It’s close enough for a daylong road trip but far enough to feel like you’ve enjoyed a real getaway. Even better that you can make the trip into a multigenerational excursion. Olympia offers quirky shopping for tweens and teens, one of the region’s best kids’ museums, gorgeous history, holiday happenings and landscapes for all ages.

Kick off your morning with a croissant, quiche slice, or brioche at Left Bank Pastry. Or drive a little further for heartier, unusual morning fare at Biscuit House Tumwater, with housemade biscuit-forward sandwiches or layered gravy options and breakfast pizza. 

Then drive into downtown Olympia for the robust Olympia Farmers Market, weekends from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in November and December. More than 50 farm vendors, artisan foods, craftspeople and restaurants set up booths selling Christmas wreaths, upcycled aprons, giant, colorful squashes and root vegetables and local cranberries, homemade dog treats, hot sauce, granola (of course) and more. Music and entertainment start at around 11 a.m. to keep families entertained at an outdoor, covered stage area.

Nearby, Percival Landing’s waterfront boardwalk collects visitors and locals alike with wide wooden planks, a tall watchtower and artworks. On the promenade of Budd Bay, kids can skip and adults can stroll while watching boats in the harbor and passing small restaurants and art boutiques.

Families will want to explore the Hands On Children’s Museum, one of the best, most extensive, and most recently updated in the Pacific Northwest. The museum features 150 exciting exhibits — including a maker space, construction zone, cargo ship and an eagle’s nest — spread out among 10 beautiful galleries. A half-acre outdoor play zone encourages kids to explore a mini lighthouse, climbing rock, authentic vintage schooner and a trike loop.

Holiday fun in Olympia

Then discover downtown’s state-recognized Creative District and nationally recognized historic districts. Take a historic walking tour past buildings dating to the late 1800s or just take in the city’s holiday transformation. 

From Nov. 18 to Jan. 16, the tiny Isthmus Park transforms into a pop-up skate rink Oly on Ice. From Nov. 25 through December for LoveOly WinterFest, downtown Olympia’s storefronts and buildings are adorned with holiday lighting, decorations and garlands. Dave Sederberg’s Holiday Trees glow throughout downtown, while you can use three Nutcracker-themed selfie scene backdrops for holiday cards.

It’s a great time to gather your holiday supplies and gifts, too — with encouragement from WinterFest’s passport program. The program rewards shoppers with a branded LoveOly gift (socks, candles) after collecting five $10 stickers from participating shops and restaurants.

The city’s small, remarkable stores make for pedestrian-friendly shopping with tweens and teens (and other ages, too. Check out Gallery Boom’s locally made art, Compass Rose’s housewares and Northwest goods and books, Archibald Sisters DIY lotions and humorous toys, and reproduction vintage clothing, swimsuits and cool socks at Hot Toddy Boutique and Lily’s What to Where.

Or scour shelves for finds at one of Olympia’s many antique, vintage or thrift shops or at one of the psychic/magic-inspired stores — and get a tarot reading. Snug coffee shops dot the downtown — Ember Goods features coffee, cookies and Pacific Northwest-inspired chic outdoor wear.

A cluster of gourmet New-American restaurants sit in downtown Olympia, many with children’s menus or kid-friendly food. Options include Row, Chicory and Iron Rabbit Restaurant and Bar.

The cozy interior of Cascadia Grill twinkles with trees and walls lined with photos and offers holiday favorite glühwein for adults and a well-rounded kids’ menu (flatiron steak, anyone?). Sushi, Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean and Italian restaurants round out the foodie finds.


Capitol campus

A brisk walk (or quick drive) from downtown, the Washington State Capitol features several first, biggest and best details. Stop by the Visitor Services Office or Legislative Information Center to get information on the campus’s Greco-Roman buildings, in addition to landscape gardens, fountains, memorials and artwork.

You’ve likely noticed the circa-1928 Washington State Legislative Building’s distinctive dome from past I-5 drives. It’s even more spectacular up close. The Legislative Building features North America’s tallest free-standing masonry dome, atop a lower portion with carved stone columns inspired by Greek temples.

The building’s interior features the world’s largest Tiffany chandelier (5 tons, 200 bulbs), plus stunning walls and arches. Free, guided public tours start at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, then proceed every hour until the last tour at 2:30.

After a many-years hiatus, reservation-only public tours of the Governor’s Mansion will resume in December. The restored Georgian-style mansion has housed Washington’s governors since 1910, and now gleams with antiques from the American Federal period.

Beyond Olympia: Road trips in Thurston County

Olympia sits amid Thurston County’s beautiful rural landscapes and communities. Browse Experience Olympia’s list of Christmas tree farms to pick up or saw down your spruce or fir (Noble, Douglas, Grand, or others) before returning home.

Other local farms include cider doughnuts, weekend wagon rides and U-cut trees at Schilter Family Farm; gifts, apple fritters and cider at Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm; and horse-drawn trolley rides at Clyde N’ Dale’s Holiday Trees & Gifts’s 100-acre farm.

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Discover WA Road Trips
Provided by Western Washington Toyota Dealers

What many of us refer to as “Vashon Island” is two islands (Vashon Island and Maury Island) joined by a skinny land bridge.

Olympia offers quirky shopping for tweens and teens, one of the region’s best kids’ museums, gorgeous history, holiday happenings and landscapes for all ages.

Leaves turn first in Seattle and Spokane, then spread to the Cascades and Northeastern Washington. Southern Washington is the last region to change color.

Chuckanut Drive, a National Scenic Byway, offers fall mountain-and-water road trip vistas, delicious dining and a labyrinth of hikes within a 20-mile corridor.

The Chinook Scenic Byway is Washington’s only road that’s both a scenic byway and an All-American Road, eventually leading to a bustling food and drink scene in Yakima.

A fall trip to Crystal Mountain affords a bucolic drive, shoulder-season rates, gentle hikes and a chance to enjoy a glimpse of Mount Rainier framed in blue skies.

Here’s a roundup of waterfalls across the state, from Eastern Washington’s arid mesas to the Olympic Peninsula’s lush rainforests.

The area is a red wine lover’s dream — top varieties include cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot, with white grapes only 5% of the viticulture.

This road trip on North Cascades Scenic Byway provides a purely Western experience as it threads through tiny towns and jagged mountain.