Travel

6 Reasons to Drive to Olympia, Washington

It's only an hour away.

Photo by Steve Bloom of The Olympian
Photo by Steve Bloom of The Olympian
Photo by Steve Bloom of The Olympian

If you live in Washington State, chances are you’ve had a cup of Olympia Coffee, voted in an election, or had your life totally turned upside down by the best, most outrageous music of the 1990s: Riot Grrrl. In any case, you owe a little something to Olympia for these, shall we say delicacies, and if you’ve yet to actually visit the home of Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, and the Washington State Legislature, it’s time to get yourself there, stat. 

Olympia doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should 

Though Olympia is technically the capital of Washington, most people probably think of Seattle when they think of the state, and with good reason: it’s much more famous culturally (Sleepless in Seattle, anyone?) and much larger (Seattle’s population is 724,000, while Olympia’s is only 51,000). However! That’s not to say that Olympia deserves to fly totally under the radar, and as far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves. Plus, it’s only an hour’s drive away from Seattle, so you’ve really got no excuse not to pay this town a visit. 

Photo courtesy of The Olympian
Photo courtesy of The Olympian
Photo courtesy of The Olympian

This town is home to lots of history 

As we mentioned, Olympia is the capital of Washington, meaning that it’s home to a number of historical buildings, like the 1909 Governor’s Mansion and the Legislative Building, built in a neoclassical style in 1928. Other sites include the Bigelow House Museum, which is the oldest house still standing in Washington (unfortunately still closed due to COVID-19), the Old Capitol Building (which was in use from 1905 until 1928), and the Schmidt House, a historic home originally built in 1904 for the founder of Olympic Brewing Company, Leopold Schmidt. And though it’s less about history than it is about science, a visit to Olympia isn’t complete without stopping by the Puget Sound Estuarium, the city’s aquarium.  

For a dose of Riot Grrrl history, check out Rainy Day Records, which offers up a good combination of both old and new music, Last Word Books, a new and used bookstore with lots of Riot Grrrl-esque zines, or Cryptatropa Bar, a slightly spooky gothic-themed bar that also doubles as a live music music venue. 

Speaking of booze… 

For its name (and historical significance) alone, you can’t visit Olympia without paying homage in some form or fashion to the iconic Olympic Brewing Company, which sadly stopped brewing beer earlier this year after over 100 years of production. It’s not all bad, though: the company is still making the vodka it debuted last year, and you can pick up a bottle at a liquor store in town. 

If you’re a beer-or-die kind of person, try Headless Mumby Brewing, Three Magnets Brewing Co., or Top Rung Brewing Company (run by two firefighters in nearby Lacey). 

Courtesy of USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System
Courtesy of USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System
Courtesy of USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System

Unsurprisingly, Olympia has no shortage of beautiful nature

Like pretty much all cities in Washington State, you don’t have to go far in Olympia to witness some seriously stunning natural beauty. For starters, why not spend an afternoon at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,529-acre preserve at the meeting point of the Puget Sound and the Nisqually River? Home to over 200 bird species and plenty of hiking trails, there’s no shortage of things to see and do here. If you don’t want to leave the downtown area, you could also stop by Marathon Park, the Yashiro Japanese Garden, or Olympia’s iconic waterfront.

The waterfront is where it’s at 

The Historic District of downtown Olympia wouldn’t be half as charming as it is now without the waterfront, AKA Percival Landing Park. Here, you can take a stroll along the mile-long boardwalk, check out rotating public art, and enjoy the gorgeous waters of West Bay. Percival Landing Park is something of a hub in Olympia-it’s where the best people-watching happens, where many an event has taken place, and where it’s easy to while away the hours watching the boats come and go and generally drinking in that salty sea air (which, if you live in Western Washington, you already know and love). 

Courtesy of Swing Wine Bar
Courtesy of Swing Wine Bar
Courtesy of Swing Wine Bar

This town knows how to wine and dine its visitors 

After all that walking around, you’ll probably be ready to eat (even if you did grab a snack at the Olympia Farmers Market). The options abound: for classic Pacific Northwestern fare, try Cascadia Grill; for French food, try La Petite Maison; for Turkish bites, try Mediterranean Breeze; for New American fare, try Iron Rabbit; for literal wining and dining, look no further than Swing Wine Bar, which is nestled in a house overlooking Capitol Lake. Oh, and if you’re up for a kayak trip after dinner, head to Tugboat Annie’s, the maritime-themed restaurant that also offers kayak rentals for the more adventurous among us. 

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Emma Banks is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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