OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON – Seattle is known for its rainy weather, grunge metal music, and coffee fixation. But when a work conference brought me to the area, I headed for my tenth stop on the state capitols tour in Olympia, Washington, just sixty miles down Interstate 5.
With a tiny rental car and big enthusiasm, I arrived in Olympia before 10am on a quiet Monday morning. The Visitors Center seemed like a reasonable place to start, though the $1.50/hr parking and three hour maximum sent the opposite signal. The Center didn’t open until 10am despite the fact that there were quite a few tourists milling around, including more than a few who strangely stood by the doors waiting for the Center to open instead of, you know, visiting the Capitol they presumably came to see.
I made a beeline for the Capitol and ducked inside. Like most capitols, the security profile was visible but passive, meaning that I could wander around without being bothered. The building itself was nice if somewhat unremarkable.
The most interesting trait in Olympia is that (1) the whole infrastructure of state government seems to be located right on the capitol area campus, and (2) they really did it right when they integrated the campus into the natural landscape.
Wandering around the grounds it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t just the Capitol, but a one-stop shop for state government. They have most if not all of the bureaucracy right there on campus – likely meaning that if you try to eliminate someone’s department, they can be hustled to the visitor’s gallery to hoot and holler at a moment’s notice. Also, there’s a good chance that after the shouting died down, you’d probably bump into them at lunch.
The best part of the Capitol, though, is how they played to their strength. The natural landscape is already beautiful, with Budd Inlet to the north and Tumwater Falls to the south, so they didn’t need to do a bunch of work making the buildings special – they needed to make it so the buildings didn’t mess up the views; and they succeeded.
Wandering north from the Capitol, there is a dirt trail down the hillside that leads to the banks of Capitol Lake and a stone’s throw from Budd Inlet. But rather than throwing stones at water, it was more fun to wander down Main Street, Olympia. I grabbed a terrific breakfast at The Spar Cafe, a place inspired enough to marry potato hash browns with gravy, cheese, and sausage and call it a meal. It was glorious.
I wrapped up in Olympia after three hours in town and gave strong consideration to going for my second-ever two capitol day with a stop in Salem, Oregon. With the weather looking dicey and 160 miles each way intimidating, discretion became the better part of valor.
Nonetheless, my visit to Olympia was my tenth State Capitol visit – only 40 more to go!