Explore the Capital of Washington State in South Puget Sound
Nestled at the base of South Puget Sound, the historic city of Olympia is the state capital of Washington. It’s also a hub for outdoor recreation, arts and culture, artisanal food producers and more. Located 60 miles south of Seattle, Olympia makes for a great road trip for anyone who wants to explore everything from historical architecture and wildlife to beaches and breweries. These 10 fun things to do in Olympia are just the beginning when spending time in Washington’s capital city.
1. Shop at the Olympia Farmers Market
Open Thursdays through Sundays from April to October, the Olympia Farmers Market is a huge venue with vendors selling fresh fruit, fish and shellfish, honey and jams, handmade crafts, artisanal foods, wine, baked goods and other fresh produce from the area. Its extensive season and variety of merchants and producers makes it one of the most popular things to do in Olympia for locals and visitors alike. You can do your grocery shop or plan a delicious meal featuring locally grown produce and meats. The Olympia Farmers Market presents live music daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stroll through the extensive stalls, then grab a bite to eat at one of eight restaurants. Admission is free.
2. Tour the Capitol Campus Gardens
Searching for free things to do in Olympia? The Capitol Campus Gardens that surround the Washington State Legislative Building are worth a visit at any time of year. It’s free to visit and do a self-guided tour, or you can schedule a free guided tour with a horticulturalist. These historic gardens were designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape firm more than 100 years ago and showcase beautiful flowers and cherry blossoms (including 39 Yoshino cherries) each spring. The Pollinator Garden and Sunken Garden are filled with blooms all summer long, and historic and rare trees add splashes of color year-round. Don’t miss the Washington Moon Trees and the largest English Oak in the nation.
If you’re a history buff, why not go inside the Legislative Building and see its stunning interior and massive dome, which is the fifth tallest masonry dome in the world. You can find times and days for free guided tours here.
3. Take a self-guided brewery and distillery walking tour
Leave your car at home and take the bus or hail a rideshare to your starting point on a self-guided brewery and distillery tour, one of the most popular things to do in Olympia for adults. Sample some of finest beer this side of the Rockies (and possibly the other side too) and meet local brewers as well as distillers.
The greater Olympia area offers ideal conditions for growing hops and its pristine water make it an ideal place to make craft beer. Cheers! (As always, please drink responsibly and plan a safe ride home.)
4. Go birding at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Love birding? You can see up to 200 species of birds outside Olympia at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It’s open every day, sunrise to sunset. Take a walk along the mile-long estuary boardwalk and spot birds and wildlife in this unique place where the freshwater Nisqually River meets the saltwater Puget Sound. The experience changes with each season and every fluctuating tide. It’s worth a visit at any time of year. Daily entrance fees are $3 per car (checks and cash only). Children 16 years and under are admitted free. The Refuge accepts America the Beautiful passes.
5. Have family fun at the Hands On Children’s Museum
Looking for things to do in Olympia with kids? Look no further than the Hands On Children’s Museum. You’ll find 150 exhibits, 10 galleries and a half-acre outdoor play space will keep little ones enthralled for hours. Busy hands will love the Arts & Parts Studio while, over at the Our Puget Sound exhibit, future sailors can captain a two-story cargo ship before crawling through the hull. Don’t miss the Move It! exhibit, including a water tower where you can view downtown Olympia. Click here for admission hours and fees.
6. See the salmon run at Tumwater Falls
If you’re looking for things to do in Olympia in the fall, think salmon. Plan your visit to Tumwater Falls at Brewery Park in September and October to see the Chinook salmon run. Each year, the salmon make their way up the fish ladders to spawn—in the same place where they were released as fingerlings. Located within a 15-acre urban park in a suburb of Olympia, it’s a unique location to view the salmon as they attempt to scale the 82-foot waterfall.
7. Cycle the Yelm-Rainier-Tenino Trail
This paved 14.5-mile trail links the cities of Yelm, Rainier and Tenino east of Olympia. Originally a railroad route, the trail winds through forests, meadows and wetlands. It’s mostly a flat trail and open to pedestrians and cyclists. You can park in designated lots in Yelm, Rainier and Tenino. The trail is great for all ages.
8. Explore the Puget Sound Estuarium
Looking for things to do in Olympia with older kids and teens? Spend an afternoon learning about the ecosystem of South Puget Sound at the Puget Sound Estuarium.
Think of the Puget Sound Estuarium as part aquarium, part learning center and part museum. It’s a great place to visit on a rainy day. The nonprofit center includes five tanks featuring an amazing diversity of animals from South Puget Sound, including sea stars, anemone, shellfish and crabs. The specimen collection—which you can handle in most cases—includes preserved creatures from the depths of Puget Sound and an extensive shell collection.
9. Stay and play at a casino
The Olympia area is home to not one but three casinos: Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Nisqually Red Wind Casino near Yelm, and Fortune Casino Lacey, which is between Olympia and Tacoma. Many casinos in Washington feature fine dining, hotels, spas, live entertainment, shopping, golf courses and more, not to mention gaming. (Before you visit, ask about age restrictions to ensure that these venues are suitable for you and your group. As always, please drink responsibly and plan a safe ride home.)
10. Stroll along Percival Landing
One of the most popular things to do in Olympia for photographers is capturing the sunset at Percival Landing. Located on the east side of Budd Bay on the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, Percival Landing is a city park that features a boardwalk along the shoreline, picnic areas, boat moorage and a playground. It’s a beautiful spot for a photo shoot, especially in the evenings.
Discover more activities and things to do in Olympia
No matter the time of year, there’s always something happening in Washington’s capital city. In addition to these great things to do in Olympia, you’ll find boutique shops, art galleries, performing arts, farm-to-table dining, miles of hiking trails, and museums and public spaces to explore.
For more fun things to do in Olympia, plus local events and festivals, visit Explore Olympia & Beyond.
—Written by AAA Washington staff
—Top photo: Experience Olympia & Beyond
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