Come as You Are: Olympia Has One of the Most Eclectic Populations 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.