Real Estate in Olympia
Things to do
Olympia: ‘It’s the Water.’ But it’s also the location, people, and history that makes this one of the best cities to call home in Washington State
Olympia, “It’s the Water.” You may have seen this slogan plastered on everything from billboards to beer cans since 1902. The phrase represented the reason that the beer made in the city with the same name was said to be like none other, and took the top spot as the most popular regional beer for more than half a century. “It’s the water” meant exactly what it proclaimed, as the beer was brewed from the abundant artesian wells that spring forth from the city that lies at the southernmost tip of the Puget Sound. But in Olympia, it’s not just the water—it’s the people too. And the central location. And as the site of Washington State’s capital, the unique culture and rich natural resources make Olympia one of the best cities to purchase a home in Washington.
History of Olympia
History of Olympia
Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, while technically are three separate cities, overlap and are interwoven, making up Thurston County’s economic hub. Tumwater, and its site along the Deschutes River that courses throughout Thurston County, was once the gathering place for the Steh-Chass or Lushootseed-speaking people for thousands of years. Long before the arrival of the white man, the Indigenous Peoples of this region revered and looked to the salmon, cedar, and waterways for subsistence. The name, “Tumwater” means “waterfall” in Chinook Jargon, and the site of the historic Olympia Brewery, built in 1896, sits on the banks where the Deschutes River plunges into one of its most beautiful cascades. By 1846, Edmund Sylvester and Levi Lathrop Smith, the area’s first white settlers, jointly claimed the land that is now downtown Olympia. By 1850, the town settled on the name “Olympia” because of its unobstructed view of the Olympic Mountains to the northwest. By 1859, Olympia was recorded as a town, and by 1882, a city. A city that is now home to over 52,000 people, with another 49,000 residing in Lacey and 23,000 more in Tumwater.
Things to do in Olympia
Things to do in Olympia
There is no shortage of things to do in Olympia, and if you are looking to buy a home in Olympia, visit the city on a weekend and get started scratching a few things off of your Olympia Bucket List:
Tour the State Capital Campus and the Capitol Dome and then take the switchbacks down to Capital Lake for a walk around the water and park built to reflect the image of the Dome.
Visit Olympia’s Pinball Museum and for a flat-fee play of any of their pinball machines or arcade games. The owners have a collection of over 200 machines and regularly rotate them in and out of the space.
Take a walk through Priest Point Park, a 314-acre park that has over one mile of public shoreline and a dense conifer forest.
Dine at one of the many waterfront restaurants in downtown Olympia where you’ll find a mix of regional cuisine, wood-fired pizza, vegan fare, a rollicking list of brewhouses, and everything in between.
Take a hot yoga class or float in a sensory-deprivation chamber at Oly Float.
Cycle the Chehalis-Western trail that connects the entirety of Thurston County through 20 miles of paved trails that meet up with another 14-mile trail system that enables users to reach every corner of the county. A local tip is to bring a bucket in August because this repurposed, abandoned railway system is the site of the City’s best stash of blackberries.
Splash around at the splash pad located on Olympia’s westside, or walk through the fountain that erupts water in rhythmic intervals in Olympia’s downtown.
Get a day-pass at Olympia’s State-of-the-Art rock climbing gym, Cirque Climbing, and test your mettle on their auto-belay routes where a brief safety introduction to the equipment is in exchange for experience.
Shop around at Capital Mall in west Olympia.
Take a class at Arbutus Folk School and learn the art of blacksmithing or how to master the pottery wheel.
On the shores of Budd Inlet, many residents want to buy a home in Olympia along the waterfront. You can stand in downtown Olympia and look one way at Capital Lake, and then turn your head the other way for a view of the Puget Sound. Interstate 5, the main north-south Interstate Highway on the West Coast of the United States, cuts right through Olympia, and a quick jaunt north on it will get you to the metropolises of Tacoma in a half-hour, and to Seattle in an hour. Steer yourself toward the south along the same freeway and you can be at the Washington border and into the City of Portland, Oregon in one hour and forty-five minutes. If it’s the natural world that you seek, Olympia’s central location between two National Parks makes for a common problem for residents: which one to choose? Head northwest on highway 101 along the sparkling shores of Hood Canal, and you can be at the southernmost entrance of Olympic National Park at Staircase in about an hour and fifteen minutes. To visit Mount Rainier National Park, Olympians head east and a little south to venture up into the Cascade Range whose tallest peak, Mount Rainier, or Tahoma, as it was named by the Indigenous peoples, is an active stratovolcano that rises 14,411 feet above sea level. By boat, Olympia is part of a web of waterways that probe through the Puget Sound like fingers on an outstretched hand, and with the right vessel, boaters can make their way north from Olympia and eventually out through a westward passage called the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Skip the turn and sail on up through the Strait of Georgia and you’ll float on into Canada.
Olympia is Washington State’s “Capital City” and the homes in the South Capitol Neighborhood directly adjacent to the Capitol Dome are some of the city’s oldest, most charming, and, you guessed it—most expensive.
Most of these homes are occupied by folks in the State government, but occasionally they come up for sale. If you are looking to buy a home in Olympia, keep your eye on this neighborhood because it’s truly one of the most desirable in the city.
It should come as no surprise then, that the top employer in Olympia is, by far and away, the Washington State Government. With over 17,000 employees, the Capital provides the most jobs for the city, with the municipal government taking the second spot employing about 3,600 workers, and the third spot is occupied by the largest hospital in the area, Providence St. Peter, which provides jobs for another 2,000 more Olympians.
Olympia is also home to the Port of Olympia whose facilities support the lumber economy, oyster farming, dairying, brewing, and many other industries. The industrial complex of the Port of Olympia is large and capable of receiving seaborne container freight. In fact, a walk along this part of the City’s waterfront regularly provides exciting views of large cranes loading steel container boxes on massive cargo ships that transport the region’s goods to far-flung destinations.
Arts in Olympia
Arts in Olympia
Olympia is the center of the South Sound’s celebration of fine arts. From visual arts to the spoken word, to music and dancing, Olympia is a clearinghouse for artists from across the region.
The historic Evergreen Ballroom, and grand dancehall that was sorely lost in a fire, played host to some of the most prolific acts of the 20th century with marquee attractions such as Louis Armstrong, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Hank Williams, Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Fred Astaire, Janis Joplin, and even The King himself, Elvis Presley.
Nowadays, Olympia still attracts many big-name acts to their modern facility, the Washington Center for the Performing Arts where people from around the region gather to see live performances and familiar faces.
One thing you’ll notice about Olympia’s vibrant downtown core is that the City prioritizes art in public spaces and consistently commissions local artists to, literally, paint the town. Whether it is murals on the sides of buildings, or creating the art for the vinyl-wrapped traffic boxes, or even installing a mosaic at the City’s public artesian well, Olympia artists are regularly celebrated for the unique individuals that they are and their wonderful contributions to Olympia life.
A seasonal event where Olympians love to gather takes place during the City’s spring Arts Walk where local artists display their creations downtown inside of local businesses in the very best showcase of shopping and arts combined.
The end of the weekend-long event culminates in the Procession of the Species where every plant, animal, ecosystem, and other iteration of the natural world are depicted by dressed-up humans who often work together to make large-scale floats, puppets, and costumes in a community-ran art studio. Nearly 3,000 participants snake through the town and various different groups and troupes perform songs and dance routines that they have choreographed and practiced throughout the entire winter.
In 2009, Reader's Digest magazine honored the Procession of the Species with the top spot in its “can’t resist” parades and procession list. Though locals often joke that it’s the Parade of Hippies, each and every resident of Olympia would tell you that to witness the Procession is to witness sheer magic.
Schools in Olympia
Schools in Olympia
No matter what you’re aiming to learn, whether it's a new skill or hobby, or a deep delve into academia, Olympia has a host of schools and colleges at the ready. The Olympia School District, highly sought-after and award-winning, provides the city's elementary education. South Puget Sound Community College has a respected nursing program, and the nation’s first associate degree program in craft brewing, distilling, and cider making. (Once a beer town, always a beer town.) The Evergreen State College, located deep in the woods in the outskirts of Olympia toward Mud Bay has provided a thoughtful and intriguing liberal arts education since 1971. Its baccalaureate programs and master’s degrees regularly graduate students that are not only free-thinkers but are resourceful, engaged, and socially aware.
One thing is for certain, Olympia is the quirkiest, most fun, most original city in the entire South Sound. To buy a house in Olympia is to buy into a future that is secure and rapidly growing, with no shortage of places to work, things to do, and people to see.
Although Olympia is large in size and population, it has still somehow managed to retain its small-town community feel and charm. It's easy to get involved in Olympia, and even easier to drown out one of its gray drizzly days with a good book by a local author and a cup of locally-roasted coffee.
The artesian brewing is still there too, with Well 80 Brewhouse picking up where Leopold Schmidt, the founder of Olympia Beer left off. The 1896 historic Brewhouse Tower is even being lovingly restored in a millions-of-dollars and many-years-long project to make the derelict building accessible to the community once again.
Olympia could be lovingly described as a town full of nostalgic, regional zealots who take pride in their town and its long and storied history. So much so, that they sometimes recreate history, like the time when Well 80 found Leopold Schmidt’s original Olympia beer recipe from the late 1800s and rebrewed for all to taste, using the same water that has been sipped straight from the source since the beginning of time.
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