With the Legislative Building  so close to its shoreline, Capitol Lake acts as Olympia’s  unofficial reflecting pool. Enjoy the glassy waters from the lawns at Heritage Park, a grassy end stop on the lake just below the Capitol’s hill. The park shows off with cherry blossoms in April, and swimming, sunbathing, sailing, hiking, biking, and picnicking the rest of the year. Each fall, the nearby Capitol Lake fish ladder is used by hundreds of king salmon returning home to spawn in the Deschutes River.
Across the street, jets of water shoot up, to the delight of bathing-suited kids at Heritage Fountain (6th Ave. and Water St.). The fountain is open daily except for Wednesdays, when it is closed for maintenance.
Washington’s state flower is displayed in force at Zabel’s Rhododendrons (2432 N. Bethel St., 360/357-6977), a four-acre park where 1,200 rhodies and azaleas are yours to behold from early May through Memorial Day. No pets or picnicking.
Named for city founder Edmund Sylvester, downtown’s Sylvester Park (7th Ave. and Capitol Way) hosts concerts in the gazebo in July and August on Friday at noon, and on Wednesday evenings. Directly behind the park is the Old Capitol Building.
The Yashiro Japanese Garden (Plum St., 360/753-8380, 10 a.m. to dusk daily, free) near Union Avenue was built in cooperation with Olympia’s  sister city of Yashiro, Japan. This small and peaceful park has a main gate built without nails, a garden lantern of cut granite, a bamboo grove, and an 18-foot pagoda. The central feature is a pond and waterfall.
Boat lovers can take a stroll at Percival Landing Park (222 Columbia St. NW), a waterside retreat with grassy lawns, lots of outdoor art, and a short boardwalk facing the Olympia harbor. Climb the Percival Landing Tower (open daylight hours only) at the north end of the Budd Inlett boardwalk for a panoramic view of the yacht-filled harbor with the Capitol behind, the Olympic Mountains, and freighters loading logs for Asian markets.
One of the finest nature parks within in city limits, Priest Point Park (dawn–dusk daily) sits less than two miles away from downtown but is worlds apart in habitat. The wooded park hugs Ellis Cove along Budd Inlet with a mile of natural and quiet saltwater shoreline.