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Riana's Travels: OLYMPIA, WA


The art, calligraphy, inspirations, and ponderings of Riana Nelson.

Riana Nelson Blog


Riana's Travels: OLYMPIA, WA

Riana Nelson

Today I’m sharing so many of my hometown gems with you!!! I’ve been so excited to publish this post and it’s been a long time in the making.

After planning itineraries to 100+ cities across the country as the Tour Manager for our sibling business, I’ve learned I love hunting down the best options for food, hotels, gas, and travel stops. One of my passions is exploring and traveling the world, and yet… I always love coming home.

I’m beyond excited to share: I was selected as THE local Olympia guide for the “Locals Know Best” feature in Lonely Planet’s Budget Travel!!!

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Naturally, I was STOKED to be selected to provide my local hometown opinions. (You can read the Budget Travel article here.)

However, it wasn’t able to include ALL of my Olympia suggestions I’d provided them, so today on my blog, I’m pulling back the curtain on the complete list I gave Budget Travel, and I’m sharing it with YOU.

Whether you live in Olympia, or are thinking of visiting from far away, I hope this list gives you all the info you need to have some incredible adventures with friends and family in Washington’s capital city!

“So cool!!! I’ve been living here for over 10 years and didn’t know about some of these places!”

“You are the best!!”

“My sweet friend Riana spilled the tea on the hottest spots in Oly! I'm a big fan of her top faves, too!”

Downtown Olympia

Olympia Farmer’s Market

My family and friends know: I LOVE farmer’s markets! Olympia’s is unique because it’s an indoor/outdoor permanent structure open year round, hosting local vendors and permanent food stands from cuisines around the world. Experience live music, fortune telling, fresh baked breads, local produce & meats, oysters, jewelry, seeds and starts, pottery, bath salts + essential oils, tie dye, fresh picked berries, and more— depending on the season! Year round, open 10am-3pm on Market Days.

Hours + Info: https://www.olympiafarmersmarket.com/market-hours

Skipping Stone Garden

Say hello to the lovely Gabriel & Sarah, kind + inspiring husband/wife owners of Skipping Stone Garden! On Sundays at the Oly Farmer’s Market, they sell my favorite salad mix in all of Olympia, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, and small hand-harvested batches of fresh, organic, in-season produce from their family’s farm just a few miles away.

Instagram: @skippingstonegarden . Learn more: http://www.skippingstonegarden.com

Pieces to Peaces

Try on urban headbands, slouch beanies, and super cute headwear + bandanas for kids and even pets at Pieces to Peaces. Posted up year round at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (and now shipping worldwide!), Pieces to Peaces headbands are locally handmade by a small crew of incredible women, led by badass owner Danielle!

Get the look on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/piecestopeaces/ . Order + learn more: https://www.piecestopeaces.com

Johnson Berry Farm

A fourth generation family farm, Johnson Berry Farm grows the berries, makes the jams, and ships right from their farm in Olympia, Washington. Stop by their impressive display of countless flavors at the Farmer’s Market year round, where you can taste any of their jams, jellies, and all fruit spreads. My favorites are the sweet and mellow popular Tayberry or seasonal Little Wild Jake Blackberry jam— but you can also go spicy and savory with their spicy varieties like the XXX Blackberry Habenero or Raspberry Chipotle.

TIP: If you just want a small jar, they sell airline-carry-on-friendly gift sizes at the market!

Learn more: https://johnsonberryfarm.com

Lookout Tower + my favorite photo op!

Just behind the Olympia Farmer’s Market and Anthony’s Homeport, you can climb the flight of stairs at the lookout tower, or walk down the public boat ramp to my favorite dock in Olympia and breathe in the salt air. Get great views of the Capitol Building, Olympic Mountain range, and capture honeycomb golden hour photos here.

For a longer walk north (past the logging yard + marina) you can explore “North Point”: picnic at the North Point park, have a happy hour drink and fresh PNW seafood on the patio at Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill, or take photos on the tide flats (try not to get sprayed by the shrimp or stuck in the mud!). For the ultimate family, portrait, or engagement photos that perfectly highlight the Pacific Northwest vibe, book ahead with Sydney of Cast & Forge Photography, Jena with One Beautiful Life Photo (she took our photos for our U.S. Embassy travels!) or Dan at Boston Harbor Photo.

222 Market

A few blocks south from the Oly Farmer’s Market is 222 Market: a brightly lit, indoor, artisanal market of local businesses including an oyster bar, distillery, and brunch cafe/coffee shop! Public restrooms are always clean (ask for the code) and they often have lovely fresh flowers by the sink from the floral shop next door.

Sift & Gather (at 222 Market)

Let your nose lead you to the Sweet Buns at Sift & Gather! Amber and Anthony, awesome husband/wife team, bake these decadent, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon roll treats in front of your eyes every Saturday and Sunday! They’ll bake ‘em fresh but sell out quickly, so don’t miss them.

Hours: Saturday + Sunday, 10am ‘til they’re sold out!

More info & custom cakes: https://www.siftandgather.com

Sofie’s Scoops (at 222 Market)

If your sweet tooth craves something cold & creamy instead, go one counter over to the gelato shop! Small-batch, from scratch, 100% crafted in house, and always happy to give samples. Try their unique flavors like: Lime with Candied Ginger, Cardamom, Salty B(utterscotch), and Olympia Fog— or stay with the staples like Stracciatella and Vanilla Bean. They make handmade waffle cones (gluten free options, too) and can prepare bowls + pints for you, too. PLUS, Sofie is a totally awesome human, with a huge heart and a rad team of unicorns crafting the best gelato in town.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-9pm. Closed Mondays.

More info: www.sofiesscoops.com

Browser’s Books

Across the street from the 222 Market is one of my favorite new + used book shops in Olympia, with an interesting woman-owned 80 year history. In addition to lots of books to peruse, there’s a beautiful bright loft upstairs with big work tables— in case you need a calm quiet place to do some laptop work (Wifi is free and fast!) They have an amazing wall of staff picks and recommended reads with lots of descriptions, and a wide selection of greeting cards, notebooks, PNW inspired postcards, and funky enamel pins & patches. Bathroom for customers only is clean, politely ask for the key!

Hours + info: https://www.browsersolympia.com/our-store-our-history

Oly Third Thursday

Oly Third Thursday is a partnership of local downtown businesses every third Thursday of the month— presenting unique culinary + sipping experiences, book signings, live music, art galleries, shopping specials, and more! Upcoming 2019 dates: June 20th, July 18th, August 15th, and September 19th.

More info: http://downtownolympia.org/Events/Third-Thursday

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Out of over 100 performing arts venues I’ve set foot inside over the last couple of years, The Washington Center has to be one of the most impressive and unique performing arts venues I’ve had the privilege to see. The Center has hosted national and international touring artists from a broad spectrum of genres and styles since 1985. Over 20 local performance groups and artistic partners utilize the stage and space year-round, with unique music, dance, and visual performances for nearly every interest!

Before the show, meet your date for a glass of wine at Rumors Wine Bar (1 block away, open 5pm-9pm), or grab late night happy hour 10pm-close after the show at The Spar/McMenamins (2 blocks away). I don’t drink beer, but I’ve heard you can try 3000+ year old artesian well water brewed local beer here which is pretty rad. Also, their cajun tater tots off the late night happy hour menu have never disappointed! McMenamins has a pool table, shuffleboard, and velvet-curtain-enclosed cozy booths (especially ideal for a perfect rainy date night)

Washington Center event schedule & tickets: https://www.washingtoncenter.org/events/

McMenamins: https://www.mcmenamins.com/spar-cafe/home/

Arepa + 4th Ave Food Trucks!

Arepa is a food truck on 4th & Plum featuring Venezuelan inspired sandwiches, killer plantains, vegetarian options, and yucca fries with fresh garlic oil dipping sauce. If Venezuelan cuisine is not your thing, try one of the other trucks in this little park like Ninevah (middle eastern inspired cuisine) or the new patio at Whitewood Cider Co., the “teeny tiny” tap room! Plenty of free gravel lot parking behind the food trucks (entrance on Plum) or street parking east-bound along 4th Ave. Picnic tables + lovely flowering plants, with a massive Star Wars painted mural as your lunchtime backdrop!

Olympia Coffee

Downtown Olympia, just two blocks from Arepa. Olympia Coffee has amazing artisan coffee + awesome cappuccinos. Their pastries, sourced from the local Left Bank Pastries, sell out quickly on weekends! (The almond croissant and pumpkin bread is my fav). Their pour-overs are ground + slow-poured to order.

Local oddity note: they have two gender-neutral restrooms, both of which you THINK are single “onesies” with a deadbolt door— except one has TWO operating toilets without a divider, side by side. This cracks me up every time I go in. (People without a sense of humor can have their coffee elsewhere)

Watershed Park 1.4 mile loop nature trail just a few minutes from the Capitol Building.  Located in an urban oasis watershed, take your kids or friends and see a wide variety of native plants, huge maple trees, many species of moss and ferns, and explore 20+ bridges and boardwalks crossing over natural springs and Moxlie Creek.

TIP: This trail is well maintained and easy to walk (i.e. you can do this in tennis shoes, no special hiking shoes required) and a single porta-potty toilet is available at the trailhead, usually well maintained. Bring your pup, leashed dogs are allowed on this trail.

Open dawn ‘til dusk. Click here for a map.

Olympia’s Westside

Mud Bay Coffee

A great westside Olympia coffee shop to meet, work, and hang with peek-a-boo views of the Olympic range on sunny days, easy parking, and a drive-thru for convenience.

Zoe Juice Bar

Eastside and Westside Oly locations. Fresh pressed juice and smoothies to order. My go-to is “the Kick Starter” for a smoothie, or the “Replenish” for a post-yoga juice pick-me-up!

Open Monday - Saturday ‘til 7pm, Sunday ‘til 6pm. Learn more.

Jay’s Farm Stand

Westside indoor/outdoor no-frills market for fresh produce. Not a huge variety for organic produce, but the inexpensive prices are amazing, and a lot of local options always! Stop in for bulk spices, Theo’s chocolate, local honey, coconut milk, refrigerated salad dressing, local corn tortillas for taco night, bags of fresh basil and mint, and tubs of fresh guacamole… just to name a few of the gems I regularly stop in for!

Open 7-7pm daily. Learn more.

El Sarape

Best margaritas in town! Perfect for a date or large groups. Sign up for their email list for last minute discounts and special events.

Open ‘til 11pm. Learn more.

Day Trips from Olympia

Ruby Beach (2 hours west of Olympia). Park your car in the lot (pit toilets available) and walk north along the beach to the mouth of the Hoh River at low tide. Observe the low-tide pool critters and lots of seastacks. Bring a picnic, or stop at Kalaloch Lodge on the way back for dinner at their seaside restaurant overlooking the ocean. Or, plan ahead and book a bluff cabin to stay a night or two exploring the rugged coast!

Mima Mounds 20 min south of Olympia, beautiful easy day hike in mysterious grounds with giant rolling mounds. Formation of these mounds remain a mystery to scientists and geologists! Fun fact: this Derik Nelson music video was filmed at Mima Mounds.

Boston Harbor Marina - 15 minute north of Olympia for hourly kayak rentals and gorgeous views in good weather around the peninsula of Boston Harbor. Call ahead in windy weather, they won’t rent kayaks if water, current, or wind conditions are questionable.

Sandstone Distillery - 20 min south of Olympia, family owned by Jenni and John, and features live music once a month: “Music At the Stills” series inside the distillery. Tickets are sold secret speakeasy style and sell out quickly, so give them a call for more info. Schedule a tour, taste their seasonal cocktails, learn about the history of this awesome and unique distillery business, and take home a bottle of the unbelievably smooth Lemon Basil Gimlet or one of Jenni’s seasonal sipping vinegar concoctions!

OK!!! I’ve got dozens more to share, but perhaps I’ll stop there, and turn over the discovering and adventuring to you!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this guide was helpful for you. Please let me know what you think in the comments below, and share this if you liked it! Have you been to Olympia? What would you add? What city or state would you like me to write about NEXT? What’s your favorite thing about YOUR hometown? I always love hearing from you!

happy travels! xoxo