Straddling the Budd Inlet and Olympia Lake around 100 kilometres to the south-west of Seattle, Olympia is the official capital of Washington State. It was initially established as a customs centre but has since emerged as a major cultural hub in the Puget Sound region.
Olympia is a vibrant college town, home to the South Puget Sound Community College and a diverse community of artists and musicians. Numerous theatres dot the city, together with independent galleries and public art installations. The Washington State Capitol Building is its most impressive piece of architecture, with its white dome visible from town, and guided tours offer a glimpse into its opulent interior, including a five-ton Tiffany chandelier. Olympia’s Percival Landing boardwalk hugs the waterfront, and it’s here that the Olympia Farmers Market is held, showcasing locally-sourced berries, handcrafted cheese and oysters. Bigelow House Museum is Olympia’s oldest house, decorated in original furnishings that offer a glimpse into early 19th century life, or head to the Olympic Flight Museum where heritage planes and helicopters are on display. If visitors are travelling with young ones, then the exceptional Hands on Children’s Museum shouldn’t be missed, or visit the WET Science Centre which boasts a range of interactive exhibits. Olympia is also renowned for its surrounding natural beauty, including Mount Rainier National Park with its spectacular lookouts, waterfalls and old-growth Grove of the Patriarchs. The Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve to the south-west is another popular hiking destination, home to bubble-like mounds and spectacular wildflower displays in spring.
Olympia is connected with destinations across the country by rail from Centennial Station, while buses connect it to the rest of Washington State. There is a free public shuttle bus route known as “Dash” which runs from Capitol Campus to the far end of downtown at the Farmer’s Market, and the city’s bus fleet runs entirely on biodiesel fuel.
The land on which the city of Olympia was built has long been home to the indigenous Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, and Duwamish people, with the first Europeans visiting in 1792 when the British Vancouver Expedition chartered the region. The town became established as immigrants travelling along the Oregon Trail settled and was named in 1850 for its views across towards the Olympic Mountains which lie to the north-west.