13 Best Things To Do In Olympia, Washington

Follow the Thurston Bountiful Byway to visit farms, farmers markets, wineries, breweries, and distilleries. You can stop by a rescue haven for wolves, visit historical museums, stop at brewhouses, enjoy a sip at a spirit distillery, enjoy nature at a national wildlife refuge, and enjoy picturesque views of Mt. Rainier. Take time also to tour the Washington State Capitol campus. 

All these activities you can find in a 60-mile loop around Olympia, Washington. 

My trip was hosted by Experience Olympia & Beyond. Airbnb hosted my accommodation in Olympia. All thoughts and reflections are my own.

Here are my 13 best things to do in and around Olympia, Washington.

State Capitol of Washington state
Jo-Anne Bowen

1. Tour The State Capitol Grounds And Legislature Building

Admire the historic Legislative building, one of the largest masonry domes in the world. Reaching 287 feet, the dome is iconic to the Olympia skyline. 

Both self-guided tours and guided tours are available; check this link for information. 

Enjoy the 1907 Georgian-style Governor’s Mansion tour and pause under the Louis Comfort Tiffany Chandelier in the rotunda. 

Stroll the beautiful grounds. Tarry for a while at the ADA-accessible benches of the Capitol Dahlia Garden in the historic Olmsted Sunken Garden. Pause at the WWI monument. Look also for the replica of the Copenhagen Tivoli Fountain. Also, take time to walk along Capitol Lake, perhaps stopping for a picnic. 

Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls; Washington
Jo-Anne Bowen

2. Stroll Brewery Park At Tumwater Falls

Formerly known as Tumwater Falls Park, the Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls is located on the falls of the Deschutes River and is the site of the original Olympia Brewery. You might recall its slogan: “Olympia Beer: It’s the water.” Brewery Park is the most popular privately owned park in the entire state. It is now owned and managed by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. There is a current campaign to preserve the old Brewhouse.

Take time to pause and enjoy the stunning views of the Tumwater Falls. Picnic areas are available. 

In September and October, the waters around Olympia turn red from the annual salmon run. Brewery Park is one of the best viewing sites. There are also viewing windows along the river. There is an ADA-compliant bicycle and walking trail. Watch for a new visitor center set to open in 2025.

Schmidt House; Olympia, Washington
Jo-Anne Bowen

3. Tour Schmidt House

Spend a morning touring the Schmidt House, the 1904 home of the Schmidt family who founded Olympia Brewing. Guided tours are available, as are history talks — either onsite or at your site if within a 1-hour drive. There are also 3-minute history features. 

The archives are available for individual research. Look for historian Don Trosper’s upcoming book titled The Tumwater We Never Knew, for people who love history but don’t know it yet — a series of 40 short stories from 1845–2021.

Stroll the lovely grounds with the rose garden, amazing views of Puget Sound, and original statues from Europe.

Fresh organic strawberries at the farmers market in Olympia, Washington
Fresh organic strawberries at the farmers market in Olympia, Washington (sc_images / Shutterstock.com)

4. Shop At The Olympia Farmers Market

Enjoy the second-largest farmers market in the state of Washington, home to over 100 vendors. The Olympia Farmers Market is the place to find local goods grown, crafted, produced, and sold by locals. Whether you are looking for farm produce, local seafood, crafts of all kinds, or food stalls, there is something for everyone. 

The market is open year-round for more than 150 days. Click on this link for a schedule.

Placard at the Billy Frank Wildlife Refuge
Jo-Anne Bowen

5. Enjoy Nature At The Billy Frank Wildlife Refuge

Enjoy a morning with nature and wildlife at the Billy Frank Wildlife Refuge, a mere 8 miles east of Olympia. Here, the Nisqually River combines with the salt water of Puget Sound and forms a rich estuary. This Nisqually River estuary is the most extensive estuary restoration in the Pacific Northwest.

More than 300 species of wildlife visit or inhabit the refuge, including migrating birds and winter residents. Bald eagles can be sighted in the tall trees surrounding the area. Salmon and steelhead pass through on their journey to the sound. 

Enjoy the visitor center and 4 miles of trails, including the 1-mile accessible Twin Barns Loop Trail. There are indoor and outdoor programs for folks of all ages. Check this link for more information.

The refuge honors Billy Frank Jr., a respected activist and spokesperson for Native Americans. 

Pro Tip: There is a daily fee of $3 for four adults. Senior passes, Federal Duck Stamp, Interagency Annual, Military Annual, and Access Passes are all honored. 

Wolf Haven; Tenino, Washington
Jo-Anne Bowen

6. Learn About Wolves At Wolf Haven

Located near the town of Tenino, Wolf Haven has provided a habitat and safety for over 300 displaced wolves since 1982, many of whom were adopted as household pets. Besides a home for these wolves, Wolf Haven also is a breeding facility for two endangered species: the red wolf and the Mexican gray wolf. 

Guided walking tours are available by reservation. There are also online educational programs for all. You can sign up for the newsletter here. Each September, watch for the annual Howl-a-thon, a virtual event live on YouTube. Also available are symbolic “wolf adoptions.” 

View the residents at the Wolf Gallery. The needs of the wolves come first. Ample habitat is provided for them. If the animals want to be on exhibit or check out the visitors, they can choose to do so. If they desire solitude and quiet, they can choose to retreat to another area.

Wolf Haven is accredited by both the GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) and ASA (American Sanctuary Association).

Tenino Depot Museum; Tenino, Washington
Jo-Anne Bowen

7. Explore History At The Tenino Depot Museum

Housed in a 1914 railroad building, the Tenino Depot Museum is a hidden gem in the town of Tenino. This small museum houses a number of interesting exhibits.

Visit the museum to learn about the history of the only legal wooden money during The Great Depression. The original printing press is on view.

In the early days, the town of Tenino was renowned for its sandstone. Indeed, Tenino sandstone was used on numerous buildings, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. Stroll through the downtown area and marvel at the 15 sandstone buildings. Tenino Sandstone is also found at the Washington Monument and at the Freedom Memorial in Philadelphia.

Also on site are the 1932 schoolhouse, logging and farming displays. Individual tours can be arranged.

Sandstone Distillery; Tenino, Washington
Jo-Anne Bowen

8. Sip The Spirits At The Sandstone Distillery

At Sandstone Distillery, each batch of spirits is handcrafted. Its award-winning spirits include vodkas, whiskeys, and gins. History buffs will enjoy viewing the old stills. Stop and say hello to Barley, the resident four-legged boy (dog) who enjoys greeting visitors. Check out also the Wild Heart Sipping Vinegars made from local fruits and herbs. Recipes are available online.

The distillery is located close to Tenino. You can book your tour and tasting here

Sandstone Distillery is also a Harvest Host Site, with RV camping at wineries, breweries, and farms.

Cows at Ashley Creek Farm; Washington
Cows at Ashley Creek Farm (Photo Credit: Jo-Anne Bowen)

9. Visit Thurston Bountiful Byway Farms

Stop and visit the farms along Thurston Bountiful Byway. I visited two farms.

Ashley Creek Farm has three natural artesian wells and is the origin of Ashley Creek. Wild coho salmon spawn in the creek. Blue herons are often sighted near the ponds and ducklings and goslings hatch in the springtime. 

The farm grows pumpkins, squash, corn, and dahlias. Enjoy strolling the 3,000-bulb dahlia garden. Families are invited to come and enjoy the farm. You are welcome to bring your own picnic. Please contact the farm to let them know before you arrive. Children of all ages will enjoy feeding the cows; I loved it! Did you know that cows do not have upper teeth? Upcoming is Pumpkin Fest. Plan to visit and choose your perfect pumpkin.

The second farm I visited, Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm, has been in operation since 1976 and has won numerous awards for its apple cider. Visit the mill and country store. Wander through the flower and vegetable gardens and enjoy feeding the farm animals.

10. Enjoy Art At The Monarch Sculpture Park

Located near the town of Tenino, the Monarch Sculpture Park is a free, 5-acre, outdoor park featuring over 100 contemporary sculptures and four gardens, including a bird and butterfly garden. Open daily from dawn to dusk, the park is a walk-in, bike-in facility. No vehicles are allowed. The natural paths or uneven surfaces might be difficult for some.

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

11. Visit Unique Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve

Plan a trip to the unique land formations called Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, located just south of Olympia near the town of Littlerock. These formations are unique to the Southern Puget Sound area.

Check this link for fascinating information about Mima Mounds. There are several hypotheses as to their origin.

Spend time at the Interpretive Center and wander the 33 miles of trails, one of which is handicap accessible. 

Pro Tip: You need a Washington State Discover Pass. Daily parking passes are available at $10, or a yearly pass for $30.

12. Enjoy Dining At Area Restaurants

Enjoy seafood at the Olympia Oyster House, one of the local favorite spots. Be sure to include the popular Olympic oysters, harvested from Puget Sound. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Looking for good pizza? Head to Pizzeria La Gitana in Yelm. It was voted the “Best Pizza In Nisqually Valley.” Another good pizza and burger spot is Well 80 Brewhouse in downtown Olympia. Well 80 is a family-friendly restaurant and brewery. It also serves Sandstone Spirits.

Talking Cedar Restaurant, Distillery, and Brewery is the first distilling operation to be built on U.S. tribal lands. It serves locally-sourced, upscale gastropub food.

13. Sleep In Pleasant Accommodations

I stayed 2 nights in both Olympia and Yelm.

In Olympia, I enjoyed the delightful spacious two-bedroom Airbnb, located right in the downtown historic district. The apartment is in a historic building with views of Heritage Park and the Capitol right behind. Many restaurants and shops are within walking distance. The unit is nicely furnished with many kitchen staples included.

In Yelm, I enjoyed staying at the Prairie Hotel. My room had cathedral ceilings with a lovely sunlight window.

There are many activities to enjoy in and around Olympia and the Thurston Bountiful Byway. Consider planning a long weekend or two for your visit. You will look forward to returning a second time!

Don’t miss these other exciting cities on your Washington visit:

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