Bellingham is a beautiful coastal city on Washington state’s I-5 corridor, 90 miles from Seattle and 25 miles from the Canadian border.
With this amazing location, it is no surprise they are best known for the Ski to Sea race, an event held each May. Teams of eight compete in a seven-leg, 101 mile course that brings participants from Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay. It’s seriously exciting stuff, and indicative of the culture here – outdoor-loving, quirky, and very artsy. (In fact, Bellingham ranks second in the nation for arts businesses per capita.)
Full transparency – this is my stomping grounds! I grew up in Blaine (25 minutes north), and went to high school and college in Bellingham. This is home! We were in town for a good friend’s wedding, and squeezed in some family fun around the nuptial festivities.
Not having been home for a while, everywhere I went people were suggesting things that were NEW in town! This means our itinerary is a bit heavy in that end, but I’ve thrown in suggestions for some good old favorites, too. Have something to add? We’d love to read your ideas! Please leave a comment below.
So what’s to love about Bellingham? Lots! We started with a visit downtown, driving right on past the blocks around the bus depot where my friends and I hung out as mischievous teens, and stopping in an area known for interesting shops and fun museums.
We love a good hands-on museum, and the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention is an excellent one. The collection takes visitors from the dawn of the electrical age through the radio era, and features plenty of experiments to facilitate independent learning. Bria learned quickly to look for the signs with a blue hand that indicated an exhibit you should touch, and she was fascinated to move from one to the next, learning how it all works.
Check the museum out on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the MegaZapper Electrical Show. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Visit SPARK at 1312 Bay Street. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children under 11. Memberships are also available, which include unlimited admission.
From there we walked a couple of blocks to one of my favorite haunts, Michael’s Books at 109 Grand Ave. Michael’s is a used book shop that specializes in out-of-print and rare books. It is filled floor to ceiling with books, books, and more books – just the way we like it. I spent more hours than I could count here as a teen, and always pop in when I’m in town to smell the stacks and pick up a few volumes.
The children’s corner is a great one, featuring a large collection of books of all kinds. Bria is working her way through the Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading list, and we found half a dozen books from her list to pick up.
Across the street is Henderson’s Books, another used book shop well worth a look – it’s a little bit of a Stones vs. Beatles debate here, everyone seems to love one or the other, but they are far from being the only options. If you are a bibliophile like me, check out this blog post for details on other bookstores in the area.
Open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Mount Bakery at 308 W. Champion serves breakfast all day. Kids love the bottle of water served to the table (a recycled wine bottle), and are sure to feel very sophisticated pouring themselves a glass while they wait for the selection of goodies we ordered to be delivered to the table.
This family-owned local business is a treat, with a variety of pastries and cookies baked daily. Mmmm, and the crepes! Sweet or savory, you can’t go wrong with a crepe from Mount Bakery. I indulged in the apple, pear, and brie crepe, while Bria had a half sandwich, piled high with fresh vegetables and meat, with a cup of the soup of the day.
We finished with a delicate brown sugar shortbread cookie that was so good, I wanted to go back and order a dozen. Or two.
If you are around more than one day and would like other suggestions for food, downtown Bellingham is a great spot for breakfast or brunch. The Little Cheerful Cafe at 133 East Holly does some serious goodies, like an amazing Eggs Benedict and a Crab Cake Omelette that will leave you happy and full. Don’t forget to “pimp your hash or cakes.” Another great crepe place is AB Crepes at 1311 Railroad. If you’re feeling crazy, bring a friend and do the AlphaBet Challenge – 26 crepes between two people in one hour. I’m sure the kids would enjoy the spectacle, but be sure to plan a nap for afterward!
When breakfast food isn’t quite the right fit for your appetite, check out Tadeos Mexican Restaurant at 207 East Holly. It’s authentic and yummy and priced right. I’m obsessed with the tamales.
We wrapped up our downtown outing at the Bellingham Railway Museum, sneaking in for the last hour before closing. I wish we had taken more time, because it would have been well worth it.
This little museum is a great treat, featuring a large collection of model trains and tons of kid-friendly trains for the younger set to get their hands on and play with. Families will also love the large collection of train books which line one wall – you could spend a day just exploring those and never run out of material. Another favorite exhibit is the collection of railroad lanterns, definitely something little train lovers don’t see every day.
Located at 1320 Commercial in downtown Bellingham, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $2 for children and $4 for adults.
There is so much more to see downtown, we definitely didn’t do it justice. Check out the Whatcom Museum and Mindport Exhibits for more museum fun. There is a great collection of art spaces, theaters, shops, restaurants, and so much more. Visit the Downtown Bellingham website, then get out there and explore!
On our second day in Bellingham, we had tuxedo fittings, rehearsal dinners, and pouring rain to navigate, but we did manage to fit in one fun activity – a trip to Trampoline Zone. Located in the old Allsop building at 4201 Meridian, this recently opened feature is a great place to run (or bounce) off some energy on a rainy day. There are not a lot of places that are equally fun for a 5-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, but this place fits the bill.
Our final day in Bellingham was beautiful and sunny, so we set out to explore the parks, starting with the brand spanking new Squalicum Creek Park.
So new the grass is still being cultivated, the park sits on the location of a former concrete plant, and efforts are underway to reclaim the area for fish and wildlife, as well as provide a fun place for families to gather. You can follow the trail and explore the salmon enhancement project at Willow Spring, or do as we did, and hit the playground.
The playground at Squalicum Creek Park features a zipline (my Kiwi hubby would call it a flying fox), with a line of children dutifully waiting in line to take their turn at the excitement. There are also climbing structures for a wide range of age groups, and some very Washington-appropriate mushrooms to hop along.
The fun doesn’t stop there, either. The park is home to a dog park, basketball court, baseball field, hiking trails, and shelters for hosting gatherings.
If you’re looking for established trees and grass to run around on, head down the hill to Cornwall Park, which has always been a favorite. The paved trails weave in and out of a gorgeous oasis in the center of town. Or move toward the lake and explore the 241-acre Whatcom Falls Park, with its four sets of waterfalls and miles of trails.
We chose to visit Boulevard Park, which is a beautiful waterfront space with a boardwalk and beach. Bria and I brought along a book, and read from Winnie-the-Pooh between watching the kayakers and dog walkers. This is a great place to just hang out and take in some fresh air.
Need more help planning your visit to Bellingham? Visit the Bellingham Tourism site, or their office downtown. The City of Bellingham also has some details on their site, and Experience Washington is a great statewide resource!
We are deeply saddened to report that Michael’s Books has closed its doors permanently. Read about the shop and the man who ran it for 32 years in this Bellingham Herald article.