While Pierce County is not exactly short on things to do, sometimes you just need to expand the search and find something new to do. Thurston County just a short drive away is an ideal place to look, but if you’re not as familiar with the attractions in and around Olympia, the team at Experience Olympia and Beyond has done the work for you. A quick visit to their website takes you to a library of events, attractions, places to stay and not to be missed eats.
If you’re not sure where to start, never fear. With the help of a visitor survey, Experience Olympia has compiled a list of the top 12 (in no particular order) Thurston County attractions – a perfect guide for visitors and long-time residents alike. One for each month of the year.
Experience the History
The State Capitol
The first place many people think of when planning a trip to Olympia is the State Capitol. The campus is open year-round and features numerous outdoor attractions. If you are looking for an in-depth look at the campus and its buildings, stop by the Visitor Center to inquire about self-guided or group tours through the Governor’s Mansion, the Legislative Building or the Temple of Justice, housing the Washington State Supreme Court and the State Law Library. The Capitol Campus is also home to monuments and artwork and a jaunt down the hillside switchbacks rewards you with wonderful views and a close-up of Capitol Lake.
Tumwater Falls Park
The Deschutes River begins in the Cascade Mountains, ending it’s run in Tumwater with an 82-foot fall into Capitol Lake. Visitors enjoy this extraordinary site year-round at Tumwater Falls Park offering 15 acres of public land. On the park’s trails, you’ll see massive rocks, foot bridges, reflective pools and iconic Northwest foliage. Free guided tours are available for people interested in learning about topics such as Tumwater’s pioneer past, the history of the Olympia Brewing Company and the annual salmon migration beginning each August. Tours typically run from July to mid-September.
Experience the Community
Olympia Farmers Market
The Olympia Farmers Market has been part of the Olympia community for over 41 years. They host over 400,000 visitors during the market season who come for their local organic produce, fresh cut flowers, breads, meats, cheeses, desserts and live entertainment. They connect consumers and producers and work tirelessly to promote small business and small-scale agriculture. The market is open for business year-round:
- January to March, Saturday only
- April to October, Thursday through Sunday
- November and December, Saturday and Sunday only
Events and Festivals
Thurston County is known for its many community festivals and events throughout the year which offer a chance to have fun with friends and explore the very best the region has to offer. Each spring the festival season begins with Spring Arts Walk that draws participants and spectators from around the region. Mother’s Day weekend hosts the Wooden Boat Festival along the downtown Waterfront at Percival Landing.
As summer begins and temperatures warm up, residents and visitors alike flock to the summer’s main event, Lakefair. The five-day community festival each July includes a run, volleyball tournament, car show, carnival and the finale fireworks. Shortly after, the Tumwater Artesian Brewfest celebrates brewing heritage (while quenching your thirst) and the South Sound BBQ festival tantalizes the taste buds.
For more events check out Experience Olympia & Beyond’s event calendar at ExperienceOlympia.com
Centrally located in the heart of downtown, Percival Landing offers public moorage, a private marina and the Olympia Yacht Club for those travelling by water. Lining the boardwalk are shops and restaurants with the beloved Olympia Farmers Market at one end and downtown Olympia and the capitol campus at the other.
Part of the Port of Olympia, Swantown Marina is one of the largest marinas in the state. Boasting public day moorage and weekly and monthly rentals, it’s the perfect home away from home. Amenities are generous for those using the marina and a quick walks brings you to Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill, the Hands On Children’s Museum, the WET Science Center and the Olympia Farmers Market.
Perhaps best known for being the home of Tugboat Annie’s Restaurant and Bar, West Bay Marina has been dubbed the friendliest marina in Olympia. From the panoramic windows inside Annie’s, enjoy an unforgettable meal with views of sail boats and wildlife or be get out on the water with convenient kayak and paddleboard rentals from West Bay Paddleboards onsite.
Experience the Natural Wonders
Our area is surrounded by natural beauty from deep, mysterious woods to wide open prairies and gorgeous beaches. Local parks and hiking/biking trails offer a serene step into nature, all within a short drive. Find a neighborhood park for nature exploration with the kids or venture further afield to explore of the areas larger natural wonders.
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a protected estuary habitat for migratory birds established in 1974 at the intersection of the Nisqually River and Puget Sound. During the year, over 200 species of birds visit the refuge, though other wildlife is prevalent as well. No matter the season, there is activity in the refuge making it a great location to visit year-round.
The Thurston County Trail System offers smooth, paved, off-road paths for walking, biking, running and more. With nearly 45 miles spanning Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Tenino and Yelm, you’ll enjoy wetlands, rivers, farmland, small towns and neighborhoods.
Experience the Power of New Perspectives
Hands On Children’s Museum
The Hands On Children’s Museum is learning at its best. Adults and kids interact, engaging their curiosity and creativity through inquiry and exploration. The museum is geared towards young learners and their families, birth to 10 years old. They offer exhibits ranging from the environment and art to construction and design. Memberships are available and the museum hosts First Friday Nights when the museum is open for free on the first Friday of the month from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Theater and Performing Arts
Professional theater group Harlequin Productions aims to explore the human adventure through their work. With every show, they aim to expand perspectives and help us discover the magic behind the music and stories. They offer seven shows a year, including eclectic new works, summer musicals, classics with unconventional twists. Don’t miss their famous Stardust holiday show.
In the heart of downtown Olympia lies a beloved family theater hosting everything from informal daytime shows for toddlers and preschoolers to professional evening performances highlighting popular books and stories that appeal to all ages. The group event hosts workshops and camps for budding actors. Find their current shows and schedule here.
With live music, local theater performances and a stellar line-up of independent, classic and foreign films, the Olympia Film Society at Capitol Theater in the heart of downtown Olympia offers a bit of something for everyone. The coconut oil popped popcorn and bar upstairs are among the favorite attractions.
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts offers the greatest variety of entertainment and cultural activities in the area. In addition to seasonal, touring artists, they also are home to over 20 local performance groups. The Center appeals to a wide range of people by offering performances that span genre and style.
Wolf Haven International
Wolf Haven International is a hands-off facility meaning there is no socialization between humans and the incredible wolves in their south Thurston County refuge. Founded on the idea that animals, like humans, deserve to be appreciated for who and what they are, the sanctuary assures they are treated with dignity and compassion from the moment they arrive to the end of their days. The public can tour the facility, learn more above wolves and meet some of the residents, but Wolf Haven requires you schedule in advance. Tours run 50 minutes and are recommend for ages six and older.
Experience the Water
One of Olympia’s top attractions, cited by visitors and residents alike, is the incredible waterfront. And, luckily, with miles of coves, inlets, points and peninsulas, you can access the shoreline through most of the attractions listed above. Walk the boardwalk, boat the waterways, stroll the tideline, hike the bluffs, jog around the lake, bask on the beach or swim along the shore.
No matter what you choose to do in Olympia, the water is never far away.
The famous saying really is true: “It’s the Water.”