Thrifty Thurston Explores Local Museums

tenino train depot
Photo courtesy City of Tenino


By Sara Johnson

Alley Oop LogoWhen the autumn, and winter, and spring rains are upon us, Thurston County families start seeking out fun things to do indoors. One of my favorite things to do, whether traveling or staying right here in Thurston County, is visiting local museums. There are a heap of great museums to explore close by, enough to visit one every month until summer comes around again.


Hands On Children’s Museum is truly an unforgettable hands-on experience for children.

Hands On Children’s Museum

If you have kids older than six months then it’s likely you’ve already visited Olympia’s most beloved museum, the Hands On Children’s Museum (HOCM). Even if you have, it’s always worth another visit as the kids will inevitably find something new each time to explore. The museum is continually adding and upgrading exhibits. If it’s not raining, check out the new outdoor construction sandpit and bike track. HOCM is also a favorite place for grandparents to spend precious time with grandkids.

Don’t miss: The Arts & Parts Studio. This craft room is stocked with all sorts of interesting craft supplies, far more than I could ever come up with at home. It’s a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon with your kids.

Address: 414 Jefferson Street NE in Olympia

Phone: (360) 956-0818

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Sunday & Monday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.


Squaxin Island Museum

Although technically not in Thurston County, this beautiful museum is well worth the short drive just south of Shelton. It’s a treasure trove of history and stories of the people who have lived along the southern Salish sea shores for centuries. As you explore the museum, you’ll learn about the Squaxin Island Tribe’s close relationship with the inlets of the Sound, everything from hunting and fishing to crafts and legends. It’s unforgettable.

Don’t miss: Live storytelling. When we visited with our two daughters we were treated to a marvelous hour of storytelling by museum staff. They—and we—were mesmerized.

Address: 150 SE K’WUH-DEEGS-ALTXW in Shelton

Phone: (360) 432-3839

Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.


tenino depot
The Tenino Depot is small but chock-full of fascinating history. Photo courtesy City of Tenino.

Tenino Train Depot

The diminutive sandstone building that houses the Tenino Train Depot Museum is the actual depot built in 1914. Multiple trains stopped here each day until the depot closed in 1965. Despite it’s small size, the museum is chock full of local history: logging tools, railroad memorabilia, a 1920s doctor’s office.

Don’t miss: The press used to make the Great Depression wooden money that made Tenino famous in the 1930s.

Address: 399 Park Ave W in Tenino

Phone: (360) 264-7273

Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 12-4 p.m.


Bigelow House

olympia teen volunteer
Olympia’s oldest residence, the Bigelow House Museum (part of the Olympia Historical Society) offers great information on how Olympia was involved in women’s right to vote.
Photo courtesy of Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum

Built in the mid-1800s by Daniel and Elizabeth Bigelow, their beautifully preserved home is the oldest residence in Olympia. The Olympia Historical Society maintains their 150-year-old home as a tribute to Olympia history, and particularly to Daniel and Elizabeth who were pioneers of women’s rights, public education, and other causes well ahead of their time.

Don’t miss: The Susan B. Anthony marker. Anthony visited with the Bigelows in 1871 which is a great reminder of how important our founding Olympians were in earning women the right to vote.

Address: 918 Glass Ave NE in Olympia


Hours: Tours by appointment year-round


Crosby House

For another step back in time, visit Tumwater’s Crosby house, dating circa 1860.  The house has been restored and furnished much as it would have looked when original owners Nathaniel and Cordelia Crosby built it. The museum is maintained by Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington, who also keep up the home’s pioneer garden.

Don’t miss: The third Sunday of each open month (April – October) features an 1860s re-enactment with period-appropriate costumes.

Address: 702 Deschutes Way in Tumwater

Contact: (360) 866-9627

Hours: Open Friday and Sunday, 1:00  – 4:00 p.m., April – October. Tours available any time of year upon request.


State Capital Museum

olympia museums kids
Once the State Capital Museum repairs and renovations are complete, it will again reopen for tours.

While Washington’s State Capital Museum is currently closed for renovations, this historical mansion will once again be well worth a visit when it reopens. Housed in the impressive Lord Mansion a few blocks south of the capital campus, our state museum features a huge variety of exhibits from Native American history to Washington women’s history.

Don’t miss: Even thought the main museum is closed as of this writing, special events and programs continue to run. Click here for a schedule of upcoming events.

Address: 211 21st Ave SW in Olympia

Contact: 360-753-2580

Other local museums recently covered by ThurstonTalk:

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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