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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Olympia

Written by Chloë Ernst and Brad Lane

The evergreen city of Olympia and capital of Washington sits at the southern end of Puget Sound, where the Deschutes River meets saltwater, and the glaciered slopes of Mount Rainier rise in the distance. A compact and bustling city with an array of grandiose government buildings, Olympia appeals to residents and tourists with first-class museums, bountiful farmers markets, and a lively waterfront district.

Other fun places to visit and things to do in Olympia include catching entertainment at the Capitol Theater, watching wildlife at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and simply strolling the Capitol Lake shoreline. In the surrounding areas of Olympia, the world-renowned Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park are a short drive away and provide stunning natural attractions. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top-rated things to do in Olympia.

1. Washington State Capitol Building

Washington State Capitol Building

Washington State Capitol Building

Completed in 1928 at a cost of more than seven million dollars, Washington's Legislative Building rises 287 feet above the Capitol Campus. The impressive white dome is visible when arriving in town, and ranks as the tallest masonry dome in North America. Visitors can stroll the grounds, but a tour is worthwhile to see the lavish interior, which includes a five-ton Tiffany chandelier. Free guided tours run daily.

The historic campus surrounding the Capitol building is also fun to explore, including a wide selection of memorials, fountains, and gardens. The Governor's Mansion on the Capitol Campus is the oldest building around and has been hosting governors and their families for over a century. Extending from the Capitol Campus, Capitol Lake is a large attraction of the city, which provides walking paths, nature trails, and scenic reflections of the capitol dome.

Address: 416 Sid Snyder Avenue Southwest, Olympia, Washington

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Olympia

2. The Olympia Farmers Market

Olympia Farmers Market

Olympia Farmers Market | Rachel Kelso / photo modified

Stroll along Olympia's Percival Landing boardwalk with this eclectic farmers market as your destination. The markets have hosted community members and tourists for over 40 years. Local berries, baked pastries, and handcrafted cheeses stock the varied stalls, and a rotating lineup of live music often fills the air.

During the summer season of April through October, The Olympia Farmers Market is a four-day event each week, from Thursday to Sunday. The market occurs throughout the entire year, with hours changing depending on the season.

Address: 700 Capitol Way North, Olympia, Washington

Official site: http://www.olympiafarmersmarket.com/

3. Mount Rainier National Park Editor's Pick

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

About 65 miles southeast of Olympia, Mount Rainier National Park is centered around its namesake — a volcano in the Cascades chain. The national park is one of the most popular in the country, and more than two million people visit each year to hike, climb, and camp among the alpine splendor of this iconic Washington destination.

Some of the best hiking trails at Mount Rainier National Park access waterfalls, glaciers, meadows, and icy cold rivers, and all provide fantastic views of Mount Rainier, particularly in the aptly named Paradise and Sunrise areas of the park. Four auto-campgrounds are operational throughout the extended summer season, and backpacking routes such as the Wonderland Trail invite a more primitive overnight experience.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

4. Hands on Children's Museum

The Hands On Children's Museum features eight galleries with numerous interactive displays. Children are encouraged to play creatively while learning in the stimulating range of settings. Popular permanent exhibits at the museum include an Arts & Paint Studio, a Fabulous Forest, and an interactive Outdoor Discovery Center. Unlike some children's museums, this facility is designed for a variety of age groups — including parents with infants.

For more family-friendly and interactive museum visits, the WET Science Center is a nationally recognized education space located a block away from the Hands On Children's Museum. WET stands for water education and technology, and this water-focused science center presents a series of galleries with interactive exhibits about one of the earth's most essential resources. Located downtown, the WET Science Center often hosts school groups.

Address: 414 Jefferson Street Northeast, Olympia, Washington

Official site: http://www.hocm.org/

5. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge | Harvey Barrison / photo modified

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge consists of protected fresh and saltwater marshes, grasslands, and forests for migratory birds that use the area for nesting and habitat. Common species, among the 200 that visit annually, include the great blue heron, American bittern, and peregrine falcon. For the best spotting opportunities, the refuge recommends arriving within two hours of high tide. Other wildlife also commonly spotted at the refuge includes pronghorn antelope, box turtles, and migratory orca whales.

Address: 100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia

Official site: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Billy_Frank_Jr_Nisqually/

6. Capitol Theater

Capitol Theater | Jason Taellious / photo modified

Owned and operated by the non-profit Olympia Film Society (OFS), the historic Capitol Theater has been continuously providing entertainment to the community since 1924. Today, the rotating performances at the Capitol Theater include live music, independent films, and open gallery space for local artists to display their works.

The annual Olympia Film Festival is a big draw every year, providing discussion panels, guest speakers, and a long lineup of films over a ten-day period towards the end of the year.

Address: 206 5th Avenue Southeast, Olympia, Washington

Official site: http://olympiafilmsociety.org/

7. Capitol Lake

Capitol Lake and the Capitol dome

A man-made reservoir at the mouth of the Deschutes River, Capitol Lake is a defining feature of the city and a great place to catch some scenic views. The 3.5-mile trail that lines the lake is popular with walkers, runners, cyclists, and stroller pushers, and the paved route connects other popular parks.

Heritage Park can be found on the northeast bank of the lake, providing 24 acres of landscaped green space connected to the Capitol Campus with a switchbacking trail. On the opposite bank, Marathon Park consists of 2.5-acres and is a popular trail junction for navigating around the lake.

8. Mima Mounds

Mima Mounds

Mima Mounds

Just what created these odd, bubble-like mounds southwest of Olympia is a mystery. And this puzzle is one with proposed answers ranging from giant gophers to earthquakes and glaciation, as well as extraterrestrial activity. Whatever the answer, the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is a great place for walking or hiking, particularly in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom on the rolling hills. A half-mile, fully accessible path at this National Natural Landmark allows everyone to enjoy the unique and inviting landscape.

9. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

High alpine peaks, lush rain forests, and a rugged coastline punctuated by sea stacks — the dazzling display of nature found on the Olympic Peninsula can be accessed from Olympia with a short commute. Favorite places to visit in Olympic National Park include the Hoh Rain Forest, Hurricane Ridge, and Ruby Beach, with equally scenic spots including the Quinault Rain Forest, Sol Duc Hot Springs, and Shi Shi Beach on the northern coast.

Olympic provides nearly endless adventures and things to do, from great hiking trails to beautiful campgrounds. And Olympia provides a great home base for travels into the complex and inviting environments of the peninsula.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm

10. Tumwater Falls Park

Waterfall at Tumwater Falls Park

In the neighboring city of Tumwater to the south, Tumwater Falls Park is on the southern shore of Capitol Lake and provides moving water and landscaped spaces to enjoy. Owned and managed by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, this public space has a half-mile hiking trail that tours the cascading waterfalls created by the powerful Deschutes River. Fifteen acres at the park provide ample space to enjoy the landscaped scenery with a picnic, stroll, or watchful eye on the changing seasons.

Address: 110 Deschutes Way Southwest, Tumwater, Washington

Official site: http://olytumfoundation.org/what-we-do/tumwater-falls-park/

11. Olympic Flight Museum

Olympic Flight Museum

Olympic Flight Museum | Craig Wyzik / photo modified

Established in 1998, this aviation museum is a tourist attraction at the Olympia Regional Airport. The wide hangar shelters heritage planes and helicopters, as well as memorabilia. Prominent aircraft on display includes World War II fighter jets, Cobra helicopters, and military aircraft from the Soviet Air Force. The museum also hosts the annual Olympic Air Show in August, when some of its own heritage planes take to the sky. Other special events include collectors shows and gear swaps.

Address: Building A, 7637 Old Highway 99 Southeast, Tumwater

Official site: http://www.olympicflightmuseum.com/

12. Bigelow House Museum

Bigelow House Museum is noted for being Olympia's oldest home, built in the mid to late 1850s for the influential Bigelow family (although the exact year of completion is the source of some debate). The house contains a large collection of original furnishings offering insight into local life during the 1800s. Visitors to the Bigelow House Museum need to hop on a 45-minute guided tour to see the interior of the house, which provides even more insight on the legacy of the Bigelow family and history of the city.

Address: 918 Glass Avenue, Olympia, Washington

Where to Stay in Olympia for Sightseeing

  • Mid-Range Hotels: Many great hotels in Olympia can be found along the Interstate 5 corridor. To the east of the downtown district, the Ramada by Wyndham Olympia is a top-rated hotel of the area thanks to a 24-hour pool and hot tub, an accommodating front desk staff, and a complimentary hot breakfast that goes well beyond your ordinary muffins and orange juice. Near the Ramada, the Hampton Inn & Suites Olympia Lacey is another popular mid-range option, which features modern rooms and suites and beautiful furnishings for a stylish "home-away-from-home" feeling. Within the downtown district, the Hilton Garden Inn Olympia is popular for its comfortable, cozy, and private environment, and its bustling downtown location.
  • Budget Hotels: For great value close to downtown, the Quality Inn Olympia features affordable rates, clean rooms, and many repeat guests. In the neighboring community of Lacey to the east, La Quinta Inn Olympia – Lacey is located close to the interstate and is popular for its friendly staff, convenient location, and spacious rooms featuring fridges and microwaves. South of Olympia in Tumwater, and near Tumwater Falls Park, the Extended Stay America – Olympia - Tumwater is a great option for those looking for a little extra space.

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Other Cities in Washington: Rich in the culture of the Pacific Northwest, the city of Seattle is filled with all sorts of cultural and natural attractions. Near Olympia and Seattle, the city of Bellevue provides its own unique attractions, including art museums, botanical centers, and nature parks. Farther north, Bellingham is a college city with the great backdrops of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands.

More to Explore in Washington: The many top attractions of Washington state stretch from border to border and include Mount Saint Helens, Spokane, and the stunning environment found in the San Juan Islands. For other scenic places to visit, the best small towns to visit in Washington state provide open communities and stunning natural attractions. For exploration of the waters bordering Olympia, our guide to the Puget Sound can have your sails heading in the right direction.

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