On any nice day (and even on many not-so-nice days), you’ll find crowds of people hanging out at Olympia’s Heritage Park and walking around Capitol Lake. It’s with good reason, of course, as both are excellent places to enjoy the outdoors. Not far at all from those spots, though, is the much quieter, secret gem of Tumwater Historical Park.
You can actually walk the whole way from Heritage Park to Tumwater Historical Park without having to cross any streets (the park’s location is pinned to the map at the end of this article). You can follow the paved walk that goes around the lake and then dip down the trails leading through the Interpretive Park and walk the whole way without having to worry about traffic.
Or, you can just drive there. It’s simple enough to find.
Either way, you’ll find a spot much quieter and more private than Heritage Park. Even on sunny days, the number of visitors never strains the park’s capacity. I don’t know why this is. I only know that the huge grassy space and trails there rarely have more than a handful of people.
I’ve had many days where I bummed around Heritage Park and found it crammed with people, then skipped over the the Historical Park and found it nearly empty.
Even those who know of the park, I think, largely don’t realize all the hidden historical gems there. I assume this is the case, anyway, because I’ve been going to this park for years and only recently learned that it’s named Tumwater Historical Park and that it’s full of neat stuff.
I usually go there to relax in the lawn and get some sun or read a book in peace and quiet.
For starters, the park is an official Blue Star Memorial Highway point. I’d never heard of this organization until stumbling upon this marker (which is in the parking lot and concealed by bushes), but it’s a project of the National Garden Clubs.
The markers are placed in honor of the United States Armed Forces. I have to say that I found it somewhat disrespectful that park maintenance has allowed this sign to be partially swallowed up by vegetation, BUT it’s also kind of cool because now the sign is sort of like a hidden artifact.
What is not so hidden is the pair of houses you can find atop the hill where the road leads down into the park.
These sites aren’t going to blow many minds, I’d wager, but they make Tumwater Historical Park a great little spot for a lazy weekend afternoon. For history buffs such as myself, they’re a bona fide destination.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than taking in some history, and Tumwater Historical Park is a great place to explore and feel the tides of Time lapping around your feet.
You don’t even need to visit the historical sites to enjoy the park. It’s got a huge playground for kids and a great big stretch of grass for soaking up the sun or throwing a ball around.
But, if you happen to be a history enthusiast, it’s got some real magic to offer—and it’s all free!
Note: I went to the Sands independently and received nothing from them for my stay or for this article. I didn’t tell them I run a travel blog, and they don’t know I’m writing this. I receive no payment from them or any other place that I endorse.
The Sands is a Great Budget Stay in Ocean Shores, Washington
Well, I’ve tried nearly every hotel in Ocean Shores now, and I do believe I’ve found my favorite budget stay.
Going by cost-to-quality ratio, the Sands was my favorite lodging experience in town, and I’ve visited Ocean Shores more times than I can count. For just $89 dollars a night (95 after tax), in the middle of June, I got a room with a killer view and bird songs filling the air (more on the birds in just a bit).
Their rates are even lower in the off season, making this a terrific destination for an impromptu weekend getaway or overnight trip. This will definitely be my go-to place for future quick-trips.
There for the Beach, Not the Room
I’ve seen one reviewer online call the Sands’ rooms “dated,” but I didn’t get that impression. They have few frills, I guess, but I go to the beach for the beach, not to sit in my room, so that didn’t matter much to me. The room was clean and the bed was comfortable, the bathroom tidy and the shower nice with good hot water.
On this particular trip (ironically enough, considering the generalized statement I made about myself above), I actually did spend quite a bit of time in my room watching the birds in the bushes and the waves rolling over the beach beyond. The accommodations suited me perfectly for that.
There are two beach access points within short walking distance from the hotel, so you can make a circular trip of the beach without retracing your steps at all. Ocean Shores, by the way, has a sandy beach, which is not always easy to find in Washington, where the coasts are usually rugged and rocky.
Some other hotels in Ocean Shores sit right on the sand. This seems appealing, but the drawback to this is that the beach goers are always within earshot. The Sands has a buffer of grasses and bushes that makes the hotel itself feel like an isolated little oasis. I liked having that stretch of greenery there more than I’ve enjoyed being right on the sands.
Many Amenities: My Favorites are the Birds
My favorite part about the Sands is the birds. Handmade bird houses are located all over the grounds, so there are birds everywhere. Their singing creates a supremely peaceful setting.
The hotel also has a volleyball pit in the back and a sun deck with chairs called the Dolphin Cove. There’s an indoor pool and a recreation room above the office, a couple Jacuzzi tubs and a dry sauna. I didn’t partake of any of these amenities, but I gave them a gander and they looked nice to me. Personally, I didn’t need any of those things. I was happy with the bird songs and the ocean so close by.
When I travel, I usually spend very little time in my room except to sleep. If I do sit in the room, it’s just to read or enjoy the silence. So, for me, the basic accommodations were terrific.
There is No Wi-Fi Except in the Recreation Room
I’m making this its own section because it’s a point that is bound to bother some people. The rooms do not have wi-fi. To access wi-fi, you have to go to the recreation area above the office.
Personally, for me, this was a good thing. I like unplugging now and then. Honestly, I wish they didn’t even have a television. Disconnecting, far as I’m concerned, is relaxing and good for the mental health.
I understand this is a position that not everyone will take, of course, so I’m making certain to make this fact known loud and clear in my blog. I don’t want to influence you on anything that you won’t enjoy.
In that light, I should also add that the service at the Sands is perfectly good, but maybe not as warm or eager-to-please as you’ll find at some higher-end hotels. This, too, is something I frankly don’t care about, but am mentioning because I’ve seen some reviewers elsewhere criticize the Sands in this regard.
The gentleman at the front desk on the day I arrived was professional and polite. He made sure to get me the best view he could get at the best price.
The woman who was there on the day I checked out, meanwhile, was very helpful. We had a good chat and she filled me in some upcoming events and the likelihood of vacancies in late August. She introduced herself as Stacy. She was friendly, informative, and pleasant to deal with.
It usually doesn’t even occur to me to remark on the front desk reception, because it’s a non-issue to me. I just don’t really care. Since I’m trying to be as helpful to you folks as I can, however, I ought to mention it. I only stayed there once, so I can’t debunk the negative receptions I’ve seen in some reviews. But, I can say, that in my experience everyone was friendly and efficient.
They weren’t gushing with hospitality as I’ve seen in some hotels, I guess, but were friendly and good at their jobs, which is all I would ask for.
Location, Location, Location
Ocean Shores has plenty of good hotels, both high-end, budget, and in-between. If you’re looking for a high-end place, then the Sands might not be for you (I’ll be writing about the high-end places I think would be for you later).
What the Sands does offer is a terrific location at a very fair rate. To get an ocean view for less than a hundred bucks in June is not easy. I’d say it’s damn near impossible, really. Their prices, far as I can tell, are even lower in the off season.
Ocean Shores is a pretty small town, so the restaurant strip is never too far from you, no matter where you stay. Neither is the grocery store or gas station.
I’m not being endorsed in any way by the Sands. I’m just relating my honest, personal experience, which can be summed up thusly: The Sands is a nice little hotel with a killer location and bird songs filling the air, and I will be going back there, regularly, for sure.
I’ve not found a hotel so close to the beach for such a low price anywhere in Washington state.
The Tacoma day trip I’m outlining here would be entirely free, except for whatever gas you use getting to Tacoma and whatever you elect to spend on food.
Every third Thursday of the month, three Tacoma museums offer free entry. Even better, all three of these museums are within 10 minutes or less walking distance of each other, and all within the University of Washington, Tacoma cultural hub, which happens to be one of the most enjoyable areas of the city.
You can start your trip by taking the free Tacoma Link light rail, which you can catch from the Tacoma Dome Station right outside the Tacoma Dome parking garage. You’d take the rail to its second stop, which is directly in front of the Washington State History Museum.
Washington State History Museum
This is my personal favorite of the freebies. The Washington State History Museum is full of fascinating stuff. The giant model railroad alone is an experience worth the trip. The permanent exhibits in the museum illuminate the evolution of Washington state with full sized replicas of early tools, machines, vehicles, and houses of early Washingtonians. They even have a mummy!
The museum also happens to stand at the end of the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which is a 500-feet long foot bridge decorated with hundreds of glass art pieces from the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The bridge itself is worthy destination, but it also leads to the Museum of Glass, which we’ll cover next.
Museum of Glass
The Museum of Glass is one of Tacoma’s most iconic attractions. It stands on the shore of the Thea Foss Waterway and is, as the name suggest, full of glass art. You can also watch glass artists at their work.
The exhibits are both in and outdoors. The cafe in the museum has good food with a lot of options, and the Social Bar and Grill right next door has a nice, relaxed atmosphere, drinks, and great eats, as well, though it may be a bit pricey for a budget trip such as this one.
Tacoma Art Museum (TAM)
The TAM is a five minute walk from the history museum and an eight minute walk from the glass museum.
The museum has more of Dale Chihuly’s work, but also a wide assortment of other fine art exhibits. They cycle in new exhibits pretty regularly, so the TAM always feels fresh and new.
Back on the Rail and Back Home
The Link station is five minutes from the TAM. From there, it’s a quick ride back to the parking garage and your car.
Whether you’re in the mood for swimming, hiking, tossing a football around, taking a scenic drive, or just chilling in the sun, you’ll find plenty of room and opportunity at Point Defiance Park. There’s also the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, boat rentals, and eats, of course, but in this blog post I’ll be focusing on Point Defiance recreation activities that cost little to no money. Point Defiance makes for a great Tacoma budget trip for people on a budget.
Owen Beach and the Waterfront Promenade
Owen Beach, which sits on the shore of the Puget Sound, is one of the main attractions at Point Defiance.
Children love playing on the drift logs that lay along the sand—and many adults do, as well. The main beach area, seen in the photo above, tends to have the most concentrated crowds. The beach stretches on for quite some ways, however, and the farther you go the less people you’ll find.
There’s also a wide lawn with concessions and kayak rental shops, a picnic shelter, and restrooms. Nearly $5 million of improvements are being planned for 2018.
Though the main beach is developed, this location still has a bit wild streak, and it’s not uncommon to see seals and sea lions near shore.
A long waterfront promenade leads from Owen Beach to Boathouse Marina. This walk is fully paved and level and makes for an easy, scenic excursion for people of any fitness level.
Gardens Upon Gardens
In the rush to get to the beach, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Point Defiance is full of them!
The Pacific Northwest is known for its greenery, and it’s not always easy to find the other vibrant colors of nature. That’s not the case in Point Defiance. In addition to the Rose Garden, there’s an Herb Garden, a Fuchsia Garden, a Dahlia Trail Garden, and more.
While you’re enjoying the flowers, keep an eye out for the many birds that like to congregate inthis area, especially in the pools scattered around the property.
These Trails Were Made for Walking
Point Defiance has nearly 10 miles of walking trails.
No Matter the Season, Point Defiance Always Makes for a Nice Visit
In the wintertime, the park is refreshingly quiet and calm. In the summer, it’s got the energy of family and friends getting out to enjoy that long-sought Washington state sunshine. You can’t ask for much for from a place with free entrance.
Whether you’re in Tacoma or farther out, it’s a great day trip.