May 3, 2009

why I love Olympia

I recently received an email from far, far away:
So somehow this zany kayaking family found your blog and were wondering if someone such as yourself could shed some (sun)light? on why a crew with two little boys (4th and 6th grade) would love Olympia (or not). We're particularly interested in your opinions on the schools!

Thanks for your help!
Happy to, kayaking out-of-towners. I have many reasons to love Olympia. So I don't seem obsessed, I'll stick with just ten, keeping brand names out of it, and let others chime in as they wish.

The people.
Friendly, laid back, passionate. Hippie-greener-preppy-hipster-wonk-logger-retiree-goth-punks dot the landscape.

Restaurants, galleries, wine shops, too many coffee bars to count, restaurants, antique stores, more restaurants, book stores, the fountain, the Ugly Building, more coffee bars.

Arts Walk.
Combines the best of 1 and 2. Art, local mostly, with food, music, and a cast of thousands. Walk from station to station on the tour, or just amble around aimlessly, people-watching all the while. On a successive Friday and Saturday, the April version is best; it includes the fabled Procession of the Species.

The waterfront.

At sunset the boardwalk, with its view of the Capitol and the Olympics, as picturesque as it gets. Anytime, it's a perfect place for a stroll. It's especially entertaining during Harbor Days. Oh, and there's plenty of kayaking to be done, too.

The Capitol.
Modeled after the one in D.C., our state capitol is beautiful inside and out. Gad about in the rotunda or on the grassy campus, then take a walk down the hillside toward Capitol Lake. (Ride The Dash back to your car, if your feet get tired.)

The Spaghetti Bowl.

The name comes from the spaghetti feed fundraiser that always precedes the contest. The game starts after seven, but people line up for hours to get good seats at one of the most exciting sports events in the South Sound. Crosstown rivals Olympia High and Capital battle it out in Ingersoll stadium in front of thousands of screaming fans. Goodwill always prevails in the form of blended marching bands and drill teams for halftime entertainment.

Batdorf and Bronson coffee.
Broke the rule. But Batdorf and Bronson coffee is the greatest in existence, and is available all over Olympia in its flagship store, associated coffee shops and stands, and whatever restaurants and cafes have good taste in caffeine.

The location.

Crave the city? Seattle's an hour north; Portland's two south. Pine for the cedars? National parks and forests, including Mounts Rainier, Adams, Saint Helens, and the magnificent Olympic range, are within easy driving distance. (Pictured: view from Mount Ellinor.) The coast is close, too.

The schools.
You'll have to pardon my bias, since I teach at Capital High School and am a pretty big fan of the Olympia School District. Our neighboring districts--Tumwater, Griffin, and North Thurston--are nice, but I can only speak for the schools I know and love.

Like every district in the area, we're going through rough financial times, but the quality of an Olympia School District education is still excellent. We have great elementary and middle schools, with lots of options. Our high schools offer a panoply of challenging courses--AP at Olympia, International Baccalaureate at Capital--and choices, from Avanti to New Market to ORLA to Running Start at South Puget Sound.

The Evergreen State College
One of the nation's best, and best-known, progressive institutions. It's where I earned my master's in teaching and where my wife earned her bachelor's in American Studies / Anthropology / Spanish / Smartness. Tucked away in the woods on the west side of town, it's a haven for culture, weirdness, and life lived organically. The pulse of Olympia beats from the heart of Evergreen.

Odds and ends.
The Farmers Market rocks.
You'll never run out of patchouli.
The rain is endearing.
Traffic's never too bad.

Have your own reasons to love Olympia? Add them in the comments.


BTCSweetone said...

Thank you for kickstarting this subject! I have to say you make it sound wonderful! We lived for 6 years in Vermont before moving to Virginia...and Olympia sounds a bit like all the best that Burlington has to offer in terms of friendly folks with a focus on the outdoors. We need to make our decision by May 11th, yikes! Still worried about saying goodbye to all the southern sunshine...looking forward to seeing more comments to your post. Thanks again!

Stidmama said...

I was a military brat, but have lived in Washington (for the second time) for almost 30 years -- surprisingly moving here from Newport News, VA! My spouse and I deliberately chose to remain here to start our family. Our two children are teens now, and while we live to outside town (our K-8 district uses Capital for high school) I can vouch for the points raised above. I attended Capital also, and it has always had a reputation for solid teaching and a good student body.

I would add that there are abundant parks around, TWO YMCAs in the area with lots of activities, a library in each of the local towns, and abundant interest groups for parents and play groups for children. It doesn't get really cold all that often, but the long grey winters can drag on -- plan on using full-spectrum lights or deliberately planning rain-gear outdoor activities to help make it through.

Emmett said...

1. I was born here.

As a cradle Catholic (St. Mikes Spartans, yo!), I have a bit of that "I've always done this, so it must be right" thing about me. I wouldn't call it conservative, but it does keep me pointed in a particular direction.

2. The smell. The day I decided to live here for the rest of my life was sunny and there was a daytime low tide. The smell got me.

3. Small enough town that I could know a lot of people, but big enough that I could also be anonymous. Also big enough to have nice stuff (concerts, indy film, plays) but also small enough...

4. I can raise my kids here.

Melissa said...

Also, if you're concerned about leaving the warm weather of the South, let me add this:
Olympia has a very temperate climate. Sure, the winters can be dreary but Vermont and Virginia both receive more snow and colder temps each winter than we typically do here. Mostly it rains, but usually not hard enough to really need an umbrella. Once in a while we do get snow (see: Winter 09) but a foot is the most we ever really get.

The springs are mild--we've seen temps in the high 70s already. The summers are absolutely gorgeous: 80s-90s with low humidity.

Anonymous said...

Olympia is definitely similar to Burlington. We don't have anything like Church St Marketplace (yet!) but we do have a bustling farmer's market, lots of organic farms offering CSAs, two Co-ops, a wonderful indie/art movie theater, a community theater with a great kids program, a fairly progressive populace and yes tons of natural beauty all around. Our downtown is kinda hip and funky, and it drizzles a lot, but some of us like these things.

Anonymous said...

how could you forget to add the 4th ave well to this list?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, I wanted to leave you something to contribute.

Paxton said...

The rain does something important - water the woods. Trees are everywhere, natural underbrush likewise. And it is beautiful when it's sunny.

James Hanley said...

You almost had me sold until you mentioned patchouli. As a U of Oregon alum, I still love the Northwest, and firmly believe it will be a perfect paradise upon earth just as soon as we can eliminate patchouli and the Huskies.

Anonymous said...

They are all lying. This is an awful place to live or even visit. It rains all the time, the region is way over due for a massive earthquake and the people are self-involved. Oh, and the nearby mountains explode.

RIP Emmett Watson. KBO forever.

BTCSweetone said...

Well, aside from Mr. Anonymous (aka doom and gloom) it seems that you have a fabulous city. We are in fact going to be moving there at the end of the summer and I very much appreciate you folks weighing in on what you love about your city. Look out, here we come!

Jim Anderson said...

BTC, that's awesome!

And I think/hope that last anonymous was joking; the "KBO" was journalist Emmett Watson's way of griping about an influx of (mostly) Californians back in the 80s and 90s.

I hope you end up loving Olympia as much as we all do.