Olympia may be the seat of Washington's government, but it's about way more than civics. The state capital is a delightfully energetic arts town, where a walk through the old-fashioned downtown brings you through a riot of visual and performing arts. Check it out for photography, sculpture, textiles, metallurgy and creativity in all forms.
Inventive displays are quietly woven into everyday life here, whether in the bright designs on professionally painted bus-stop benches, the flower shop that might suddenly double as an exhibition space or the mix of classic plays and innovative new acts at the historic State Theater, a grand old movie house now specializing in live shows.
Never mind the rain. Artisans and artists alike shelter in the mostly enclosed Olympia Farmers Market—one of the largest in the Northwest—Thursday through Sunday from April through October, on weekends in November and December and Saturdays January through March. Check out this waterfront attraction for intriguing woodworking and handmade paper, seven different varieties of pluots at the same farm stand and tiny cucumbers and floppy green-gold branches of pickling dill.
More than 100 businesses participate in Arts Walk twice a year in April and October, a great time to meet artists and see their freshest works. Full-time art galleries abound year-round, too, and one that perfectly captures the Oly ethos is Splash Gallery, a cooperative local community effort.
The Olympia Film Festival runs for 10 days in November, featuring independent movies and educational panels and forums. In December, the film society hosts an annual “Duck the Malls” arts-and-crafts sale featuring holiday gifts from local artists.
Refresh: This is a small town, but its best food spots rival those of the big city. At the Bread Peddler, relax over French pastries, fresh salads and superb baguette sandwiches. Meanwhile, the big, comfy Batdorf & Bronson coffee shop brews beans that were roasted just down the street.