Olympia, Washington—An Endless Procession of the Species

Come as You Are: Procession of the Species and One of the Most Eclectic Towns You’ll Ever Find

Being the capital of Washington state, Olympia’s downtown sports a lot of political and business types. Mixed into them, however, is an even larger group of oddballs, outcasts, and freaks—basically, my kind of people.

When I first moved to Olympia years ago, my first thought was that it was a sort of elephant graveyard for hippies, but that isn’t really accurate. Not fully, anyway. You’ve got exiles of the grunge era and the Heavy Metal days along with hipsters galore, intellectuals, anarchists, Baptists, all manner of people crammed together in this beautiful tie-dyed mess.

Olympia is one of the most literate cities I’ve ever been in. It’s common for me to find myself having conversations about books with waiters and baristas and any other service person I may encounter while visiting. It’s a city where intellectuals can feel at home.

But most importantly, there are simply so many different kinds of people in Olympia that anyone there can feel comfortable blending into the static.

State Capital and a Pretty Little City

Even in its most densely populated downtown areas, Olympia feels distinctly like a small town. Everything in the town is relaxed and calm. It’s a nice respite from Tacoma, Seattle, and the bigger Washington State cities.

Capitol Lake has a walking trail around its perimeter. It’s a nice stroll on a sunny day and is surprisingly full of wildlife. I’ve seen otters, seals, cranes, pelicans, and ducks in its water. I also once saw a falcon snatch a seagull out of the air over the lake. It was a stunning, if somewhat brutal, sight, which I will never forget.

Olympia, Washington’s Endless Procession of the Species

Every year, in celebration of Earth Month, Olympia holds the Procession of the Species parade. It is, by far, the quirkiest— sometimes outright bizarre, and always fun—parade I have ever beheld. To me, the event encapsulates the city itself. It’s as if the Procession never really stops, as if it’s always going on and the parade day is simply the one day a year when everyone takes off their normal-person costume and dresses as they really are.

The city has an independent, creative spirit that has always stuck in my heart. I lived here and in neighboring Lacey for over a decade. I had to move for a job, but Olympia has never truly left my heart.

Waterfront Outperforms Its Size

Olympia’s waterfront walk isn’t something you often see advertised, but it’s a nice trek full of good viewing of the water, sail boats, mountainous horizon, and the works of art scattered around the docks like secret magic.

Some of the exhibits, such as the “Kissing Statue” featured on the main page this article, are permanent, but some of the other installments change every year with new contest entries.

Underrated Foodie Scene

I’m not sure how well known Olympia is for its food scene, but I know that I personally love driving down there to eat. Like everything else in the city, the restaurants are marked by uniqueness. South Bay Dickerson’s BBQ‘s decor mixes a refurbished garage with old farming equipment and…reggae. The odd combination creates a relaxed vibe. Their BBQ, by the way, is awesome.

Old School Pizzeria is the “most Oly” restaurant in Olympia. The pizza is brick oven and reminds me of the pizza I grew up eating on the east coast. The restaurant itself is decorated with a seemingly random assortment of 80s and 90s posters, fish tanks, Millennium Falcons, blasting punk and metal music, and much more. It also has the single gnarliest bathroom I’ve ever been in—and I mean that in a really good way. They have vegan and gluten free options galore, as well.

If you’re more up for a full dinner and conversation type of place, I don’t think the Iron Rabbit can be beat. The food is fresh, high quality, healthy, and delicious.

Olympia’s a Little City With a Big Heart

There’s just something about Olympia. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it, but if you asked many of the people who choose to live there and make a long commute to work in Seattle or Tacoma, they’ll tell you the same thing.

They have a saying in Olympia: “It’s in the water.” This was once used by Olympia Beer as their official slogan, but the saying is more than a sales pitch. Olympia sits over a natural aquifer. If you go to downtown you can find a metal spout from which the water runs all day, every day. Locals go there to fill up jugs for drinking water. People congregate around the area and sip at will on hot days. The old story, and one which some people still hold to as true, was that the water had magical healing properties. I don’t know about all of that, of course, but I do know that there is something magical about the spirit of the city. It’s hard to even describe, exactly.

Go check it out and discover some of the city’ odd charm for yourself.

Tacoma, Washington: Just the Right Combination of Glitz and Grit

In Tacoma, History and Innovation Blend Seamlessly

Come to Tacoma for beautiful historic landmarks standing right beside newly constructed museums and restaurants. Feel free to wear your best dress or your favorite pair of blue jeans. This city doesn’t ask anyone to put on any airs.

As anybody who has lived in the Puget Sound Basin will attest, Tacoma has a bit of a reputation around these parts. Many see it as the Gotham City of the Pacific Northwest. In that aspect, the city has attained a kind of mythical status, a steam-painted town in a black and white movie that will never be colorized.

Some of this reputation was earned in the city’s past. This place was was built by the blistered hands of longshoreman, fishermen, and the men of the train yard. Later, particularly in the 80s and 90s, the city became synonymous with gang violence.

Those days are gone, though, and downtown Tacoma is a thriving place full of culture and energy.

The rebirth initiated by the construction of the University of Washington, Tacoma’s campus has brought all kinds of worthwhile sites to this city. Yet, underneath these renovations, Tacoma still maintains its gritty character. Amidst the museums and theaters and galleries, there is also the remnant of the industrial heart of this city, still beating, and still beautiful in its rusted, corrugated way.

The City’s Got Soul

This is the kind of city that I appreciate. It’s got its best Sunday dress on, but there’s a bit of dirt underneath those fingernails to show that this place still has a soul. Its daddy didn’t put it through art school. No, it had to work nights at the packing yard to get through.

Stand at the corner of Market and South 11th and you’ll see art murals painted on building fronts, Mount Rainier, and the cranes and boats of a working waterfront, all in one sweep of the eye. Tacoma probably wouldn’t appear in a Beatles song, but it could be the star of a Tom Waits album. Springsteen would appreciate the heart of this place, too, I think.

For all its new culture and energy, Tacoma still is not a city that puts on airs. You can sit in bar and meet real human beings. Far as I’m concerned, it’s got the perfect balance of glamour and grit.

The City’s Better than just Pretty and Nice—It’s Straight Up Poetic

I love this city, and this post comes from the ragged guts of my poetic sensibility, I know. I can’t help it. But there’s a more businesslike introduction to Tacoma, as well, that I wrote for the fantastic folks of Travelicious.

That introduction catalogs all the sites for you potential tourists. It shows you how you can see the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Chihuly Bride of Glass, and the Washington State History Museum all in one day, entirely on foot. The trip would also have you around the shops, restaurants, and taverns that surround the University of Washington, Tacoma campus.

Follow the link below, adventurer, and see what Tacoma has to offer. All poetic sentimentality aside, this is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend, or longer.