Olympia, Washington, the state’s capital, is also a major cultural center of the Puget Sound region. Olympia is located just south of Seattle in the northwest part of the state, on Budd Inlet. Like most of Washington, much of the activity and attractions in Olympia are outdoors, but the city also offers a wide variety of museums, galleries, landmarks, historic sites and performing arts venues.
With its mild winters and warm summers, residents and visitors enjoy Olympia’s wide variety of public parks and nature conservation areas. The Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation area is a 600-acre parcel that preserves more than five miles of Puget Sound waterfront. Percival Landing Park features nearly a mile of boardwalk along Budd Inlet, as well as a playground and picnic areas. The Watershed Park is the site of the city’s former water works, and features a loop trail with a large second-growth forest. Other parks include Priest Point Park, Burfoot Park and Yauger Park, which is home to one of Olympia’s public skate parks. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located just outside of Olympia, as is the Capitol State Forest.
Those looking to explore the rich heritage of Olympia can take a leisurely self-guided tour through one of many historic neighborhoods. The Bigelow House Museum is located in the oldest home in Olympia, which was built in 1860 by pioneer lawyer and territorial legislator Daniel R. Bigelow and his schoolteacher wife, Ann Elizabeth White Bigelow. A charming example of a Carpenter Gothic style home, the Bigelow House contains a remarkable collection of original furnishings, photos and personal belongings.
For more of Olympia’s history, visitors can stop by the State Capital Museum and Outreach Center, located in the historic Lord Mansion, seven blocks south of the capital campus. The museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history and culture of Washington and features two floors of exhibits. Exhibits on regional Native American history and on Olympia as Washington's capital help to bring area history alive. And the Washington State Capital offers guided tours of the Legislative Building every day, every hour on the hour, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Olympic Flight Museum is an aviation heritage museum featuring a rotating display of airworthy vintage military aircraft, from trainers to helicopters to jet fighters. The museum also hosts the annual Gathering of Warbirds Airshow in Olympia. For families, the Hands On Children’s Museum is designed for children and parents to enjoy together, with four exhibit galleries including more than 50 interactive exhibits, a Young Arts Studio and a TotSpot in the Early Learning Gallery.
For dining, Olympia offers more than 100 restaurants, with something to please ever palate, from the Thai food at the Lemon Grass Restaurant, to the seafood at the Fishtale Brew Pub and Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill, to the authentic Italian menu at Trinacria Ristorante Italiano.
For the freshest food, the Olympia Farmers Market is the largest in the state, and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Sunday from April to October, and Saturday and Sunday in November and December. The Farmers Market is the place to buy local and fresh produce, meats and seafood, clams and oysters, Washington-grown apples, breads, flowers, and arts and crafts, all while enjoying live entertainment.
Like most of the state, visitors to Olympia will likely come through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, commonly known as Sea-Tac, which serves most U.S. airlines, and many international carriers. The airport is the primary hub for Alaska Airlines, and served more than 31 million passengers in 2009, making it the 17th-busiest airport in the U.S. Ground transportation, including rental cars, cabs and shuttles, are available at all major airports in the state, as well as downtown areas.
The climate of Olympia is a Marine West Coast climate, although sometimes characterized as Mediterranean. Most of western Washington's weather is brought in by weather systems that form near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The weather systems contain cold moist air, which brings western Washington cold rain, cloudiness and fog. November and December are Olympia's rainiest months. Creeks and rivers and city streets often flood during the months of November through February. Olympia averages 50.8 inches of precipitation per year -- which includes 14.7 inches of snow -- and has a year-round average of 75 percent cloud cover. According to one study, Olympia had more rainy days per year on average over the past 30 years than any city in the lower 48 states. August is the warmest month, with average high temperatures of 77°, and January is the coldest month, with average low temperatures of 32°). November through March is the rainy season for Olympia, while June through September is relatively dry.