Thrifty Thurston Cruises Olympia Area Beaches



By Kate Scriven

xeroxWith the warming days comes a return to favorite haunts that may not be so inviting during the chilly Pacific Northwest winter.  People emerge along the downtown boardwalk.  Parks are teeming with happy children.  Squeals of delight can be heard from the fountain.

For our family, though, the best place on a sunny day is the beach.  Luckily, living at the very southern end of the Puget Sound, we have endless miles of shoreline on which to frolic.

tolmie state park
The boardwalk at Tolmie State Park gives you a great view of the 1800 feet of shoreline.

Enjoy your time simply relaxing and exploring or join in one of the many activities sponsored by local marine ecology groups to engage in active learning about our regions unique ecosystems.  Either way, a day at the beach is sure to give you at least 3 things: a bit of relaxation, a bit of fun, and a bit (or more) sand in the car on the way home.

Tolmie State Park

This gem located in North Olympia is indeed a Washington State Park and a Discover Pass is needed for entry.  Once inside, trails and beach options abound.  Our family always heads for the same stretch of sandy beach knowing that a bit of a walk will reward us with sand, gently sloped waterfront safe for even toddlers, and a nearby stream outlet creating vast diversity in marine life to explore.  Those of us left watching on the blanket will appreciate the open site lines to the little ones allowing for reading and relaxing while the kids are in plain view.

After parking, take the trail past the bathrooms (don’t head directly out to the bridge).  Continue on the forest path around the inlet stream to the far side.  You’ll know when you’ve reached “the spot.”

Frye Cove County Park

Frye Cove park is a hidden gem on the Steamboat Island peninsula.
Frye Cove park is a hidden gem on the Steamboat Island peninsula.

On the opposite side of the Sound lies Frye Cove, a park with something for everyone.  With over 1,400 feet of shoreline, the park has space for families to spread out on the beach for the day, making camp with blankets and picnics.  A newly renovated playground is available for breaks from the sand and hiking trails and exploration round out this beachfront park.

Priest Point Park

Just minutes outside of downtown Olympia, Priest Point Park makes you feel a world away.  The towering trees and peaceful woods give way to beautiful beaches rich with diversity.  This park has an active estuary ecosystem offering the chance to explore a large number of critters at low tide along with a great opportunity for muddy feet.  Be ready to rinse at the water taps near the parking lot when you return.

Burfoot County Park

Located off Boston Harbor Road, Burfoot is a favorite with many families.  The hike to the beach is just challenging enough to make your little ones appreciate the adventure, and remind you to pack conservatively.  Once at the beach, the opportunities for rock throwing, starfish hunting, shell collection and bird watching are endless.  Watch ships come into port and kayakers paddle by.  Never a dull moment here.

Boston Harbor Marina

boston harbor olympia
Boston Harbor Marina is a gathering place for locals and tourists.

Just up the road from Burfoot is a “civilized” beach experience.  While the beach by the marina is private property, the owners at Boston Harbor welcome visitors to their sandy shores.  Kids lick soft serve ice cream cones from the store while you sit on the deck with a great view of the beach.  Come in the afternoon on a hot day and enjoy happy hour on the deck.  Icy cold beverages are abundant in the store.

Percival Landing

For a quick beach visit while in town or at the Olympia Farmers Market take a stroll to the Port Plaza area of Percival Landing.  At low tide kids can scramble on the rocks, hunting for shellfish or seaweed on the barnacle covered shore.  Spotting jellyfish and schools of tiny minnows rank among my kids favorite versions of I-Spy.

Educational Programs on the Beach

olympia beaches
Volunteer Beach Naturalists clearly enjoy sharing the amazing estuary environment of the south Puget Sound with visitors all summer long.

Looking to enrich your time at the beach?  Our area offers a host of terrific options for kids and adults alike looking to learn more.

  • South Sound Estuary Association’s Pier Peer – Sign up in advance for this night viewing experience where marine biologist use submerged lights to attract a host of amazing creatures from the waters under Boston Harbor Marina.
  • Marine Creature Mondays – Also at Boston Harbor Marina, this weekly program runs throughout July and August highlighting the diversity of South Puget Sound.  The Stream Team organizes the educational outreach experience partnering a marine biologist and a SCUBA diver to bring treasures from the depths up to the surface for viewing.  Registration required for this free daytime program.
  • Beach Naturalists – Also organized by the SSEA, the Beach Naturalist program runs all summer long on most Saturdays and Sundays.  Trained naturalists are available at Frye Cove, Burfoot, Priest Point and Tolmie State Park to answer questions about different marine species they have gathered in their beachside “aquarium” or ones that you may find yourself.  Check current schedule for dates and times.

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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