written by Naomi Tomky
Singing at the bar at Dillinger’s, the upscale cocktail bar built in an old bank building, I asked my bartender, Donny Drake, what Olympia was missing. “Lots and lots of people,” he answered.
As the I-5 corridor’s big cities grow up, Olympia has quietly and consistently kept its core intact. Washington’s capital remains the same as it’s been for years, now with a few fancier trappings (like the cocktail bar). You can still duck into bars and listen to bands that might someday be famous—the future Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill or The Gossip—but now you can pre-game with oysters shucked to order. The town’s best beers still brag about using artesian well water, but mass-market pale ale is out and microbrew IPAs have taken its place.
As Olympia eases along the path to trendiness that Seattle and Portland paved—gaining a food hall, a food truck pod and a cutting-edge coffee roastery—it does so at its own pace. The town of just over 50,000 refurbishes historic buildings into modern uses, offers reinventions of businesses that have been around for years—like the farmers market, which has been going for more than forty years—and welcomes newcomers to see the old stuff, be it in antique malls or historic landmarks.
Spend three days in Olympia, and you’ll walk from one edge of downtown to the other a half-dozen times, and like Drake, you’ll think to yourself—passing the uncrowded waterfront path—“Why aren’t there more people here? ”But then you’ll book a last-minute hotel room, saddle straight up to any bar in town, and think about how nice it is to be in a city that gives you a little bit of space.
COFFEE • ANTIQUES • BEER
Olympia’s coffee scene, like so many in the Northwest, is world-class, starting with the flagship Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. The downtown location, opened in 2015, shares its obsession with coffee quality through the glass-walled roastery and in every cup. Nitro cold-brew kegs, various pour overs, and a view into the inner workings of a coffee company make this a pleasant place to pause before starting the day in earnest.
While the gem of Olympia’s market for old stuff, the Olympia Flea Market, closed in September, the city still has a walkable trail of shops through downtown. Start just up the block from the roastery at Finders Keepers Antique Mall, where forty booths sell everything from high-end dinnerware to heaps of old buttons. If that’s not enough, within a few blocks are the Courtyard Antique Mall, Antique Junkie
For lunch, return to the modern era with a stop at 222 Market, the food hall that follows the national trend to bring marquee restaurants and food shops under a single roof. Chelsea Farms, a second-generation family business, brings its fresh bivalves straight from the source to its oyster bar here. Dig into shucked-to-order platters of signature Chelsea Gems, sit at the beautiful bar, and wash them down with a bowl of chilled asparagus soup. Then it’s time to head off in search of further beverages—while there’s a budding wine scene, this has long been a beer town. Olympia Beer started bragging about its well water-brewed beer in 1896, and the legacy—and slogan, “It’s the water”—remain prominent today. Well 80 Brewhouse promotes the strongest ties to the well-water roots of Olympia beer, and the enormous restaurant caters to families. Three Magnets, a few blocks away, has more of a traditional taproom feel and the best beers by far. It does have a kid-friendly restaurant section, but the taproom is the best place to sample the half-dozen or so IPA options. For those willing to go farther a field, Top Rung, in Lacey, is worth the trip.
After an afternoon of beer tasting, come back to the center of town for a hearty plate of Rush In Dumplings. The Russian dumplings, in flavors such as curry beef or buffalo, will do the hard work of soaking up all that beer and get you ready for a night exploring the Olympia nightlife—or hitting the hay back in the hotel.
SNACKS • OUTDOORS • COCKTAILS
In summer, the Olympia Farmers Market rolls up the doors four days a week, but even the weekly Saturday market in winter remains a destination for visitors. The permanent, dedicated location gives a community feeling—and having a roof makes it more palatable whatever the weather. Pick up a few snacks fora mini-hike and pop into Batdorf & Bronson for
Then head down the street back to 222 Market to sample baked goods at the Bread Peddler. The wild yeast
From there, head out for a taste of nature and history at Tumwater Falls Park, a quick ten-minute drive south from the market. The 15-acre park offers short trails starting at the falls themselves, with labeled native plants, historic building markers
BRUNCH • KIDS TIME • PIZZA
Take a leisurely Sunday stroll right back to Dillinger’s next-door neighbor, Mousetrap, for a five-course brunch. The small, reservations-only meals aren’t a secret, but they fly under the radar—even though they have some of the best food in town. Despite the cheese-shop setting, chef Austin Navarre (previously at the Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar) goes light on the cheese, instead focusing on whatever local, in-season ingredients he can find—sautéed vegetables with cured egg yolk, duck fat biscuits
The meal isn’t super kid-friendly, but they’re happy to accommodate. And if you do have little ones with you, reward them for their patience with a stop into the Hands On Children’s Museum. Olympia’s
Cap off the trip with a casual meal at a local favorite. Decorated with retro memorabilia, Old School Pizzeria has been slinging slices since 1995. Long a favorite hangout of college students, it’s the sort that exists in every
Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar
The Mouse Trap
Old School Pizzeria
The Governor Hotel
Swantown Inn & Spa
Hilton Garden Inn
Tumwater Falls Park
Olympia Farmers Market
Hands On Children’s Museum
Little Creek Casino Resort