The eclectic port town of Olympia, Washington, put itself on the feminist map in the early ’90s as the home of the riot grrrl movement, K Records, and badass lady-fronted acts like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Washington’s capital city is still a progressive hub with a thriving music scene that no Kathleen Hanna fangirl should miss. Music’s not your thing? Then come for the quirkiness, culture, and breathtaking sight of Mount Rainier on the horizon!
Coffee is its own category of dining and refreshment here in Washington, and there is no shortage of cafés and espresso stands in Olympia to keep you caffeinated. By far the most unique coffee shop in town is Burial Grounds (406 Washington St. SE), with their delightfully morbid specialty drinks with names like Grave Robber, Ice Cold Corpse, Rigor Mortis, and Soylent Green. If you’re on the go, pull into the Art-Deco-gas-station-turned-espresso-stand, Filling Station Espresso (728 4th Ave. E), to top off your java tank.
Though the famous Olympia beer is no longer brewed here, nearly every bar in town has it on tap, and there is a lounge to suit anyone’s fancy. The Brotherhood Lounge (119 Capitol Way N) has high ceilings strewn with memorabilia of yesteryear and sometimes even real live human beings—once a month they host The Brotherhood Takes Flight, an amazing aerial acrobatic show. If you liked Burial Grounds, you’ll love Cryptatropa Bar’s (421 4th Ave. E) black walls, red lighting, and private alcoves with creepy church pews—the embalming table by the entrance, religious paraphernalia, and giant Baphomet statue are just the icing on the cake of The Crypt’s goth cred. If a swanky, jazz-filled speakeasy is more your style, head over to Dillingers Cocktails & Kitchen (404 S. Washington St.), a Prohibition-era lounge that boasts signature cocktails and original dishes (like delicious whiskey bread pudding).
Obsidian (414 4th Ave. E) is a bar, coffee shop, music venue, art gallery, and café all rolled into one, but a menu full of fresh ingredients is what makes this place a local favorite for light dining. The Nisqually Tribe Smoked Salmon Panini with fennel, chèvre, and aioli is a must-try. The venue (closed off from the main café/bar area) hosts everything from comedy nights to hip-shop shows, and the impressive acoustics make its heavy rotation of metal, goth, and punk bands sound so damn good. Though most Olympia restaurants are pretty vegan and vegetarian friendly, the ultra-kitschy breakfast and lunch joint Darby’s Café (211 5th Ave. SE) best pleases herbivores and omnivores alike. Describing themselves as “halfway between a diner and a dive,” Darby’s offers comfort food made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and an impressive breakfast cocktail menu—with seven clever variations of the Bloody Mary, you can’t go wrong! Beating many contenders, the authentic Vietnamese Little Da Nang Restaurant (301 4th Ave. W) serves the best pho and pork sandwiches in town.
Rainy Day Records
True to Washington’s grungy past, Dumpster Values (302 4th Ave. E) is the vintage-seeker’s treasure chest. If you’re in the market for older-than-vintage housewares or accessories, check out Antique Junkie (210 4th Ave. W), which has everything from rhinestone-encrusted cigarette holders to old utility knives and antique drawer knobs. Last Word Books & Press (111 Cherry St. NE) is a radical bookstore with an amazing ’zine selection, and Rainy Day Records (301 5th Ave. SE) has been keeping the music alive in Olympia since 1973—they even have a Sleater-Kinney discount bin!
ARTS & CULTURE
The Olympia Film Society (206 5th Ave. SE), located in the historic Capitol Theater, has been bringing under-represented film, music, and arts to the community as a nonprofit organization since 1980. Olympia’s rich history can be traced back to the many Native tribes that occupied this mountainous land prior to colonization—The Longhouse Educational and Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College (2700 Evergreen Pkwy. NW) preserves the arts and traditions of these indigenous peoples through exhibitions, residency programs, and performances for and by Native artists. Olympia’s thriving music scene upholds the community’s tradition of employing nearly every bar, vacant building, and downtown basement as a music venue. When you come through, check out these bands, wherever they may be playing: political post-punks Underpass, the queer/feminist/trans G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit), and the female-fronted punk group Vexx, to name a few.
Olympia's evergrowing moss
The Great Northwest is a haven for any nature lover, with a landscape dense with coniferous forests, the intricate waterways of the Puget Sound, and some of the most spectacular mountain ranges America has to offer. You don’t have to drive far to enjoy it—314-acre Priest Point Park (2600 Easy Bay Dr. NE) is home to the Ellis Cove Trail, where you can stroll along one mile of saltwater shoreline on the Budd Inlet and enjoy a view of the capitol city. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge (100 Brown Farm Rd. NE) provides a lush habitat for 275 species of migrating fowl, 24 species of fish, and many other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Tumwater Falls Park (110 Deschutes Pkwy. SW), former site of the Olympia Brewing Company, is now a local favorite dog-walking spot featuring a picturesque chain of cascades formed by the Deschutes River. Of course, you can also easily witness the glory of Mount Rainier towering over the spiked treeline just north of the city by looking up!
Written by Bianca D. Velasco
Photographed by Sarah Cass
This guide originally appeared in the October/November 2015 print issue of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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