Planning outdoor activities in October is said to be a fool’s game. So when dismal weather cast a shadow over weekend camping plans, we ditched our hiking boots and threw on our raincoats.
Precipitation be damned, we were off to explore a new city in Washington.
We discovered a city that is effortlessly cool, soaked in culture and packed with quirkiness. It’s safe to say that I have a crush on the capital!
Here’s how we spent a rainy weekend in Olympia.
Cider tasting at Finnriver
Rain didn’t keep the crowds away from the orchards or the tasting room at Finnriver Orchard & Cider Garden. I’ve long been a fan of Finnriver’s Dry Hopped Apple Cider and was eager to sample more straight from the source. Especially once I realised we’d drive right by their new tasting room en route to Olympia!
Finnriver produces a range of traditional and innovative hard ciders using only organic ingredients. My two travel companions and I each chose a pint of cider to accompany some delicious wood fired pizzas. Then it was tasting room time, where we sampled a range of ciders and spirits: Apple Blueberry, Farmstead, Fire Barrel oak aged cider, Forest Ginger (very piney!), spirited apple and a Pommeau. The Fire Barrel was just so great we bought two bottles to take home.
I highly recommend timing a visit to Olympia with the art walk, a two day event that features art at more than 90 venues across the city.
While we arrived a little too late on Saturday afternoon to spend time in the galleries, we were able to experience some of art walk at Blind Pig Spirits (located in the very cool 222 Market) and Caffe Vita. Lots of art walk venues featured live music too!
On Sunday morning we enjoyed a yummy breakfast at Olympia’s bustling farmers market.
This market really has it all: baked goods, produce, meats and cheese, artisan goods, jewellery and flowers. There’s even a few onsite food stands if you’re really hungry – Heyday Café has great breakfast sandwiches and espresso!
The farmers market is open Thursday thru Sunday in October, and Saturday-Sunday in November and December.
Antiques and Boutique Shopping
Olympia’s quirk is exposed in the number of amazing boutiques and antiques within downtown. Despite not being much of a shopper, I happily spent several hours over the weekend wandering the aisles of stores like Hot Toddy, Archibald Sisters, The Popinjay, Blackbird Mercantile, Antique Junkie and Dumpster Values.
I got swept up in the funk, buying fun pineapple & watermelon earrings, seal print winter socks and a new recipe book. I regret not buying a very cool skirt covered in tiny zebras…. Next time!
We also happened upon Olympia’s Weekend Flea Market. It was packed with awesome vintage furniture, collectibles, bric-a-brac and kitchenware. We left elated with a handful of old records to add to our collection for just $30, including Carol King, The Who and Billy Joel.
Wandering around town
Olympia shines even on a drizzly weekend. This port city has many parks and walkways offering views of the waterfront, marina, Capitol Lake, and the state capital building. The historic downtown area is also great for photographs. Download a map of the historic downtown walking tour and get exploring.
Embrace your civic pride and visit the Washington State Legislative Building.
Free tours are available on the hour, however we preferred to spend a little time wandering by ourselves. You can’t view the chambers without a tour, but we were able to check out a few floors and marvel at the grandeur. Probably the most marble I’ve seen in a building, ever. Find the huge bust of George Washington, and look up to see the world’s biggest Tiffany’s chandelier (seriously!).
Bigelow House Museum
Delve into Washington’s history with a visit to the Bigelow House Museum. The home’s Carpenter Gothic style architecture is rather quaint and unassuming, but the history behind the Bigelow family is fascinating.
Daniel Bigelow was a New York lawyer who arrived in Olympia in 1851 after crossing the Oregon Trail. He settled on a Donation Land Claim and built the very house that stands today – the oldest residence in Olympia. The Bigelows became a very politically active family. Daniel helped the movement to create Washington Territory from Oregon, and together with wife Emily they campaigned for women’s suffrage and public education.
Coffee addicts will be pleased with the number of excellent coffee shops in Olympia. I was thrilled that my favourite Seattle roaster, Caffe Vita, has an outpost in the capital. Olympia Coffee Roasting Co has an inviting space with strong espresso and smooth pour over. Burial Grounds definitely offers a very unique experience, and those undecided can try a tasting session at Batdorf & Bronson.
Olympia is a haven for beer lovers – though to be fair, what city in Washington state isn’t?
There are a number of breweries scattered through downtown. We stopped in at working brewpub Three Magnets Brewing for a tasting paddle – I really enjoyed the (St)Out & Proud and Sun IPA. Those who arrive hungry can chose from not one but three different food menus – including ordering in from Darby’s Cafe, a popular eatery attached to the microbrewery that featured on TV show Diners, Drive In’s and Dives.
Prefer a nanobrewery rather than a microbrewery? Check out Cascadia Homebrew, a nanobrewery and home brewer’s paradise that sells everything you need to create delicious craft beer at home. They also offer U-Brew, where locals can brew their own beers onsite using Cascadia’s equipment. Such a cool idea!
Amazing food, wine and cocktails
Olympia’s dining scene was impressive, as was the number of cocktail and wine bars in this small city.
Set in a cozy cottage, Swing Wine Bar is the perfect place to shelter from the evening rain. We arrived to a very busy bar and dining room, and so headed downstairs to the wine cellar filled with lounge seating and a glowing fireplace. Given the extensive wine list, I loved that Swing offers a variety of wine flights, including some paired with cheese. I tried a Pinot Noir flight, sampling three wines from France, California and Oregon. The cocktail and food menus are just as comprehensive, and we feasted on yummy share plates including bacon wrapped dates and stuffed mushrooms.
Jazz music flows through Dillinger’s Cocktails and Kitchen, a prohibition themed speakeasy and restaurant located inside an old historic bank. It was absolutely my favourite bar of the trip. Their signature cocktails were strong but well-balanced, and the surprisingly small kitchen turns out meals fit for five star dining. We shared the whiskey donut bread pudding with bourbon ice cream for dessert and it might just be the best damn thing I’ve ever tasted. Next time, I’m definitely not sharing!
222 Market is an artisanal food marketplace currently under production in one of downtown’s historic buildings. It’s already home to award winning French bakery The Bread Peddler (where we enjoyed delicious breakfast – hello goats cheese and caramelised onion croissants!), a Creperie, and craft distillery Blind Pig Spirits which offers tastings and cocktails made from their vodka, whiskey and moonshine.
Scheduled for a complete opening in November, 222 Market is sure to become an urban food destination similar to Melrose Market in Seattle or Pine Street Market in Portland. New additions will include an oyster bar, bone broth bar, and craft gelato maker Sofie’s Scoops (I saw a copy of the gelato menu and it looks ah-mazing!). There are even plans to offer cooking classes at The Pantry, a locally-focused grocery store.
If food trucks are more your style, I would make a beeline for Nineveh Assyrian at 4th & Plum for shawarma, bourek, dolma and sabich. Further afield, Boka Island Fusion serves up Hawaiian & Filipino dishes outside Northwest Beerwerks.
After a day of exploring and drinking, Rush In Dumplings is a great stop for delicious cheap eats. We devoured bowls of yummy Russian pelmeni while playing table arcade games.
Cryptatropa Bar is a Gothic, absinthe-heavy bar complete with a slightly-creepy embalming table, church pew seating and deep red lighting. The short signature cocktails menu featured lots of absinthe washes, offering an anise flavour without the full-on green fairy experience. Absinthe fans can order a range of fancy options too!
Obsidian is a ‘café by day, bar by night’ just steps from Crypatotropa in downtown Olympia. Depending on the time you visit, you’ll find Stumptown coffee or cocktails and craft beer. Food is served all day, including a delicious menu of sweet and savoury waffles, inventive hot dogs and dirty rice. Obsidian also has a performance space with local bands playing regularly.
Olympia put itself on the map in the 1990’s as the home of the riot grrrl movement, and introduced America to bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Today, its music scene is eclectic – and definitely bustling for a city this size.
On our last evening in Olympia we headed to Rhythm and Rye for a nightcap with a side of jazz & blues. This bar has live music most nights, and definitely worth an visit when you come to Olympia. The aforementioned Obsidian also has regular gigs which are worth checking out.
Animal encounters at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
Roughly 20 minutes drive out of downtown Olympia, Nisqually Wildlife Refuge provides a lush habitat for 275 species of migrating fowl, 24 species of fish, and many other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. A series of boardwalks and trails lead visitors through the refuge.
We had a short but sweet visit before driving home, though I’m sure you could spend the better part of a day exploring.
Recapping now, it’s a bit crazy how much we fit into our weekend in Olympia.
I’m sure there’s so much more to discover, and I look forward to my next visit!
Did you enjoy this guide to a rainy weekend in Olympia?
Have you visited Washington’s capital? What do you love about Olympia?
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