Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Olympia, WA

  • Published 2022/12/08

The city of Olympia in Thurston County, Washington, is filled with history and nature and is a place that offers endless recreation and learning.

It was dubbed the “City of Peace”’ after the local council passed a resolution in 1985 that turned the city into a safe haven for individuals facing political persecution.

Here everyone is free to exist and find a sanctuary regardless of their social status.

Olympia is home to 55,919 people as of the 2021 census.

When you’re in Olympia, you’d be less than two hours away from many regional recreation sites like mountains and beaches while still enjoying the urban conveniences within reach, making the city an ideal place to stay for travelers and residents alike.

The city has something for you whether you want to discover local history or natural attractions.

Bookmark this list of free things to do in Olympia, Washington, if you plan to visit soon.

Tour the Washington State Capitol Building

Exterior of the Washington State Capitol

Jeffrey M. Frank /

The Washington State Capitol Building, also known as the Legislative Building, on Sid Snyder Avenue is an important structure for the state and the entire country.

Here you’ll find the offices of the Washington State Legislature, the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Lieutenant Governor, and the State Treasurer.

It’s not just an important government building but also a distinct piece of architecture in the country.

The building, completed in 1928, is known to have the highest dome made out of freestanding masonry in the entire North America.

Steps leading to Washington State Capitol's entrance

Chamomile_Olya /

You’ll also appreciate the beauty of its interiors, filled with various types of marble sourced from five different countries and Tiffany chandeliers adorning the place.

You may tour the Washington State Capitol Building from the North Foyer and Rotunda to the State Reception Room and Legislative Galleries.

Save at least an hour and attend one of the building’s free and guided public tours!

View of Washington State Capitol's dome ceiling

Zack Frank /

See the Trees of the Washington State West Capitol Campus

Go for a nature tour and see the Washington State West Capitol Campus trees.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the 50-acre campus on Sid Snyder Avenue is famous for its historical sites and landscape architecture.

The well-known landscape architecture firm, the Olmsted Brothers, designed the landscape of Olympia’s capitol.

Although the landscape was completed in 1931, it remains intact and beautiful.

Here you may find up to 21 species of trees, including Yoshino Flowering-Cherry, Gingko, Atlas Cedar, Saucer Magnolia, Purple Beech, and Bigleaf Maple, among others.

Visit the Washington State West Capitol Campus and look for each of its lush trees!

Travel Back in Time at the Governor’s Mansion

Exterior of Governor’s Mansion

Glenn Taylor /

The most important historic places in the state are situated in the city, including the Governor’s Mansion.

The oldest existing building on the Capitol Campus was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The Georgian-style mansion with red brick exterior has served as the dwelling place of Washington governors since 1910 and houses plenty of antiques from the American Federal era.

Front view of Governor’s Mansion

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The place and the tours are run by the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, a volunteer and non-profit group founded in 1972 to maintain the place.

Make sure you check out the schedule in advance and join the free public tours offered at the Governor’s Mansion.

Explore the WET Science Center

The WET Science Center is a fun and interactive place to learn everything about the water.

People of all ages may visit this center, where admission is always free.

It features exhibits, games, and a plaza that all aim to educate visitors about water conservation, water treatment, the uses of water, and how to protect Puget Sound.

Bring your kids, who will surely enjoy using the giant calculator that computes your water usage based on your daily activities!

You may also explore a mini water treatment plant and learn how to clean up dirty water.

An urban water cycle exhibit on sewer and septic systems and reclaimed water is also available in the center.

Plenty of learning opportunities about water, the most basic but important component of human life, await here at the WET Science Center in Adams Street!

Drop by the Winged Victory Monument and Learn Its Story

Daytime view of the Winged Victory Monument

Png Studio Photography /

Built in 1927, the Winged Victory Monument is located northeast of the Washington State Capitol Building, standing in the center of a circle.

Through a state legislature passed in 1919, the memorial was built to honor the state’s soldiers, marines, and sailors who served during World War I.

Sculptor Alonzo Victor Lewis brought the plan to life, creating a bronze statue of four human figures with Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, standing behind them and holding an olive branch.

View of the Winged Victory Monument at night

John T Callery /

The figures are erected on a granite base about 10 feet tall.

Stop by the Winged Victory Monument, and you won’t just admire the sculpture but also remember the sacrifices of brave Americans.

See the Bronze Woman Dancing

Another unique fixture in Olympia is the Woman Dancing, an eight-foot-tall and 450-pound bronze statue.

Phillip Levine, an artist from Seattle, created the figure of a woman posing in a mid-twirl movement.

In creating the sculpture of a dancer, the artist said he wanted to make a piece that would “counteract the tall, vertical force of the surrounding buildings without getting lost in the open spaces between them.”

Since Woman Dancing’s installation in 1976, the statue has undergone changes, including its exact location.

Check out one of Olympia’s beautiful artworks in East Campus, near the Highway-Licenses Building and Office Building 2, when you visit the city!

See the Korean War Memorial and Honor Fallen Soldiers

Statue at the Korean War Memorial

Kristin halverstadt /

The Korean War Memorial in Olympia is the first state-sponsored display honoring those who served in the Korean War.

Known as “the forgotten war,” the Korean War claimed the lives of 532 troops out of the 122,000 soldiers from Washington.

Deborah Copenhaver Fellows, daughter of a Korean War veteran, designed the memorial.

Close view of the Korean War Memorial

Kristin halverstadt /

Here you’ll find a two-ton statue made of bronze featuring a scene of three soldiers huddled together in one of their attempts to make a fire out of a pile of sticks.

Twenty-two flags in the background represent the countries that joined the fight.

When you visit the Korean War Memorial in East Campus Plaza next to the Capitol Way skybridge, be sure to read the plaques detailing the forgotten war.

Splash and Play at Heritage Park Fountain

Whether you want to play around with your friends and kids or spend some quiet time, you should go to the Heritage Park Fountain.

You can have a good time and beat the heat when you play by the park’s main attraction: its fountains.

It’s even known in the city as “Olympia’s swimming pool” as locals frequent its fountains during the hot summer.

Located near the Oyster House in the middle of downtown Olympia, the park is near plenty of places to explore.

Heritage Park Fountain also has benches, picnic areas, and public art.

Admire the Roman-Style Tivoli Fountain

Daytime view of the beautiful Tivoli Fountain

CL Shebley /

You’ll find a piece of Rome when you see the Tivoli Fountain, a replica of Denmark’s fountain, which is also a copy of another fountain located in the Italian town of Tivoli.

Located on the northeastern side of the Washington State Capitol Building, the fountain was added to the campus after Peter Schmidt, former president of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, came up with the idea.

Schmidt felt that the Capitol campus was lacking a main landscape attraction, so he pushed for the construction of the Tivoli Fountain

Fritz Meyer, a Danish artist, ended up designing the replica.

Today, you may stop by this attraction and appreciate the charm of a Roman-style fountain!

See and Take a Photo with the Glass and Stone Mosaic Mural

The Glass and Stone Mosaic Mural is a unique piece of art located in the Helen Sommers Building.

You shouldn’t pass up on seeing and taking photos with the mural.

The 1959 mural, installed on a slightly curved wall, was constructed out of small square pieces of Byzantine stone and glass, each cut by hand in Venetian glass-making factories.

Its artist, Jean Cory Beall, was a well-known and celebrated female artist from Seattle.

Today, her art lives on through the 30-foot wide and 12.5-foot tall mural that depicts Washington State’s different industries and natural resources.

See the Glass and Stone Mosaic Mural for yourself when visiting the Olympia.

Hang Out at the Percival Landing Park

View of a marina from Percival Landing Park

Sveta Imnadze /

When you’re in the area, you should visit one of Olympia’s waterfront parks, Percival Landing Park.

The 3.38-acre park is located on the eastern side of Budd Bay, on the southernmost end of Puget Sound.

This place is a known tourist destination for a reason.

Being in the heart of downtown Olympia, it is frequented by groups of people who want to gather for casual get-togethers or special celebrations.

Here you’ll even find a boardwalk that runs through the eastern shoreline of West Bay, extending from the Fourth Avenue Bridge to Thurston Avenue.

Find a corner for peace and quiet or an open space for socialization when you visit the beautiful Percival Landing Park.

Check Out the World War II Memorial

Another important installation in Olympia that you shouldn’t miss is the World War II Memorial, located on the northeast lawn of the Washington State West Capitol Campus.

Simon Kogan, a resident of Olympia, was picked to design the first American monument honoring the people who served in World War II.

It is a remembrance of the 6,000 Washington residents who died in the war.

Inspired by the song “America the Beautiful,” the memorial features five bronze blades clustered together, representing each of the military units that joined the battle.

If you look closer, you’ll also find images of soldiers and even their families drawn with the etched names of the war casualties from Washington.

Drop by the World War II Memorial, and you’ll be reminded of a significant piece of history.

Find a Quiet Spot at the Capitol Lake

The waters of Capitol Lake

John T Callery /

After touring the Capitol campus, you may find a quiet spot near the man-made Capitol Lake and rest for a while.

The lake, stretching up to three kilometers, is situated at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

The lake was created through a 1937 legislation that allotted a budget for the improvement and expansion of the Capitol grounds, including the development of an artificial lake.

Aerial view of Capitol Lake

Kristin halverstadt /

Here you can do more laid-back activities like reading a book or going birdwatching.

If you want to slow down for a bit, hang around Capitol Lake!

Bench overlooking the waters of Capitol Lake

VDB Photos /

Learn How to Tell Time through the Territorial Sundial

View of the Territorial Sundial

Zack Frank /

The city of Olympia has a lot of distinct artworks that you can’t miss out on; one of those is the Territorial Sundial.

It is located between O’Brien and Cherberg in the West Capitol Campus.

Seattle-based craftsman John Elliot created the sundial made of Wilkenson sandstone and brass.

A sundial is one of the earliest types of time-keeping tools, soo seeing one and trying to use it for the first time would be one for the books!

Don’t miss out on the Territorial Sundial, another cool installation in Olympia!

Other Things to Do Nearby

After completing all your stops in Olympia, you should also stop by other attractions located in nearby cities.

Have a Peaceful Time at the Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls

The waters of Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the city of Tumwater, you will reach the Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls in less than 10 minutes when you drive from Olympia.

The 15-acre park, now visited by hundreds of people per year, was constructed in 1962 through the efforts of the non-profit group Olympia Tumwater Foundation.

It is located along the banks of the Deschutes River, giving people a relaxing atmosphere with its natural features.

You may also venture through the walking trails available in the park, surrounded by huge rocks, rushing waterfalls, and reflecting pools.

Immerse yourself in nature and find peace at the Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls.

Final Thoughts

Whether you want to learn about national history or explore an entirely new city, Olympia has a lot to offer you.

Although it is a small locality, it has plenty of places to stop by and learn something new.

Don’t forget to check out the sites mentioned in this list of free things to do in Olympia, Washington!

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