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Hidden Gems in Olympia Washington

Posted at Thu, May 4, 2023 11:00 AM

Located on the southern end of Puget Sound, Washington’s capital city offers abundant activities and attractions. It’s also known for hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path adventures. Those who seek the less-traveled road won’t be disappointed. And they’ll enjoy a visit like no other.

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge - Olympia, WA - Website / Directions

This wildlife refuge is the ideal place to slow down and experience nature. Located where the Nisqually River flows into Puget Sound, it offers visitors exceptional bird and wildlife viewing opportunities and the chance to learn about the Nisqually watershed. Stop by the visitor center first to see the exhibits and talk to volunteers who can help you plan your excursion.  Check out the estuary boardwalk and the 4 miles of trails that are mostly flat and accessible.

Open daily, sunrise to sunset. Trails open year-round. Small entrance fee for adults.

Town of Tenino

Town of Tenino - Tenino, WA - Website / Directions

About 20 minutes south of Olympia is the historic town of Tenino, a place that made its own wooden currency during the Depression (and again during the pandemic). Check out the town’s other claim to fame – stone carving – as well as the Depot Museum and a vinegar tasting at Sandstone Distillery. Not far out of town is Wolf Haven International, a sanctuary that provides rescue and a lifetime home for displaced, captive-born canis lupis.

Wolf Haven is open on weekends for prairie walks. Reservations required for sanctuary visits.

Olympic Flight Museum

Olympic Flight Museum - Olympia, WA - Website / Directions

Located at Olympia Regional Airport, this non-profit museum is dedicated to the preservation and flying of vintage aircraft, most of them of military origin. It includes both flying and static aircraft and hosts an annual air show. Displays include a collection of artifacts from early World War II to the Vietnam era.

Open weekends. Great for the whole family.

Coffee Class

South Sound Coffee Trail - Olympia, WA - Website

No way does Seattle have a monopoly on coffee consumption or appreciation in the Pacific Northwest. Java aficionados can learn a latte more about their favorite bean on the South Sound Coffee Trail, a self-guided tour to meet some of the roasters and warm up with some of the best craft brew (not, not that other kind) in the capital area. Be sure to stop by the Dancing Goats tasting room to see if they have a cupping class going on.

Ask for a map at one of the local java joints. Keep the kids away from the caffeine though.

Salmon Run

Salmon Run 5th Avenue Dam, Olympia, WA

Yes, salmon really do swim upstream to their spawning grounds – and some of them come right through downtown Olympia, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. From the southern-most end of Olympia’s West Bay at the 5th Avenue Dam, the Chinook traverse a fish ladder to Capitol Lake before heading on up the Deschutes River. A metal walkway offers a place to cheer them on (but be advised that they do have to go past hungry seals and not all of them make it).

Free. This activity is seasonal – end of August through early September only. Look for the “The Salmon are Back!” sign. Be at the walkway about three hours before high tide for the best experience.

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