Moving to Olympia, WA

The Complete Guide to Moving to, and Living in, Olympia, Washington

Moving to Olympia, WA


Whether you have firm plans on moving to Olympia, WA, or you are just thinking about it, we have compiled everything that you need to know about Washington’s capital city. In this Moving to Olympia Guide we will cover the Olympia culture, art and music scene, economy, crime rates, school system, housing market, weather, historical information, and popular Olympia attractions. Scroll down to the section you are looking for or read the whole thing!

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Plenty of people have discovered Olympia’s beauty and decided to call it home. Between 1990 and 2011, Olympia has nearly doubled its population. Olympia is one of the most attractive capital cities in the United States. While there is heavy industry to the north toward Tacoma, Olympia is a clean, mid-sized capital city with a distinctively Pacific Northwest small-town feel. Outdoor recreational opportunities are abundant; Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and the Washington coast are all within a day’s drive.

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Excellent city amenities and services are available in Seattle, although traffic can make the drive challenging. The population is highly educated and most of the area has a well-kept appearance. The clean, quiet downtown waterfront is well-used and inner neighborhoods are livable. The small, progressive Evergreen State College and private Saint Martin’s University add a lively college presence, and there is abundant local music and entertainment. There is much to love about Olympia.

The Olympia Culture

The Liberal Point of View

olympia liberals

Olympia, WA was voted as the second “Best City in the U.S. for Hippies” by the Estately Blog. If you are a free spirit then there are several aspects of Olympia that you will enjoy. It is home to an abundant amount of vegetarian options, small protests about every controversial topic that there is, and The Evergreen State College, where you can take a class titled “Looking at Animals”.

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Western Washington itself is well-known as a very liberal place to live. The state was one of the first in the nation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and approve same-sex marriage. Olympia is the capital of a state that has voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1998 and has elected a Democratic governor for most of the last 30 years. Olympia is home to several local micro-breweries, alternative fashion statements, and sidewalk musicians. You will never run out of new things to see, and opinions to hear, in this Northwest gem.

If you want to experience some of Olympia’s defining events and establishments you need to visit the Olympia Festival of Experimental Musics and the Oly Taproom.

Olympia Festival of Experimental Musics
Northern 414 ½ Legion Way,
Olympia, WA 98501

Oly Taproom
312 Columbia St. NW,
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 515-0661

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The Evergreen State College

Evergreen State College in Olympia WA
Photo By Brylie Oxley, Wikimedia Commons

The Evergreen State College has a profound impact on the culture of the Olympia area. With the school mascot being a geoduck (a large saltwater clam), and a fight song that Time magazine has described as “aggressively weird”, right-off-the-bat you can tell that the goal of this school is fierce intimidation. Or maybe not.

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Founded in 1967, Evergreen was formed to be an experimental and non-traditional college. Full-time students enroll in interdisciplinary academic programs instead of structured classes. The teachers are not a hierarchy of professors but rather are all just referred to as “faculty” and they write “narrative evaluations” of students rather than issuing the standard letter grade and GPA. It is the state’s youngest and smallest public college. Most students at Evergreen take a single class for an entire quarter or even the entire year. Many classes are team-taught and blend several different subjects. The school motto is “omnia extares”. Or, for those of you who don’t speak Latin, “Let it all hang out”. With classes such as “Looking at Animals” and “Basket Weaving” you can see that they are bringing a free-thinking student body from all around the country, and the globe, into the Olympia community.

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Don’t be surprised, however, that in 2010, the Evergreen State College was ranked #1 in the West for Undergraduate Teaching, ranked as the #5 best public college, and ranked #29 overall in the Masters West Category – outranking other, better known schools, like Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Humboldt State University, Boise State University, and more. There is more to Evergreen State College than long hair and patchouli and these self-sustaining students bring a lot of fresh ideas to the local Olympia community.

If you want to experience the vibe and experimentalism you can visit Evergreen State College directly or tune into their college radio station KAOS 89.3 FM.

The Evergreen State College
2700 Evergreen Parkway NW
Olympia, WA 98505
(360) 867-6000

KAOS 89.3 FM
2700 Evergreen Parkway NW
Olympia, WA 98505
(360) 867-5267

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Olympia’s Art and Music Scene

Procession of the Species Olympia WA
Photo by David A. Koontz, Wikimedia

For a relatively small town, the Olympia music scene is surprisingly robust. Some think that it is due to the low cost of living and constant influx of new people and ideas gravitating to, and disseminating from, Evergreen State College. But it runs deeper than that. Olympia is where many bands in the Northwest come to get started, play shows, or develop an audience. In larger cities, like Seattle, all-ages clubs have become the target of police harassment because of strict city ordinances initiated by conservative groups such as Parents in Arms. So small, young, bands travel to Olympia instead.

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This was certainly the case with bands like The Melvins, Nirvana, and Bikini Kill. Modest Mouse recorded their first album in Olympia. A local university, Saint Martin’s, recently released a conservative estimate that Olympia’s music scene makes the city over $88.3 million per year. That is a lot of money when you consider a population under 47,000 people. The art scene follows closely, as music and art are often intertwined. Many forms of art permeate the Olympia arts scene, including a thriving theater scene, a dance school, several visual arts studios, and other nonprofit cultural organizations.

One of the area’s most notable arts festivals, Arts Walk, takes place twice a year and transforms downtown Olympia into an art gallery and performance space while drawing more than 30,000 attendants. It is safe to say that Olympia is not short on original culture.

If you want to see the Olympia music and art scene for yourself you need to visit the Obsidian for live music and attend the bi-annual Arts Walk festival.

414 4th Ave E,
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 890-4425

Arts Walk
4th Avenue to Legion Way
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 709-2678

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Olympia’s Artesian Well

Olympia Artesian Well

An Olympia park, known as the Artesian Commons, is home to a popular artesian well that never stops flowing and boasts long lines of people armed with water bottles ready to fill up. The locals find the water to be “pure” and the older residents claim it is an elixir to stay young. The well itself is located in Olympia’s first urban park – a historic landmark that covers a whole .2 acres in downtown. The city partners with many local businesses and nonprofits to bring positive, daily programming and events to the space.

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The depth of the well is approximately 90 feet. It is 1.8 inches in diameter and flows approximately 10 gallons of water per minute. Many Olympia residents use the well as their primary source of water. The water is safe to drink and is tested frequently for bacteria and minerals. Locals refer to the well as “water from the heavens” and, while it may not actually flow from the home of a deity, the water does “magically” rise to the surface without a pump from natural pressures. There is a local myth that if you drink from the artesian well that you will never leave Olympia. But who says that’s such a bad thing?

If you want to quench your thirst, and your imagination, with a local cultural and historic icon you have to visit the Artesian Commons and the McMenamins Spar Cafe (where they brew their beer with 3,330 year old artesian well water).

Artesian Commons
415 4th Ave. SE,
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 753-8380

McMenamins Spar Cafe
114 4th Ave. E.
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 357-6444

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Frisbee Golf and Outdoor Recreation


If you have read this article up to this point then you might be catching on to the theme of Olympia’s alternative lifestyle. So frisbee golf, aka disc golf, fits right in. Everyone has heard of golf, and everyone has heard of frisbees, but if you aren’t from Olympia or Portland you probably haven’t heard of frisbee golf. A beautiful blend of the standard 9 hole course and the throwing of a disc where the lowest score wins. Olympia has dedicated many resources to offering this up-and-coming sport to its local residents.

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The city designated acres of parks and thousands in tax dollars to build free courses. The only thing you need is your own frisbee and you can spend a fun, active afternoon with friends enjoying the outdoors. There are currently 3 frisbee golf courses located in, or near, Olympia that are open to the public. In addition to frisbee golf, the city of Olympia has promised to buy more than 300 acres of land for new parks in the next 6 years. The uses for this land will be divided into community parks, a skate court, two “sprayground” water play areas, community gardens, another frisbee golf course, and a dog park. Olympia has tons of amazing public areas for its residents to enjoy.

If you want to try frisbee golf in Olympia then you should visit Woodland Creek Community Park after you pick up some frisbee golf discs from Package Express.

Woodland Creek Community Park
6729 Pacific Ave. SE,
Lacey, WA 98503
(360) 491-0857

Package Express
2103 Harrison Ave. NW, Ste 2
Olympia, WA 98502
(360) 352-1596

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Olympia Statistics

Olympia’s Economy

olympia economy

Olympia’s early development was based on its port facilities and lumber-based industries. Later it was oyster farming and dairy. Following World War II, Olympia served as a major service center for lumber communities west of Thurston County, while the Port of Olympia remained a major transportation center for shipping logs and finished lumber. But during the mid-twentieth century, the decline of the local timber industry resulted in the loss of many of the associated milling and secondary operations. As the capital of the state of Washington, Olympia relies on the state government to be a stabilizing factor for the local economy.

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According to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, state government was the county’s second-largest industry behind the services industry. The unemployment rate in Olympia is 5.2%, which is more than a full point below the nation’s average. The future job growth is predicted to be over 34% and Washington does not pose an income tax on its residents. This means that the average household income of $53,147 stretches just a bit further than it would in other states.

If you would like to look into one of the many Olympia area employment opportunities you should contact LaborWorks or Express Employment Professionals.

3700 Martin Way E.
Olympia, WA 98506
(360) 528-3222

Express Employment Professionals
1120 Harrison Ave. NW
Olympia, WA 98502
(360) 357-7195

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Olympia’s Crime

olympia's crime statistics

Mostly referred to as a safe place with a small town feel, Olympia’s crime statistics paint a different picture. The violent crime in Olympia, on a scale of 1 to 100 (1 being low, 100 being high) is 52. Violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The average violent crime rate in the United States is 42. So Olympia is 10 points higher than the national average. The property crime rate, on the same 1 to 100 scale, is 67. Property crime includes the offenses of burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

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The average property crime rate in the United States is 43.5 so Olympia is substantially higher than the national average. A large homeless population in some areas of downtown tend to take the blame for most of the crime while the outskirts and suburbs of Olympia tend to have little-to-no crime at all. It is important to research the past statistical crime data to any area you are looking to move to as well as what efforts law enforcement officials intend to put in place moving forward.

If you are looking to keep yourself and your home safe in Olympia you should look into Always Safe & Lock and ASSAULTS Defense Systems.

Always Safe & Lock
815 4th Ave. E
Olympia, WA 98506
(360) 357-8500

ASSAULTS Defense Systems
640 O’Leary St. NW
Olympia, WA 98502
(360) 970-4559

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Olympia’s School System

Olympia schools

In Olympia, your child can attend any school in your district or neighboring school district. Low-income students are eligible for scholarship funding to attend private schools. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students attending a school designated as “in need of improvement” have the right to attend a higher performing school in the district. Olympia contains 21 primary and secondary schools.

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One of the best schools is Jefferson Middle School, which is rated a 10/10. It has 345 children enrolled. The public schools in Olympia belong to the Olympia School District. The North Thurston Public School District is nearby and has a lower (worse) rating than the Olympia School District. The same goes for the Tumwater School District to the south which has a rating of 7/10. Overall, Olympia has a great school system with plenty of options, both public and private, for children of all ages.

If you would like to enroll your child into a public school in Olympia just visit the Olympia School District or you can look into one of the private school options in Olympia, such as the Olympia Waldorf School.

Olympia School District
1113 Legion Way SE
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 596-6100

Olympia Waldorf School
8126 Normandy St.
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 493-0906

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Olympia’s Demographics

olympia demographics

According to the 2010 census there are around 47,000 people living in the city of Olympia. That puts it on the smaller side of cities, especially capital cities, in the United States. The racial makeup of Olympia is 83.7% White, 6.3% Hispanic, 6% Asian, 2% African American, 1.1% Native American, 5% are 2 or more races, and 2.2% of people in Olympia identified as other races.

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Twenty-five percent of the 20,761 households had children under the age of 18 living with them. 36.2% of Olympians were married couples living together and 48.6% were non-family households. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.83. Not too many large families live in Olympia. The median age of people in Olympia was 38 years old. 19.5% of people were under the age of 18, 11.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24, 28.5% were between the ages of 25 and 44, 26.7% of people were between the ages of 45 and 64, and 13.9% were 65 years or older. The gender makeup of Olympia was 47.3% male and 52.7% female.

If you are looking to experience some culture in Olympia then you should seek out The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center and the Squaxin Island Tribe Museum.

The Longhouse Education and Cultural Center
2700 Evergreen Parkway NW
Olympia, WA 98505
(360) 867-6718

Squaxin Island Tribe Museum
150 SE K’wuh-deegs-altxw
Shelton, WA 98584
(360) 432-3839

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Olympia Housing

olympia housing

Olympia, WA is located between Seattle and Portland and this state capital offers both jobs and state-of-the-art health care. The state government and medical facilities, like Providence St. Peter Hospital and Columbia Capital Medical Center, are among the largest employers in the area. Lewis McChord, a nearby military base, employs thousands of civilians and supports many of the small businesses in the area.

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With an average household income at nearly $54,000, residents are better able to afford home prices here, which are about 50% higher than the rest of the nation – and they are still rising! Olympia home values have gone up 10.4% over the past year and are predicted to rise another 4.7% within the next year. The median sale price for a home in Olympia is $303,000 with an average price per square foot of $187. Popular neighborhoods in Olympia include the Northwest and Eastside. There are plenty of opportunities to purchase a home in Olympia, but if you prefer to rent, there are also many apartment complexes available as well.

If you would like to find a home in Olympia you should contact Best Choice Realty or Capitol Terrace Apartments.

Best Choice Realty
9225 Killion Rd. SE
Yelm, WA 98597
(360) 960-8278

Capitol Terrace Apartments
1517 Capitol Way S.
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 357-4242

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Olympia’s Landscape and Weather

Olympia Weather

The local Olympia terrain is hilly and wooded with tall coniferous trees and low mountains to the west, high mountains (Cascades) to the east, and gradually flattening forest and farmland to the south and east. The marine climate is characterized by mild, generally dry, summers and wet, mild winters. The fall season rains from frequent Pacific weather systems that usually begin around mid-October. Rains continue with few interruptions through the spring. Pacific storms can be strong but the Coast Range moderates the winds.

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Summer highs are comfortable at 70 to 80 degrees with clear skies most of the time. Winter daytime temperatures are in the 40’s to 50’s with night temperatures dropping into the 30’s. Occasional blasts of Canadian air drop temperatures into the teens and 20’s. Snow accumulations sufficient to disrupt traffic don’t happen very often. The skies remain overcast 7-8 months out of the year but the rain makes for a beautiful green scenery straight out of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings. If you can endure the haze of the winter then your reward is the most beautiful summer you can imagine.

If you need to clothes that will hold up for several wet months in the Olympia weather then visit JackNut Apparel or Psychic Sister.

JackNut Apparel
2320 Mottman Rd. SW, Ste 102
Olympia, WA 98512
(800) 930-8505

Psychic Sister
109 SE 5th Ave.
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 943-9595

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Olympia’s History

The Founding of Olympia

Founding of Olympia

Settlement of the Olympia area began in 1846 with a joint claim filed under a homestead law by partners Edmund Sylvester, a Maine fisherman, and Levi Lathrop Smith, an easterner who wanted to be a minister but was prevented from pursuing that career by epilepsy. Smith called his portion of the claim Smithfield. For two years, Smith and Sylvester were the only white residents in Smithfield and the area was covered with untouched forest. When Smith drowned in Puget Sound in 1848, Sylvester took over his partner’s claim.

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By the end of 1848, a trail had been cleared between Smithfield and New Market to the south (now Tumwater), and four families, about fifteen single men, and Father Pascal Ricard and his small band of Oblate missionaries had settled in Smithfield. In 1850 a city was laid out and Smithfield was renamed Olympia after the Olympic Mountains that can be seen in the distance. In 1853, Washington Territory became separate from Oregon Territory. Olympia (population 150), the largest settlement in Washington Territory, was named its capital and Isaac Stevens arrived to serve as Washington’s first territorial governor.

If you would like to explore Olympia’s rich roots you can visit the Fort Lewis Military Museum and the Bigelow House Museum.

Fort Lewis Military Museum
Building #4320
P.O. Box 331001
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA 98433

Bigelow House Museum
918 Glass Ave. NE
Olympia, WA 98506
(360) 753-1215

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Notable Events in Olympia History

Olympia Brewing Company

Photo Credit: Joe Mabel

Being founded over 170 years ago, Olympia has a storied past with many notable events. In 1853, Olympia was designated as the capital of the Washington territory. In 1889, Washington achieved statehood and the construction of the capitol building in Olympia began in 1912 and was completed in 1928. The building’s dome is the fourth largest free-standing masonry dome in the world.

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Olympia is often associated with the Olympia Brewing Company which brewed Olympia Beer from 1896 until 2003. In 1949, an earthquake damaged many historic buildings beyond repair, and they were subsequently demolished. The approval of the creation of the Evergreen State College happened in 1967, mostly due to the efforts of progressive Republican Governor Daniel J. Evans. Because of the college’s presence, Olympia has become a hub for artists and musicians. In 2003, Outside Magazine named Olympia one of the best college towns in the nation for its vibrant downtown and access to outdoor activities.

If you would like to see some of the amazing historical landmarks in Olympia you should visit the Washington State Capitol Building and the Pioneer Farm Museum.

Washington State Capitol Building
416 Sid Snyder Ave. SW
Olympia, WA 98504
(360) 902-8880

Pioneer Farm Museum
7716 Ohop Valley Rd E.
Eatonville, WA 98328
(360) 832-6300

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Notable Olympia Residents

Notable Olympia Residents

Photo: Sounders US Open Cup

Many famous people were born, or lived in, Olympia. US Soccer goalkeeper Kasey Keller was born in Olympia, WA. He now plays for the Seattle Sounders. Kurt Cobain, from the band Nirvana, wrote most of the album ‘Nevermind’ while living in Olympia. Calvin Johnson, of the band Beat Happening and the founder of the record label K Records, lives in Olympia. Novelist Caitlin Kittredge resides in Olympia. The creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening, attended the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Jonathan Stewart, running back for the Carolina Panthers, went to Timberline High School in Lacey, WA.

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Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, is a rap artist who earned his bachelor’s degree at Evergreen State College. The two-time winner of the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship and UFC Heavyweight title contender, Jeff Monson, attended Timberline High School and lives in Olympia, WA. Cosmo Kramer from the sitcom Seinfeld, real name Michael Richards, also attended the Evergreen State College where he earned a BA in drama.

If you would like to visit some of the places that people in Olympia frequent you should try the Olympia Weekend Flea Market and the Olympia Farmer’s Market.

Olympia Weekend Flea Market
210 Thurston Ave. NE
Olympia, WA 98501
(509) 855-1269

Olympia Farmer’s Market
700 Capitol Way N
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 352-9096

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Popular Olympia Area Attractions

Hands on Children’s Museum

Hands on Children's Museum

Regularly selected as “Best Family Entertainment” and “Best Museum” in the South Sound by the Olympian Newspaper, the Hands on Children’s Museum is great fun for the whole family. The museum stimulates curiosity, creativity, and learning through fun, interactive exhibits and programs for children. They are the place to go for hands-on fun and learning for children and their parents.

Hands on Children’s Museum
414 Jefferson St. NE
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 956-0818

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Olympic Flight Museum

Olympia's Olympic Flight Museum

Aero L-39 at Olympic Flight Museum

Established in 1998, the Olympic Flight Museum is dedicated to the preservation and flying of vintage aircraft. They strive to deliver the sights, smells, and excitement of flight to every visitor. With a collection including an A6M2 ‘Tora’ Zero, a BAC-167 Strikemaster, and an L-39 Albatros this museum is a premier destination for aviation enthusiasts everywhere.

Olympic Flight Museum
Building A
7637 Old Hwy 99 SE
Tumwater, WA 98501
(360) 705-3925

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Harlequin Productions

Harlequin Productions Olympia

A professional, not-for-profit, theater company in Olympia, WA, Harlequin Productions has been bringing theater arts to the Northwest since 1991. With a mission to create stimulating and enriching experiences by the experience of eclectic productions including new works, buried treasures, and unconventional treatments of the classics. If you are looking for a completely “Olympia” experience you need search no more.

Harlequin Productions
202 4th Ave. E
Olympia, WA 98501
(360) 786-0151

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The Moving to Olympia Conclusion

Olympia is a vibrant community that includes the professional government employee and the free-spirited Evergreen College student alike. Filled with music, art, and outdoor activities, with a mountainous, forested backdrop, you will enjoy plenty of community events and fresh-air recreation opportunities year round. With a growing population, a rising housing market, and an abundance of jobs there is much to look forward to while considering moving to Olympia.

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Do you have any tips, favorite places, or stories about moving to Olympia? Let us know in the comments!

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8 Responses to “Moving to Olympia, WA: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Yacon Root

    Fantastic Site. Really enjoyed reading.

  2. Peter Korchnak

    Don’t forget restaurants and breweries/brew pubs. For a town its size, Olympia has an impressive culinary and craft beer scene…

  3. Rob

    Good info for someone who is moving to the area. In the summer months is AC “needed” or are there only a couple days that it might be nice to have? Are the evenings cool enough to open the windows for cool air?


    • Olympic Moving & Storage

      Hi Rob, thanks for reading! AC is typically only needed a few days out of the year. Most homes do not come with in installed, so window units are popular. For the most part, evenings are cool enough.

  4. Taylor Schultz

    Loved this site! I will be moving there in October of 2020. Is Olympia a good place to raise a family?

    • Olympic Moving & Storage

      Hi Taylor, thanks for reading! Olympia is a great place to raise a family. There are quality schools, and lots of family-friendly activities.


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