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By Lauren Kramer
(For Travel Writers' Tales)

Thurston County in Washington State is best known for its jewel, Olympia, a stately, historic and scenic city filled with soaring examples of Greco-Roman architecture and irresistibly browsable book shops, galleries and boutiques. Washington's version of Victoria, its beautiful state buildings are on a bluff overlooking the ocean and its 278-foot high capitol dome is visible from most everywhere. A five hour drive from Vancouver, it's a great destination for a weekend away.

There are daily tours of the capitol dome and we gladly joined one led by Ed Smith, a 30-year history teacher whose father had once served in the legislature. He primed our small group on the European marble, carved masonry and more than 300 Tiffany lights and chandeliers that decorate the interior. It's an impressive, palatial building and one that certainly lends gravity to Washington's history and the business of lawmaking.

Photo 1

It was less-than-fascinating for a six-year-old, though, which is why our next stop was the very antidote: the Hands On Children's Museum of Olympia. These days almost every city has a children's museum but not one like this. "Our goal was to only feature exhibits from the Pacific Northwest, things children might see in their own back yards," said Jillian Henze, communications manager for the 28,000-square-foot museum. Best suited for the three-to-eight-year-old crowd, this innovative space delves into the farm to fork eating experience, the Puget Sound waterway, the forest and the lifecycle of water. Touching is mandatory here and by interacting with the exhibits children learn how currents flow, how large a bald eagles' nest really is, how water and wind pressure work, how to build a house and where food comes from. My daughter Maya had to be dragged out of the museum at closing time.

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We left Olympia the next day for Grand Mound, 20 minutes away and home Great Wolf Lodge or Washington's Disneyland equivalent. The massive indoor waterpark is a hedonistic kids' paradise, with waterslides that sweep riders on a variety of fast, circuitous watery journeys, a large wave pool and two well-designed water play structures one for toddlers and the other for kids seven and younger. There's easily enough to do in the waterpark alone for a half-day's entertainment. But once you towel off there's much more. Around us kids were running around with plastic wands, engrossed in MagiQuest, a game wherein they explore an enchanted kingdom, gain magic powers, learn from the Book of Wisdom and battle a dragon. The game, which runs throughout the lodge, lasts four-to-six hours and occupies them for the duration of their stay. At the end of their stay parents emerge looking flushed and exhausted from the combination of heat, chlorine and noise, while their kids come out starry-eyed and determined to return.

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We took the long road back to Olympia on Old Highway 99 to get a glimpse of Tenino, a sleepy city with a fascinating history. I was anxious to learn about its sandstone legacy, which dates back to 1888 with the discovery of a large sandstone deposit, a popular building material in the pre-concrete era. In the four decades that followed Tenino quarries supplied sandstone for buildings in San Francisco, Vancouver BC, Missoula, Mont. and elsewhere. When the quarries closed in the late 1920s, one of them, the Tenino Stone Company Quarry, was deliberately flooded with water from natural springs by the City of Tenino. It was transformed into a 95-foot deep swimming pool with beautiful, terraced walls that bear evidence of its history. There's wooden money on display at the Tenino Depot Museum, an emergency scrip issued by the Tenino Chamber of Commerce during the Great Depression.

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There's one final stop you should make before leaving Tenino, and that's the Sandstone Distillery, located on the family farm of John Bourdon. For the past year he's been at the helm of the first legal distillery in the county since prohibition, making small batches of gin, vodka and whiskey from Washington-grown grains. If you love bacon and whiskey this may be your only opportunity to try a combination of the two in one carefully crafted bottle.

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For general information on Olympia surf to or call the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor + Convention Bureau.
The Hands-On Children's Museum, the busiest children's museum in the state, is open daily until 5pm and admission costs $10.95.Admission is freeon the first Friday evening of every month from 5-9pm. Info:; (360) 956-0818
The Sandstone Distillery (; 360-239-7272) is located at 842 Wright Rd. SE. in Tenino. Its products are available at select liquor stores in Olympia.
Free tours of the Washington State Legislative Building run every hour on the hour from 10-3 weekdays and 11-3 on weekends.
You have to stay to play at Great Wolf Lodge, where accommodation starts around $210/night for a family of 4-6 and includes water park passes. Info:; (866) 798-9653
Getting to Olympia is a straight shot on the I-5, 276 km south of the Peace Arch Border Crossing.

PHOTOS: As attributed below

1. "Touching is mandatory at the Hands On Children's Museum, an interactive, innovative space that's become the city's most popular attraction. Photo: Courtesy Hands On Children's Museum
2. Kids get to climb into a reconstructed bald eagles' nest at the Hands-On Children's Museum in Olympia, an interactive space full of innovative exhibits. Photo: Lauren Kramer
3.Woodland creatures come alive at Great Wolf Lodge in a short musical story that delights the younger crowd and plays at regular intervals in the lodge's foyer. Photo: Lauren Kramer
4. The massive indoor waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge is an exhilarating place to spend a wintry weekend. Photo: Courtesy Great Wolf Lodge.
5. At John Bourdon's Sandstone Distillery in Tenino, visitors can sample vodka, white whiskey, whisky and gin made from Washington-grown grains. Photo: Lauren Kramer

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