A new school year has begun, ushering in cooler weather, falling leaves, woodsmoke in the air, Friday night football games . . . and school field trips to the state Capitol in Olympia. Those school kids who arrive in convoys of orange buses almost daily will take a guided tour of the Legislative Building, which is the formal name of the Capitol itself. They’ll crowd into the governor’s office, they’ll gaze down from the galleries into the Senate and House chambers, and they’ll do a good-luck nose rub when they file past the massive bust of George Washington on the third floor.
But there’s plenty more to see, and early autumn, when the weather is still tolerable and before the legislative session makes parking a real adventure, is a great time to visit. With one of the nation’s most iconic and impressive Capitol buildings – at 287 feet high, just 12 inches shorter than the U.S. Capitol – the 29-acre Capitol campus is one of the state’s top tourist destinations. And it’s free.
The tour of the Legislative Building is a must, of course, and that’s available seven days a week. But don’t stop there. Stroll around those 29 acres and you’ll discover everything from a unique sunken garden to more than a dozen outdoor sculptures, statues and memorials.
A short walk east from the Capitol steps is the World War I Memorial, “Winged Victory” (pictured here), one of the oldest and most notable pieces of public art on campus. “Winged Victory” is flanked by the POW-MIA Memorial and a granite obelisk devoted to Washington’s Medal of Honor recipients, and from there it’s just a few steps to the World War II Memorial, the Tivoli Fountain, and the state’s Vietnam War Memorial.
Perched at the northern boundary of the campus, overlooking Heritage Park and Capitol Lake, is the Law Enforcement Memorial, inscribed with the names of the nearly 300 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since Washington’s territorial days.
But wait, there’s more. Cross the footbridge spanning Capitol Boulevard and you’ll find the Korean War Memorial, and an assortment of sometimes whimsical sculptures scattered on lawns surrounding several state agency offices.
There are plenty of reasons to visit the Capitol campus in Olympia. Some come to take part in public protests and demonstrations, to meet with their elected representatives, to testify before legislative committees, to watch the House or Senate floor action, or to attend Supreme Court sessions. Those are all important reasons. But sometimes, it’s just a nice place to visit because it’s a nice place to visit. After all, it belongs to you.