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2 5 GROUP TRAVEL LE ADER T H E B Y B R I A N J E W E L L LIFE'S A BREEZE ACROSS T he Pacific Northwest occupies a singu- lar place in our collective imagination, and for good reason: The evergreen forests, towering mountains, quaint waterfronts and distinctive culture make the region a unique part of the American landscape. These elements are on full display in the Puget Sound region of northwest Washington. Whether you explore the iconic sights, sounds and flavors of Seattle; take in the national parks around Olympia; immerse yourself in the maritime history of Gig Harbor; or take a wildlife-watch- ing expedition in the San Juan Islands, a trip to Washington promises to deliver experiences that fulfill your expectations for the beautiful, one-of- a-kind Northwest. O LY M P I A : P I C T U R E S Q U E PA R K S A N D B O U N T I F U L B Y WAY S Situated at the southern tip of Puget Sound, Olympia serves as northwest Washington's hub of outdoor exploration. But groups should also take some time to explore the area's rich history, agricultural heritage and growing beer scene. First things first, though: Olympia is ideally situated at the midpoint of two of the region's most scenic national parks. "We are so close to Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park," said Jeff Rowe, director of sales at the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitors and Convention Bureau. "A lot of our tour groups use Olympia as a home base, then do hub- and-spoke tours to those parks. Olympic National Park is about an hour-and-a-half drive, and that takes you through a beautiful national rain forest. Mount Rainier National Park is about a two-hour drive. There, people can go up to the visitors center at Paradise Lodge, which can also be the starting point for a number of terrific hikes." Within Olympia itself, a number of museums and attractions will give groups a feel for the area's history. The Olympic Flight Museum features a collection of vintage aircraft that range from World War II to the Vietnam era. The museum is located at the airport right next to Glacier Aviation, which offers helicopter tours of the surrounding area. Another popular stop is the Schmidt House, a historic mansion built by one of the first families to brew beer in Olympia using water from nearby sources. Groups touring the home will learn about the family, their iconic Olympia Beer and the his- tory of brewing in the area. Beer isn't just history in Olympia, though. Microbreweries have been popping up around town, offering modern twists on a regional tradition. "Fish Tail Ale has a beer that was voted best beer in the world last year by the World Beer Council," Rowe said. "They offer a brewery tour, where they talk about the process of collecting hops from eastern Washington, brewing the beer here and distributing it. They also give some of the byproducts back to local farmers to help them feed their animals. The farms sell them cheese at reduced prices, and they sell that cheese in their restaurant." Breweries, as well as some area organic farms, WA S H I N G T O N ' S TUMWATER FALLS PARK IS A FAVORITE SPOT FOR PHOTOS NEAR OLYMPIA. Artwork by David Brown P U G E T S O U N D