Photo by Nichole the Nomad.
A vibrant gem along the Pacific coast, Bellingham, Washington is where a city meets the sea, with its options for visitors to explore history, nature and culinary delights. Bellingham Bay sits on the part of the Salish Sea that runs from British Columbia to Washington State.
Kayak the beautiful coastal waters by daytime, or paddle at night for an otherworldly experience to see the magic of a bioluminescent light show playing in the waves. Then, while on the water, perhaps be lucky enough to see the sky light up with meteor showers. Within view of Bellingham is majestic Mount Baker, rising 10,781 feet above sea level.
Drive to the base of the giant volcanic peak and take in the sight of hundreds of wildflowers surrounded by snow-covered mountains. From water to mountain peaks, Bellingham offers a variety of experiences for summer travelers.
Photo by Sonja Peterson
Bellingham Bay is a bustling seaport surrounded by natural resources. Incorporated into Bellingham in 1903, the area called Fairhaven was a thriving industrial center in its 1890s heyday, with fishing, canneries, lumber mills, flour mills and logging. Today Fairhaven is a National Historic District filled with an eclectic mix of charming shops and restaurants.
The Knights of Pythias Building is home to a Fairhaven institution, Colophon Cafe, aptly named for the publisher’s emblem and a nod to its neighbor, the adjacent Village Books and Paper Dreams and its three floors of books and gifts. The cafe has been serving house-made comfort food since 1985 with soups so popular that the original owner, Ray Dunn, published several volumes of recipes such as customer favorites, vegan split pea and African peanut soups. On hot summer days, cold soup options fill the menu, including two styles of zesty gazpacho. For dessert, visit Evolve Chocolate + Café, located on the third floor, above Village Books. Chef Christy Fox, with 30 years of culinary experience, and her partner Shannon Fox, have been cooking in the Bellingham area since 2012. Their daily menus reflect not only sweets, but offerings with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. After nibbling on handcrafted chocolates, take a short walk to the bay and soak up the views of Bellingham Bay, Lummi Island and the San Juan Islands from one of the waterfront benches. For fine dining in Bellingham, Keenan’s at the Pier serves up fresh food with ample outside seating to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Try their Penn Cove mussels, served with chorizo and coconut milk; the spicy chorizo pairs well with the sweetness of mussels harvested off the nearby Olympic Peninsula.
Photo courtesy of Visit Bellingham
Kayak the Bay For an unrivaled experience, a night-time guided sea kayak tour is an astonishing activity when timed with bioluminescent waters of a plankton-bloom lit by moonlight. A daytime kayak can be just as special when the sun shines and sights include seals bathing on rocks around the edges of the harbor.
Start at Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom for kayak, paddleboard or canoe rentals. The lake is 10 miles long with stunning views of the surrounding hills. The giant oak trees surrounding the lake provide shade for a post-paddle picnic.
Take a Hike A way to take in the beauty of Bellingham is on two feet. From Whatcom Falls Park, there are several short hikes that complement a visit to nearby Lake Whatcom. On the Whatcom Creek Trail, an old stone bridge crosses in front of Whatcom Falls, which is always flowing.
The Oyster Dome hike delivers island views and mountains with a dramatic 190-foot drop to the sea below. The popular trail starts at Samish Point Overlook, and the hike is a total of five miles roundtrip, with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. However, one could also take in the expansive views of the Salish Sea from the Overlook.
Considered one of the most popular hikes in the area, the Artist Ridge Trail offers views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and other prominent peaks, and in the summer, colorful wildflowers line the 1.2-mile hike route. Arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon to beat the crowds, because the parking lot for the trailhead, at Artist Ridge, fills up during high season. Note: Snow can be on the trail as late as July.
Bike the Waterfront and Beyond Rent an e-bike from Sun-E-Land Bikes near the Waterfront Pump Track and ride to Bellingham Farmers Market between Railroad Avenue and North State Street, to the beginning of the South Bay Trail. Head south to enjoy sweeping views of the bay and mountains. After the ride, cool off with ice cream from the popular Mallard Ice Cream. Boundary Bay Brewing & Bistro is nearby for a beverage and a bite, and has outdoor seating with a view.
For a more challenging bike ride, try the Interurban Trail that can be accessed at the parking lot of the Rotary Trailhead.
Photo by Damian Vines
Bellingham offers options for all budgets. A luxury boutique hotel on the waterfront, the Hotel Bellwether offers a range of rooms, including their Lighthouse Suite, a freestanding replica of a lighthouse filled with nautical decor. In the Historic Fairhaven District, the Fairhaven Village Inn comprises 22 guest rooms and houses the Deco-era cocktail lounge, Galloway’s for fine wines, craft cocktails and a bite to eat within a luxurious ambiance. The Coachman Inn offers a clean and cost-conscious option in the heart of Bellingham within walking distance to Western Washington University, along with a pool and continental breakfast.
For camping near Mount Baker, Silver Fir Campground or Douglas Fir Campground are run by the U.S. Forest Service and are situated close to hiking trails.
Photo by Damian Vines
A scenic train ride brings visitors to Bellingham via Amtrak Cascades’ twice daily round-trip trains from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, Canada, with stops at Bellingham Station. Framed by the majestic Cascade Mountains to the west and the beautiful San Juan Islands in the east, Bellingham is a destination waiting to be explored.