A few blocks off the campus , the Washington State Capital Museum (211 W. 21st Ave., 360/753-2580, www.wshs.org , 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $2 adults, $1.75 seniors, $1 kids, free for under age six) houses permanent exhibits that include a marvelous collection of baskets, and a hands-on Native American house with smoked salmon hanging from overhead racks.
See lots more on the political and cultural history of Washington, including pioneer settlements and the early history of Northwest publishing, plus rotating exhibits, lectures, and programs. The building itself was built in 1920 as a 32-room California mission–style mansion for banker C. J. Lord. After his death, it was deeded to the state as a museum.
Also just off campus , at Legion Way and Franklin Street, the Old State Capitol Building (360/725-6025, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) was constructed in 1891 as the Thurston County Courthouse and served as the state capitol from 1903 to 1928. Today the flamboyant turreted building—complete with gargoyles—houses the State Department of Public Instruction. The Old Capitol is open for self-guided tours and has historical exhibits in the hallways.
Pick up self-guided tour brochures describing Olympia’s  historic neighborhoods from the chamber of commerce office. The gingerbread-decorated Bigelow House (Glass Ave. and East Bay Dr., 360/753-1215, 1–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $3 adults, $1 kids) overlooks Budd Inlet and is one of the oldest frame buildings in Washington. It was built in 1854 by Daniel and Ann Bigelow and is still owned by their descendants.