Tucked away at the end of West Bay Drive in Olympia, past old industrial lots and new office buildings, is West Bay Marina. Also home to Tugboat Annie’s restaurant, the marina is a community hub and a great place to spend some time, whether on a bustling sunny afternoon or a peaceful, drizzly morning, there’s always plenty to see and do.
If you haven’t been to Tugboat Annie’s before, it’s definitely worth a visit for their delicious food and gorgeous views of the marina, Budd Inlet, the Olympics, and Mount Rainier. In the spring and summer, they offer kayak rentals off the dock and a breakfast and kayak special on the weekends. Paddle out past the floating log booms to spot lounging sea lions, otters, and sometimes even whales.
West Bay Marina is also home to a commercial diving facility with the Nisqually Tribe, focusing on professional diving lessons and marine habitat restoration. The Island Sailing Club runs their Olympia fleet out of the marina as well, teaching sailing classes and renting boats. They know that the southern Puget Sound is great for cruising, and West Bay’s location in Budd Inlet offers a prime location to set sail.
Sailors have quick access to open water at West Bay and don’t need to worry about transit time. “As soon as you clear the breakwater, you can set your sail,” says Neil Falkenburg, the general manager at West Bay Marina.
“It’s a friendly place to start boating,” he adds. “I’m always interested in bringing new people into boating. So you can start with kayaks, or we have dinghy docs if you own a 17- or 18-foot sailboat then you can moor it here and paddle out to go sailing, or use your little outboard. It’s just a great way to get to the water.”
Even if you simply want to appreciate the water from the shore, West Bay is the perfect place to take a bench and watch the tugs tote and seals prowl. On the ground floor below Tugboat Annie’s is The Viewpoint, an aptly named meeting room and event space available for rent to the community.
Before it was The Viewpoint, the downstairs space in the building was home to a marine store and the office of West Bay Marina, which also operated a boat yard up until 2002. “I was sitting at my desk one day, facing north looking at the view of the Olympics,” says Neil. “Looking out my window I was going, this is the most incredible view. I don’t deserve that view. What can I do with this space to make money?” And then came the idea for The Viewpoint.
West Bay Marina may have plenty of sights, sounds, and activity, but it’s the people there that truly make it special. “We have an eclectic mix of boats and people,” Neil says of everyone from owners of little sail boats to big yachts, including many live-aboard tenants. “It’s very friendly, people get along well.”
One such person is Olympia-based author Jim Lynch, who kept his boat at West Bay for about a year. A striking coincidence considering his most recent work, Before the Wind, takes place at a marina. He writes, “The final draft of this novel took six wet months. Every day I’d drive into Olympia to a marina. Then I’d walk the docks in the rain to our 40-year-old sailboat. Once inside, I’d turn on the kettle, the heater, and the music and begin writing.”
“It’s really not about the marina, it’s about the people,” says Neil, who has managed the property since 1991. “I work with a very diverse group of tenants, regulators, and purveyors, and just everyone I come in contact with.”
West Bay Marina was first developed in the early 1960s by the Buchanan family – a longtime logging family that had been established in the area since 1912 when Buchanan Lumber Mill first opened. In fact, the area around West Bay Drive has a history of many lumber mills and other industries dating back to 1891. Only a few industrial businesses – Pacific Northwest Bulkhead and Dunlap Towing – operate in the area today. In 1981, West Bay Marina was sold to five families, two of which still own the property today.
Though the area is not as busy as it used to be, the marina still maintains a steady flow of activity throughout the year. And yet the impression still feels laid back, drawing in an eclectic mix of people and making West Bay Marina a treasured neighborhood in the community.