Government activity may drive Olympia, Washington state’s capitol, but the modest-sized city offers vibrant culture, a charming downtown, and a range of outdoor activities for residents of all occupations. Olympia boasts a low unemployment rate, a strong, well-supported school system, and a mild climate (with a little more rain than usual). Below are just a few things that locals love about Olympia.
1. Good restaurants
Olympia offers a range of restaurant options, most notably organic pizzeria i.talia, Fifth Avenue Sandwich Shop and American favorite Cicada. Iron Rabbit Restaurant & Bar serves quality burgers, sandwiches and other entrees in a family-friendly environment. The casual spot also offers 15 craft beers on tap, wine and cocktails made from local vodka infused in house. Those with food sensitivities will appreciate Iron Rabbit’s gluten-free menu.
2. Great neighborhoods
Located near the capitol building, the tree-lined south capitol neighborhood offers urban living with a small-town, community feel. Young professionals and new families can walk to many restaurants, coffee shops, a produce market, kids activities and arts events. This is a safe neighborhood with good schools nearby.
3. Cultural opportunities, even for kids
The Hands-On Children’s Museum offers a range of exhibits for kids, families and school groups. Considered the “premier provider of hands-on science and art education in southwest Washington,” the museum hosts exhibits in eight galleries for newborns to 10-year-olds. Topics include early learning, construction and design, healthy lifestyles, the environment, and art. [Photo courtesy of Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau]
4. Fresh produce
For more than 38 years, the Olympia Farmers Market has brought locally grown produce, fresh fruit, handcrafted items, baked goods, and meat and dairy products to the downtown community. Spend an afternoon chatting with the local vendors, selecting a bounty of fresh food and checking out the live entertainment. Bonus: free parking!
5. Great schools
Awarded a GreatSchools rating of nine for its high test scores, Olympia High School serves more than 1,800 students in grades nine through twelve. “Oly” offers a broad range of extracurricular activities, athletics opportunities and vocational classes. In a recent survey, 86 percent received a 3, 4 or 5 on AP tests. The school has a 93.3 percent graduation rate.
6. Outdoor activities
Olympia has an abundance of public parks, including saltwater beach parks, lakefront parks and urban respites, such as Yauger Park. Priest Point Park’s 314 acres near the Puget Sound contains fox, deer, newts, birds and an abundance of marine life. The park includes picnic areas, a playground and wooded trails, many of which include steep pitches and boardwalks. [Photo by Davide Roe]
7. Fun special events
Want to make some butterfly wings with your neighbor and join a procession of thousands of costumed souls through the streets of Olympia? The one-of-a-kind Procession of the Species encourages costumes that celebrate the natural world. The annual celebration aims to bridge the arts, the environment, and the local community through seven weeks of art, dance, and music workshops, culminating in a procession on Earth Day.
8. Views of Mt. Ranier
It’s about an hour’s drive away, but its presence is felt even in Olympia, especially on a clear day. Mt. Ranier, Washington’s highest peak (14,410 feet), is one of a chain of volcanoes in the Cascade Mountains. Its park offers visitors centers, campsites, and trails from which one can view flora, fauna, and wildlife. Tip: Go midweek to avoid the crowds.