The southernmost finger of the Puget Sound points to Olympia, almost a geographic exclamation point. Here sits the state capital, home to the Governor’s Mansion and the Washington Capitol Campus. The sprawling lawns, sunken gardens, and stately buildings on campus sit along the reflective Capitol Lake and are an excellent place to have lunch after exploring the whispery halls and rotundas of the Capitol.
In spite of its political significance, this is a town that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Take the quirky Evergreen State College, for instance. This Olympia institution works on a free-spirited model that’s dumped traditional letter grades and whose mascot is a mollusk. The fun vibe seeps into all aspects of the culture here, where creative cuisine and funky art galleries can be found in spades.
Visitors will also find Olympia an ideal outpost for exploration of the rural and natural surroundings that fringe its outermost borders. Along the Puget Sound, one can find marshy wildlife reserves. To the south lay lonely country roads passing Christmas tree farms, cow pastures, and sleepy hamlets like Tenino, where folks still send the kids off to swim in the old sandstone quarry. Just south of the city, one can stumble upon the mysterious Mima Mounds in the prairies that unfold near Capitol Forest.
Olympia also marks the last exit along I-5 before venturing on toward the forested path to the Olympic Peninsula and the US 101 loop.
Getting to Olympia
There are no scheduled passenger flights to Olympia; take a van to Sea-Tac instead. Capital Aeroporter (360/754-7113 or 800/962-3579, www.capair.com) and Centralia-SeaTac Airport Express (360/786-0636 or 800/773-9490) both serve Olympia and surrounding bedroom communities.
Intercity Transit (360/786-1881 or 800/287-6348, www.intercitytransit.com) has daily service to Olympia, Tumwater, and most of Thurston County. All buses have bike racks. The Olympia Transit Center is on State Street between Franklin and Washington Streets.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition