A visit to Washington State’s capital city makes a great day trip. Full of history, it is the home of many “firsts” for Washington State, including the first post office, first public school, and the first fire department (all in the 1800s). Typically a 1-2 hour drive from Seattle (depending on traffic), it is also accessible by public transportation, Greyhound, and Amtrak.
Here’s just a few of the many things you can do in this city.
Take a tour of the Washington State Capitol buildings and grounds
The main building (Washington State Legislative Building) took 6 years to build. Since then, it’s been renovated to include 144 solar panels on roof (the largest amount of solar panels on a US state capitol!). It’s fifth-tallest masonry dome in the world and the tallest in North America. There are free, hour-long guided tours of the Legislative Building and free 45-60 minute guided tours of the Governor’s Mansion. There’s also a free shuttle that runs between the Capitol and downtown Olympia.
Watch a movie at the historic Capitol Theater
This Olympia landmark was built in 1924 and has been in continual use as a theater since then. They feature independent, international, and under-represented films, music, and art shows, and also host the Annual Olympia Film Festival which just finished its 32nd year. You can also take a look at the colorful art on the side of the building where they have a free wall for graffiti artists.
Hang out at Percival Landing Park and vote on your favorite sculpture
This waterfront park features a boardwalk and large grassy area that is good for picnics, sports, and hanging out with friends. There’s also a sculpture display featuring local and regional artists. The display changes yearly, and you can vote for your favorite piece. The sculpture with the most votes gets purchased by the city to put on permanent display somewhere else in Olympia after the year is over.
Washington State Capitol Museum and Outreach Center at the Lord Mansion – Photo credit: Mark Goebel via Flickr – Used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license
Visit the State Capitol Museum
This museum is located in the Lord Mansion, one of the few true mansions in the city. Although it’s currently closed for renovations, this museum still offers public events and programs like walking tours and lectures.
Take a self-guided walking tour
If you want to learn more about the history of Olympia, you can download guides for self-guided walking tours around the city.
Explore the Olympia Farmers Market
This year-round farmers market has been open for 40 years and features local food and plants, live music, hand-made craft items, and seven restaurants. Due to the growing seasons, the number of days the market is open varies throughout the year (Thursday through Sunday in April through October, Saturday and Sunday in November and December, and Saturday only in January through March).
Eat at McMenamins Spar Café
Many of the McMenamins locations are in historic buildings, and this Olympia location is no different. Throughout its existence, the building housed several different businesses, including saloons, smoking rooms, a variety theater, a billiard room, a store, and a restaurant with a bar that served famous people like Joan Crawford, Marlon Brando, and Joe Lewis.
Have you been to Olympia? How did you spend your time there?
This post was inspired by Wanderu, who asked me to write a post on my ideas for a day trip from Seattle. You can read about other bloggers’ trips on the Wanderu blog.