Hands On Children's Museum's outdoor nature play activities. Photo courtesy HOCM
Hands On Children’s Museum: capitol of imagination
Why go? My son’s eyes light up whenever I mention “that museum in Olympia” — what we call Hands On Children's Museum. It’s among the biggest in the Puget Sound area and really does seem to have it all: an emergency area with fire truck, helicopter and cop car; a tugboat; a climber/slide to the third floor; a scream room where kids can use their outdoor voices to measure their decibels; and a maker space where kids can design and build with all kinds of recycled materials. Step outside and you’ll find another half-acre of fun. Kids can climb a lighthouse lookout tower, build with driftwood, race on the trike track (adults, too) and dig into the children’s garden. In the works are more outdoor nature play activities, including a water wall and outdoor tinkering stations.
Fees and discounts: Admission is $12.95–$14.95. Membership starts at $115 (for one adult and one child) and many other variations exist. Hands On admits the first two guests of a family free on the first Friday evening of the month, from 5–9 p.m.; additional family members are $2 each.
Good to know: Hands On has a small but good café onsite. In the summer, a reclaimed-water stream runs in front of the museum, where kids can splash and wade without paying an admission charge. Also in the summer, the museum offers special, super-fun Summer Splash programs.
Nearby fun: The free-admission WET Science Center (designed for older kids) is across the street. Olympia’s truly fabulous farmers market (open weekends all year) is a short drive away. Older kids may enjoy a free tour of the state’s Capitol building.