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Olympia’s South Capitol District: Historic Family Fun

Take a walk through time in this ideal day-trip destination that will charm visitors of all ages

Nikki McCoy

Published on: June 28, 2022

Woman sitting on a park bench relaxing and looking at water

Historic homes, many dating back to the early 1900s, dot the South Capitol neighborhood’s tree-lined streets. On any given day, families, bicyclists and dog walkers make their way through this Olympia nabe, located — you guessed it — just south of Washington state’s Capitol Campus. One of the more coveted enclaves for homeowners in Olympia, this charming neighborhood is an ideal day-trip destination for visitors, too.

The vibe

Located on the ancestral lands of the Steh-chass band of the Squaxin Island Tribe, South Capitol is rich with history. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the majority of the homes in the neighborhood feature the modest yet remarkable architecture of the turn of the last century. According to the South Capitol Neighborhood Association website, “More than 70 percent of the properties are classified as contributing to the historic character of the district.”

Take a cultural trip

While South Capitol hosts season-specific attractions to explore, taking a walking tour of the neighborhood is something that can be enjoyed year around. The neighborhood association offers a mobile-friendly walking tour of 40 historic homes that is worth checking out.

“I enjoy the old houses with varied landscapes and creative gardens. You just don’t know what jewel you will find from block to block,” says 18-year resident and mom Jen Hopps, whose own home is believed to have been built in 1936.

Eats + treats

Hopps says she also loves the easy walk to The Lucky Lunchbox, Vic’s Pizzeria, Spud’s Produce Market and Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., which are all nestled together in the historic Wildwood Building. Vic’s is the largest of the eateries, offering gelato, wine and beer selections as well as outdoor seating. The Lucky Lunchbox offers what its name implies — premade food to go, including yummy and affordable gourmet sandwiches, salads and soups. For the younger diners, $5.50 kids’ meals offer no-fail classics such as PB&J and grilled cheese sammies.

Hopps is not the only one who loves those destinations for a delicious meal. Another neighborhood mom, six-year resident Katie Knight Pruit, also recommends the local mini-mart for its excellent snack offerings and friendly service. “I’d be remiss to skip the Frog Pond, a neighborhood institution selling on-the-go items like Popsicles, ice cream and wine for the big kids,” she says.

While the Frog Pond doesn’t have a Facebook page or website, you can’t miss the bright, frog-green exterior of the storefront, located on the corner of Capitol Way and 21st Avenue. Across the street you’ll find Olympia Baking Company, a gluten-free bakery and bistro specializing in savory biscuits, soups and a variety of scones.

Get your play on

Just down the road from the Frog Pond is the neighborhood elementary school — a nice place to spread out a blanket for a picnic, let the kids or dogs tear around the field or get some wiggles out on the slide and swings.

Shop stops

While there are plenty of places to grab a bite and stretch your legs, the South Capitol neighborhood doesn’t have much in the way of shopping. But what it lacks in storefronts, it makes up for in proximity to all the fun shopping in downtown Olympia, less than 2 miles away. Bus stops along Capitol Way, including the free Dash stop at the Capitol, will have you downtown in minutes.

While you’re there, be sure to browse Archibald Sisters for quirky gifts, Captain Little for unique kids’ toys and games, and Rainy Day Record Co. for vintage and new vinyl.

Year-round family fun

The Washington State Capitol Building and Campus is a wonderful place to visit while enjoying the South Capitol neighborhood; the campus itself is beautiful, featuring interesting focal points, statues and botanical plantings. You can also take a free guided tour through the building, where you can marvel at the Tiffany chandeliers and marbled interior imported from five countries. Docent tours are available weekdays, 10 a.m.–3 p.m., on the hour; and weekends on the half hour, 11:30 a.m. –2:30 p.m., excluding holidays. Parking is free, and there’s an adorable gift shop filled with local wares and goodies.

When the weather permits, exploring the Capitol Campus is a favorite local pastime. “The campus is like a state park with car-free space to learn how to ride a bike, climb around or walk with a friend,” says Knight Pruit.

And for adventurous families, check out the Hillside Trail, a series of gentle switchbacks starting from the Capitol Campus, which connects to Heritage Park at Capitol Lake. The lake features a walking trail with historical markers and a view of the salmon run during spawning season, in late summer/early fall.

"Tree lined street at Maple Park in Olympia, Washington"
Maple Park 

Seasonal sojourns

Speaking of fall, South Capitol is a great place to catch the changing of the seasons, specifically Maple Park, another local favorite. While the park is more like a roadway, the maple leaves create a stunning display of color. Fun fact: For a short time in 1899, Maple Park was the location of Olympia’s first golf course.

Another attraction of fall in Olympia is the famous Pumpkin House, which displays more than 100 beautifully carved pumpkins each year; it is the pinnacle of spooktacular attractions in the South Capitol neighborhood, which is obsessed with Halloween decorations. The Pumpkin House is located at 219 18th Ave. S.W., and its owners/artists typically collect canned food donations from the stream of gawkers who visit each year.

Other notable events offered in the South Capitol neighborhood include the Capital City Marathon each May and the annual Lakefair Grand Parade, one of the largest parades in the region. Always held on the third Saturday in July, the parade begins on Capitol Way at 20th Avenue.

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