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The capital city of Washington State offers a ton of things to do with an abundance of natural beauty, a hot music scene, a downtown core that’s designated as a National Historic District and much more. If you want to make the most of your time here, be sure to put some of these ideas on your must-do list.
Washington’s legislative building really stands out as an impressive domed structure that can easily be spotted from the interstate. One of the world’s largest free-standing masonry domes rising nearly 300 feet, it’s well worth a visit, providing the chance not only to see it up close, but to walk around the park-like grounds and take a tour. The centerpiece of the five historic buildings designed by architects Walter Wilder and Harry White, construction was complete in 1928, and since opening, it’s withstood three major earthquakes thanks to the superior craftsmanship of those original builders. Guided public tours are offered seven days a week.
The Olympic Flight Museum is sure to fascinate adults and kids alike. Located at the Olympia Regional Airport, it features more than 20 vintage planes and helicopters, from World War II aircraft to planes that flew in Korea and Vietnam. Most are still in outstanding flying condition even after all this time. You can check out a H-43 Huskie helicopter, an FG-1D Corsair, a P-51 Mustang fighter plane and much more. If you can be here for the annual Olympic Air Show held in mid-June, you’ll also be able to view aerobatic performers and heritage aircraft from around the world. The show also includes a variety of activities, a Beer Garden, merchandise and food vendors.
Percival Landing Park sits in the heart of Olympia on the east side of Budd Bay at the site of the historic commercial steamship wharf. The city’s most popular waterfront park, The Landing includes a just under one-mile boardwalk that extends along the eastern shoreline, providing an ideal place for a pleasant stroll. The park also offers picnic areas, boat moorage, a playground and a large carved orca whale. It hosts many popular annual events too, like the Wooden Boat Festival, Harbor Days and Sand in the City.
The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was renamed recently to honor late Nisqually tribe leader Billy Frank, Jr. A preserve on the banks of the Nisqually River, it protects the area’s migratory birds and is an ideal place for hiking as well as bird watching as a biologically diverse area supporting a wide range of habitats. The freshwater of the river mixes with the saltwater from the Puget Sound to form an environment that’s exceptionally rich in nutrients and organic matter, feeding an extensive array of sea life.
The Mima Mounds are rather mysterious, with numerous theories existing to try and explain what created the mounds that inspire both speculation and imagination. Some say it was geological forces, while other say it may have been extraterrestrials or even a volcanic explosion to explain these lumps that are dotted across the 445-acre National Natural Landmark. To make your guess, head to the observation deck and half-mile long paved trail to explore them. If you want to do some more hiking, there is another two miles of more rugged path to follow.
Tumwater Falls Park is just minutes from downtown Olympia in Tumwater, situated where the Deschutes River ends its journey from the Cascade Mountains, tumbling its last 82 feet into Capitol Lake. The 25-acre park is filled with striking natural beauty, which includes a gorge with rapids and deep pools that culminates into often misty Tumwater Falls. Short walking trails are highlighted by cascading falls, tranquil reflective pools and huge boulders. Foot bridges span the river at both ends of the gorge and connect the network of trails. At the upper reaches and park entrance, there are also wide expanses of perfectly manicured lawns, picnic areas and a sand-filled play area for the kids.
Olympia Farmers Market is a popular gathering place for locals to meet those who produce their food and exchange ideas. Both residents and visitors can enjoy the fresh local produce, clams and oysters, baked goods, handmade crafts and other items as well as to enjoy live music and dine in one of seven eateries hosted here. Between April and October, it’s open Thursdays through Sundays, Saturday and Sunday in November and December, and Saturday only January through March.
When hunger pangs hit during your fun Olympia outings, be sure to head to the Old School Pizzeria at least once. It’s a big hit with those who enjoy New York- style pizza, with many noting it’s the best in the entire state. Both kids and the kids-at-heart love it for its retro look with ’80s posters and arcade games. Plus, prices are very reasonable and it’s located near downtown for easy access too.
If you have little ones with you, one of the best ways to keep them happy and occupied is to visit the Hands On Children’s Museum. It aims to stimulate kids’ curiosity, boost their creativity, and encourage learning through fun interactive programs and exhibits, designed for everyone from birth to age 11. It features a range of galleries focusing on science, nature, the arts and lots more, including Good For You! which is about healthy life and nutrition, Our Puget Sound, Emergency!, Snug Harbor and Our Fabulous Forest. The Outdoor Discover Center even has its own beach, as well as a mud pie pit and a fire pit, among other interactive displays.
Olympia is consider the birthplace of the “riot grrrl” underground feminist punk movement of the 1990s and it’s also the home base of well-known indie labels like K Records, Bikini Kill, and Kill Rock Stars, though much of its shows are powered by the strong local music scene. On any given night you’ll find a band to listen to somewhere in the city, including venues like Rhythm & Rye.