by Suzanne Bair
Day One – Escape From Work Early
My friend Sarah and I took full advantage of Olympia’s “decidedly different” motto by setting a rough course around Thurston County’s Bountiful Byway. We started by heading sixty miles south on I5 from Seattle until we got to our first stop, the incredible Billy Frank Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It sits on 762 sprawling acres of beautiful woodland, meadows, and the Nisqually River Estuary. Fully accessible wooden board walks or crushed gravel paths weave visitors throughout the park on one of several accessible trails. Wheelchair accessible viewing scopes are available at each lookout throughout the park allowing visitors to get closer to more than 200 bird species and other wildlife that call this park home. Cost to visit this park is $3 for up to four adults but is FREE for Golden Age, Golden Eagle, Access Passport, Annual Refuge Pass, or Federal Duck Stamp Holders and up to three guests, or children under 16.
Mini Libations Tour
Next we headed down to Lacey and off for our own little three-stop libations tour. As an accessible travel expert, I love visiting local breweries, distilleries, wineries, and coffee houses. In addition to being some of the best in their respective crafts, their facilities are also usually new builds which fall under accessible building codes – making these some of the best hangouts and community gathering spots. These three were no exception.
First on our list was Stottle Winery which offered a quaint tasting room and small tour allowing visitors a chance to get to know more about the local viticulture. After a quick tour and tasting at Stottle we popped in to Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs located right next door to take a peek into the distilling process. We spent a delightful hour tantalizing our taste buds as we sampled their unique, handcrafted, small batch 100 percent USDA Organic liqueurs. Their peach liqueur brought back memories of biting into a fresh hot peach in the summer time with juice running down your face or sipping sweet tea on grandma’s porch. Peach Perfection!
Before dinner we stopped at one last local hotspot, Top Rung Brewery for a beer flight. You simply can’t go wrong when you stop at the local watering hole where a steady stream of people are coming and going. For two gals out on a girl’s weekend, how could we not fall in love with Top Rung Brewery when it is owner-operated by local firefighters brewing up excellent beer. With ten rotating taps of both in-house brews and local offerings, we both found new favorites, including a fantastic Pyrolysis Imperial Stout made in collaboration with Sandstone Distillery. This delectable stout, aged in Sandstone Distillery Whiskey Barrels brings out the incredible smooth deep flavors of both a great stout and whiskey.
Time to Refuel
What goes great with beer? Pizza of course! For dinner we found ourselves in the heart of downtown Olympia at the Pizzeria La Gitana. This busy pizzeria is popular for diners of all ages with high schoolers in Prom wear, business and government folks in business attire, vivacious families, and friends just out on the town. Although this was a great spot for travelers requiring gluten-free or simple food allergy options we found the space very congested and almost impossible to navigate for a diner in a wheelchair during busy times. Accessible restrooms were “doable” in the building’s community hall, shared by multiple businesses, but tricky to access.
After dinner we took advantage of the quiet time to explore around the Capital building and the beautiful parks below. Heritage Park Trail offers a gentle paved 1.5-mile trail circling Capital Lake, offering picture perfect views of the Capital building and the adjacent Budd Inlet. There are plenty of places to sit and take in the view along this path along with public restrooms located at two ends of the lake, one at Heritage Park and one at Marathon Park. Parking is also available at each of these parks or by parking at the Capital and following the switch back trail down to the main trail. Beware, the switch back trail may be a bit of a climb back up to the top.
Day Two – Rise and Shine in Downtown Olympia
We started the morning with a Coffee Tasting at Batdorf & Bronson Tasting Room in downtown Olympia. Our knowledgeable roaster, Arturo, guided us through the history of coffee, the various stages of production coffee goes through and all of the many hands who help nurture my blessed morning indulgency from field to cup. We finished the tasting with a cupping – a truly educational, hands on experience smelling, slurping, and tasting coffees from all over the world. Although it was a great way to try coffee in its various stages and learning the complexities specific to each region, I still prefer my medium bodied Guatemalan with a healthy dose of cream and sugar. The tasting room is fully wheelchair accessible but participating in the cupping experience may be challenging for some visitors with manual dexterity difficulties.
Coffee in hand, our next stop was the Olympia Farmers Market, walking distance from Batdorf & Broson’s Tasting Room. Visiting the farmers market was a great way to try the abundance of flavors found along Thurston County’s Bountiful Byway. Sarah and I mixed and matched our way through a tasty lunch, sampling different items from variety of vendors. Sarah’s favorite was the gluten-free macrons from Blue Heron Bakery and mine was the chocolate torte from the San Francisco Street Bakery.
Taking Off for a Wild Afternoon
Later we headed over to Wolf Haven International in Tenino. Wolf Haven International has been home to more than 250 wolves born in captivity and is the only globally accredited wolf sanctuary in the world. Although the sanctuary is currently home to more than 40 wolves, only about a third of them are on the public route. The sanctuary offers 50-minute, narrated, fully-accessible guided tours by reservation. During the tour visitors will have the opportunity to see a variety of wolves and wolf hybrids in a gorgeous wooded environment and may even be treated to a wolf call or two. The wide, crushed gravel path throughout the sanctuary is easy to navigate and several beautiful resting benches are located throughout. Printed scripts and a limited number of manual wheelchairs are available upon request in the sanctuary store. Please note that service animals are not permitted in the sanctuary for the safety and comfort of all of the animals and the sanctuary’s guests.
Feeling a little more adventurous and still craving more of Thurston Counties artisanal beverages we take a detour before heading back to our hotel. Not far from Wolf Haven International in Tenino we met up with the father-son duo at Sandstone Distillery. While you can visit just to pickup some of their fine spirits as part of their Speakeasy 375 Club, sipping vinegars or other fine beverages, we highly recommend you stay for the full tour experience these guys offer. With a pulse on the entire community you can spend hours learning about the rich history of the area from owner, John Bourdon, and all about the step-by-step process of how Sandstone creates its own award-winning hand-crafted whiskey. This distillery is certainly off the beaten path for most out of town visitors but it is well worth the stop any time you are in town.
Saying Goodbye to the Weekend
When I think of breakfast I don’t usually think of breweries yet somehow the two go together at The Magnet restaurant inside Three Magnets Brewing Co. flawlessly. With a variety of unique adult beverages like the cold war coffee, the hazy sunrise, or the morning mule they know how to kick start your morning. The Three Maganets Brewing Co. is open all day with separate dining areas offering simple twists on classic breakfasts not to be missed. Their sweet, delicious cheese curd beignets and ricotta pancakes (from their rotating menu) with a couple of mimosas was a great way to wrap up a fun filled girls’ weekend.
Nuts and Bolts
Downtown Olympia is compact, making getting around easy. It is very walkable or rollable with gentle sloping curb cuts and well-maintained paved sidewalks. Dash, the local accessible bus, is also free in the downtown core so getting from point A to point B for dining, shopping, or entertainment is a breeze. Street parking is available but can be hard to find during business hours.
Where to Stay in Olympia, WA
During our stay we relaxed and recharged at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Tumwater. It offered several different ADA room choices and it was no problem finding a double queen accessible room at a hotel full of accessible amenities. After a long day exploring it was wonderful to sooth away my aching muscles in their accessible pool and hot tub before crawling into my comfy bed.
Here is where the simple things matter. I loved my room at the La Quinta Inn & Suites because it offered plenty of room for my friend and I to move around freely and spread out without tripping over each other or our bags full of personal items, medical supplies, and of course recent shopping spoils. There were plenty of electrical outlets for all of our gadgets throughout the room and a few conveniently located next to the bed, making plugging in Sarah’s C-Pap machine no problem. In addition to our great room and accessible pool amenities, in the morning there were plenty of breakfast options to allow us to start the day off right.
A special thank you to Experience Olympia & Beyond for inviting us to experience the decidedly different and wonderfully accessible, Thurston County Bountiful Byway. Although this trip was hosted, all opinions are honest and entirely my own.
Suzanne Bair is a disabled multi-genre writer, photographer, and community advocate. She is the founder and lead writer of Accessible Family Travel. Her previous work can be seen in Tiny Tim Literary Review, Bellingham Alive!, North Sound Life, and North End Metro magazines encompassing a variety of literary, editorial, and photography content. Suzanne has also been a volunteer and community advocate working with local school districts, and national organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the YMCA, Head Start/Ecap, and the Center for Independence focusing on education and disability inclusion for over 20 years.