Nestled at the protected southern tip of Puget Sound, Washington State's tiny capital blends politics with a chilled, creative vibe. You'll spot the graceful neoclassical dome of the Capitol Building on the tender ride through the Sound, the snowy Cascades Range as a backdrop on a clear day. These mountains, specifically the towering, 14,410-foot hulk of Mount Rainier, are most likely to be your destination on a shore excursion, but if you prefer to skip the long coach journey, there's enough to do in town for a day.
Free, 60-minute tours of the Capitol Campus are offered daily between 10 a.m. (11 a.m. on weekends) and 3 p.m.; worthwhile if you want to know about local history and take in the art collection and various memorials around the site. Olympia prides itself on its creative, edgy vibe and there are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants in the compact downtown area north of the campus. Oysters, fresh from the oyster beds in Puget Sound, make a great lunch -- and there's even a distillery downtown -- Shoe Box Spirits -- where you can sample craft gin and vodka in an informal session. The colorful farmers' market, second in size only to Seattle's famous Pike Place Market, is located right by the tender dock.
What you won't find in Olympia is a resort atmosphere. The narrow waterfront is dominated by a giant pier unloading logs onto cargo ships, although there's a pleasant boardwalk at Percival Landing Park, close to the downtown area and with views across the yacht marina to the Capitol.