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Olympia, WA

Olympia, Washington, was given its name due to the fact that the majestic Olympic Mountains could be seen from the town's site off to the northwest. Founded in 1853, it became the state capital when Washington became a state in 1889. It is also the county seat of Thurston County.

Olympia covers 18.5 square miles at the southern end of the Puget Sound. Capital Lake, one of the lakes in the area, was created in Olympia as a result of damming the Deschutes River estuary. While the city has suffered earthquake damage over the years (in 1949, 1965, and 2001), it still provides a stable and structured environment for Olympia's approximately 45,000 residents.

Residents of the city enjoy sunny and warm summers, but their winters are very gray with a heavy rainfall. There is often a veil of fog over the city during the winter and, during the months from November to February, flooding of the city's creeks, rivers, and city streets is common.

Much of the arts and culture scene of Olympia comes as a result of nearby Evergreen State College. In 2003, Olympia was named by Outside magazine as one of the best college towns in the United States.

EDUCATION

There are a number of private schools and public schools in Olympia that educate the town's young residents. More than 12,000 students are enrolled in Olympia's 25 public schools, which are taught by nearly 600 teachers to create a student-to-teacher ratio of 21-to-1. The area's 11 private schools enroll just more than 1,000 students, who are taught by about 100 teachers. The student-to-teacher ratio in private schools is much lower at 11-to-1.

Olympia also has options for those seeking higher education:

  • Evergreen State College: Evergreen is known for its unique approach to learning, as evidenced in the school's examination of new ways to cure diseases and its experimental theater. Students may earn a master's degree in teaching, education, environmental studies, or public administration, as well as undergraduate degrees in aesthetics, classics, communications, history, literature, theater, zoology, and more.
  • South Puget Sound Community College: This institution is a public, two-year college. It was founded in 1962 as the Olympia Vocational Technical Institute but expanded to become a community college in 1980. In fall 2006, there were more than 6,000 students enrolled.

ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES

Olympia has historically relied heavily on its port facilities and its lumber-based industries. Later, oyster farming and dairying became integral to the city's economy. After World War II, the city became a major transportation and service center for local lumber communities.

When compared to nearby towns and cities, Olympia has a small number of technology-based companies. Rather, it relies on the production of wood products, processed foods, metals, and paper products.

State employment is the largest employer in Olympia. Providence St. Peter Hospital is the largest private employer. Local and tribal government and public school districts are also major employers.

NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS

Olympia prides itself on being a very walkable city. Many of the neighborhoods are specifically designed to be pedestrian-friendly:

  • Eastside: This neighborhood offers some of the best sights in the city, including several views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. There are also stretches of this neighborhood lined with tall and shady trees, perfect to provide some shade for walks in the warmer summer months.
  • Bigelow: This neighborhood offers the oldest home in the city: the 1854 Bigelow Home. There are a number of other interesting, old, and historical homes in this neighborhood, as well as mature trees and shrubbery. Residents enjoy walking to and exploring the small yet friendly Bigelow Park. Offering a view of the East Bay Marina, explorers of this neighborhood may also be rewarded with sightings of Great Blue Herons, Goldeneyes, Cormorants, and more.
  • The Capitol Historic District covers an area of approximately 12 square blocks and is home to several historic buildings dating back to 1912. Though the city has grown tremendously since the end of World War II, Olympia's old-fashioned downtown core remains the heart of the town. This area around the Capitol Building is also a popular residential neighborhood.

BEST BETS

Cultural attractions in Olympia include:

  • Hands-on Children's Museum: This museum features exhibits designed to help educate and entertain children, all in an interactive way.
  • Washington State Capitol Museum: Offering a history of the state capital and relevant regional information, history buffs will not want to miss a visit to this museum.
  • Percival Landing: One of three waterfront parks, Percival Landing has a mile long walkway featuring public art. There is a red sign for each work with a phone number listed to call to find out about the artwork.

EVENTS

Activities enjoyed in Olympia include bicycling, boating, canoeing, kayaking, golfing, hiking, and gambling. Annual events for residents and visitors to consider include:

  • Arts Walk: This annual event, held every spring, has been going on for more than 35 years. The work of hundreds of local artists is on display at more than 100 businesses in town. Also featured at this event are performance art, demonstrations, and improv.
  • Outdoor Life Festival: This event, also held in the spring, is intended for patrons of all ages to examine some of the latest camping, backpacking, and kayaking gear.

DID YOU KNOW?

Olympia is known as a culturally vivacious city and has a vibrant music scene. Riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney took its name from the city's Sleater-Kinney Road. Kurt Cobain, front man for the grunge band Nirvana, wrote most of the band's album Nevermind while living in the city. Courtney Love's band, Hole, wrote and recorded "Olympia," a song on its album Live Through This, and Rancid, another nationally known band, offered its tribute to the city in "Olympia, WA."