Family Fun in Olympia

I love Olympia the way we love a quirky aunt or an old t-shirt that’s well-loved but still the reigning favorite. Olympia is a little surprising and a lot weird. It’s the sort of community where it’s not out of place to find a 3-piece band wearing woodland creature masks (no really, that happened). The friendly people who call Olympia home are inviting, entrepreneurial, and interesting. It’s the folksy vibes that keep my family coming back for more. As far as Washington goes, Olympia is about as family-friendly as it gets. From splash parks to vibrant downtown murals, this bite-sized city is an ideal destination for a short trip with the kids. 


The list of amenities and activities below is simply too much for one day. Here’s hoping you make regular visits to our state capitol to support small businesses and enjoy this under-appreciated destination in South Puget Sound. 

First Stop: Coffee

Let’s chat about coffee first, because a busy day with the kids requires caffeine. Choosing a favorite coffee shop in Olympia proved impossible for me, so I narrowed it down to two.

coffee shop

Ember Goods

At first glance, Ember may look more like a plant shop than a cafe. The high-ceilinged space is dripping with vining houseplants. In addition to making a mean latte, Ember Goods sells camping and northwest-themed merch for kids and grown-ups. It’s never too early to have your little one rep the PNW with toys and t-shirts.

Bar Francis

90’s grunge never died at Bar Francis. I’m going to make a bold claim: their baristas craft the best lattes in the state. There, I said it. Don’t come for me.

Things To Do


Hands On Children’s Museum

Hands On Children’s Museum is an impressive indoor/outdoor facility with over 150 exhibits. The museum is designed to create play-based learning opportunities inspired by Washington State. Kids can explore a two-floor boat on “Puget Sound” or climb around an indoor forest inspired by our native flora. You could easily spend a whole day here.

Washington State Capitol

Our state capitol building is a neoclassical giant. While your kids might not be enamored with its architectural history, the scale and grandeur are jaw-dropping, even for little ones. The centerpiece of the legislative building is of course the dome, which is the tallest of its kind in the US and the fifth tallest in the world. Suspended from a 101-foot-long chain affixed to the top of the dome, the massive Tiffany chandelier is large enough to fit a Volkswagen Beetle inside of it. You can take your kids up a set of stairs to get a bird’s eye view of the rotunda from inside the dome. 

capitol building
inside capitol

The campus grounds are dotted with sculptures, fountains, and gorgeous old trees. At Christmastime, there’s a decked-out tree inside the legislature building and another even larger tree on the lawn. It’s also a fantastic place to experience the ephemeral cherry blossoms in April, as Olympia draws fewer crowds than the University of Washington’s display up in Seattle.

Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls

With a short 0.5-mile path, Tumwater Falls is a fun and easy hike with kids. The park takes you along the tumbling Deschutes River, which is anchored by giant rocks and towering native trees. This park is technically not in Olympia, but at less than 10 minutes from downtown, it’s not to be missed.


Captain Little

As far as toy stores go, Captain Little is one of the cutest. The space looks like a children’s wonderland; even if you leave empty-handed, the shopping experience is dreamy. Parents will appreciate that Captain Little sells a wide selection of stories written by BIPOC authors as well as plenty of locally made toys. Plus, you can time your visit to participate in one of their free events, like puzzle parties or craft nights.

fall colors

Yashiro Japanese Garden

The term “hidden gem” was made for places like this. Yashiro is Olympia’s sister city in Japan and this garden is the result of a collaborative effort between the two cities. If you can swing it, the absolute best time to visit is in October during peak fall colors.

Where To Eat

Old School Pizzeria

This spot is a people-pleaser for kids and adults alike. To my fellow Elder Millennials: the 80s-themed decor will tickle your nostalgia bone. This pizzeria is as entertaining as it is delicious. Your kiddo can play pinball while you wait for a slice of Sicilian or floppy New York-style slices that are bigger than your face. Plus, the prices are downright old school, too. A slice of cheese pizza is just $3.

Olympia Farmers Market

This vendor-owned and operated market is a snacker’s paradise. As you would expect from most markets, you’ll find bread makers, cheesemongers, and fruit stands. That said, Olympia Farmers Market is home to several restaurants as well, including Bavarian Wurst, Dingey’s Fish and Chips, Paella Pro, and more. It’s a fun spot to sample new and familiar foods with the family. Unfortunately, Olympia Farmers Market is not open year-round. Check their website for current hours as you plan your visit.

Left Bank Pastry

For a sweet pick-me-up, nothing beats Left Bank Pastry. Their (mostly) French bread and desserts are some of the best that you can find on this side of the Atlantic.  

japanese garden

Helpful Tips

  • Check the traffic! Olympia is close to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, so I-5 traffic can slow to a crawl in this corridor. 
  • If you are traveling a long way, consider lining up your visit so that you can witness Olympia’s Procession of the Species Parade. It’s hard to describe, but it’s essentially a colorful artistic festival that celebrates the connection between people and nature. 
  • Olympia’s harborfront has plenty of parks for picnicking with a view, like Percival Landing Park, Billy Frank Jr. Park, or West Bay Park.
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Britt Board

Britt Board (she/her) is a compulsive explorer based out of Tacoma, WA. She enjoys weird roadside attractions, family-friendly adventures, historical spots, and nature. When she’s not traveling, she’s planning future travels and hanging out at home with her husband, precocious toddler, and unemployed pug.


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