Tough call here between the state capital and Bellingham, the hippie town near the Canadian border that's home to Western Washington University. But Olympia is home to an even hippier school, The Evergreen State College. Its major contribution to American higher ed? School without grades. That's right, in a precursor to the millennial "trophy for trying" mindset, this school encourages students to just come and learn, with no real quantifiable ways to judge them. Olympia is also terrifyingly close to Mount Rainier and its endless outdoor recreation. And despite the presence of state legislators and the lobbyists who love them, the pervasiveness of the student population gives this town a feel that's more beads than bureaucrats.
This town draws outdoorsy types for its location along the New River and access to some of North America's best whitewater rafting. The city isn't exactly overrun with sandal-clad, shaggy-haired river rats, but in comparison to the rest of this hermetic state, it's downright Oregonian. People here are in tune with the outdoors, and more concerned with climbing mountains and navigating rapids than playing football. And while it's not quite weird enough to make any lists of most hippie cities in America, the natural vibe here is as close to hippie as you're getting in the Mountain State.
The music scene defines hippie-ness in America's Dairyland. Long before Justin Vernon and the rest of Bon Iver brought in the epic Eaux Claires music festival, the creative side of Eau Claire was apparent in the bars and venues Downtown, and in the jazz programs in the local high schools and at the university. Beyond the burgeoning music scene, Water St also boasts a smattering of galleries that draw hippies and artists from around the state. And the town has a laid-back college-town feel that's ratcheted down considerably from Madison.
"Laradise," as locals know it, is a strange and surprisingly bohemian oasis in the middle of Cowboy Country. Home of the University of Wyoming -- the state's only four-year college -- the town of 30,000 sits on a high mountain plain 7,200ft above sea level, and is home to a generally bizarre cast of big Western characters. People arrive for the university, but fall in love with Laramie's beautiful surroundings, happenin' music scene, and slow pace that eschews the American rat race. Over time, a thriving hippie culture has developed: Laramie's best restaurant is a funky vegetarian spot, Sweet Melissa, and it's home to quite possibly the greatest secondhand clothing store in America, the fabulously named NU2U. There is still plenty of cowboy culture to be found in Laramie (there are not one, but two bars called The Cowboy), but Wyoming's isolated, leave-me-be attitude finds a happy balance with the Laramigos who just want to live life and do their own thing up there in the mountains. -- B.M.
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