400 feet to the summit, or you can hike to the summit and ride down on a one-way ticket.

Foss Waterway Seaport

In a hidden corner of the waterfront away from the center of town sits the Foss Waterway Seaport. One of the oldest surviving structures and original working waterfront, it has fascinating ties to Foss Maritime founder Thea Foss as well as maritime history and lore. Though the building is closed under COVID restrictions, the esplanade and waterway are open for exploration. Check out the rotating outdoor interpretive panels, virtual Third Thursdays  and September 20 “curbside” chowder social.

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