Olympia has been the capital of Washington since 1853, the beginning of city and state. It is small for the capital city of a major state, but that makes it all the more pleasant to visit. The old and charming downtown area is compact and easy on the feet, stretching between Capitol Lake and the gathering of austere government buildings to the south, the shipping and yacht docks around glistening Budd Inlet to the west,
the colorful market area capping the north end of town, and Interstate 5 running along the eastern edge. There are small, unexpected surprises all through town, from pretty, little half-block parks and blossoming miniature gardens to clutches of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and antiques shops. The imposing state capitol, finished in 1928, is set above the south end of town like a fortress, framed by a skirt of granite steps. The monumental 287-foot-high dome is the fourth-largest masonry dome in the world (only St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London, and the national Capitol in the other Washington are larger).