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Olympia, a capital city like no other

And a place to feel rejuvenated

View of the Washington State Capitol Building from the Olympia waterfront. Photo credit: Ingrid Barrentine

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Olympia is the capital city of Washington state and unlike most capital cities, it has a laid-back, kick off your shoes mentality. The city and its surrounding areas allow you to go at your own pace, to relax and disconnect.  Take a day to explore the top five attractions the area has to offer.

According to Moira Davin, director of marketing and communications for the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau, "The top five attractions were determined through recent visitor surveys that we did as part of our branding research." Take the time to look at the new website for Visit Olympia for great ideas. The itinerary listed below is planned based on a drive from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area and is organized based on location, not attraction ranking.

Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor Information Center, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 103 Sid Snyder Ave. SW, Olympia, 360.704.7544,

Begin your day with a hike on the boardwalks at the Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  It is just off I-5 South and a convenient stop on your way to Olympia. The trails and boardwalks can add up to a four-mile roundtrip, flat hike with plenty of wildlife.  You can take shorter routes, which are close to the parking lot. There is also a visitor's center with interpretive exhibits and a gift shop. With prior arrangement, guided tours are available as well.

Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Visitors Center, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday, Trails, Sunrise - Sunset, 100 Brown Farm Rd. NE, Olympia, 360.753.9467

Strolling the boardwalks at the Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Ingrid Barrentine

Next stop is the Olympia Farmers Market, which buzzes with activity this time of year. Numerous stands sell fresh, local produce, organic and green-fed meats, seafood, bakery goods and bouquets of scented flowers. Enjoy live entertainment while partaking of the many food options from stands that line either side of the stage. If you enjoy the market, consider the Bountiful Byway for a day trip on your next outing. It leads you into the rural areas of Thurston County to visit local farms, wineries, distilleries and natural attractions. The itinerary is found on

The Olympia Farmers Market, summer hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, 700 Capitol Way N., Olympia, 360.352.9096,

Shopping at the Olympia Farmers Market. Photo credit: Ingrid Barrentine

Percival Landing Park is one of three waterfront parks in Olympia. Located just a short walk from the farmers market, it has a boardwalk which extends along West Bay. Amenities include picnic tables, playground, restrooms and plenty of green space.  Make sure to check out the "Plinths".  They are square sculpture stands.  Each year, local and regional artists loan sculptures to the community and it is installed on the "Plinths".  A voting period is held and votes are tallied from those who have visited the artwork and decided on their favorite.  The sculpture receiving the most votes is purchased for display in the city of Olympia.

Percival Landing Park, open 24 hours, daily, 217 Thurston Ave. NW, Olympia, 360.753.8380

Percival Landing Park and the Olympia Farmers Market are located in a very walkable part of downtown.  East Bay and West Bay Waterfront Parks are an easy stroll away.  The Capitol Lake and Heritage Parks and the capitol building are less than half a mile from the market.  Interspersed are restaurants, shops, breweries and wine shops. Park your car once and you won't need to move it while in Olympia.

The Washington State Capitol Building, also known as the State Legislative Building, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful in the country. The landscaped grounds and lake provide a pleasant venue for a stroll, and as you walk up closer to the building, the elevation increases providing expansive views of Olympia. Guided public tours are offered seven days a week and last 50 minutes. Tours begin at the tour information desk located on the second floor near the main entrance.  Tours are on a first-come, first-served basis and free of charge.

Washington State Capitol Campus, weekday tours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the hour; weekend tours, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 416 Sid Snyder Ave. SW, Olympia, 360.902.8880,

Finish your day with one last stop at Tumwater Falls Park. It is a great example of how community volunteers and business can come together for the greater good of a community.  The Olympia Brewing Company donated the land for the park and the Olympia Tumwater Foundation owns the park.  The grounds are open daily to the public and receive no government support.  The 15-acre park includes the majestic Deschutes River upper and lower falls with paved pathways on either side of the canyon. There are two footbridges and it makes a fun loop to walk down one side, cross the footbridge at the lower falls and return up the other side. In September, this is a great location to watch the Salmon run.

Tumwater Falls Park, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily, 110 Deschutes Parkway SW, Tumwater, 360.943.2550

Viewing the lower Tumwater Falls from a scenic overlook. Photo credit: Ingrid Barrentine

This story gives you a broad overview of what Olympia and Thurston County have to offer. Each time I visit Olympia I always find something new to appreciate while continuing to enjoy my favorites such as the Olympia Farmers Market. 

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