The Ultimate Travel Guide To Olympia & Things To Do


When one mentions the US state of Washington, the first city that comes to mind isn’t Olympia, at least not for most people. The more popular (and populous) Seattle draws more attention, leaving smaller cities like Olympia in its shadow. But, Olympia is an important part of the state; it’s Washington’s capital and the county seat of Thurston County. Because of the city’s small population of about 58,000 (Seattle has over 10 times more people), it’s considered one of the best places to live in the US. For tourists, Olympia offers a number of historical and natural attractions that make it a destination worth exploring. Its proximity to Puget Sound, the Deschutes River, and Capitol Lake, places it right in the middle of nature.

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Plus, Olympia offers views of the Olympic Mountains on one side and Mt Rainier on the other, both of which are exciting places to visit for those who want to venture farther outside the city. And, as icing to the already appealing cake, Olympia is considered a wonderful place to spend Thanksgiving. There are certainly a lot of things to do and places to visit in this destination. This ultimate travel guide to Olympia will help travelers to this destination plan the perfect trip.


Best Time To Visit OlympiaThe Washington State Capitol Building, Olympia

Olympia experiences the best weather in summer, from June to September making this the best time to visit. A lot of visitors troop to this city at this time as it’s one of the best places in the US to visit in August.

Consequently, rates are higher during this period, but those who plan early will get lower rates than those who book at the last minute.

May is also a good time to visit Olympia before the summer vacationers start crowding the city. The weather in May is also relatively warm but not too much, perfect for outdoor activities like hiking.

Related: Why Tacoma Is A Low-Key Alternative To Visiting Seattle

Getting To Olympia

Olympia is served by the international airport in Seattle and Portland. The Olympia Regional Airport doesn’t have commercial passenger airlines so tourists coming by air have to land at either one of the larger cities.

The drive from Seattle to Olympia takes about an hour while from Portland is close to two hours.

Visitors can also get to Olympia by train; Amtrak operates trains to Olympia’s Lacey station from both Seattle and Portland.

Getting Around Olympia

Olympia Intercity Transit bus
Via: Wikimedia Commons

Olympia Intercity Transit bus

Bus

Olympia has a public bus known as the Intercity Transit that operates on about 18 routes around the city. This bus is free to all riders. The bus schedule varies from route to route, but riders can download Intercity Transit’s myStop app to track the buses.

Bike

As part of the city’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Olympia boasts 32 miles of bike lanes around the city. Visitors can rent bikes and use them to explore the city – this is an inexpensive and convenient option.

Car

Visitors can rent a car for the freedom to visit farther-flung attractions. Companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz, and Budget Car Rental have offices in Olympia.

Olympia is a walkable city, with about 10 miles of trails and pathways.

Where To Eat: Olympia’s Top Restaurants

Olympia is a diverse city, so visitors can enjoy different cuisines in the different restaurants. Be it Asian, Mexican, Italian, or French food, it’s all found in Olympia. This is also one of the American cities with the most bakeries.

Most of these restaurants are found in the Downtown area, the Historic District, and along the West Bay, but there are also eateries peppered in other parts of the city.

Here are some of the top-rated restaurants in Olympia.

Breakfast: Martin Way Diner

Eggs and potatoes
Via: Unsplash

Eggs and potatoes

This diner serves breakfast all day, so visitors can enjoy hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, bacon, ham steak, or fresh biscuits whatever time they come. In fact, past customers praise Martin Way Diner for having the best home-style breakfast in Olympia.

  • Address: 2423 4th Ave E, Olympia, WA 98506, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Thu: 7 am – 9 pm; Fri: 7 am – 10 pm; Sat: 6 am – 10 pm; Sun: 6 am – 9 pm

Lunch: Pizzeria La Gitana – Olympia

Fresh Italian pizza out of the oven
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

An image of Fresh Italian pizza out of the oven

Pizzeria La Gitana serves mouthwatering wood-fired pizzas that are authentically Italian. Their options include cheese pizza, mushrooms with truffle oil, and vegetarian pizzas, among many more. Still, since this is an Italian restaurant, they also serve pasta and a variety of salads, wines, and desserts.

  • Address: 518 Capitol Way S, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Thu: 11:30 am – 8:30 pm; Fri & Sat: 11:30 am – 9 pm; Sun: 12 pm – 8 pm

Dinner: Dockside Bistro & Wine Bar

Fancy scallop dinner on plate
Via: Unsplash

Fancy scallop dinner on plate

Dockside Bistro and Wine Bar offers a spectacular waterfront view that patrons can enjoy against the backdrop of the sunset. The restaurant serves European and Southeast Asian-inspired cuisines, ranging from Filet Mignon to seared sea scallops and so much more in between. There are also house cocktails as well as an extensive wine list at their bar.

  • Address: 501 Columbia St NW # B, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Hours: Tue & Wed: 5 pm – 8 pm; Thu – Sat: 12 pm – 8 pm (closed on Sun & Mon)

Drinks: Filibuster Cocktail Bar & Lounge

Cocktails on a bar table
Via: Unsplash

Green and red cocktails on a bar table

Found in downtown Olympia, Filibuster Cocktail Bar & Lounge is a laid-back joint with craft cocktails, wine, draft beer, and spirits. All these are served alongside bites like Jalapeño Poppers, tacos, and sandwiches.

The cocktails are Filibuster’s specialty, with options like variations to the classic Old Fashioned.

  • Address: 404 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Hours: Tue – Thu: 4 pm – 9 pm; Fri & Sat: 4 pm – 11 pm (closed on Sun & Mon)

Top Things To Do In Olympia

Visit One Of Olympia’s Parks

Percival Landing sign at the entrance
Via: Wikimedia Commons

Percival Landing sign at the entrance

Olympia is a haven for nature lovers, with more than 1400 acres of park real estate. There are more than 40 parks in Olympia, each one offering amenities for sports and picnics, and some offer beach access. Here are some of the main parks in Olympia:

Marathon Park

This park is found adjacent to Capitol Lake, a short distance from the Washington State Capitol Building. It has running and walking trails. This park also often hosts events like weddings and parades.

Heritage Park

Heritage Park is found right across the water from Marathon Park as a part of the State Capitol grounds. This 24-acre park also has pathways, just like its counterpart. There’s also an outdoor amphitheater as well as viewing points by the lake.

Related: 10 Must-See Places In Seattle That Should Be On Your Bucket List

Percival Landing Park

This waterfront park is found next to Budd Bay in the downtown area. The park boasts a boardwalk that stretches to West Bay. There are also picnic spots as well as a kids’ playground.

Watershed Park

Watershed Park boasts a larger area than the parks above, 153 acres to be precise. This makes it one of the largest parks near Downtown Olympia (see below for the largest). The park is actually just a mile from the downtown area.

It has a rainforest and trails that weave through the greenery. These make Watershed a hiker’s paradise.

Squaxin Park

This park boasts 314 acres of land, which makes it the largest park within a few minutes of Downtown Olympia. Squaxin is 3.8 miles from Downtown, a short 10-minute drive. It sits next to the bay and offers beach access. Plus, there are over 4 miles of hiking trails, a playground, and picnic spots.

Go Boat Riding At Boston Harbor Marina

A view of the water at Boston Harbor Marina
Via: Wikimedia Commons

A view of the water at Boston Harbor Marina

The Boston Harbor Marina is a popular boat-launching site in Olympia. It’s found within the Woodard Bay Conservation Area, making this a serene place to enjoy an afternoon or evening. Visitors also get a chance to go paddleboarding or kayaking.

  • Address: 312 73rd Ave NE, Olympia, WA 98506, United States
  • Hours: Mon – Fri: 12 pm – 6 pm; Sat & Sun: 10 am – 6 pm
  • Activities: Boating, kayaking, picnics, beach access

Explore Yashiro Japanese Garden

Yashiro Japanese Garden entrance
Via: Wikimedia Commons

Yashiro Japanese Garden entrance

The Japanese city of Yashiro happens to be Olympia’s sister city. This garden represents this union by bringing a touch of Japanese culture to Washington. Yashiro Japanese Garden features lovely flowers and walking paths. There’s also space for picnics.

  • Address: 1010 Plum St SE, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Hours: 8 am – 8 pm (daily)

Learn About Aviation History At The Olympic Flight Museum

An Aero L-39 aircraft at Olympic Flight Museum
Via: Wikimedia Commons

An Aero L-39 aircraft at Olympic Flight Museum

The Olympic Flight Museum is home to a collection of aviation artifacts, including some from the World War II era. There are also vintage aircraft on display. This flight museum also hosts private events, with space that is rented out to the public.

  • Address: 7637-A Old Highway 99 SE, Olympia, WA 98501
  • Hours: Sat & Sun: 10 am – 4 pm (closed the rest of the week)
  • Fees: $7 (adults), $6 (seniors), $5 (kids ages 7 to 12), free for kids under 6

Explore Downtown Olympia

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia
Via: Shutterstock

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia

Downtown Olympia has a plethora of shopping outlets, restaurants, and entertainment spots. It’s also home to the State Capitol Buildings, which bear historic significance. Here’s a list of some of the landmarks that visitors can expect to see in this area;

  • Washington State Capitol Building
  • Cherberg Building
  • Washington Supreme Court

National Parks/Forests Near Olympia

A bridge and waterfall in Mt Rainier National Park
Via: Unsplash

A bridge and waterfall in Mt Rainier National Park

Olympia sits in the middle of nature reserves and national parks in Washington, all of which are within a two-hour drive of the city. Here’s a look at the nearby national parks, national forests, and nature reserves that visitors can explore from Olympia.

Grass Lake Nature Reserve

  • Distance from Olympia: 5 miles
  • Drive time from Olympia: 10 minutes
  • Activities: Hiking, birdwatching

Olympic National Forest

  • Distance from Olympia: 46 miles
  • Drive time from Olympia: 55 minutes
  • Activities: Hiking, camping, nature viewing, biking

Related: Parks In Washington State That Offer The Easiest Hiking Trails

Olympic National Park

  • Distance from Olympia: 46 miles
  • Drive time from Olympia: 55 minutes
  • Activities: Camping, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, skiing

Mt Rainier National Park

  • Distance from Olympia: 70 miles
  • Drive time from Olympia: 1.5 hours
  • Activities: Wilderness hiking, camping, wildlife viewing

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

  • Distance from Olympia: 120 miles
  • Drive time from Olympia: 2.5 hours
  • Activities: Camping, hiking, trekking

Related: Meet Maryhill: A Real Stonehenge In Washington State?

A street in the Olympia Historic District
Via: Wikimedia Commons

A street in the Olympia Historic District

Historic District

This district has a place on the National Register of Historic Places, and it spans the area bordering Downtown to Percival Landing Park. It’s a scenic part of Olympia as it’s right next to West Bay.

The Puget Sound Estuarium is within this area and the Hands On Children’s Museum is just a few blocks away. For shopping, The Olympia Farmers Market is just half a mile from the Historic District.

A few hotels are found here:

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Olympia

  • Address: 415 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Amenities: Pool, flat-screen TV, WiFi, shared lounge, family rooms, fitness center

Red Lion Inn & Suites Olympia, Governor Hotel

  • Address: 621 South Capitol Way, Olympia, WA 98501, United States
  • Amenities: Queen rooms, King rooms, microwave, refrigerator, fitness center, smoking area

South Westside

This neighborhood starts from the edge of Capital Lake, covers part of Marathon Park on one side, and sits adjacent to the Route 101 Highway on the other side. It’s a large neighborhood with Decatur Woods Park within its borders. Still, South Westside is close to Yauger Park, Marathon Park, and Heritage Park.

Where to stay:

Olympia Hotel at Capitol Lake

  • Address: 2300 Evergreen Park Drive SW, Olympia, 98502, United States
  • Amenities: Picnic area, microwave, refrigerator, fitness center, laundry, WiFi

Guest Suite in Olympia

  • Address: South Westside, Olympia, Washington
  • Amenities: WiFi, workspace, one bedroom, queen bed, microwave, mini-fridge

Tumwater

Tumwater is a small town within the Olympia metropolitan area, south of Downtown Olympia. This is where the Olympia Regional Airport and the Olympic Flight Museum are found. Several parks are within Tumwater as well, including Pioneer Park and the Tumwater Historical Park.

From here, Olympia’s central business district is about 3 miles away, which is a 5-minute drive.

Where to stay:

Best Western Tumwater-Olympia Inn

  • Address: 5188 Capitol Blvd SE, Tumwater, WA 98501, United States
  • Amenities: WiFi, parking, hot tub, vending machines, smoking area

La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Tumwater – Olympia

  • Address: 4600 Capitol Boulevard Southeast, Tumwater, WA 98501, United States
  • Amenities: Indoor pool, WiFi, parking, microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker

Cozy Townhouse Retreat

  • Address: Tumwater, Washington, United States
  • Amenities: One bedroom, WiFi, queen bed, air mattress, toddler bed, barbecue, full kitchen, smart TV

Tips To Know About Visiting Olympia WA

  • Those who love skiing can do so on Mt Rainier, which is an hour and a half from Olympia. This city is a good place to stay before or after visiting the mountain.
  • Travelers can choose to rent a car from Seattle and enjoy a road trip to Tacoma, Olympia, and the neighboring attractions.
  • Olympia is also a great destination for kids, with attractions like the HandsOn Children’s Museum, and WET Science Center found here.
  • Visitors can board the Amtrak Coast Starlight train in Los Angeles and ride it to Olympia to enjoy one of the most beautiful train journeys in North America.

Related: Seattle To Glacier National Park: Why Train Travel By Amtrak Is A Scenic Option

How To Spend The Perfect Day In Olympia

Olympia Washington
Photo by J. R. Lopez on Unsplash

Long range shot of Olympia, WA in the autumn overlooking downtown and the Olympic Mountains

Start the day with a delightful breakfast at Martin Way Diner before setting off for a hike in Watershed Park, which is just 1.6 miles away. After exploring the lush trails of the park, head to the Historic District for lunch and a stroll in the area.

Visit the Washington State Capitol and explore the historic sites in the area.

Later in the afternoon, go on a sunset boat ride in West Bay before enjoying a seafood dinner at a waterside restaurant next to the bay.

FAQ

Q: What is Olympia Washington known for?

Olympia is known for being the capital of Washington state, and a city midway between Portland and Seattle.

Q: How cold does it get in Olympia WA?

Olympia can reach lows of 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 degrees Celsius) in December and January. It’s also a good winter destination, offering access to Mt. Rainier National Park, where there are scenic skiing trails.

Q: Is Olympia WA beautiful?

Yes, Olympia is a beautiful city with several parks and located on the edge of Puget Sound. There are also several nature reserves and national parks nearby. Also, Olympia enjoys views of Mt. Rainier on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other side.

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