A May 2005 trip
to Olympia by ssullivan
Quote: In May 2005, I spent three weeks in beautiful Olympia, the state capital of Washington, for training for a new job. During this time, I got to experience some of the area's scenery, excellent dining, and other attractions.
Olympia, Washington’s state capital, is located at the southern tip of Puget Sound. It is the largest of several cities that make up a metro area of just under 100,000 people. Visitors to Olympia will find some very good restaurants, a nice downtown area filled with local shops and eateries, and easy access to scenic areas like the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and Mt. Rainier National Park. Outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, fishing, and sailing can all be found in Olympia or within a short drive. There are also several casinos, operated by local Native American groups, in the area. Visitors will also find a variety of shopping options at Capital Mall.
I have visited the Pacific Northwest several times before and have always loved the area since my first visit in 1986. The three weeks I spent in Olympia in May 2005 were my first chance to really explore this small city. I found the slower pace of life refreshing and a change from the larger cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, all located nearby. There is not as much nightlife in Olympia, other than a few bars and clubs downtown. Much of the city does close up by 9pm, as my coworkers and I found one evening when we waited until later to go out for dinner.
There is an Olympia/Tumwater Visitors Guide published by the Olympia Thurston County Visitors and Convention Bureau available at most hotels in the area. The Bureau’s website also has information on area attractions, hotels, and restaurants, as well as an online request for information.
You’ll likely want to rent a car to visit Olympia. There is a local transit system, Intercity Transit, which provides local service within Olympia, Tumwater, Lacey, and Yelm and express service to downtown Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome Station intermodal transit facility, where riders can transfer services to Sea-Tac Airport and Seattle. For information on routes, schedules, and fares, visit the Intercity Transit website.
The closest major airports to Olympia are the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, located just south of Seattle (approximately 50 miles) and the Portland International Airport in Portland, OR (approximately 115 miles).
Access to Olympia from points north and south is easy via Interstate 5, although traffic from just south of Tacoma heading north to Seattle can be bad during rush hour. Olympia is also the northern endpoint of US 101, the scenic Pacific Coast highway that starts in Southern California. US 101 is the main route from Olympia to the Olympic National Park, and communities along the west bank of Hood Canal.
Hotel | "Red Lion Olympia Hotel"
The Red Lion Hotel Olympia is one of the few full-service hotels in Olympia, and probably the nicest. The property is an older one but has been relatively well-maintained. However, in some areas, it is showing its age. Some rooms have older televisions and furniture that was probably very contemporary when new, but today looks dated. There are also other areas where the property’s age is evident, such as the dim lighting in some rooms and lack of desk-level electrical outlets for computers. However, despite these shortcomings, the hotel is clean and one of the better lodging options in Olympia.
During the three weeks I spent in Olympia, I had two rooms at the Red Lion, as I checked out to come home for one weekend. The first two weeks, I was in a large, king-size bedroom on the first floor that overlooked the hotel’s landscaped courtyard above Capital Lake. This room offered an incredible view of the lake and Capitol building. The room was almost too large for the furniture in the room, though, and there was a large open area that could have been better utilized with a sofa and lounge chair as a sitting area. Lighting levels in this room were dim, mainly because the room’s large size was too much for the three lamps and three small overhead fixtures to adequately fill the room with light. This room also had a television that probably dated to the late 1980s. The second room was much smaller, with better lighting and new furniture. It also had a comfortable sofa and glass-topped coffee table. However, this room had a view of the parking lot. Based on the variety of rooms that my coworkers stayed in during this period, we came to the conclusion that the rooms with the best views often had the worst furniture, and those with the worst views had the best furniture. One thing that did stand out in both rooms was the extremely comfortable king-size bed with lots of pillows. These beds were not very old and were up to a standard of comfort I’ve experienced in some hotels that were much, much nicer than this one.
Other positive features at the Red Lion are the complimentary wireless Internet access and the full-service restaurant and bar, Americana, which serves some very good food. Room service is available most of the day until 10pm, and I ordered it several times on evenings when I did not feel up to going out. In all cases, the food was fresh, hot, and full of flavor. The best items I had from the restaurant were the lasagna, pasta with local seafood, and grilled salmon. The hotel is also a popular site for meetings and conferences, so it’s often quite busy with convention guests.
Overall, I would recommend the Red Lion, even with its shortcomings. Olympia does not offer very many hotels, and the Red Lion is probably among the best of them.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Red Lion Olympia
2300 EVERGREEN PARK DR
Olympia, Washington 98502
Falls Terrace was recommended by one of my managers who lives near Olympia as one of her favorite local restaurants. And it’s now one of my favorites as well. Located just off Interstate 5 on Deschutes Way in historic Tumwater, the restaurant hugs a steep hillside about the Deschutes River. The terraced, multi-level dining room runs the length of the building, offering panoramic views of the river and waterfalls below. There’s simply not a bad table here; no matter where you are seated, you’ll be treated to a stunning view while you enjoy your meal. You may even see a bald eagle or two fly through. And the trail below the restaurant along the river provides a nice place for an after-dinner stroll. I’ve been told that this is one of the top restaurants in town for a romantic dinner, and I can see why.
The scenery isn’t the only thing that excels at Falls Terrace. The menu, featuring fresh Northwest seafood, steaks, chicken, and pastas, offers many excellent choices at very reasonable prices. It’s hard to find fresh seafood of this quality at these prices; most entrées are priced under $20. What’s even more amazing is that the price includes a delicious fresh salad or soup, warm scones and honey butter, seasonal fresh vegetables, and a choice of rice pilaf or potato. A full bar and wine list, featuring many Washington and Oregon wines, is also available. To top it all off, there’s the staff; many of the employees have worked here more than twenty years and love their jobs. As a result, prompt service with a high level of attention to detail comes from some of the friendliest restaurant employees you’ll ever encounter. The restaurant also offers a senior citizens discount, early bird dinner specials before 5:30pm weekdays, small plates for those desiring a small portion, and a Sunday brunch menu.
I dined at Falls Terrace several times during my visit, sampling a variety of entrées. I highly recommend the macadamia-crusted salmon, a fresh filet of salmon crusted with crushed macadamia nuts and bread crumbs, then grilled. Another good choice is the Northwest sampler, a combination of a small filet of baked salmon, pan-seared halibut, and a Dungeness crab cake. All three of these are available individually on the menu as well, but the sampler allows those who can’t make up their minds (like myself) to sample three different regional favorites. I appreciated that all three features on the sampler were reduced portions--the entrée as a whole really is not any bigger than a single entrée plate.
Overall, Falls Terrace is a great restaurant. While I’ve dined at other seafood restaurants where the food was a slight cut above what you’ll get at Falls Terrace, the fish here is still excellent, and it’s an incredibly good value. This, combined with the great views and superb staff, make this a restaurant I’m sure to visit again on future trips to Olympia.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
106 Deschutes Way SW
Olympia, Washington 98501
Anthony's is located in downtown Olympia, on the Budd Inlet waterfront. The restaurant is part of a regional chain, but don't let the fact that Anthony's is a small chain turn you off. This is not your ordinary chain seafood place. Anthony's features top-quality Pacific Northwest seafood, caught and processed by its own seafood company in nearby Seattle. This assures that the specialties served in the restaurants, including wild King salmon, halibut, oysters, and Dungeness crab are extremely fresh when they arrive in the kitchen at each location.
Anthony's Olympia location is in a modern building designed to follow the natural shoreline of the waterfront. Tables are located either along the large windows, or elevated so that all diners can enjoy the incredible views of the water, marina, hills, and state capital building. During warmer months, outdoor seating is also available when the weather permits.
Menus at Anthony's vary by season, and many items change based on daily availability. A wine list featuring many Washington and Oregon varietals offers many excellent choices. On my visit, I selected a combination plate that featured half portions of the restaurant's signature alder planked salmon and Dungeness crab cakes. This entrée was served with fresh vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes. I also ordered a side salad as an appetizer, and ended the meal with a delicious blackberry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. Everything, from the salad and hot, homemade bread, to the dessert, was extremely good. The salmon was especially fresh, and it was a treat to have wild Pacific salmon, as opposed to the farm-raised salmon I usually find at home. The crab cake was also quite good, and full of lumps of Dungeness crab.
While the service was at first very slow -- nearly 10 minutes passed from the time I was seated until a server acknowledged I was there and took my drink order -- it soon improved and became more attentive. The restaurant was not very busy, but the server working my area also had a large table of 8 who appeared to be very demanding and required most of her time. Other than the occasional slowness, the service was always friendly, and everything I ordered was served very promptly from the kitchen.
Anthony's is an outstanding choice for dinner in Olympia. Prices and selections do change daily, but most entrées average $15 to 25. For a full dinner, including wine and dessert, expect around $40 per person. If price is a concern, the restaurant offers a variety of lunch selections, as well as an early dinner special before 6pm that includes an appetizer, choice of chowder or salad, entrée, and dessert for a fixed price.
More information, including other locations in Washington and Oregon, and sample menus can be found on the Anthony's website.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 19, 2006
704 Columbia Street North West
Olympia, Washington 98501
On Sunday, May 18, 1980, at 8:32am, Mt. St. Helens exploded in one of the most famous volcanic events of modern times. Within seconds, 230 square miles of forest was blown over or left standing dead. Countless animals perished, along with more than 50 people. A cloud of ash climbed thousands of feet into the sky and blew westward, plunging much of the state into darkness. And the north face of the mountain disintegrated into the largest landslides ever recorded. In minutes, a pristine spot of Pacific Northwest wilderness was turned into a total wasteland.
I first visited Mt. St. Helens in June 1986, just six years after the big eruption. At the time, visitors facilities were just being developed, and there were almost no signs of life inside the blast zone. I remember that one moment we were driving through thick forests, and then instantly, we were in a vast land of destruction. In 2001, I returned, visiting the Johnston Ridge Visitors Center, just five miles from the volcano’s crater, and witnessed the amazing signs of life returning to the blast zone. Several years after the eruption, Weyerhauser, the primary timber company in the area, was allowed to replant much of the area. Because of this, the outer reaches of the blast zone are only defined by the trees being shorter and younger than those outside the blast zone. However, as you get closer to the mountain, the US Forest Service has not allowed replanting. Here you can see the remarkable restoration that is taking place, without human intervention. In the midst of blown-down trees, still lying where they fell in 1980, new life is present. Wildflowers bloom each spring and summer, and a few short trees have managed to take hold and start the process of reforestation. Some wildlife has even returned.
On this trip, I had to make a third visit to the volcano. Visitor access to Johnston Ridge, the closest public observation point currently open, was reinstated the first week I was in Olympia after having been closed due to an eruption cycle that started last autumn. Unfortunately, on the day I made the trip to the blast zone, the weather was far too cloudy to see anything other than the base of the volcano (most of the photos are from my 2001 visit), but I could see how much more vegetation had taken root since my last trip here. Just a few days after I visited St. Helens, a number of events took place commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the eruption, and the lives that were lost that day.
Visitors to Mt. St. Helens should check the monument’s website for current information. Due to ongoing volcanic activity, some areas may be closed. You should also consider bringing a disposable dust mask, as bursts of ash happen fairly often and without warning. Also be aware that there is no gas beyond Toutle, so be sure to fill up if necessary before proceeding.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 26, 2005
Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
42218 N.E. Yale Bridge Rd.
Amboy, Washington 98601
On the last evening of my first two weeks in Olympia, I decided to take advantage of the long daylight hours to drive north from Olympia on US 101 up the Olympia Peninsula. My plan was just to drive and enjoy the magnificent scenery of this route, which transverses majestic old growth evergreen forests, the scenic shoreline of the Hood Canal, and the moss and fern-laden rainforests the Olympic Peninsula is famous for. I decided to head up 101 almost to the Peninsula’s northern tip, where the highway turns west toward the Pacific, then cross over the Hood Canal bridge and work my way back south to Olympia via Bremerton, Gig Harbor, and Tacoma.
Along the way, I discovered the Mt. Walker Overlook, a slightly developed scenic area perched just over 2,800 feet in elevation at the summit of Mt. Walker. I was driving along 101 when I saw the signs announcing the overlook road was just a mile ahead. There was still enough daylight to make the trip worthwhile, so I turned off the highway onto a gravel road and began an almost five-mile drive on a single-lane, winding, steep road up the mountain.
The drive up Mt. Walker itself is quite interesting. As you climb in elevation, the flora changes right before your eyes. At the base of the road, you’re in the rainforest; however, the trees soon begin to change to more alpine species and the mosses and ferns that line the rainforest floor disappear. At one point, I had to stop to allow some deer to clear the road before I could proceed. About halfway up there is a nice turnout that provides a stunning view to the south along the Hood Canal. However, this view pales in comparison to the ones that await just a couple more miles up the road. At the top of the mountain, the road splits. Either fork will take you to a small parking area with restrooms, a picnic table or two, and trails to the edge of the mountain. I recommend visiting both sides of the overlook area, as they provide totally different views. On one side, you can look south along the Hood Canal and Puget Sound, and to the east where the skyline of Seattle looks like it was built with a set of child’s building blocks. The other overlook provides views toward the north, east, and west, where you can take in the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains. During my visit, the weather was quite cloudy, but the views were still impressive. I hope to return on a future trip to the area when the skies are clearer.
Mt. Walker’s summit can also be accessed by a two mile hiking trail. Had I had more time and better shoes for hiking, I might have considered this option. The trail can be accessed from a small parking area just after turning off US 101.
Mt. Walker Overlook
US 101 at Mile Marker 301.5
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia