If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, or are traveling to or from Portland, don't forget to stop in by car, bus or train for a fun and relaxing time in Olympia at the southern end of Puget Sound. Whatever you decide to do, there will always be a place to satisfy your appetite there. The Washington State Capital is a small town but it offers an array of culinary and drinking adventures. Here are my suggestions:
Start your day at the Farmers Market which celebrates its 40th birthday in 2015. During the summer months from April to September, the market stays open from Thursday to Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Buy your fresh fruit and vegetables, grab fresh bread, smoked sausage or salmon jerky –all at your fingertips. Then pause for a break for brunch with a pita gyros at the Pithos Gyros, tamales at Los Tulenos or some Indian curry at the Currie in a Hurry. This vibrant open market is a small heaven, an ideal place to relax with a plate of food.
Continue west from the market to the boardwalk overlooking the impressive Olympia marina with wonderful views of the Puget Sound to the north and striking sights of Capitol buildings and Dome to the south. The Thriftway store just a little more to the west is Olympia's only downtown grocery store with an good selection of gourmet foods, wines and beers and a nice little coffee shop overlooking the marina.
Olympia is known for its notable coffee scene. There are more than half-dozen independent and local coffee brewers ready to please your java needs. Olympia Coffee Roasting Company sources its beans form the best farmers around the world while at the spacious Batdorf & Bronson, you will get an organic cup of joe. Café Au Lait is a tiny coffee stand at the Capital Mall, the best spot to grab your mug before sightseeing.
Just south of Olympia is the town of Tumwater which was the home of the Olympia Beer or "OLY", a once revered name in the West for Beer. The brewery shut down its door many years ago but there are some thoughts of renovated the currently empty brewing buildings and convert them into an educational center for brewing and distillation . If you want to find out more about the historic brewery, you can take a guided tour at the Schmidt House in Tumwater (check here for times and fees). This is the family house of the Olympia Brewing Company founder, Leopold Schmidt.
There are of course several great micro breweries. Oly Taproom, located at the waterfront, is Olympia’s first taproom and bottle shop where you can try selections from more than 600 bottles. Or try the Fish Brew Company, where you can enjoy handcrafted brews, ciders and ales with some tasty dishes and live music.
Like much of the Northwest, Olympia is home to a number of wineries and distilleries. One of the best, the Stottle Winery produces award-winning wines from Viognier to Cabernet Sauvignon. Or if you like spirits more, don’t miss the Sandstone Distillery with its very distinguished white whiskey and gin. For those who really like their wine, there is a wine trail with stops at six wineries. Find out more here: southsoundwinetrail.com
The dining scene is equally impressive. Find local fine cuisine at Anthony’s HomePort with exceptional seafood and Northwest specialties or grab a table at Koibito Japanese Restaurant if you have a craving for sushi or udon, and the always excellent Oly Rockfish Grill.
Don't forget to walk the length of 4th Avenue, former home to a lively hippie scene in the 70's and now home to a variety of unique bars, shops, and book stores, with my favorite for some one-of-a-kind cookbooks Orca Books. In fact all of Olympia's downtown is interesting, small and easy to walk. Halfway between Seattle and Portland the town has elements of both cities to sample and explore.
Finally, finish the day with a nice evening out. There are some interesting bars like the Dillinger’s Cocktails & Kitchen for some Prohibition era cocktails at the bank vault of Olympia’s Security Building. Or the 1230 Room for the hipsters and some dance music.