Things To Do in Olympia WA: What to See, Do & Eat in 48 hours, a Complete Travel Guide
Thanks to Experience Olympiafor sponsoring these things to do in Olympia WA blog post. As always, all opinions in the post are my own.
Home to Washington’s state capital, Olympia is a mix of history, natural beauty, culture, a hot music scene, museums, and a downtown that comprises of quirky storefronts and independent restaurants and bars. Olympia continues to uphold its tradition of gathering people together to enjoy the rich bounty of South Puget Sound.
It has been 4 years since we moved to Seattle and driven to Portland (stay at the Heathman Hotel) a few dozen times through Olympia in these 4 years but we had never explored the capital of Washington, well, until this past weekend!
For that matter, though we are traveling all the time, and around the world, Vinay and I feel like we haven’t really explored much of our own backyard, and let me tell you, Washington state is drop-dead gorgeous and has tons and tons of beauty all around!!
And come to think of it, Olympia isn’t too far from Seattle, on a good day it is only an hour away (but on a bad day you could be stuck in traffic for what feels like an eternity, hey, just being honest over here). It took us 2+ hrs both while going to Olympia and on the way back. Just giving you a heads up so you can give yourselves enough travel time when you plan your trip to Olympia, which will hopefully be real soon (trust me, you will want to plan one soon after reading this blog post ;)).
You might be thinking, ‘Oh, it is only an hour away and maybe I can squeeze in a day trip’. While you can totally do that, believe me when I say this, you couldn’t possibly see everything Olympia offers in one day, so a weekend getaway is the best way to explore the state capital.
WHERE TO STAY IN OLYMPIA WA?
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Olympia Lacey Hotel. The hotel is only minutes from the State Capitol and Olympia Waterfront and is also close to many restaurants and stores. The entire hotel including the lobby and rooms are modern and has a blend of contemporary and classical décor. Everything is spick and span clean (including the swimming pool and fitness center) and very well maintained! All the staff members are extremely friendly and courteous.
We stayed in a king suite that came with a Hampton bed™, 49-inch HDTV, coffeemaker, microwave, mini-refrigerator and a large workstation with free WiFi. The bathroom and closet were big with huge full-size mirrors (brownie points ;)).
Our favorite part was the complimentary breakfast (served in the below lounge area) which included quite a variety of items on the menu but most importantly they had fresh smoothies and freshly squeezed juices.
Another huge plus (and a personal favorite) is that the heated indoor saltwater pool and spa and fitness center are open 24 hours. I think more hotels should take a cue and keep their amenities open all day/night long too.
Given how hot it has been outside the last few days I was happy to find an indoor pool where we could spend as much time as possible without getting sunburnt. And of course, we did just that, as always getting our little one out of the pool was a herculean task (he never wants to leave, catch a glimpse of it on my Instagram story highlights from Olympia).
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN OLYMPIA WA?
CAPITOL BUILDING & CAMPUS: The Washington State Capitol Campus boasts of the tallest freestanding masonry dome in North America and the world’s largest Tiffany chandelier. And let me say that you will regret it if you do not go inside (the building that withstood the earthquake) and either do a self-guided tour of the campus or go on a free 50 mins guided tour which happens every hour from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 3 pm on weekends.
While the architecture and the design indoors are stunning, the surrounding outdoors is just as beautiful and it is surely not to be missed and hence high up on our list.
TUMWATER PARK & FALLS: Bordering the banks of the Deschutes River is the Tumwater Falls Park offers visitors 15 acres of natural, picturesque beauty and year-round atmosphere appropriate for all ages. One-half mile of walking trails encompasses of cascading waterfalls, still, reflective pools, footbridges, and massive rocks.
Go on a small hike to enjoy mist-filled plunge over Tumwater Falls, or have a picnic lunch and watch your kiddos play in the sand-filled area which consists of uniquely designed play items.
FARMER’S MARKET: It is the second-largest farmers market in the state of Washington (first being Pike Place Market in Downtown Seattle). Visit the farmer’s market to find a variety of unique crafts, farms with fresh organic produce and fruits, meats, fresh seafood, fresh-cut flowers, and live entertainment. And I bet that you will walk home with local, one-of-a-kind items.
MURALS: The city of Olympia is home to over 70 vibrant and creative murals and each piece of art has a story. Use the handy self-guided tour that shares the artist’s vision and theme behind each piece as you explore them one after another, and while you are at it capture your next Instagram worthy photo.
WATERFRONT, PERCIVAL LANDING PARK: Percival Landing is 3.38 acres and is one of Olympia’s three waterfront parks. It is in the heart of downtown and has a beautiful marina setting with fantastic views of the Olympic mountains and the bay. The Landing has a 0.9-mile boardwalk to go for a stroll and watch the boats come and go.
MUSEUMS IN OLYMPIA WA:
HANDS-ON CHILDREN’S MUSEUM: It is hands down one of the best children’s museums we have ever visited, you could spend an entire day here and neither your kids nor you will get bored. The museum is consistently voted “Best Place to Take Kids” in the Best of South Sound.
This award-winning family destination features interactive fun and learning with eight themed galleries and more than 150 hands-on exhibits spread out over two floors and an Outdoor Discovery Center. With a half-acre of indoor space, in addition to a half-acre outdoor space complete with a beach, garden and lighthouse lookout, the museum provides a unique offering for all.
Another kid-friendly attraction is the WET SCIENCE CENTER, a fun, hands-on place to learn all about water – one of the most precious resources.
OLYMPIC FLIGHT MUSEUM: From WWII trainers to jet interceptors, the museum’s collection is meticulously maintained and flown on a seasonal basis. The rotating display includes a recently restored FG-1D Corsair and P-51 Mustang fighter planes, UH-1 Huey and H-43 Huskie helicopters, and many others. Museum attractions include flying aircraft collection, aviation artifacts, engine displays, hundreds of scale models and hands-on exhibits.
BILLY FRANK JR NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: It is a preserve on the banks of the Nisqually River and protects the area’s migratory birds and is an ideal place for hiking as well as bird watching, it is a diverse area supporting a wide range of habitats. The freshwater of the river mixes with the saltwater from the Puget Sound to form an environment that’s exceptionally rich in nutrients and organic matter, feeding an extensive array of sea life. It is a place to go to see wildlife and enjoy the scenery.
HERITAGE PARK & FOUNTAIN: It is a 24-acre park adjacent to the State Capitol Campus and offers a beautiful view of the Capitol building from here. Known as “Olympia’s swimming pool” it is open to the public to splash and play. The park is in the heart of downtown Olympia and features walking/running paths that encircle the entire perimeter of the park and Capitol Lake, and connects to other pedestrian paths.
Other parks worth exploring in Olympia WA:Percival landing park (mentioned above), Priest Point Park, Capitol Lake Park, Tolmie State Park, Deschutes Falls Park.
HIKING: You will gain a new perspective when you hit the trails in Olympia. With a variety of ecosystems and environments in both the urban and rural areas of the County, there are several trails to explore, whether you are looking for easy hikes to go on with your little ones or want to climb up the steep paths, Olympia has you covered.
BIKING: But if biking is more your thing then grab your two wheels and explore the region’s biking trails. Whether you are looking for a nice paved trail for a family outing or are a more experienced rider and want to hit the mountain bike trails, there are plenty of trails to explore in the region. Or you could also go on a bike tour (more below).
ENTERTAINMENT: From music and dance to comedy and lectures to try your luck at a casino or a gaming experience (bowling lanes, arcade games, or laser zone fun) Olympia has something for everyone.
MUSIC: Apparently, Olympia once played a role in the influential 90s rock scene and today popular bands like DBST generate Northwest music buzz. The city has a strong local music scene and at any given time you will find live music to listen to somewhere outside on the streets or inside in the restaurants.
PERFORMING ARTS: Spotlighting comedy, ballet, vaudeville and more, the region provides local artists plenty of opportunities to thrive. To experience the arts in ways that are authentic to this region and its creative residents, soak in the capital culture at one of the many venues around town – Olympia Family Theater, Olympia Film Society, Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Yelm Films, etc.
SHOPPING: From finding one of a kind items at the local boutiques to hitting your favorite retailers at the mall, you can have a perfect shopping adventure all on its own when you are in Olympia. Below are just a few places to satisfy your hunger to shop till you drop:
May it be foodies, families and/or vegetarians like us, everyone will find something to savor and relish here. Olympia also has a bustling coffee, brewpub, and wine scene too
COFFEE & COFFEE TASTING: Besides enjoying a tasty cup of joe at one of the below cafes, you can also partake in a coffee cupping class. Similar to a flight of beer or wine, cuppings present a variety of coffees to be sipped, compared and discussed. Cuppers walk away with a new appreciation for the flavors found within their morning ritual. You could also explore the South Sound Coffee Trail on your own.
PIZZERIA LA GITANA: It was our absolute favorite as it made for a great romantic dinner date. With string lights over your head, live jazz music playing in the background, and delicious pizza and wine in hand, you can’t go wrong with this place.
IRON RABBIT: They have exactly 3 vegetarian options and all 3 were a hit with us. I am still drooling over their unbeetable burgers, yummy!
WINE TASTING: Sip your way through a wine trail leading you through five boutique wineries at your own pace. With award-winning wineries and one-of-a-kind tasting rooms, each stop gives you a chance to meet the makers and savor the flavors of the South Puget Sound. South Sound Wine Trail includes 5 wineries stretching through Lacey, Olympia, Tenino, and Shelton. Each stop has its own wonderful wine.
DISTILLERIES, BREWERIES & TAPROOMS: Taste uniquely infused liqueurs and spirits concocted to perfection. Pale ales, creatively infused brews, seasonal flavors, and hoppy selections and more are available in Olympia’s best breweries and taprooms.
Rent a boat and set sail along the waterfront (Offut Lake offers boats)
With its historic downtown and plenty of outdoor activities, with a great blend of lush forests, beautiful waterfalls, lakes and beaches, with bustling food, coffee, brewpub, wine scene and city life, Olympia WA is a great option for a weekend getaway whether you are headed there with friends or family or just there for some quality couples time.
If you have never visited Olympia WA until now then it is about time you took note and changed that! And even if you have, I can bet that there’s so much more you can explore and do the next time you visit Olympia, amirite or amirite?