Visual

Winter Weekend

Visual treats in Thurston County

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thurston County is best known for its jewel, Olympia, a stately, historic and scenic city filled with soaring examples of Greco-Roman architecture and irresistibly browsable galleries, bookshops and boutiques.

With its beautiful state buildings on a bluff overlooking the ocean and its 278-foot-high capitol dome visible from almost everywhere, Olympia is a visual treat and a pleasurable destination for a weekend away, whether you’re a history buff or a family in search of good, clean fun.

We gladly joined a tour of the capitol dome led by Ed Smith, a history teacher for 30 years whose father once served in the legislature. He primed our small group on the European marble, carved masonry and more than 300 Tiffany lights and chandeliers that decorate the interior. It’s an impressive, palatial building and one that certainly lends gravity to Washington’s history and the business of lawmaking. 

It was less-than-fascinating for my 6-year-old daughter, though, which is why our next stop was the Hands On Children’s Museum of Olympia (http://www.hocm.org).

“Our goal was to only feature exhibits from the Pacific Northwest, things children might see in their own backyards,” says Jillian Henze, communications manager for the 28,000-square-foot museum.

Best suited for the 3-8-year-old crowd, this innovative space delves into the farm-to-fork eating experience, the Puget Sound waterway, the forest and the lifecycle of water. Touching is mandatory here, and by interacting with the exhibits children learn how currents flow, how large a bald eagles’ nest really is, how water and wind pressure work, how to build a house and where food comes from.

We left Olympia the next day for Grand Mound, 20 minutes away and home of the Great Wolf Lodge (http://www.greatwolf.com), Washington’s Disneyland equivalent. The massive indoor water park is a hedonistic kids’ paradise with water slides that sweep riders on a variety of fast, circuitous watery journeys, a large wave pool and two well-designed water play structures.

There’s easily enough to do in the water park alone for a half-day’s entertainment. But once visitors towel off, they’ll find much more. Around us, kids were running around with plastic wands, engrossed in MagiQuest, a game in which they explore an enchanted kingdom, gain magic powers, learn from the Book of Wisdom and battle a dragon.

We took the long road back to Olympia on Old Highway 99 to get a glimpse of Tenino, a sleepy city with a fascinating history. I was anxious to learn about its sandstone legacy, which dates back to 1888 with the discovery of a large sandstone deposit, a popular building material in the pre-concrete era.

Tenino quarries supplied sandstone for buildings in San Francisco, Vancouver BC, Missoula, Mont., and elsewhere. When the quarries closed in the late 1920s, one of them, the Tenino Stone Company Quarry, was deliberately flooded with water from natural springs by the City of Tenino and transformed into a 95-foot-deep swimming pool.

During the Great Depression, someone at the Tenino Chamber of Commerce had the brilliant idea of issuing wooden money as emergency scrip. Those wooden blocks are on display at the Tenino Depot Museum, which, unfortunately, was shuttered when we were in town.

There’s one final stop you should make before leaving town—the Sandstone Distillery (http://www.sandstonedistillery.com), located on the family farm of John Bourdon. For the past year, Bourdon has been at the helm of the county’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, making small batches of gin, vodka and whiskey from Washington-grown grains. If you love bacon and whiskey, this may be your opportunity to try a combination of the two in one carefully crafted bottle.

For general information about our state’s capital, go to http://www.visitolympia.com

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