Staycation: Olympia

Olympia basks in a certain serenity — it’s palpable upon entering from the Evergreen-flanked freeway. The pace is certainly slower, making it a lovely recess from everyday life. The blueprints for our capital city were unfurled by early settler Edmund Sylvester from Maine, who envisioned a New England-style town with a distinct town square, greenery skirting the streets, and a plot for a capitol. Of course, Olympia has evolved quite a bit since it was officially incorporated in 1859. However, it still holds a bucolic charm as a city on the water’s edge with a rich downtown and surrounding agriculture.


Where to Stay

The Inn

The Inn at Mallard Cove. Photo Courtesy Experience Olympia & Beyond

It depends on what kind of staycation you’re in the mood for — rustic and secluded, quaint and historic, or modern with on-site entertainment. Pick your flavor, and consider these options.

If you’re craving a little privacy in the comfort of the woods, we recommend The Eld House or The Inn at Mallard Cove, both of which are shrouded by trees with simple amenities and a full breakfast served in the morning. Relax by the water, kayak, beach-comb, and roam the trails at these soul-soothing respites.

Want to bask in the history of Olympia’s Victorian-style homes? Check out the Swantown Inn & Spa or the Marie Bed and Breakfast. Consider these beauties your headquarters for a weekend away with close proximity to downtown Olympia, private rooms, fresh-made breakfast, and the unmatched charm that comes with late-
1800s construction.

Looking for a little more excitement? Say no more. While not in Olympia, Little Creek Casino Resort is a short drive away in Shelton and offers all the fixings of an active or restful vacation. Book a room and enjoy the spa, dine at one of its award-winning restaurants, play a round of 18-hole golf, and try your luck at the casino.

 

What to Explore

This is a tough one, because there’s so much to see and do, so we’ll just hit some of the highlights.

Olympia

Legislative Building.Photo by Nick Verbelchuck

Maybe this is painfully obvious, but of course we’re going to suggest you visit the capitol building while in the capital city. The capitol was completed in 1928 after six years of construction and is not only an architectural wonder to explore but also host to an incredible collection of memorials and artwork. Free tours are offered year-round, seven days a week.

Also on the campus is the Governor’s Mansion, which was approved for construction by the legislature in 1907 and was completed shortly after. Every room and painting in the brick, Georgian-style building has a story, from the historical paintings to the antique furniture. Tours are available by appointment.

Interested in another remnant of history? Surely, you’ve heard of Olympia Brewing Company, which was actually located in Tumwater, but German-born founder Leopold F. Schmidt lived in a stately home in Olympia built in 1904. In the 1980s, after the Schmidt family sold the brewery, the house was donated to the Olympia Tumwater Foundation and is occasionally used for private events and tours. Bob Crim, who was the caretaker of the house for nearly 60 years, offers 90-minute tours on the second Tuesday of each month for small groups.

Now for a little Olympia weirdness. Located at 415 Fourth Ave. E. in downtown Olympia is a slightly unassuming treasure. Distinguishable only by its mosaic design and a plaque alerting passersby to its presence is the Olympia Artesian Well. An artesian well is water that flows to the surface by natural pressure, and it’s said to be the cleanest and purest water sipped by those who’ve tried it. The well was used previously in the 1900s by steam locomotives but was purchased by the city nearly a decade ago so it could be enjoyed by the public. Bring a water bottle, and give it a try.

Another obscurity are the clusters of large, dome-like earth that make up the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. It’s a mystery that earned it a National Natural Landmark designation. Some theories range from glacier melt cycles to an earthquake that fractured the land into steep mounds. We may never know what caused this phenomenon, but it’s certainly worth seeing in person.

 

Places to Eat

Iron Rabbit

Iron Rabbit Restaurant & Bar. Photo Courtesy of Experience Olympia & Beyond and Iron Rabbit.

Vacations are really about eating, right? That’s what we want to know — what’s our next meal going to be? There is no shortage of fantastic bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. So, here’s a little sampling.

Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters is a connoisseur of coffee with a handful of coffee bars and a tasting room. The specialty coffee dates back to 1986, when Batdorf & Bronson was established, and it is now served across the country. The couple who own the company first opened Dancing Goats Coffee Bar in Olympia. The namesake was borrowed from a legend that takes place during the ninth century in the highlands of modern Ethiopia. According to the company, a goat herder noticed his goats “dancing and prancing” after nibbling on red fruit from a shrub. He decided to eat the cherries and felt a surge of energy. As legend has it, he’d discovered coffee. It’s a cute story and even better coffee.

When visiting Olympia, make sure your schedule aligns with the hours of Van’s Burger, the best and arguably most elusive burger joint in the area. It’s only open Thursday through Saturday for limited hours, but boy is it worth it. The menu and fixings are simple — burgers, a BLT, and a hot dog, along with the usual sides — and the quality is top-notch.

Curious what all the hullabaloo was about with Olympia beer? A fairly new brewery called Well 80 aims to “follow in the footsteps” of Olympia Brewing Company, which claimed it was the local water that made the beer so tasty. The brewery gives a nod to its water, and a menu of brews ranges from classic IPAs to hefeweizens and stouts. The food menu features holy grail comfort dishes — hand-tossed pizzas, chicken and waffles, a smattering of fries and tots, and burgers. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. We’re guessing you’re going to stay a while.

Now, if you’re wanting more of a fine-dining experience, then try Iron Rabbit Restaurant & Bar. Owner Christian Skillings is an Olympia native and opened the restaurant in 2005. It has an assortment of gourmet burgers that will shock and awe your taste buds, as well as sophisticated main dishes — wagyu top sirloin marsala and coconut thai curry — you’ll dream about for years to come.

Last but not least, you must go to Dillinger’s Cocktails and Kitchen. The moody atmosphere with dramatic crystal chandeliers and tight quarters makes this local haunt even more appealing. The cocktails are simple and fresh and would be best described with some kind of ecstatic onomatopoeia. Finish your day or weekend here with a few shareables and good conversation.

Feeling a little more relaxed, and perhaps a bit overstuffed? Yeah, you’re welcome.

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is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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