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Best of Olympia 2020: Hands On Children’s Museum

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Photo provided by the Hands On Children’s Museum

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(Photo: The Megan D vintage schooner is a new exhibit that opened in August at the Hands On Children’s Museum. Kids can explore the real wooden vessel, climb up a six-foot rope wall, investigate the crow’s nest, walk the rickety bridge, even captain the ship.)

The Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia is consistently voted a "best of" spot in publications all over the South Sound. This incredible collection of eight galleries allows children to play and get hands-on with a different theme in each space.

More than 150 different interactive displays and exhibits occupy two floors in the building and the Outdoor Discovery Center on museum grounds. Topics include early learning, construction and design, healthy lifestyles, the environment and art.

According to Patty Belmonte, Hands On Children's Museum Executive Director, their high ratings are because of the museum's unique vision.

"Hands On is very focused on providing an outstanding visitor experience," Belmonte explained. "We invest in quality exhibits as well as innovative programming, so that there is always something new and engaging. We are fortunate to have generous regional support which has supported the creation of a museum that is truly a national leader.

"Most importantly," she continued, "we listen to our visitors and respond to their suggestions and concerns -- always working to improve the experience. The museum also offers dozens of Access programs to ensure that every child can visit the museum, regardless of income."

The museum is a special place for children who don't realize how much they are learning by playing. If you visit the museum's website, each exhibit is described by its features, along with additional information on the educational focus and learning styles. This is a great resource for parents of special-needs children to help find the perfect activities.

"We really care about what kids find interesting, and we design our indoor and outdoor exhibits based on their feedback," said Belmonte. "We ensure plenty of open-ended, child-led educational experiences. To do this, Hands On enlists the help of inventors, artists, scientists, educators and the skilled trades, among many others. We have a beautiful setting on the Puget Sound where young visitors can enjoy the natural world and numerous outdoor experiences."

Children will enjoy what's coming in April. Next month, the museum will feature "Tinkering with Trees," through which kids can learn about the wonder of trees and the many things a tree can be, from an animal habitat to a piece of furniture.

A highlight of the event will be a week of cardboard construction, during which young artists can create using oversized cardboard boxes, tape and cutting tools.

Right across the street from the museum is the WET Science Center, which can be a nice add-on to your day. The Olympia Farmers Market, just a short walk from the museum, can make for a great lunch stop. The museum also has a café, and they have tables set aside if you'd like to bring your own food from home, just nothing from another restaurant. 

HANDS ON CHILDREN'S MUSEUM, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, 414 Jefferson St. NE, Olympia, 360.9556.0818,

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