I have often wondered why Olympia, the capital of the state of Washington, is seldom talked about by Filipino tourists to the US. In my mind, there has to be something there that is Instagrammable or worth checking out. So when my sister mentioned that this capital city was along the way when we were driving from Seattle to Portland, I asked her to make a stopover so I could see for myself what the city has to offer.
Olympia is a medium-sized city 60 miles southwest of Seattle, in the southern Puget Sound region. It has an estimated population of only approximately 60,000. For thousands of years, the area was originally occupied by Native Americans belonging to the Squaxin Island Tribe. They thrived on the abundant shellfish in the area and on the many salmon-spawning streams. It was only in 1792 that the Europeans settled in the area. The city got its name from the magnificent view of the Olympic Mountains located to the northwest.
As my sister and I drove through downtown, we had the feeling we were in a small US town because there are no high-rise buildings in the city center. Instead, what we saw were small specialty shops and grocery stores lined up along the main road, none of the massive commercial and corporate establishments you would see in big cities of the US. It is interesting to note that the once-popular Olympia Beer was produced in Tumwater near the city, but the brewery closed in 2003 after encountering several legal tussles and a devastating fire.
Our first stop brought us to the city’s most popular landmark, the Washington State Capitol Building. I braved the zero-degree Celsius outside temperature and got off the car just to take a photo of it. I have to admit it was difficult to focus my camera on the building while I was shivering in my shoes. The building houses the Washington State Legislature and the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and the treasurer. It is also part of a campus consisting of several buildings, including the Supreme Court and the Governor’s Mansion.
Our next stop was the area where three popular tourist attractions are located. The Port of Olympia, a deep-water marine terminal, includes the Port Plaza, which has a big seafood restaurant offering a panoramic view of the sea and the sailing vessels moored alongside. It also has a wide-open promenade for visitors to further enjoy the scenery. A tall Observation Tower dominates the scene and would have been a nice vantage point to go up to, but the freezing temperature, being beside the sea, prevented me from staying in the area longer than necessary.
The Farmers Market is the only vendor-owner-and-operated market in the state of Washington. The bustling venue has over 100 vendors and attracts close to half-a-million visitors per year. It is open on selected days, throughout the year, depending on the season. Unfortunately, it was closed when we went there yesterday, a Sunday.
The Hands On Children’s Museum is open every day of the week. It is labeled “hands on” because it has interactive exhibits for children from 1 to 11 and is designed to stimulate their curiosity and creativity. My sister and I didn’t go in anymore as we could see from outside that it was full of school groups, and getting out of the car would also mean having to brave the zero-degree temperature again.
But, what I found interesting about Olympia is the presence of 90 artesian springs all over the city. Most of them have been reconstructed and designed to be part of the landscape. Artesian water is free-flowing, spring water that comes from underground wells and flows to the surface without requiring a pump. Water from these wells may or may not be potable, depending on how deep the well is. Those from much deeper wells may pose a health hazard due to the expected arsenic content of the bedrock. But it’s fascinating to know of this concentration of artesian wells in Olympia, something other cities in the state cannot lay claim to.
So, why is Olympia seldom talked about? Filipino tourists usually go for big cities with many entertainment options and a wide array of large commercial enterprises. Olympia is more laid back and may not be able to offer these options. However, I don’t mind some peace and quiet in a destination, as long as it offers me all the basic things I need to exist comfortably. But then again, this zero-degree temperature in winter is something I may not want to contend with.
YOUR MONDAY CHUCKLE
One day in early fall, a class of second-graders was discussing “What I want to be when I grow up.” The teacher received the usual replies—a fireman, a nurse, etc. Then she asked a boy deep in thought. He looked up with a frown and replied, “I don’t even know what I want to be for Halloween!”
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