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.
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Itinerary: Weekend Trip to Olympia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.