weekend trip from Seattle

Weekend Trip to Olympia - Things to See and Do

things-to-do-in-olympia.jpg

As the state capital of Washington, Olympia is often overlooked as a travel destination. It's true that Olympia is hardly a shiny, busy city like Seattle and Bellevue. But that's actually part of the charm. Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is just a 1-hour drive south of Seattle. It's the perfect place for a day or weekend trip, and one of our favorite destinations in Washington. If you're an outdoors enthusiast, Olympia is also a great base for exploring nearby Mount Rainier and the Olympic National Forest. Check out our itinerary below for ideas, or check out our Olympia travel photos.

Click here to see the map above in full detail.

Olympia Washington travel guide
Olympia Washington travel guide

Itinerary: Weekend Trip to Olympia

Day 1

We started our trip rather leisurely, leaving Seattle midday and arriving in Olympia in the early afternoon. Find our accommodations, The Governor Hotel was easy, as it was very centrally located. There are a handful of cozy hotels in downtown Olympia, but ours seemed among the most contemporary. If you're lucky, you might also get a room with a stunning view of Heritage Landing Park.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Olympia Parks

Speaking of parks, there are quite a few all within walking distance of The Governor Hotel. Directly across the street is Sylvester Park. Formerly the Town Square of Olympia, the park is named after the found of Olympia, Edmund Sylvester. Today, the park is a great gathering place to hang out with friends or sip a coffee with a book in hand.

Not far away are two other parks worth visiting, particularly during Golden Hour or right before sunset: Percival Landing Park and Heritage Park. Percival Landing is one of Olympia's three waterfront parks, and it includes a 0.9-mile boardwalk. From there, walk toward the Capitol Lake to Heritage Park and walk the path around the lake. There are great views of the State Capitol Dome, and even a pathway leading directly to it.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Shopping in Olympia

From Sylvester Park, pick any street and take a stroll. You'll find many eateries and shops peddling everything from vintage wear and antiques to modern children's toys. What you won't find are many big chain stores. Some of our favorite shops include Captain Little, Compass Rose, Archibald Sisters.

Food, Drinks, and Coffee

Similar to the shops in Olympia, there aren't many big chains in town when it comes to food and drinks (besides Starbucks, of course). During our first day, we stopped by Olympia Coffee Roasting for a pour over and then grabbed a late lunch at artisan-style food hall 222 Market. The 15,000 square-foot building opened in September 2016 and features an array of food and beverage producers including Broth Bar By Salt Fire & Time, Sofie's Scoops gelateria, and Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar (the city's first!). It was too cold for ice cream, but we tried our very first bone broth (Sea and Strength were our favorites). We then headed next door to slurp some oysters. Particular standouts were the Chelsea "Gem" and "Bonita" Pacific oysters, which we had never tried before.

Olympia Washington travel guide
Olympia Washington travel guide

Later on that evening, we headed to Iron Rabbit Restaurant for dinner. While it's not within walking distance of downtown, the food was worth the drive! The menu is New American with some nice twists to classic dishes. We started out with the Dungeness Crab Romanesco Dip and were particularly impressed with the difference that 100% crab meat makes (much tastier!). For our mains, we had Curry Battered Fish and Chips and the Zola Burger, the latter featuring Painted Hills grass-fed beef, hot coppa, cambozola cheese, and Chipotle spread. Somehow, we had room for dessert, which was worth it because the peach and raspberry bread pudding was one of the best we've had.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Day 2

After spending the night at The Governor Hotel, we woke up on Sunday morning and headed downstairs for the hotel's complimentary breakfast. It had all everything you would expect from a Continental breakfast including make-your-own waffles. Next, we packed up the car and headed out on the first stop of the Thurston Bountiful Byway.

What is the Thurston Bountiful Byway?

If you've never heard of it, fear not! This scenic route through Thurston County is relatively new, having only been officially designated in March 2014. The byway has over 20 suggested stops, all of which promote some form of agricultural tourism or agritourism. Perhaps the best part of the Bountiful Byway is the three ways you can see it: walking, biking, or driving.

Olympia Washington travel guide
Olympia Washington travel guide

First Stop: Olympia Farmer's Market

Our first stop on the Thurston Bountiful Byway was the Olympia Farmer's Market. As the second largest farmers market in Washington State, this market boasts a wide range of vendors. You can buy organic produce and fruits, meats, fresh flowers, and all kinds of arts and crafts. Compared to Pike Place Market, Olympia's Market is actually quite sizable. But it's much calmer and has a more open, friendly vibe as it's not stuffed with tourists.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Second stop: Tumwater Falls

Although not officially part of the Bountiful Byway, Tumwater Falls was an essential stop for us. This 0.5-mile scenic loop trail leads you on a gentle hike along the Deschutes River. Not only are you treated to three cascading waterfalls, but if you're lucky, you might also spot some salmon. From September to late October, Tumwater Falls Park is full of salmon gathering at the base of an 82-foot waterfall. They're returning to their holding ponds at the Deschutes River Hatchery, which is located in the park. It's quite a sight to see.

Can't see the video above? Click here.

Third stop: Rutledge Corn Maze

After marveling at the salmon, it was time for a traditional fall adventure through some corn mazes. Rutledge Corn Maze came about in the year 2000 when the Rutledge family turned its cornfields into an entertainment-based corn maze. It was one of the first corn mazes of its time and the first in the world to be planted in a maze pattern. Each year, the maze pattern changes and has taken the form of everything from the Statue of Liberty to a design based on the Twilight series. This year's design features the Thurston Bountiful Byway logo. Of course, the design can't be seen unless you're overhead the maze in a helicopter. But it's good fun to get lost in the corn maze and reward yourself with picking out your Halloween pumpkin in the patch afterward.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Fourth Stop: Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve

Next, we headed toward the edge of the Capitol State Forest to check out a curious natural phenomenon known as Mima Mounds. As the name suggests, this is a relatively flat natural terrain sporting series of strange lumps that span 445-acres. There are educational posters that summarize many theories as to what created Mima Mounds. But at the end of the day, no one can prove any theories. While you're here, head to the observation deck to get a good view of the mounds and walk the half-mile paved trail.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Fifth Stop: Medicine Creek Winery

At this point, we'd done quite a bit of agritourism visiting a farm, market, and natural parks. What was missing from our list was a winery, so we hightailed it to the wine region of the Bountiful Byway. We targeted what appeared to be the most photographically interesting winery of them all: Medicine Creek Winery. And it did not disappoint!

The winery is made up of a wine processing area, barrel room, tasting room, and even a dance floor. That's because the entire facility is located in a barn that's been designed to appear like a 1800's vintage New Orleans brothel. The star design feature of the winery is the Medicine Creek stagecoach, a 12-year long labor of love created by winemaker Jim Myers. But how was the wine, you might ask? Their signature 2006 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Stage Coach Reds were fantastic, but it was their brand new Riesling that really blew us away.

weekend trips from seattle olympia
weekend trips from seattle olympia

Sixth Stop: Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

Our very last stop on the Thurston Bountiful Byway was also our favorite: Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. This walkable scenic area is designed to protect fish and wildlife and is almost always teeming with animals. We arrived at 4:00 pm, two and a half hours before sunset. This was the perfect time of day to see many birds in their natural habitat and take advantage of the ideal lighting conditions.

There are several walking paths in the refuge including a wooden boardwalk that takes you a full mile into the delta. The elevated boardwalk lets you walk above the water and really get up close to the shorebirds. During our particular hike, we saw many Great Blue Herons and gulls, and even an owl and a small family of beavers. If you do as we didn't and bring binoculars and a birding book, you might glimpse even more bird species.

Olympia Washington travel guide
Olympia Washington travel guide

In Conclusion

As long-time Seattle residents, we discovered many areas in and around Olympia that we'd never heard of. From Olympia's hip oyster and broth bars to a world-famous corn maze and mysterious mounds, we had no trouble filling an entire weekend with activities. Best of all, we found out that areas like the Thurston Bountiful Byway have whole biking trails begging to be explored, not to mention dozens of wineries and farms that we didn't have time to visit. So we certainly will be back in Olympia, hopefully sometime soon!

Olympia Travel Video

Check out a recap video of our weekend road trip to Olympia.

Can't see the video above? Click here.

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Olympia Travel Guide Pinterest
Olympia Travel Guide Pinterest

Travel Photos to Inspire You to Visit Gabriola Island

Craving a summer island escape in the Pacific Northwest, but want to avoid the crowds? Located just off of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Gabriola Island offers peace and tranquility that is hard to find on other nearby islands. It's a quick, 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo and relatively easy to get to from Victoria and Vancouver. Learn more about how to get to the island and things to see and do here, or see where else we have been in Canada. In the meantime, get a taste of what the island has to offer in the photos below!

Gabriola Island Photo Gallery

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

 

 

Weekend Getaway to Gabriola Island

Believe it or not, but the Pacific Northwest has quite a few islands that offer supreme weekend getaways. The San Juan Islands in Washington get the most attention and thus tend to be packed during peak seasons. But head just a bit north of the San Juans and you'll find hidden gems offering much more intimate experiences. For our annual 4th of July road trip, we decided to head to one such place: Gabriola Island. Having spent many weekends in downtown Vancouver and Whistler, we hadn't spent much time in or around Vancouver Island, so this was our chance to finally do so! Want to see more photos of Gabriola Island? Click here. Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Where is it?

Gabriola Island is a small southern Gulf Island located in the Salish Sea that separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia. The easiest way to get here is taking a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, a small city on Vancouver Island. You can also take the super scenic route by flying in a float plane from Vancouver Airport. For our weekend trip from Seattle, we drove north to Vancouver, BC to a small town called Tsawwassen. From here, we loaded our car onto a BC Ferry and set sail to Swartz Bay (Victoria). It was a pleasant and scenic 90-minute ferry ride.

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Day 1

Overnight Stay in Victoria

Given the amount of land and water travel we did on day one, we made a short pit stop at an Airbnb rental in Victoria. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria is a lovely, picturesque city located on the southern end of Vancouver Island. There is lots of visual evidence of the city's British colonial past in the form of Victorian architecture. You can easily spend a whole day wandering the streets of Victoria with a camera in hand, marveling at the building designs. If you prefer outdoor activities, there's also an abundance of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, zip lining and even bungee jumping (which I may have done in Canada in my younger years).

What to Do in Victoria

  • Walk through Beacon Hill Park, the city's main urban green space that has a petting zoo
  • Visit Butchart Gardens, a designated National Historic Site of Canada
  • Enjoy high tea at the iconic Empress Hotel
  • See the Neo-baroque British Columbia Parliament Buildings light up at night
  • Go hiking, biking, zip lining, or bungee jumping
  • Take an Orca whale watching tour

Days 2 & 3

Head to Gabriola Island

The next day, we departed Victoria for Nanaimo harbor. We loaded our car onto a ferry and enjoyed a 20-minute ferry ride to Gabriola Island. The ferry pulled into Descanso Bay, and from there we headed to our accommodations. Marina's Hideaway is bed and breakfast that we found on Airbnb. We occupied an upper-level guest suite attached to the property's main house and absolutely loved the comfortable atmosphere and delicious home-cooked breakfast. But perhaps best of all was the view! Sitting out on the deck or in the outdoor hot tub gave you the most stunning view of Nanaimo in the distance. It's the most beautiful place to watch a sunset. We recently discovered that Marina's Hideaway has been sold; hopefully the new owners are still running it is a bed and breakfast, but we can't say for sure.

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

What to Do on Gabriola Island

With a population of just over 4,000 people spread over 22 square miles, Gabriola is pretty sparse in terms of people. However, the residents that live here are tightknit and have a lovely community established throughout the island. You'll find nicely paved roads, restaurants, shopping centers, museums, and lots of art. After all, Gabriola is known as the "Isle of the Arts" and holds three large annual arts events throughout the year. Even if you're visiting during a non-art event weekend, many artist studios are open and welcome visitors.

In addition to the arts, there are many public beaches and forests offering lots of hikes and opportunities for nature photography. There are three provincial parks on the island: Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, Sandwell Provincial Park, and Drumbeg Provincial Park. There's also Descanso Bay Regional Park located near the ferry terminal. We visited all of these parks during our two-night stay in early July. The weather was a bit wet and chilly for summer. But considering that it was a peak travel time, there were very few travelers that we encountered. This was a huge change from our previous trips to Orcas Island, which is generally packed during this time of year.

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

The lack of people made it feel as if we were on our own private island. We would walk hours on the rocky beach shores without encountering a soul. Instead, probably due to the lack of people, we saw an abundance of wildlife. There were banana slugs as big as our hands, flocks of cormorants gathering at sunset, families of harbor seals playing incredibly close to shore, more deer than we've ever seen in the Northwest, and our very first sighting of a large, lone sea otter in the wild. The nature viewing was spectacular.

Day 4

We ended our last day on Gabriola with one last home-cooked breakfast at Marina's, and then caught the BC Ferry back to Nanaimo. From here, it was a long wait to board a ferry back to mainland Canada, and an even longer drive back to Seattle. This was likely because we were joining the flocks of people traveling after a long weekend. As a result, we highly recommend leaving ferry travel in the Pacific Northwest to non-weekend days.

In Conclusion

Gabriola Island is a special getaway from Seattle and Vancouver that actually isn't much further than other popular island destinations. It has significantly fewer visitors, which gives you a more intimate, private experience. Have you visited Gabriola Island or any other islands in Canada? Let us know in the comments below!

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide

Gabriola Island Canada photos travel guide