25 Best Things to Do in Olympia (WA)

Source: Flickr / Dan Ox | CC BY-SA 2.0

Olympia is the capital of Washington state and it is located only 60 miles from Seattle. The city was claimed by European settlers back in 1846 but it was not until 1882 that it was incorporated as a city. Nowadays, besides being known as the state capital, the city is popular for its cultural scene and its proximity to the ocean.

Sitting between the Deschutes River and the glaciered slopes of Mount Rainier, Olympia is located on Budd Inlet. Interestingly, the city’s downtown sits on reclaimed land with a small-town feeling to it.

Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Olympia (WA)

Source: Map data @2022 Google

1. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Source: Flickr / Emilie Chen | CC BY-ND 2.0

The 762-acre protected estuary of Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge features trails and an education center. Not to mention all the wildlife-watching opportunities, from seals sleeping to millions upon millions of tiny crabs in the sand and birds flying above the trees. The beauty of the environment in the transition from ocean to wet to drylands coming in at the southern edge of the Peugeot Sound is nothing short of breathtaking.

The wooden pathway is excellent and there are many observation stations with explanations of the wildlife and the terrain. The walk itself is very easy and flat, being accessible for most ability levels.

2. Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls (formerly Tumwater Falls Park)

Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls
Source: Flickr / pand-aru | CC BY 2.0

Featuring trails, cascades, lawns, and a children’s play area, Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls is a riverside nature park covering 15 acres. When you walk the main loop trail, you are almost teleported to a different world that feels so secluded from the hustle and bustle of the world around you. 

There are some pretty interesting plaques explaining the history of the falls. From the late 1800s with the old Mill that was there to the power station, the original capital brewery, through the Olympia brewery, which closed in the early 2010s. Besides, there is a cool fish ladder where you can watch the salmon spawn if you are lucky enough to be there during the spawning season.

3. The Olympia Farmers Market

The Olympia Farmers Market
Source: Flickr / Kathryn Decker | CC BY 2.0

Open on Saturdays and Sundays, Olympia Farmers Market has over 100 vendors selling fresh and organic produce. The Olympia Farmers Market is a fantastic mixture of great foods, specialty handmade artisan created items, dog treats, floral and plant decor, butcher shop meats, clothing items, jewelry, and fresh foods and herbs.

Besides, there is a wonderful garden maintained by the local volunteers of “master gardeners”. Overall, it offers a great community and family place with a great selection of authentic restaurant stands to choose from for your weekend lunch. Remember to have some cash since some stands do take credit cards, but some only accept cash.  

4. Hands-On Children’s Museum

Hands-On Childrens Museum
Source: Flickr / Dennis Jarvis | CC BY-SA 2.0

Focused on art and science, Hands-On Children’s Museum offers participatory exhibits and programs for kids. There are so many activities revolving around all different types of sensory, dramatic, explorative, and educational play. For example, many activities use imagination, such as the “food” area where there are plastic foods that you can “cook”.

The museum offers activities for kids of any age and most of them are a good learning experience. They also have an area for younger kids so that they can explore at their own pace without being trampled by the bigger kids. Besides having both indoor and outdoor areas, the museum also counts with a café and places to sit and relax.

5. Millersylvania State Park

Millersylvania State Park
Source: Flickr / soob | CC BY-ND 2.0

Millersylvania State Park is a large camping park on Deep Lake offering a large range of outdoor activities in a preserved old-growth forest. The park also has kitchen shelters, two swimming beaches, and watercraft launches. Not to mention you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards right there.

Amongst the trails, there are 7.6 miles of bike trails and 8.1 miles of hiking trails. Besides, you can go fishing at Deep Lake as long as you have a recreational license. The park also has a bar serving drinks at the beach and a restaurant known for its burgers and hot dogs.

6. Nisqually Red Wind Casino

Nisqually Red Wind Casino
Source: Pexels / Drew Rae

Nisqually Red Wind Casino is a complex with multiple restaurants, bars, card and table games, and slot machines. Red Wind boasts a large nonsmoking gaming section with a great mix of new and old slot machines, as well as a few table games. 

In one of their bars, they offer live music, food, and a great atmosphere. All in all, you walk away a winner whether it is on a machine or the table. Just a hop skip and a short jump from the greater Tacoma area and you will find yourself immersed in the wonderful charm that the Red Wind offers.

7. Percival Landing Park

Percival Landing Park
Source: Flickr / Jason Taellious | CC BY-SA 2.0

With access to nearby restaurants, Percival Landing Park is a bayfront public space with a boardwalk, playground, and picnic areas. The park has a cute park area for children to play with really fun toys including a jungle gym.

The waterfront itself is a beautiful grassy area great for you to sit and admire the boats coming in and out of the marina. So, go on and enjoy the leisurely walkable park along the Olympia’s beautiful downtown waterfront. Many adorable small shops and restaurants are available where you can pick up handmade arts or jewelry pieces as you like or taste freshly prepared dishes.

8. Rainier Vista Community Park

Rainier Vista Community Park
Source: Flickr / Justin LaRue | CC BY-ND 2.0

Rainier Vista Community Park is a 46-acre city park with multiple sporting fields, a skate park, trails, picnic areas, and playgrounds. The park is always well maintained and very popular being often filled with team sports activities in the afternoon. 

Early mornings are usually very nice as there are just enough people to have the park not feel empty but also lots of space all around. Also, the play area is a good size and seems to stay well occupied by friendly park visitors on most days. There are some good walking areas and a little scenic pond that is the park’s nicest spot.

9. Priest Point Park

Priest Point Park
Source: Flickr / Wonderlane | CC BY 2.0

With saltwater shoreline, hiking trails, ball courts, a playground, and a rose garden, Priest Point Park offers beautiful views of Puget Sound. The park features many walking trails and some of them take you down to the water. The walks make you feel like you are in a fairy tale with the tall trees surrounded by moss. However, even though they are marked, be careful with the poison oak.

A good tip is to wear good shoes to protect from barnacles. And make sure to look for edible berries during the late spring and summer months.

10. Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park
Source: Flickr / Brian Godfrey | CC BY 2.0

Pioneer Park offers sports fields, a playground, trails, and a river for swimming and tubing. The whole park features many activities for the whole family. Starting with the soccer field and the hidden painted rocks. The highlight of the park is to float and go tubing along with the slow-moving and shallow Deschutes River.

Besides, there is great river access on a trail running alongside the river and many water accesses points and sandy beach areas. However, since it is usually crowded, it is good to plan ahead and show up early to get good parking and a good spot on the river.

11. Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm

Lattins Country Cider Mill and Farm
Source: Flickr / Brendan Adkins | CC BY 2.0

In business since 1976, the family business of Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm is best known for its apple cider and pastries. Besides their award-winning cider, the farm is also popular for its farm fresh eggs, fruit syrups, dried fruit, honey, jam, and smoked salmon. Not to mention the high-quality fruits and vegetables.

Even though the bakery is its highlight, they also offer various farm activities including a pumpkin patch and fall festivities. The kids especially like the train rides and the petting zoo where they can hold bunnies and feed goats.

12. Rutledge Corn Maze LLC

Rutledge Corn Maze LLC
Source: Flickr / Jason Taellious | CC BY-SA 2.0

Rutledge Corn Maze LLC features many farm activities, but the highlights include the corn maze and pumpkin patch. They have two separate corn mazes, and at night there is even a scary maze. 

After making it through the maze, you can go on a little train to the pumpkin patch, which is huge. There, you will find a variety of pumpkins such as white, peachy, and warty. The set-up is perfect for drop-off and pick-up visitors. The farm also features little swings, horseshoes, wooden horses, a cow tractor ride, and the corn cannon. Make sure to also visit the market on-site and purchase some kettle corn, canned goodies, and fresh fruit.

13. Tolmie State Park

Tolmie State Park
Source: Flickr / Caleb White | CC BY 2.0

Popular for swimming, fishing, and hiking, Tolmie State Park features a beach and saltwater marsh. With 3 miles of hiking trails, this marine day-use park has 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound. Besides, the scenery is beautiful and there is good and relatively easy beach access from the parking lot. The water is always nice on a hot day and it is slow-moving so it is safe for the kids.

This is also quite a popular destination for scuba divers since an underwater park containing an artificial reef was built there.

14. Tumwater Historical Park

Tumwater Historical Park
Source: Wikimedia / Joe Mabel | CC BY-SA 3.0

Revitalized in 1980, Crosby House is the center of the scenic Tumwater Historical Park. Covering 17 acres of land, the park offers a play area, historical structures, hiking, and a covered picnic pavilion. Overall, this is a fun park with a riverside view of the old Olympia Brewery.

The area also features the most amazing playground around with a three-story slide and a very long zipline. There is also a lake with ducks and a peaceful waterfall trail system, adorned with native plants. And legend has that Brewery and Tumwater Falls are actually haunted!

15. Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Washington Center for the Performing Arts
Source: Wikimedia / Joe Mabel | CC BY-SA 3.0

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts is the crowning jewel in Southwest Washington’s cultural scene providing a variety of live performances presented seasonally. Curiously, this location was originally a “vaudeville house” back when it was built in 1924.

This incredible jewel, situated in the center of downtown Olympia, is genuinely worth visiting to see your favorite musicians, dance troupes, Broadway shows, and more. It is large enough for a huge production company to put on a show involving numerous performers. With approximately 1000 seats, the center also features a wine and beer bar.

16. Woodard Bay Conservation Area

Woodard Bay Conservation Area
Source: Flickr / James_Seattle | CC BY 2.0

Woodard Bay Conservation Area is a quiet sanctuary for bats, birds, and seals. There is an easy and well-maintained trail winding through some gorgeous greenery, plus great informational signs. The trail itself is a gentle slope up a hill and the crest overlooks a lovely scenic view of the bay with two separate viewing areas a few dozen yards apart. In order to keep ground-nesting birds and other wildlife safe, no bikes or pets are allowed in the park.

Interestingly, Woodard Bay is a former logging port for shipping lumber.  Some of the tracks, pilings, and dock are still there. However, much of it has been removed to help restore the environment.

17. Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
Source: Flickr / Morgan Davis | CC BY 2.0

Established in 1976, Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve features paved trails, an observation “mound”, and picnic mounds with tables. Mima mounds are typical from Washington state and their appearance is quite unique. As you arrive at the natural reserve you will these amazing grass-covered and oval-shaped little hills. The area is also covered by forest and oak woodland.

The walk itself is easy and informative in the geological sense. It is a curiosity as to how these unique features were formed. And the informational stations erected really do a fantastic job of trying to explain the unusual phenomena.

18. Port Plaza

Port Plaza
Source: Flickr / Jason Taellious | CC BY-SA 2.0

Clean and well-kept, Port Plaza is a popular gathering space with a great boardwalk, perfect for an afternoon stroll. The artwork placed along the path adds a special touch to the whole atmosphere which offers amazing views of the harbor, mountains, and the Capitol. It is also walkable and close to Farmer’s Market, Capitol Lake, restaurants shopping, and many more interesting attractions in Olympia.

Besides, there are a lot of vendors selling food and boats you can tour. When nothing is going on, it is still a nice place to take a walk and watch the kids have fun at the playground.

19. Watershed Park

Watershed Park
Source: Flickr / Brendan Adkins | CC BY 2.0

Watershed Park features steep stepped trails running through a scenic 153-acre park with a rainforest canopy and a crystal clear creek. With wood paths and bridges among lush greenery, the park has a few well-maintained mini loop trails.  You can choose your favorite depending on how long you would like your excursion to last.

However, the most popular trail is the easy 1.5 mile-loop with periodic benches for water and snack breaks. Also, there is plenty of wildlife to spot there and a great space for children and dogs to run around.

20. Washington State Capitol Building and Campus

Washington State Capitol Building and Campus
Source: Flickr / moose mama | CC BY-ND 2.0

With wonderful history and architecture, Washington State Capitol Building and Campus is very rich and beautiful, definitely worth a visit. It is basically everything you would expect from government buildings and the highlights are the sun-dial and the library.

The State Capitol Building itself is beautiful and the guided tour is very interesting and informative. Besides, the size of the building will blow you away. There are also lots of room to sit down on all the grass lawns, plus a beautiful fountain.

21. Olympic Flight Museum

Olympic Flight Museum
Source: Flickr / 270862 | CC BY-ND 2.0

Established in 1998, the Olympic Flight Museum focuses on old-school aircraft and historical aviation information in a hangar at Olympia Regional Airport. The museum aims at preserving vintage aircraft and bringing back sights, sounds, and smells of both flying and static aircraft. Besides, the popular annual Olympic Air Show is hosted by the Olympic Flight Museum.

Featuring South Puget Sound’s largest collection of vintage aircraft, the museum also displays artifacts of aviation. There, you can learn and explore more about the history of aviation from World War II all the way to the Vietnam-era.

22. WET Science Center

WET Science Center
Source: Flickr / woodleywonderworks | CC BY 2.0

WET Science Center features hands-on activities teaching kids about the water cycle and water’s vital impact on life on earth. There are many stations with tons of information that will for sure keep the kids busy for a while, as well as the adults entertained. The staff is very professional, and the displays include fun crafts, as well as educational and exploratory activities that promote STEM development.

Although the museum is small, with only one floor, you can easily spend an hour exploring it. With environmental presentations, this is a great family weekend activity.

23. McLane Creek Nature Trail Pond Loop Trailhead

McLane Creek Nature Trail Pond Loop Trailhead
Source: Flickr / Joe Mabel | CC BY-SA 2.0

With a few viewing areas, McLane Creek Nature Trail Pond Loop Trailhead has a nice boardwalk around the ponds. The park is great for walking with kids, as well as exploring nature and different habitats. So, take your time and be quiet and you will see wood ducks, beavers, dragonflies, garter snakes, and all types of woodland birds along with the majestic scenery.

The only picnic tables are at the beginning of the trail, where there is also a small grouping of stumps and logs that is perfect for kids to climb over and explore. But be aware that you need a Discover Pass to enter the park.

24. Capital Mall

Capital Mall
Source: Pexels / freestocks

Capital Mall is an indoor-outdoor shopping center with more than 100 stores, casual dining, and a 14-screen movie theater. Some of the stores you will find there include Best Buy, Macy’s, Vans, Hollister, and JCPenney. The mall also counts with a decent food court, good lighting, and a gaming store. Besides, Capital Mall features Total Wine & More, which has a great variety of wine, beer, and other adult beverages, with good prices.

Perfect for an Italian meal after shopping, Olive Garden is just outside of the mall.

25. Budd Bay Café

Budd Bay Cafe
Source: Flickr / Mike_fleming

Located on Percival Landing since 1988, Budd Bay Café is a classic Northwest fish house on the waterfront with views of Budd Bay and a Sunday seafood brunch. With fresh ingredients and friendly staff, the restaurant is always changing its menu. Considered as “Olympia’s favorite waterfront restaurant”, it offers a 180-degree bay view from the state Capitol to the Olympic Mountains.

The most popular dishes include Clam Chowder and Eggs Benedict. Although the Seafood Omelet does not stay far behind as one of the public’s favorite meal.