Just because summer’s over, doesn’t mean family vacations have to be. Fall is the perfect season to load your Littles into the minivan and take a quick trip down to Olympia, for a historic vacay. We’ve mapped out some mix and match adventures to round out a whole weekend or one really packed, but totally worth it, day.

Kids outside Wa State Capitol

photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

Where to Explore

The Capitol Building
A visit to Olympia isn’t complete without taking a tour of the iconic Capitol Building. And it’s easier than you’d think, even with busy kidlets in tow. The docent-led tour around the thoughtful architecture and history of the Capitol Building is as engaging and interesting as the building itself. And although tons of fascinating facts and figures are thrown around for parents, special tidbits with mass kid-appeal are thrown in too.

kids with Wa state capitol sealphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

By the time the tour winds down, your curious kiddos should be stoked to explain the significance of the 42 steps into the building, show you where all the hidden animals are in the stately Reception Hall’s storybook granite (hint: there are at least three to find) and even let you in on how the state seal came to be. Families can also tour the building on their own, although there are a few rooms that can only be accessed with a tour guide. Tours start hourly, seven days a week, and last just under an hour. Since there are lots of stairs involved, we suggest leaving the stroller in the car and strapping baby on. Then, take a stroll in the lush gardens to check out the art and fountains when you’re done. Even on a rainy day, it’s hard to resist this expansive lawn.

Washington State Legislative Building
416 Sid Snyder Ave. S.W.
Olympia, Wa 98504
360-902-8880
Online: des.wa.gov
Tour Times: Hourly, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends
Cost: Free

Hands On Children’s Museum
There’s a reason why Oly’s Hand’s on Children’s Museum welcomes the most visitors in the state each year. It’s three floors of educational activities and experiences expertly disguised in colorful exhibits and dynamic stations, thoughtfully designed around the Pacific Northwest. You won’t find anything here you wouldn’t find in your own backyard. From the Fabulous Forest, to the Puget Sound cargo ship exhibit, to the Tides to Trees climber that includes a three-story twisty slide (sorry parents, kiddos only on this one) these exhibits ring true to the heart of Pacific Northwesterners, big and small. Our favorite part? That the exhibits are just as fun for parents as they are for their sidekicks. We’ll bet you can’t resist the urge to stick your hand in the mist at the water play station, or make handprints in the giant pin wall. It’s impossible!

Olympia Children's Museum Aaron Barna Photography

photo: Aaron Barna Photography 

There’s plenty to do in each exhibit and moving engaged kiddos away from one experience and on to the next is the challenge du jour (5 minute warning much?). For that reason, we recommend lots of time to explore and play, a few hours for sure, but more if your kiddos get their say. As for snackage, packing your own is allowed, but they also have a cafeteria if you want to go low-key on this vacay weekend. If you’re looking for a less busy time at the museum, Sunday morning is your best bet. This is one hot spot for the tot lot, especially on rainy weekends. Play on!

Hands On Children’s Museum
414 Jefferson St. N.E.
Olympia, Wa 98501
360-956-0818
Online: hocm.org
Times: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. & Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: $10.95/Adults & Kids; $8.95/Seniors & Military; 11 mos. & under Free

Olympia Farmer’s Market & Percival Landing
Olympia has a vibrant waterfront boardwalk in Percival Landing and a thriving year-round farmer’s market downtown, too. On a sunny day, there’s no better place to wander than through one (or both!) of these outdoor venues. At the Landing, families will find boats to admire, statues to look at and a playground with a gorgeous view. Just down the road is the Olympia Farmer’s Market, that’s open Thursday through Sunday (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) until the end of October. Then, they move to weekend-only hours through the New Year. Along with local produce, crafts, artisan cheeses, meats, jams and more, they also serve up a side of family-friendly tuneage to accompany your visit. Entertainment runs between 11 a.m.-2 p.m. whenever the market is open.

Kids at Percival Landing Olympia

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm
If you haven’t made your annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage yet, or your little wiggle worms need some room to roam, Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm is where it’s at. This unassuming family farm (it’s been in the same family for 60 years!) is a serious local hot spot. Sure, they’ve got the fall farm thing down, with animals to feed (4 bags of grain will run you $2), sturdy trikes to ride and games and activities a-plenty. But a big bulk of what they do best is to make apple cider. Owner Carolyn Lattin started that journey way back when she bought an apple press and began teaching local school kids how to press their own cider. 40 years later, with a state-of-the-art cider press housed in her barn, Ms. Lattin’s farm now produces gallon upon gallon of award-winning apple cider every day. We highly recommend grabbing a cup of hot cider and a warm-off-the-press apple fritter to enjoy in the greenhouse when you’re there. Psst… don’t forget to stock up on a few gallons to take home as a special fall treat!

Lattin's cider mill outside from Fbphoto: Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm Facebook page 

Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm
9402 Rich Rd. S.E.
Olympia, Wa 98501
360-491-7328
Online: lattinscider.com
Times: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Admission is Free; parking $5

Tumwater Falls Park
Just south of the Washington State Capitol is Tumwater Falls and it’s definitely worth the trip on a sunny autumn afternoon. Don’t let the industrial feel of the parking lot or the cagey fish holds fool you. Once you hit the trail that follows the Deschutes River downstream, you won’t be disappointed. The half-mile trail loops around a vibrant part of the river that’s brimming with salmon making their hard-earned way back home. Although spotting them from the trail along the way isn’t easy, finding them making a break for it from the landing at trail’s end is. Be sure to follow the fish ladder up the falls to the holding pools on your way back for some up close viewing and learning with your sidekick. It’s splashtastic!

Tumwater Falls Kimberly Barr Flickr CCphoto: Kimberly Barr via flickr 

Tolmie State Park
Wind down your weekend with a pit stop at Tolmie State Park as you work your way back north to Seattle. Help your mini crew stretch their legs with some simple hikes on any of the three-miles of trails. Or head straight to the water for some beach combing, tide pooling or general wandering up and down the water’s edge. The views are stunning on a sunny day! Don’t forget your Discover Pass for this one! (Psst… November 11 is a state park freebie if you’re looking to save some green).

Caleb White Tolmie State Park Flickr ccphoto: Caleb White via flickr

Where to Eat

Wandering the streets of downtown Olympia, it’s easy to see the influence of nearby Portland’s focus on funky neighborhoods. The small town feel is inviting, especially on weekends when street parking is free and people are out mingling at local coffee shops or greasy spoons. When it comes to delish eats, Olympia has more than a few. Breakfast doesn’t get any better than a curtained booth and plate full of hearty comfort food at the Spar Café. This McMenamin’s owned eatery has all the fixings you’d expect from the dynamic duo. Local art and posters line the wall, and each seating area has a distinct feel. If you’re lucky you can score a booth in the back or be seated near the pinball machines and pool table, so your busy kidlets have something to do if coloring isn’t their thing. Weekends here are super busy, so get there on the early side, if possible. They only take reservations for 10 or more.

Lunch at local chain Meconi’s Italian Subs is a quick and easy option as you work your way around the city. The Oly location is just down the street from the Capitol Building and totally walkable on a sunny day. A kid’s meal is under $5 and they have gluten-free options, too.

Spar Cafe McMenamins from website

photo: McMenamin’s Spar Cafe website

The Oly Rockfish Grill is a surprisingly practical upscale option for families, especially those with tired tots in tow after a busy day of exploring. If you go during Happy Hour (from 3 p.m.-6 p.m.) the restaurant’s not too busy, so you don’t usually have to wait for a table, and the Happy Hour menu has some kid-friendly fare that won’t break the bank either, like the Hummus Plate ($7) and Andouille Mac ($6). And although they don’t have menus made for coloring, the staff is attentive with coloring books and crayons to keep little hands busy while they’re waiting for dinner. Parents can partake in a Happy Hour tapas-style dinner or order from the full menu. The salads are great and the Rockfish & Chips is where it’s at for casual comfort after a busy day.

JulieR on Yelp Oly Rockfish Grill

photo: Julie R via Yelp

End the day or grab a snack to keep you moving at Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes. The downtown location of this local fave is just across the street from the Farmer’s Market. It’s a perfect pit stop to recharge and take a load off. Cupcake flavors change daily and cater to a local crowd (the Beastmode cupcake is topped with Skittles!). We love the chalk wall, basket of toys and books and pint-sized table in the back for the littlest cupcake lovers. This is one sweet spot!

Where to Stay

When it comes to location, location, location, the DoubleTree Olympia Hotel makes things easy and comfortable. And let’s be honest, easy is the name of the game when you’re traveling with the tot lot in tow. The indoor pool means pack your suits and take a dip before bedtime to really wear out a boisterous bunch. The playground across the street means wake up and play without too much fuss. The fact that you’re within a few minutes’ drive or a 10-minute walk to most of the downtown activities? Well, that’s just a little bit of awesome sauce to go with your getaway.

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Olympia
415 Capitol Way N.
Olympia, Wa 98501
360-570-0555
Online: doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/washington/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-olympia-OLMCWDT/index.html

Park outside hotel in Olympia

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Do you have a favorite Olympia spot we missed? Have you visited any of these spots in our guide? Share your experience in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe