Thrifty Thurston Visits Olympia Area Museums

olympic flight museum paper airplanes
The Olympic Flight Museum hosts special events like a paper airplane race.


By Kate Scriven

olympia pediatricsThe seasons have changed and with the shift in temperatures comes a alteration in activities we plan for our families.  From beach explorations and romping in the park to more indoor choices, keeping us warm and dry.  While there are a host of wonderful activities in the area, many people forget the wide variety of museums found in Thurston County.

The Hands On Children’s Museum tops the list for many with young children, but there are far more choices that you may not have explored.  Mark your calendar for an upcoming rainy afternoon and explore one of these unique museums in our area.  You’ll have fun, but more than that, you’ll learn interesting history of our area and its people.

olympic flight museum paper airplanes
The Olympic Flight Museum hosts special events like a paper airplane race.

Olympic Flight Museum

7637-A Old Highway 99 SE, Olympia, WA 98501

(360) 705-3925

Hours:  Hours change seasonally. Check the website for details.

The Olympic Flight Museum was established in 1998 at the Olympia Regional Airport in Olympia with a mission to preserve vintage aircraft and promote their continued flying.  While you may have attended their annual airshow, the museum is open year round and is worth a trip.  The exhibits are housed in a converted hanger and include a wide variety of helicopters, airplanes, and jets as well as historical information on each one.  Even my very girly daughter, who could care less about anything with wheels or wings, was fascinated with being up close and personal with the aircraft.

State Capital Museum

211 21st Ave SW, Olympia, WA 98501

(360) 753-2580

Hours:  Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Nestled in the historic South Capitol neighborhood within the Lord Mansion, one of Olympia’s true mansions, the museum has something for everyone.  Exhibits include a hands-on replica of a Salish Plank House, exhibits on Northwest Ethnobotany, and rotating exhibits currently including a profile of the Murrow Brothers (including famous broadcaster Edward R Murrow).

The grounds of the museum may be the biggest attraction for the youngest visitors, with winding pathways and expansive porches, they can run a little steam off before viewing the interior exhibits.

And while the exhibits are terrific, the special programs and events the museum offer are not to be missed.  Coming up this fall include a spooky walking tour of the South Capitol neighborhood, pictures with Santa, and an oyster tasting event with Taylor Shellfish farms.

lacey museum
Lacey City Council Member, Cynthia Pratt, enters the current Lacey Museum. A proposed project will create much needed space for the museum’s collection as well as provide an 1891 replica of the train depot.

Lacey Museum

829 Lacey Street SE, Lacey, WA 98503


Hours:  Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. / Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The Lacey Museum is housed in a historic home dating to the 1920’s and later served as the first Lacey City Hall in 1966.  It was moved to it’s current site in 1979 and opened its doors in 1981.  Exhibits include an extensive history of the area from the Oregon Trail to present day.  Although Lacey wasn’t encorporated until 1966, it has one of the oldest histories in the Puget Sound region.  Originally founded as Woodland, the community welcomed Saint Martin’s University in 1895 and had a thriving public school system.  Adults and children will be interested in learning the early roots of their community.

Squaxin Island Tribe Museum, Library, and Research Center

150 SE Kwuh Deegs Altxw, Shelton, WA 98584


Hours: Wednesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. / Sunday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. (calling ahead is suggested due to unexpected closures)

Located between Olympia and Shelton, the Squaxin Island Museum is an experience not to be missed.  The depth of cultural heritage displayed both in the exhibits and those who work there creates an experience that will involve you wholly in The People Of The Water.  The Squaxin’s history is intimately tied to the Seven Inlets of the South Puget Sound.  In the Hall of the Seven Inlets, visitors see each inlet portrayed in gigantic paintings depicting their importance to the tribe, the region and their history.  Written information accompanies each display.

After touring the indoor exhibits, don’t miss the newly completed Marine Water Feature outside.  The canoe carving shelter and medicinal garden beds complete the outdoor tour.

phoenix rising kids
When the weather turns yucky, learning takes place inside.

Tenino Depot Museum

399 Park Ave W, Tenino, WA 98589


Hours:  Saturday and Sunday noon – 4 p.m.

The museum is housed in a 1914 sandstone building that was a working train depot until after World War II.  In 1975, the structure was moved 10 blocks from its original location and converted to a museum.  Visitors can see the original press used to make wood money, old logging tools, old quarry tools, railroad memorabilia and many local artifacts, including a 1920s doctor’s office and school house.

While the museum is only open weekends,  you can arrange a tour with Jean and Norm Montgomery, museum hosts by calling 360-264-7273.

Bigelow House Museum

918 Glass Ave NE Olympia, WA  98506


Hours:  Fridays 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. / Sundays 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

The Bigelow House is a historic home sitting above East Bay Drive in Olympia and is the oldest residence in Olympia and one of the oldest in the Northwest.  The home belonged to Daniel T. Bigelow and his wife, Ann Elizabeth White, and dates to the 1850s.  The Bigelows were influential figures in early Olympia history and fought for women’s rights as well as public education.

The house sits on more than an acre of the family’s original land and displays original documents, artifacts, and furnishings.  The Bigelows were extremely important figures in the history of our area and the home gives visitors a snapshot into an Olympia of the past.   And don’t miss the Holiday Tour of Historic Homes, December 8, where you can visit 7 historic homes located throughout the area, including The Bigelow House.

Our area is full of outdoor recreation and fantastic activities for young and old.  But when a day indoors beckons, a quiet day of reflection is needed, or information is needed for a school project, look to our local museums for a new experience that will leave your knowing more about your community, and probably your fellow visitors as well.

Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County.  The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community.  If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at  For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.

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