When people visit Washington state, their typical top destination is Seattle, which is understandable. About 1-1/2 hours south, however, is the state’s capital city and a place that offers tremendous diversity for a relatively ignored destination. That means you can take advantage of some great activities without having to suffer large crowds.
Olympia was home to the popular Olympia Brewery. The brewery is located at the base of Tumwater Falls, just a few minutes south of the city, and they’re a great place to visit. Pathways take you along the river, the source of the iconic photo that once adorned cans and bottles of Olympia Beer. When I recently went by there, it appeared that the brewery isn’t currently occupied, so right now you can’t add beer tasting to your visit.
During the fall this is also a great, accessible way to watch the salmon run. You can watch them as they jump the small falls to return to the place where they were born in order to spawn. Don’t be surprised if you hear a group of people cheering them on as it sometimes takes a few sprints for them to clear it. In areas that have been adapted by construction, special “ladders” have been installed to facilitate their migration upstream.
There is also a wonderful restaurant near the park that has great food with fantastic views.
Every night between May and September, the gorgeous Capitol Lake is visited by thousands of bats representing several species as they dart over the lake feeding on insects. In June and July a biologist specializing in bats leads a free walk around the lake. They usually carry bat detectors which allow you hear to the echolocation used by the flying mammals as they hunt for their next meal. It’s a unique and fun activity.
Both day and night, however, are wonderful times to walk around the lake. If you have a kayak or canoe, you can enjoy the lake in this way as well. There are several small, charming shops near the lake as well as restaurants, but it’s also a perfect place for a midday or sunset picnic.
Millersylvania State Park is nearby and offers miles of hiking and biking trails, and some trails for ATVs and dirt bikes, fishing, camping, and other activities.
The Olympia Farmers Market is a great place to get fresh produce, various locally grown produce and handcrafted products, and some tummy-pleasing food. It is open Thursday through Sunday between April and October and on weekends only during November and December.
Enjoy a walk by the waters of the Puget Sound. It isn’t uncommon to see harbor seals that have come closer to the marina looking for fish. Plan to stop for a meal at Anthony’s Home Port, but bring an appetite. Fresh, warm-from-the-oven sourdough bread accompanies every meal, and it’s easy to get full on just this addictive bread alone. They serve some of the best food I’ve ever tasted and offer a nice selection of beers, including microbrews. Prices are very reasonable for the quality of food. During nice weather their outdoor patio is open, and it just adds to the whole experience.
Next time you’re in the Evergreen State, plan on spending 2-3 days in Olympia, although you could easily spend a lot more time there and use it as a base to visit many other wonderful places in this gorgeous state.