Olympia: Washington’s must-see city

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 1/30/2020, 4:16 p.m.
When it comes to Washington State, Seattle sucks up all the air. But for sure, the state capitol, Olympia is ...

When it comes to Washington State, Seattle sucks up all the air. But for sure, the state capitol, Olympia is a must-see destination.

Fly into Seattle and in less than two hours you’ll be in a place locals claim is decidedly different. You can determine if they’re right or not. While this town of more than 51,000 is small, it’s big on personality and the great outdoors. There are plenty of trails for walking, biking, and hiking nearby and then there’s the breathtaking backdrop of the Puget Sound. Eating and drinking is one of the favorite past times. So much is hyper local, be it roasted coffee, beer, wine, mead or farm fresh food. For culinary groupies, Olympia offers the goods. Better still, you won’t be bankrupt when you leave, and the town isn’t run over with chain restaurants. Here independent business and one-of-a-kind shops rule, like Archibald Sisters, where they make their own lotions and perfumes or Browsers Bookstop, a woman-owned institution in Olympia since 1935. That’s part of the charm.

One of the things that make Olympia wonderful is the water everywhere. Percival Landing boardwalk is a hotspot. It’s one of three waterfront parks and is on more than three acres, conveniently in the middle of all the action that is downtown, that’s got a bit of funkiness with its eclectic murals.

A very pleasant surprise is the cuisine. Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar is touted for having the best clam chowder. It's known for creative innovations like outrageously delicious mussle pate on toast, and some of the best oysters in town. The craft brewing scene is hot. In downtown alone, there is Well 80 Brewhouse, McMenamin’s Spar Café, Three Magnets Brewing Co., Fish Tale Brew Pub, Leavenworth Biers and Spire Cider. Don’t expect the libations to be the only reason for stopping in. Well 80 Brewhouse serves up treats like its Caribbean pork sandwich–– slow roasted pork with grilled onion, mojo citrus aioli, pickled jalapeno, lettuce and cilantro on a rosemary ciabatta. If it’s Sunday, you want to do brunch at Three Magnets. Sports will be on the big screens. The crowd of die-hard fans will be intently watching the game, pausing between plays to throw back a beer, Bloody Mary, mimosa or Kentucky coffee. The eating is hearty entrees like the carnitas hash, beer braised pork shoulder, home fries, poblano peppers, green onion, fried eggs, tortilla strips, Pico de Gallo, and chili crema or mash tun shrimp and grits, a blend of grits and barley, shrimp, bacon, cream, mushroom, green onion, brown ale gravy and eggs if you like. For dessert Sofie’s Scoops is the spot for small batch from scratch, homemade gelato. Whether you’re a brew or wine enthusiast you’re in good luck. Make the rounds at Stottle Winery, Axis Meads, Top Rung Brewing, Medicine Creek Winery, and several others.

Your trip will be incomplete without time spent at the Olympia Farmers Market. Leisurely wind your way through more than 100 vendors. There are seasonal fruits and vegetables, plant starts, cut flowers, seafoods, fresh and cured meats, baked goods, wine, condiments, confections, preserves, jewelry, woodworking, textiles, eight distinct restaurants, and many unique and artisanal goods. There’s often entertainment too, be it someone playing a violin on their own, or a band. This is a spot for a good hang, to take in the spirit of Olympia. If you’re traveling with children, they’ll enjoy Olympia’s award-winning Children’s Museum which is two floors with 150 interactive exhibits, a half-acre of outdoor discovery and more. In nearby Tenino, there’s Wolf Haven International, a sanctuary for captive-born, displaced wolves. Your kids will remember the thrill of seeing wolves up close on an educational, guided tour. While in Tenino, for a trip down memory lane, pop in the Depot Museum, for a glimpse of what life was like in the area decades ago. Tenino is also home to Monarch Sculpture Park, five acres of more than 110 contemporary sculptures such as the butterfly-shape hedge maze and sound garden with sculptural musical instruments like the mega hanging xylophone.

For yet another spot to absorb Mother Nature’s finest, Tumwater Falls Park in nearby Tumwater is 15 acres of beauty––abundant greenery, along the river. The half mile of walking trails are surrounded by cascading waterfalls, reflective pools, and massive rocks. Spanning the river at both ends of the gorge and connecting the network of trails are footbridges designed for compatibility with the surroundings and historic accuracy. There are also picnic facilities and a sand-filled play area for children.

As for accommodations, there are storybook places like the Swantown Inn & Spa, a historic Victorian retreat, wildly romantic, within walking distance to downtown. The upstairs spa is about as quaint as it gets. Owners Nathan and Casey Allan make you feel at home immediately. No worries, they have plenty of suggestion of where to go to eat, play and drink. They show off when it’s time for your breakfast. Anticipate an array of homemade goodies, be it scones or just about anything from these creative cooks.

Olympia is a small town with a big heart, there’s lots to fall in love with.