At the southern end of Budd Inlet, Washington’s state capitol is a fantastic destination for maritime lovers of all ages. Olympia has long been home to a vibrant working waterfront, and the shoreline provides plenty of opportunities to dive into that heritage firsthand. With stellar waterfront parks, historic vessels, and a world-class hands-on museum (including a port crane AND a lighthouse!), Olympia is a great weekend trip for the whole family.
Squaxin Island Museum, Library, and Research Center
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00 am-5:00 pm | Call prior to visiting to confirm availability: 360-432-3839 | 150 SE K’Wuh-Deegs-Altxw, Shelton, WA 98584
Start your exploration of Olympia’s maritime heritage at the Squaxin Island Museum, Library, and Research Center, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Olympia. This fantastic museum tells the story of the Squaxin Island Tribe, known as “The People of the Water,” through a series of exhibits and displays that interpret the strong relationship between Squaxin Island Tribal members and the seven inlets of South Puget Sound. This living eco-museum shows how nature and Squaxin Island Tribal culture relate. Key topics—such as the Tribe’s prehistoric and present-day aquatics-centered lifestyles, timber/wild game harvest and management techniques, oral history and legends, the Treaty of Medicine Creek, and religious practices and arts—all highlight this link with nature and the inland sea.
Lunch at Tugboat Annie’s and Paddle on Budd Inlet
Restaurant open daily, 11:00 am-8:00 pm | Kayak rentals daily spring through fall, 9:00 am-dusk | 2100 W Bay Drive NW, Olympia, 98502
Olympia is located at the southern end of Budd Inlet, one of the seven inlets of South Puget Sound you learned about at the Squaxin Island Museum. And what better way to explore those waters than by getting out there yourself? Head to Tugboat Annie’s to grab lunch on their patio overlooking the water and rent your kayak. Double kayaks are available for families that want to stick together, or you can each get a single if you’re feeling adventurous. We recommend keeping your kayak explorations close to the shore and brushing up on safe boating practices before hitting the water. Even without going far, you’ll be able to enjoy views of the Olympic Mountains rising above the inlet and watch the Port of Olympia’s bustling waterfront at work. You may even spot seals and other wildlife—just be sure to keep your distance!
Pro tip: If you brought your own kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or other hand-held boat, West Bay Park (700 W Bay Drive NW, Olympia, WA 98502) offers an easy launching point just south of Tugboat Annie’s.
Dinner in Downtown Olympia
After working up an appetite on the water, it’s time to head downtown to enjoy the harvest from the sea. Downtown Olympia is home to plenty of fresh seafood restaurants, ranging from trendy new bars to longtime institutions. We recommend checking out one (or more!) of these locations recommended by the experts at the Olympia Downtown Alliance.
“Some great spots for seafood in Olympia include Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, Row, Olympia Oyster House, and Anthony’s Homeport Olympia:
Todd Cutts, Executive Director, Olympia Downtown Alliance
- Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar (222 Capitol Way N, Olympia): Modern design, amazing fresh seafood, especially shellfish. It’s within the 222 Market, which has a collection of local businesses and an internal public space—pretty cool.
- Row (208 State Avenue NW, Olympia): Fun new seafood restaurant fronting Percival Landing within a beautiful new downtown development.
- Olympia Oyster House (320 4th Avenue W, Olympia): An institution that’s been on the waterfront for a long time. [This is the building where the Olympia Oyster Company culled the native Olympia oysters in 1859!]
- Anthony’s Homeport Olympia (704 Columbia Street NW, Olympia): This outpost of the Pacific Northwest chain has great views of the waterfront and the Capitol.”
Port of Olympia Billy Frank Jr. Waterfront Trail
Along the East Bay from roughly the East Bay Public Plaza on the southern end to Billy Frank Jr. Park on the northern tip of the peninsula
Grab a cup of coffee in downtown Olympia—or, if you’re lucky enough to be in town while the Olympia Farmers Market is open, pick up some local treats to-go—and start your morning with a stroll along the East Bay. This 1.2-mile waterfront trail is named to honor Nisqually environmental leader and famous treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. Alongside views of the water and opportunities for birdwatching, the trail includes signage about native plants and their uses.
Hands On Children’s Museum
Open Monday-Saturday, 9:00 am-5:00 pm, and Sundays, 10:00 am-5:00 pm | 414 Jefferson Street NE, Olympia, WA 98501
If you’re traveling with kids, it’s on to the Children’s Museum, where the whole family can dive into the maritime world hands-first through 150 exciting exhibits, 10 beautiful galleries, and a half-acre of outdoor play space. Captain a two-story cargo ship, explore local sea life, build your own boat, or even operate a mini port crane at the “Our Puget Sound” exhibit before heading outside to play in the Lighthouse Lookout, Megan D. Schooner, and Puget Sound Beach.
Lunch at the Budd Bay Café
Open daily 11:00 am-8:00 pm | 525 Columbia Street NW, Olympia, WA 98501
Head over to the Budd Bay Café for lunch near the water. You’ll also find the restaurant chock-full of exhibits and fun artifacts from Olympia’s maritime heritage—a perfect way to pass the time while waiting for your lunch.
“Stop by the Budd Bay Cafe to see an exhibit featuring the city’s workboat heritage and Olympia Harbor Days festival at the historic site of the Delta V. Smyth Tugs & Barges office and dock. Their fleet included the 100-year-old tugboat Sand Man currently on display at the south end of the boardwalk.”Chuck Fowler, South Sound Maritime Heritage Association
Open daily 5:00 am-9:00 pm | 701 Columbia Street NW, Olympia, WA 98501
After lunch, walk a few minutes north to the Port Plaza. From the top of the park’s viewing tower, you’ll have 360-degree views of Budd Inlet, including the Capitol Building to the south and Olympic Mountains to the north. You’ll also have a prime view of the Port of Olympia where, on many days, you can watch the waterfront at work, including tugboats crisscrossing the waters and goods being loaded onto massive shipping vessels headed for international ports.
Pro tip: Curious about the plaza’s interpretive signs? Many of the plaques and panels at the Port Plaza and Percival Landing (your next stop) are featured in the South Sound Maritime Heritage Association’s Olympia Maritime & Tugboat Heritage Walk—a self-guided tour with more detailed information about Olympia’s waterfront.
Percival Landing Park
Open daily 7:00 am-6:00 pm | 217 Thurston Avenue NW, Olympia, WA 98501
In the category “waterfronts with a view of the mountains,” Percival Landing must rank in the top 10, with the Olympics perfectly framed above the view down Budd Inlet. Percival Landing Park is named after an old commercial steamship wharf, where Sam Percival built an original dock in 1860. Today, the park offers a scenic boardwalk with several pavilions, benches to soak in the view, and a fun playground for families. Make sure to stop by the Harbor House, which features plenty of interpretive signage and cool historic photos about the site’s past lives.
As you work your way along the boardwalk, don’t miss the murals “Welcome to Squaxin Territory” and “Land of the Raven” by Joe Seymour, Ira Coyne, and Vince Ryland near the restaurant Row. According to Seymour, this new mural “represents that this is Squaxin territory. There are seven paddles to represent the seven inlets of Squaxin, and each paddle has a clan on it to represent the seven families from each inlet.”
Pro tip: While exploring the park, make a quick stop at Olympia Seafood Company to browse their fantastic selection of fresh regional fish and shellfish, prepared foods, and all the fixings you’ll need to cook your own seafood at home.
Smyth Tug & Barge Display Kiosk
Adjacent to the Olympia Oyster House | 320 4th Avenue W, Olympia, WA 98501
Most of the time, you’ll find the historic tugboat Sand Man docked up at the southern end of Percival Landing. As of June 2023, this 105-year-old, 60-foot local historic landmark vessel is out of the water for repairs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn about Olympia’s famous tugs! Stop by the Delta V. Smyth Tug & Barge Display Kiosk adjacent to the Olympia Oyster House for information and photos about one of the proud historic tug companies that served Olympia for more than 30 years. The Sand Man was part of the Smyth fleet.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and Nisqually Delta National Natural Landmark
Open sunrise to sunset daily | 100 Brown Farm Road NE, Olympia, WA 98516
If you’re heading north on your way out of town, don’t miss one last stop at one of the country’s National Natural Landmarks—just minutes off I-5. Where glacial water draining off Mount Rainier meets the Puget Sound, the Nisqually River has created a vast, thriving delta that is an important temporary home for more than 3,000 species, including eagles, salmon, seals, tree frogs, and more. Whether you’re a birdwatching aficionado or can’t tell a gull from a grebe, the refuge offers a fantastic place to explore the life that thrives at this fertile intersection of fresh and saltwater. Start at the visitor center, which offers great exhibits on the natural history of the estuary, before heading out into the four miles of trails through the wetlands and boardwalks over the delta. If you make it out far enough over the water, you may be able to see Mount Rainier—or even a passing whale from the Puget Sound Viewing Platform.
Photo credit (left): M Weise, USFWS