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Olympia, Washington

Coordinates: 47°2′16″N 122°54′3″W / 47.03778°N 122.90083°W / 47.03778; -122.90083
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Olympia, Washington
From top, and left to right: Old Capitol Building, East Olympia, Interstate 5 at the junction of U.S. Route 101, Port of Olympia, Downtown from Capitol Lake, Washington State Capitol, Salmon sculpture, Mount Rainier, Percival Landing Park, Olympic Mountains and Swantown Marina
From top, and left to right: Old Capitol Building, East Olympia, Interstate 5 at the junction of U.S. Route 101, Port of Olympia, Downtown from Capitol Lake, Washington State Capitol, Salmon sculpture, Mount Rainier, Percival Landing Park, Olympic Mountains and Swantown Marina
Flag of Olympia, Washington
Official seal of Olympia, Washington
Official logo of Olympia, Washington
Location within Thurston County in Washington
Location within Thurston County in Washington
Olympia is located in Washington (state)
Location within Washington
Olympia is located in the United States
Location within the United States
Coordinates: 47°2′16″N 122°54′3″W / 47.03778°N 122.90083°W / 47.03778; -122.90083
CountryUnited States
IncorporatedJanuary 28, 1859
Named forOlympic Mountains
 • TypeCouncil/City Manager
 • MayorDontae Payne (D)
 • City20.09 sq mi (52.02 km2)
 • Land18.23 sq mi (47.20 km2)
 • Water1.87 sq mi (4.82 km2)
Elevation95 ft (29 m)
 • City55,605
 • Estimate 
 • RankUS: 718th
WA: 24th
 • Density2,902.26/sq mi (1,120.58/km2)
 • Urban
208,157 (US: 182nd)
 • Urban density1,960.0/sq mi (756.8/km2)
 • Metro
298,758 (US: 172nd)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific (PST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP codes
98501–98509, 98511–98513, 98516, 98599
Area code360, 564
FIPS code53-51300
GNIS feature ID1533353[2]

Olympia is the capital city of the U.S. state of Washington and the county seat of Thurston County.[5][6] It had a population of 55,605 at the time of the 2020 census,[3] making it the state of Washington's 23rd-most populous city. Olympia borders Lacey to the east and Tumwater to the south.

The Squaxin and other Coast Salish peoples inhabited the southern Puget Sound region prior to the arrival of European and American settlers in the 19th century. The Treaty of Medicine Creek was signed in 1854 and followed by the Treaty of Olympia in 1856; these two treaties forced the Squaxin to relocate to an Indian reservation. Olympia was incorporated as a town on January 28, 1859, and as a city in 1882.[7]


The Old Capitol Building in 1906

The site of Olympia had been home to Lushootseed-speaking peoples known as the Steh-Chass (or Stehchass, later part of the post-treaty Squaxin Island Tribe) for thousands of years. Other Native Americans regularly visited the head of Budd Inlet and the Steh-Chass, including the other ancestor tribes of the Squaxin, as well as the Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, and Duwamish. The first recorded Europeans came to Olympia in 1792. Peter Puget and a crew from the British Vancouver Expedition are said to have explored the site, but neither recorded any encounters with the resident Indigenous population. In 1846, Edmund Sylvester and Levi Lathrop Smith jointly claimed the land that is now downtown Olympia. In 1851, the U.S. Congress established the Customs District of Puget Sound for Washington Territory and Olympia became the home of the customs house. Its population steadily expanded from Oregon Trail immigrants. In 1850, the town settled on the name Olympia, at local resident Colonel Isaac N. Ebey's suggestion,[8] because of its view of the Olympic Mountains to the northwest. The area began to be served by a small fleet of steamboats known as the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet.

Over two days, December 24–26, 1854, Governor Isaac I. Stevens negotiated the Treaty of Medicine Creek with the representatives of the Nisqually, Puyallup, Squawksin, Steh'Chass, Noo-Seh-Chatl, Squi-Aitl, T'Peeksin, Sah-Heh-Wa-Mish, and S'Hotl-Ma-Mish tribes. Stevens's treaty included the preservation of Indigenous fishing, hunting, gathering and other rights. It also included a section which, at least as interpreted by United States officials, required the Native American signatories to move to one of three reservations. Doing so would effectively force the Nisqually people to cede their prime farming and living space. One of the leaders of the Nisqually, Chief Leschi, outraged, refused to give up ownership of this land and instead fought for his people's right to their territory, sparking the beginning of the Puget Sound War. The war ended with Leschi's capture in 1856; he was executed two years later.

The 1949 Olympia earthquake damaged many historic buildings beyond repair, and they were demolished. Parts of the city also suffered damage from earthquakes in 1965 and 2001.

Interstate 5 was built through the south side of the city in the late 1950s as a replacement for earlier highways that traveled through downtown Olympia. The freeway was originally planned to cut through the city, but was moved further out to save costs. It opened to traffic on December 12, 1958, and was later expanded in 1991.[9]


Astronaut photograph of Olympia, Washington, taken from the International Space Station (ISS)

Olympia is at the southern end of Puget Sound on Budd Inlet, where the Deschutes River estuary enters the Sound. The river was dammed in 1951 to create Capitol Lake; in late 2022 the state government approved the dam's removal to restore the estuary at an unspecified date.[10]

The city is 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Seattle, the most populous city in Washington, and 100 miles (160 km) north of Portland, Oregon.[11] According to the United States Census Bureau, Olympia has an area of 19.68 square miles (50.97 km2), of which 17.82 sq mi (46.15 km2) is land and 1.86 sq mi (4.82 km2) is water.[12] The cities of Lacey and Tumwater border Olympia.

The area is located near the southern limit of the Fraser Glaciation and the underlying sediments consist largely of Vashon-age till and outwash deposited at that time; the area also includes former lakebeds and alluvial deposits associated with proglacial lakes that existed in the area near the end of Vashon-stage glaciation. Residual glacial topography in the area includes drumlins, subglacial channels, and kettle lakes.[13] Much of downtown Olympia sits on reclaimed land. Tidewater areas were filled as early as the 1870s, but the major change occurred in 1910–11 with placement of the Carlyon Fill (named for mayor P.H. Carlyon). Over two million cubic yards of sediment were dredged, thereby creating a deep-water port at Olympia; the dredged material was used to fill tidelands, creating almost 30 blocks of what is now downtown.[14][unreliable source?]


Olympia has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csb). The local microclimate has dry summers in July and mildly humid summers in early June and late August, with cool July and August overnight lows. It is part of USDA Hardiness zone 8a, with isolated pockets around Puget Sound in zone 8b.[15] Most of western Washington's weather is brought in by weather systems that form near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. It contains cold moist air, which brings western Washington cold rain, cloudiness, and fog. November through January are Olympia's rainiest months. City streets, creeks, and rivers can flood from November to February. The monthly mean temperature ranges from 38.4 °F (3.6 °C) in December to 64.1 °F (17.8 °C) in August. Seasonal snowfall for 1981–2010 averaged 10.8 inches (27.4 cm)[16] but has historically ranged from trace amounts in 1991–92 to 81.5 in (207 cm) in 1968–69.[16]

Climate chart for Olympia

Olympia averages 50 inches (1,270 mm) of precipitation annually and has a year-round average of 75% cloud cover. Annual precipitation has ranged from 29.92 in (760 mm) in 1952 to 66.71 in (1,694 mm) in 1950; for water year (October 1 – September 30) precipitation, the range is 32.71 in (831 mm) in 2000–01 to 72.57 in (1,843 mm) in 1998–99.[16] With a period of record dating back to 1948, extreme temperatures have ranged from −8 °F (−22 °C) on January 1, 1979, up to 110 °F (43 °C), on June 28, 2021; the record cold daily maximum is 18 °F (−8 °C) on January 31, 1950, while, conversely, the record warm daily minimum is 69 °F (21 °C) on July 22, 2006.[16] Between 1991 and 2020 the mean coldest daily maximum was right on the freezing point at 32 °F (0 °C) and the warmest night of the year averaged a very mild 60 °F (16 °C).[16]

On average, 6.3 days annually reach 90 °F (32 °C), 1.8 days stay at or below freezing all day, and 78 nights reach the freezing mark.[16] The average window for freezing temperatures is October 8 through May 3, allowing a growing season of 157 days, nearly 100 days shorter than in Seattle.[16]

Climate data for Olympia Regional Airport, Washington (1991−2020 normals, extremes 1948−present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 64
Mean maximum °F (°C) 56.3
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 46.0
Daily mean °F (°C) 39.6
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 33.2
Mean minimum °F (°C) 18.8
Record low °F (°C) −8
Average precipitation inches (mm) 7.80
Average snowfall inches (cm) 2.0
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 20.3 16.4 18.8 16.3 11.4 8.5 4.0 4.8 8.1 15.1 19.5 20.2 163.4
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.5 0.7 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.8 2.2
Average relative humidity (%) 87.5 84.5 80.0 75.6 72.9 72.4 70.8 72.1 77.6 85.1 88.4 89.1 79.7
Average dew point °F (°C) 34.5
Source 1: NOAA (dew points and relative humidity 1961–1990)[17][18]
Source 2: National Weather Service[19]

See or edit raw graph data.

Artesian water[edit]

Olympia was historically dependent on artesian waters, including springs that supplied early settlers in Swantown and Tumwater. The artesian spring at Fourth Avenue and Main Street (now called Capitol Way) was the main community well where settlers, as well as the local Steh-Chass and visiting Native Americans, gathered to socialize. Settler accounts recall paying Native Americans to collect water here. The artesian well at Artesian Commons park, a former parking lot, is active.[20] Another still flows at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Washington Street. A small park was constructed around another spring in the Bigelow Neighborhood.[21] The northeast end of Capitol Lake was the location of an artesian well until the construction of a new park that included changes to the shoreline. McAllister Springs, Olympia's main water source, is fed by artesian wells, and the former Olympia Brewery is supplied by 26 artesian wells.

Efforts to protect and preserve the free-flowing artesian well on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia began in 1991 with support from a local coffee roaster. Donations from the public were used to form "Friends of the Artesians", a group that researched the wells, maintained them, and tested their quality. They were later replaced by the non-profit organization H2Olympia in 2009.[22] In 2011, the city of Olympia committed $50,000 toward improvements of an artesian well in a parking lot that the city purchased the same year.[23] Renovations at the well were completed in late 2011, including surface improvements, solar lighting, and a raised area to fill bottles. In spring 2012, sea-themed mosaic artwork created by community members was installed at the site of the well.


Historical population
2022 (est.)55,669[4]0.1%
U.S. Decennial Census[24]
2020 Census[3]

2020 census[edit]

As of the 2020 census, there were 55,605 people within the city. The population density was 2,825 inhabitants per square mile (1,090.7/km2). There were 25,642 housing units at an average density of 1,303 units per square mile (503 units/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 78.4% White, 9.6% Hispanic or Latino, 7.3% Asian, 3.1% African American, and 6.9% from other races or multiracial.[25]

2010 census[edit]

As of the 2010 census, there were 46,478 people, 20,761 households, and 10,672 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,608.2 inhabitants per square mile (1,007.0/km2). There were 22,086 housing units at an average density of 1,239.4 units per square mile (478.5 units/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 83.7% White, 2.0% African American, 1.1% Native American, 6.0% Asian, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 1.8% from other races, and 5.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.3% of the population.

There were 20,761 households, of which 25.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.2% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 48.6% were other families. 36.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.83.

The median age in the city was 38 years. 19.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 11.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.5% were from 25 to 44; 26.7% were from 45 to 64; and 13.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.3% male and 52.7% female.


According to Olympia's 2021 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report,[26] the county's top employers are:

Rank Employer Number of
1 State of Washington, including education 20,566
2 Local government, including education 2,593
3 Providence St. Peter Hospital 2,173
4 Capital Medical Center 700
5 YMCA 700
6 Washington State Employees Credit Union 501
7 AMR Corp 499
8 Titus Will 431
9 Olympian 366
10 Olympia Orthopedic 300

Arts and culture[edit]

The Capitol Theater, home of the Olympia Film Society

Olympia is a regional center for fine arts. A number of theatrical experiences are available with companies such as Animal Fire Theater, Olympia Family Theater, Olympia Little Theater, Theater Artists Olympia, Broadway Olympia Productions, and Harlequin Productions at the historic State Theater, as well as Broadway Olympia's Black Box Theater at Capitol Mall. The Olympia Symphony Orchestra performs five regular-season concerts at the Washington Center and two pops concerts. The Masterworks Chorale Ensemble performs four regular-season concerts at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Visual art venues include some of the local coffeehouses, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., Batdorf & Bronson, and Burial Grounds downtown, with the latter indefinitely closed. Art House Designs is an art gallery that also hosts a jazz performance space. Murals and public art installations of sculpture are prevalent in Olympia and are especially featured on the State Capitol Campus and along Percival Landing on the urban waterfront. The Washington Center for the Performing Arts also presents visual art exhibitions throughout the season in its lobby areas.

Notable art venues near Olympia include Art in Ecology, housed in Washington Department of Ecology's 322,000-square-foot, three-story building on the campus of Saint Martin's University. Art in Ecology is a long-established art-in-the-workplace venue that has works by numerous northwest artists. Permanent installations by Alfredo Arreguin, commissioned by the Washington State Arts Commission, are accompanied by changing solo and group exhibitions throughout the year. Appointments to view the works are needed; tours take about an hour.

South Puget Sound Community College has a gallery in its Minnaert Center with rotating exhibitions. Evergreen State College, northwest of Olympia, has a professionally curated gallery with rotating shows in the Dan Evans Library building. South of Olympia, Monarch Contemporary Art Center and Sculpture Park has an 80-acre sculpture garden and art gallery.

Each year, the Olympia Film Society (OFS) produces a film festival and fosters film and video education in Olympia. It also shows independent, classic, and international films year-round at the art-deco Capitol Theater. A mostly volunteer-powered organization, OFS supports and presents a variety of cultural events, including All Freakin' Night, an all-night horror film screening with a cult following.

Lakefair, Olympia's annual summer festival, pictured in 2008

On the fourth Saturday in April, in honor of Earth Day, Olympia is host to one of the region's largest community celebrations – the Procession of the Species. Held in conjunction with the city's biannual Arts Walk, the Procession is organized by the community-based nonprofit organization Earthbound Productions, and is the culmination of an annual Community Art Studio that is free and open to the public.[27] In its July 2009 Best of America feature, Reader's Digest magazine honored the Procession of the Species with the top spot in its "can't resist" parades and processions list.[28][29] Open to all, the Procession of the Species attracts up to 30,000 viewers, while its costumed participants of all ages frequently number nearly 3,000. On the Friday evening before the Procession of Species, a Luminary Procession is held.

The Fleetwoods, a popular 1950s and 1960s doo-wop group, whose hits included "Come Softly to Me" and "Mr. Blue", originated in Olympia. Additionally, acclaimed[30] black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room hails from the city, forming in 2002.

Parks and recreation[edit]

Plants for sale at the Olympia Farmers Market

Olympia has a wide array of public parks and nature conservation areas. Percival Landing Park includes 0.9 miles (1.4 km) of boardwalk along Budd Inlet, as well as a playground, picnic areas, and a large open space. The boardwalk leads north to an open-air amphitheater, a viewing tower beside the Port of Olympia, as well as the Olympia Farmers' Market. Squaxin Park has an extensive trail system, 150-year-old forest, and undeveloped waterfront on Puget Sound. The city's 39 other developed parks include Watershed Park, Woodruff Park, Sunrise Park, Yauger Park (home to one of Olympia's public skate parks), Friendly Grove (nestled in a small Eastside Community), and Trillium Park, which was created by the efforts of adjoining neighborhood associations with the easement of private property. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is near Olympia, as are the Capitol State Forest, Burfoot Park, and the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area.


In 1984, Olympia hosted the U.S. Olympic women's marathon trial. The winner of the event was Joan Benoit, who won a gold medal at the first women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles.

Olympia is the home of the Oly Rollers, the local women's flat track roller derby league whose travel team, the Cosa Nostra Donnas, were the 2009 national champions of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), winning the national Declaration of Derby tournament in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[31]

Oly Town FC (also known as Oly Town Artesians) is a soccer club that was founded in 2014 and primarily plays at Black Hill High School. They field an amateur men's team in USL League Two and the Evergreen Premier League, as well as a women's team in the Northwest Premier League.[32]


The majority of Olympia is located in the Olympia School District.[33] It enrolled 9,782 students in K-12 in the 2021–22 school year.[34] The district has a total of 18 schools: 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools. Its high schools are Olympia High School (formally known as William Winlock Miller High School), Capital High School, and Avanti High School.

Portions of Olympia are in the North Thurston Public Schools district and the Tumwater School District.[33]

In the 2007–08 school year, Olympia began the Parent Partnership Program, which provides more opportunities to homeschooling families. Olympia's online high school, Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), is part of the same program. Private elementary schools include Olympia Waldorf School, Olympia Community School, St. Michael School, Holy Family, and Evergreen Christian. Private middle schools include Olympia Waldorf School and NOVA School. Pope John Paul II High School is a private high school.

In addition to primary and secondary schools, Olympia has a number of institutions of higher learning, including The Evergreen State College and South Puget Sound Community College. The Evergreen State College (TESC) offers bachelor's degrees in liberal arts and science, and master's degrees in environmental studies, public administration, education, and teaching. South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) offers associate degrees in arts, science, biology, elementary education, pre-nursing, applied science, general studies, and business.


Robust journalism in Olympia dates to before Washington Territory's incorporation in 1853.[35]

The Olympian is the local daily newspaper. The Tacoma-based Weekly Volcano has covered Olympia entertainment since 2001. Progressive newspaper Works in Progress is published monthly.[36] The statewide government channel TVW is based in Olympia. Online outlet NorthAmericaTalk, an aggregate for local community news and marketing, was established with headquarters in Olympia.

Olympia and Thurston County are included in the Seattle-Tacoma designated market area (DMA), and therefore are chiefly served by Seattle's network-affiliated television stations and some radio stations. Since 1983, Olympia has had a public, educational and government access television station, which was rebranded in 2016 as Thurston Community Media.[37] Olympia sits on the southern fringe of the FM signal of National Public Radio member station KUOW. An AM simulcast is transmitted from a tower in nearby Tumwater.[38] Evergreen State College's KAOS broadcasts a mix of educational and political programming, with student-driven music shows.[39]



Amtrak provides service to Olympia-Lacey at Centennial Station. Amtrak train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 11:19am with service to Centralia; Portland; Sacramento; Emeryville, California (with bus connection to San Francisco); and Los Angeles. Amtrak train 14, the northbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 6:01pm daily with service to Tacoma and Seattle. Amtrak Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, serve Olympia-Lacey several times daily in both directions.


Intercity Transit Bus 920 on Route 12 to downtown Olympia

Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and the surrounding area are primarily served by Intercity Transit, with connections to Grays Harbor Transit, Mason Transit Authority, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, and Twin Transit. Intercity Transit maintains a free shuttle route called "Dash".[40] Dash runs from the Capitol Campus to the Farmers Market at the far edge of downtown. Intercity Transit's Olympia Express provides service to Lakewood and Tacoma, with connections to regional bus and commuter rail service.[41] In 2009 Intercity Transit won an award for America's best Public Transportation System in the midsize category by the American Public Transportation Association. The fleet runs entirely on biodiesel fuel and is composed of about 20% biodiesel-electric hybrid buses.[42]


Olympia Regional Airport is just south of Olympia in Tumwater. It is operated by the Port of Olympia and serves general aviation as well as corporate aviation. The airport hosts the Olympic AirShow, a medium-sized airshow that occurs on Father's Day weekend each year.[43]

Notable people[edit]

International relations[edit]

Olympia is twinned with:

A previous sister city agreement with Olympia, Greece is no longer in effect.[56] An attempt to create a sister city partnership with Rafah, Palestine, was rejected by the city council in 2007.[57]

On December 12, 2023, the City Council passed a resolution calling for an "immediate and permanent ceasefire" during the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, the city recognized the right of existence of both the Palestinian and Israeli states.[58]

See also[edit]

View from Tumwater Hill


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  54. ^ Drake, Jessica (May 10, 2023). "Comedian Sam Miller is 'real big' and gets big laughs". The Wenatchee World. Wenatchee, Washington. Retrieved April 1, 2024.
  55. ^ "Washington's Sister Cities Relationships". Office of the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Washington. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  56. ^ "Information on Olympia's former sister cities". Archived from the original on April 27, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2006.
  57. ^ Buhain, Venice (April 19, 2007). "Council vote won't stop Rafah visits". The Olympian. p. B1. Retrieved October 11, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  58. ^ Vinson, Ty (December 15, 2023). "Olympia City Council passes ceasfire resoulution despite criticism it doesn't go far enough". The Olympian. Retrieved April 30, 2024.

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