28 Best Things to Do in Olympia, WA (in 2023)
I’m a Washington state local, and Olympia is one of my favorite cities to visit! Keep reading for a rundown of the best things to do in Olympia and the surrounding Thurston County area.
Olympia, WA may not be the biggest city in Washington, but it’s still one of the best places to visit in the state.
This bustling city is packed with interesting things to do. Olympia has a vibrant historic district and unique outdoor recreation options. You’ll find delicious dining throughout the city and tons of family-friendly activities.
Table of Contents
- 28 Best Things to Do in Olympia
- Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
- Olympia Farmers Market
- Percival Landing
- Historic District Olympia
- Washington State Capitol Building and Campus
- Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
- Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls
- Olympia Coffee Roasters
- Capitol State Forest
- 222 Market
- Olympic Flight Museum
- Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park)
- Wolf Haven International
- Heritage Park and Marathon Park
- Artesian Well
- National Parks
- Hands On Children’s Museum
- East Bay Public Plaza
- Dumpster Values
- WET Science Center
- Arepa Latin Street Food and Food Truck Plaza
- Puget Sound Estuarium
- Harlequin Productions Theater
- Rainy Day Records
- Hope Island
- Millersylvania State Park
- Bigelow House Museum and other Historical Houses
- Schilter Family Farm
- FAQs About What to Do in Olympia WA
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28 Best Things to Do in Olympia
Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Take a walk through a wildlife refuge filled with hundreds of migratory birds
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 753-9467 | Website | Hours: Sunrise-Sunset, Daily (Refuge Entrance + Trail) | Entrance: $3 per car
Bring your binoculars on a visit to the Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. There’s always a variety of wildlife to see. Eagles and herons, owls and sandpipers, seals, and coyotes are just a few animals that roam the reserve.
The reserve is 20 minutes outside of downtown Olympia, and it has a little over 750 acres to explore. This makes it one of the best things to do in Olympia if you like the outdoors.
The reserve changes dramatically as the seasons do, so it’s a great place to visit year-round.
Olympia Farmers Market
Visit one of Washington state’s best farmers markets
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 352-9096 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 3 pm, Saturdays in January – March, Thursday through Sunday from April – October, and Saturdays and Sundays in November – December.
Visiting the farmers markets is one of the top things to do in Washington. Olympia has one of the best farmers markets in the state!
There are a few distinct operating seasons at the market. Winter Market happens on Saturdays from January-March. From April-October the market is open from Thursday-Sunday. Then, the Holiday Market runs November-December on Saturdays and Sundays.
Pick up tasty local produce, buy a variety of goods from talented makers, and get some delicious bites from food trucks. Live music keeps the mood upbeat and the vendors rotate daily at the Olympia Farmers Market. This market is busiest during the weekends, so make sure you plan accordingly.
Stroll along the boardwalk of a lively waterfront park with fantastic public art
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 753-8380 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 6 pm daily
Percival Landing is one of several waterfront parks in the downtown Olympia area. A lot of fun events happen here, like Harbor Days, outdoor concerts, and other celebrations.
You’ll see three main things at Percival Landing. There are boats docked at the bay, harbor seals and jellyfish bobbing around in the water, and sculptures by local artists. The most notable (and frankly, the sweetest), of the sculptures, is the kissing statue.
Come to Percival Landing to get some fresh air, to people watch, or to admire the statues and pick out your favorites.
Historic District Olympia
Check out the murals, shops, art venues, restaurants, and bars in Olympia’s bustling downtown
📍 Google Maps | 👉 Olympia Hidden Histories Tours
No matter how much time you have in Olympia, dedicate a good part of it to exploring the historic district. This is where you’ll find art and performance venues, great small businesses, and meet friendly locals. The historic district is easily walkable and has a lot to keep you busy.
Grab a bite to eat at Octapas Cafe, and get some cool gifts and souvenirs from Compass Rose. If you’re visiting during the evening, make sure you get a drink at one of the many breweries.
Next, catch a show at Capitol Theater or the Washington Center for Performing Arts. There are cool murals all over town that make for some great photo ops.
Interested in local history? Try out an Olympia Hidden Histories Walking Tour, a self-guided tour created by students at the nearby Evergreen State College.
Washington State Capitol Building and Campus
Take a tour of the ornate Capitol Building and learn about the Washington state government
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 902-8880 | Website | Hours: 7:30 am – 5 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am – 4 pm, Saturday and Sunday | Entrance: free
The Capitol Building and Capitol Campus are some of the top attractions in Olympia. If you like architecture, history, and learning about state governments, you’ll enjoy your visit.
You can go on a self-guided tour of the campus, or take one of the free public tours with a knowledgeable docent who can answer all of your questions. The beautifully ornate Legislative building is the centerpiece of most tours.
Make sure you take a spin around the rest of the campus too. The Sunken Garden, Governor’s Mansion, war memorials, and the Tivoli fountain are all worth checking out while here.
📚 Related Reading: Planning a trip to the biggest city in Washington? Check out my article on 52 fun things to do in Seattle next!
Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
Marvel at an unusual, geographic phenomenon
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 577-2025 | Website | Hours: 8:30 am – 8:30 pm daily | Entrance: Discover Pass required for parking ($10 for day use, $30 annually)
The Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve is about twenty minutes outside Olympia proper. The mounds are dozens of little hills scattered across a wide expanse of grassland. A big part of their draw is that scientists still aren’t sure how they were created.
Some scientists believe they were created by gophers, and some believe glaciers had something to do with it. Others think it was caused by an earthquake. A few people theorize that the Mima Mounds were made by Sasquatch or extraterrestrials.
When you visit, walk along the easy trails, examine the mounds, and come up with your own theory of their creation. The Mima Mounds are accessible year-round, but one of the best times to visit is during May when the preserve is covered with wildflowers.
👉 Pro Tip: There’s a shooting range near the Mima Mounds, so you may hear some gunshot noise when visiting. If you’d like to avoid this to have a more tranquil visit, I suggest visiting on a day when the shooting range isn’t open.
Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls
Go on an easy hike at a small park with waterfalls and a famous old brewery
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 943-2550 | Website | Hours: 8 am – 7 pm daily
If you want to see waterfalls, a historic brewery, and watch the salmon run, then a great thing to do in Olympia is to go to Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls.
This little park right off of the highway is a family-friendly destination. It has a walking trail with mini waterfalls, several larger waterfalls in the Deschutes River, and a play area. Old mills, hydroelectric plants, and the famous and (sadly) closed Olympia Brewery are some of the buildings you’ll see around the park.
Visit in September or October if you want to visit the fish hatchery or see the salmon running up the fish ladder. The park isn’t far from the city center, so it’s an easy, worthwhile option for a quick getaway.
Olympia Coffee Roasters
Grab coffee and beans at one of the best roasteries in the state
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 753-0066 | Website | Hours: 6:30 am – 6 pm Monday-Friday, 7 am – 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday
One of my personal favorite spots in Olympia is Olympia Coffee Roasters. While they have a few coffee shops in Seattle, it’s a treat to visit the location where they do all their roasting. If you’re a big coffee nerd, you need to stop here for a drink and a bag of their beans.
The baristas are friendly, and the shop is clean, minimalist, and bright. In addition to great drinks (try their perfectly pulled espresso), they serve tasty pastries from local shops. If you’re heading into Olympia early, this is an ideal place to start your day.
Capitol State Forest
Camp, mountain bike, hike, or ride horses at a nearby working forest
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 825-1631 | Website | Entrance: Discover Pass required for parking ($10 day use, $30 annually)
Capitol State Forest is an excellent place to go for a variety of outdoor activities. This is both a working forest and a popular destination for outdoor recreation. It only takes about thirty minutes to Capitol State Forest from Olympia, so it’s easy to get out and enjoy this fabulous forest.
The forest has hiking trails, but the fun doesn’t end there. Mountain biking, horseback riding, and off-roading are all popular here.
Hike or ride up to Capitol Peak where you can see expansive views of the Olympics, Mount Rainier, and the surrounding forest. Ride a horse to Mima falls, or camp at one of the many equestrian-friendly campsites in the forest.
Grab a bite to eat and shop in a popular local market
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 352-1175 | Website | Hours: 9 am – 7 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm, Sunday, Closed Mondays
Take a break from exploring downtown to visit 222 Market. This small, indoor market has some awesome Olympia restaurants and shops.
Grab fresh-baked bread and eggs benedict at The Bread Peddler. Treat yourself to some of the inventive flavors at Sofie’s Scoops Gelato (biscoffee and cardamom are musts). If you want a nice dinner, go to Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar and try any of their seafood dishes.
For shopping, you can count on Fleurae to have both gorgeous flower bouquets and a variety of other cute gifts including candles, cards, and art.
Olympic Flight Museum
Get up close to historic, vintage aircraft
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 705-3925 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 4 pm Saturday and Sunday, Closed Monday-Friday | Entrance: $7, adults, $5, children (7-12), free under 6
Aircraft enthusiasts will adore the Olympic Flight Museum. It may be on the smaller side, but it makes up for this in quality.
This aviation museum is at the Olympia Regional Airport. It aims to teach visitors about aviation history and has dozens of vintage planes on display, along with fascinating exhibits. The people who run the museum are knowledgeable, and crowds of all ages will love getting close to (and even into) the planes.
Want to see the planes in action? Visit during the annual Olympic Air Show! This happens during Father’s Day Weekend and features aerobatic performances by top air show performers.
📚 Related Reading: Interested in all things flight? Take a trip up to another aviation museum, the Museum of Flight, which is one of the best museums in Seattle.
Squaxin Park (formerly Priest Point Park)
Spend time in nature at a beautiful 300-acre park
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 753-8380 | Website | Entrance: free parking
Squaxin Park (formerly known as Priest Point Park) is a beautiful Pacific Northwest Park.
Wander through forested trails full of ferns and mossy trees. Hike down to the beach at low tide to collect clam shells and search for marine life. Admire pretty blooms in a rose garden or gather with friends in one of the picnic areas.
Squaxin Park is only ten minutes from downtown and it’s the perfect place to recharge after a busy day. Parking is completely free, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks and spend some time in nature, Squaxin Park is a solid option.
Wolf Haven International
Tour a sanctuary that rescues captive-born and displaced wolves
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 264-4695 | Website | Hours: 9 am – 3 pm Saturday and Sunday, Closed Monday-Friday | Entrance: $20
About twenty minutes outside of Olympia is Wolf Haven International. This is a wolf sanctuary for captive-born and displaced wolves. Come here to learn about the incredible things the haven is doing for the wolves in their care.
To visit, book a tour with a guide who will tell you about the sanctuary’s conservation efforts. Together you’ll walk through the public access area where you’ll have a chance to see the wolves.
This is one of the coolest things to do in the Olympia area, especially if you’re an animal lover. If you want to put this on your itinerary, just make sure you book your reservation way in advance. Spots fill up quickly!
Heritage Park and Marathon Park
Walk, run, jog or people-watch at two pretty parks near the Capitol Campus
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 902-8881 | Website | Hours: 7 am – 9 pm (April-October), 7 am – 7 pm (November-March)
Heritage and Marathon Park are two waterfront parks that surround Capitol Lake. It’s next to the Capitol Campus, so you’ll find scenic views of the Capitol Building at Heritage Park. You can even walk to downtown via its trails.
Follow the trail across the bridge and you’ll wind up at Marathon Park. This Capitol Lake park has historic significance because it was the start and finish line for the U.S trials of the first women’s Olympic Marathon. Enjoy more lovely views of the Washington State Capitol Building from across the lake.
Both parks are clean, pretty, and great places to walk, jog, or stroll with friends. You might even spot otters playing in the lake.
Drink from one of Olympia’s ever-flowing wells
Artesian wells are wells from which groundwater flows because of constant underground pressure – there’s no need to pump them. Olympia happens to have a ton of these, and one that the public can easily access.
If you’re in downtown Olympia, make a quick and easy stop at the artesian well. Just know that the area around the well isn’t the prettiest, and unfortunately, the park adjacent to the well is closed. This won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for an unusual or quirky little spot in Olympia, this is it. Just fill up your water bottle and have a taste.
Even if you don’t get some water first hand, Well 80 Artesian Brewery brews their beer from artesian water. It’s said artesian water helps produce incredible brews, so you can taste a bit of it inadvertently if you visit this pub.
Visit two of the most breathtaking places in Washington
📍 Google Maps | Entrance: America the Beautiful Annual Pas $80, 7-Day Entrance Pass $30/car | 👉 Browse Mt Rainier Tours and Olympic National Park Tours on Viator
If you’re determined to go to the national parks on a visit to Washington, Olympia is a great place to stay. It’s close to both the Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks.
The Olympic National Park is just an hour away from Olympia. This national park is full of lush rainforests, wild, rocky beaches, and beautiful Olympic mountains. There are tons of hiking and camping opportunities throughout the massive park.
An hour and a half east of Olympia you’ll find Mount Rainier National Park. Go on wildflower and waterfall hikes in the spring and summer. Search for pretty foliage in the fall, or pack your snowshoes for winter adventures.
Hands On Children’s Museum
Play all day at one of the best children’s museums in the state
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 956-0818 | Website | Hours: 9 am – 5 pm Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm Sunday | Entrance: $14.95-$18.95, free under 17 mos
The Hands On Children’s Museum is a huge facility with ample play space for kids of all abilities. Older kids (and even adults) will enjoy the variety of stimulating activities in art, STEM, and play-focused exhibits.
Kids can go to the play store, explore the model fire truck, and let their imaginations run wild at the outdoor play space. There’s plenty here to keep little humans busy for hours, and a food court for any needed snack breaks.
If you happen to visit on the first Friday night of the month, it’s only $1 to get in (just make sure you buy your tickets ahead of time).
East Bay Public Plaza
Visit a plaza steps from the children’s museum that has water activities for kids
📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily
East Bay Public Plaza is another one of Olympia’s family-friendly spots. The plaza is owned and maintained by LOTT Clean Water Alliance, and it has fun water features for little ones to explore.
There is a mini wading stream, a little pond, and plenty of space for kids to run around. As a bonus, it’s just a few steps away from the Hands On Children’s Museum, another must-visit for families with kids.
Get great deals on a variety of vintage clothing
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 705-3772 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 6 pm, daily
If you love to shop and discover cool deals, head to Dumpster Values. This eclectic, well-curated Olympia store has a huge collection of vintage clothing at awesome prices.
In addition to clothing, you’ll find jewelry, shoes, handbags, and other accessories. While visiting, I even stumbled upon a truly vintage dress from the 1920s! It’s worth taking a spin through to find a unique gift for you or someone else. Keep in mind that there is a lot to take in here. Go slowly and you’re sure to find something great.
WET Science Center
Learn about the intricacies of the water cycle at a fun, hands-on science center
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 664-2333 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 4 pm Monday-Saturday, Closed Sundays | Entrance: free
It’s completely free to visit the WET Science Center, a place that teaches kids all about water. They have exhibits on wastewater treatment, the water cycle, and reclaimed water usage. They all focus on STEM-friendly concepts.
The WET Science Center hosts educational programs and events every week for kids of all ages. Be sure to check their calendar before you visit so you can make it to one of these fun and interesting events.
Arepa Latin Street Food and Food Truck Plaza
Munch on Venezualan arepas, sip locally-made cider, and try out other delicious food trucks
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 207-5774 | Website | Hours: 11 am – 7 pm Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday
Arepa Latin Street Food is an awesome food truck that serves up yummy arepas, yuca fries, plantain dishes, and other Venezuelan goodies. It’s a good place to stop for lunch, and there are other food trucks right in the same little plaza.
Try out falafel, shawarma and tabouleh from Nineveh Assyrian. Grab street tacos from Tacos California, or eat pad thai from My Thai Food Truck. Once you’ve bought your meal, make sure to get a cider flight from Whitewood Cider Co’s tasty taproom.
There’s seating all over the small plaza so you can stay and eat it before continuing with your Olympia exploration.
Puget Sound Estuarium
Learn about marine life in the Puget Sound
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 915-0773 | Website | Hours: 11 am – 4 pm Saturday and Sunday, Closed Monday-Friday | Entrance: $5, adults, $3, youth
Want to learn all about the creatures residing in the Puget Sound? Visit Olympia’s Puget Sound Estuarium.
The estuarium is small but has aquariums, small specimen samples, and exhibits. These focus on aquaculture, climate change, and other things related to the area’s estuaries.
Some of its programs cater more to kids, but adults can get involved too. Attend one of the programs that get visitors on the shores of the south Puget Sound like their “Meet at the Beach” or “Pier Peer” program.
Harlequin Productions Theater
See performances and plays at a beloved local theater
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 786-0151 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 6 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 12 pm – 2 pm Sunday, Closed Mondays | Entrance: ticket prices vary
Harlequin Productions Theater is a local theater company. They put on professional, high-quality performances for the community.
The theater is small, guaranteeing great seats no matter where you sit. Their plays are fun and diverse, and they offer multiple “pay what you choose” nights to make them accessible to as many people as possible.
Some popular performances include Sherlock and A Christmas Carol. Check their performance calendar for other fun surprises. If you want a fun place to spend a night in Olympia, try catching a show here.
Rainy Day Records
Freshen up your record collection
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 357-4755 | Website | Hours: 11 am – 6 pm, daily
Rainy Day Records is one of Olympia’s must-visit shops for music aficionados. You’ll find not only records, but CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs, and VHS tapes.
The pretty, plant-filled store has a huge collection of music of all genres. Browse through metal, R&B, pop, and even movie soundtrack albums. They even have a fun collection of surprise mixes on cassette tapes. We ended up leaving with a Japanese underground and funk 45 mix.
Grab something you’ve been looking for or bring home a fun surprise. The shop has both new and used items, and friendly staff to help you find what you need.
Spend the night on an island accessible only via watercraft
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 463-1861 | Website | Hours: 8 am – 8 pm daily
Hope Island can only be reached by watercraft. You’ll want to rent a kayak and take off from Boston Harbor to get to this remote island. It’ll take around an hour to reach it.
The Hope Island Marine Park is full of great blue herons, deer, and other critters you’ll spot while wandering its nature trails. Pack a lunch for a fun day trip, or pack a tent to stay overnight. The island’s campsites are admittedly a bit primitive, but they’re perfect for outdoor lovers who want to take a short break away from civilization.
📚 Related Reading: Washington state has a ton of great islands. Vashon Island and Bainbridge Island are two other great ones to visit that have many things to do.
Millersylvania State Park
Camp at a family-friendly state park on the shores of a beautiful lake
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 753-1519 | Website | Hours: 8 am – 7 pm daily | Entrance: Discover Pass required for parking ($10 day use, $30 annually)
Visit Millersylvania State Park to camp, kayak, and fish. You’ll have an awesome time doing any of these activities at this well-kept state park on the shores of Deep Lake.
If you’re new to camping or want a good family-friendly place to camp, Millersylvania is a good choice. You can even reserve a spot at one of the nearby glamping sites for a super comfortable stay.
The park has boat rentals and a concession stand that sells beer and other snacks. Go swimming or fishing at the lake, hike through the surrounding old-growth forest, or simply kick back, relax and laze about on a warm day at the park.
Bigelow House Museum and other Historical Houses
Check out and learn about some of the historic homes around Olympia
📍 Google Maps | Website
Olympia has several historic houses you can tour if you want to learn about the early settlers of the region and how they lived. The most popular of these is the Bigelow House which was converted into a museum in 1995. This historic carpenter gothic-style home has all sorts of artifacts from when it was built in the 1840s.
The Schmidt House and Crosby House are two other historic homes in Olympia. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you love architecture and historic houses, visit these homes that double as history museums. Just make sure to check websites ahead of time or call to make sure they’re open or to schedule a tour before you go.
Note: The Bigelow House Museum and Crosby House Museum are currently closed for renovation as of late 2022.
Schilter Family Farm
Visit a charming farm with tons of fun and festive activities
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (360) 459-4023 | Website | Hours: hours vary seasonally, check website before visiting
A visit to Olympia in the fall pretty much necessitates a stop at Schilter Family Farm. They have everything you need for a classic fall outing.
Visit the pumpkin patch, wander through their corn maze, go on a hay ride, and buy delicious kettle corn or cider donuts from their farm store. They also have a bounce pillow for kids, paintballing, pony rides, and fire pit rentals. All these make their Fall Harvest Festival an exciting adventure for the whole family.
You can visit during December for Christmas festivities. Visit during summer for their sunflower experiences and live music nights. Whatever you choose, both couples and families will have plenty of fun at this farm just 15-minutes from downtown Olympia.
FAQs About What to Do in Olympia WA
What is Olympia WA known for?
Olympia WA is known for being the Washington State Capitol. It also has a historic district, historic houses, and a bustling waterfront.
Does Olympia have beaches?
Olympia has beaches at some of the surrounding parks and state parks. You can find beaches near Olympia at Squaxin Park, Tolmie State Park, and Burfoot Park.
Is Olympia Washington beautiful?
Olympia Washington is very beautiful. It is surrounded by trees, has many parks, and is on the shores of the Puget Sound.
Olympia, WA is a great place to go with so many fun things to do. You won’t have a problem having a great time while exploring the Washington state capitol.
I hope I’ve helped you find some fun things to do in Olympia.
Are you interested in exploring more of the Pacific Northwest? Read this article about all the awesome things to do in Tacoma, WA next!
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super! thank you. I am going to save this and send to my friends who I want to come and visit our great town!
Thank you…. very useful content… !!