Bellingham in Washington State, is the perfect place for a waterfront getaway.
Bellingham is an easy 1.5 hour drive north of Seattle. Many visitors prefer to take the scenic route from Seattle along stunning Chuckanut Drive, to enjoy breathtaking views of the San Juan Islands.
Bellingham has a spectacular setting on Bellingham Bay near the Canadian border, with charming 19th century buildings that give it loads of charm.
This vibrant town has plenty to do, including a historic shopping district, luxury waterfront hotels, excellent museums and galleries, a famous theater, bustling marinas, and a lush city park with waterfalls.
10 best things to do in Bellingham
1. Shop and dine at the charming Fairhaven Historic District.
The charming Fairhaven Historic District is the heart and soul of Bellingham, with tasteful gift shops, cafes and restaurants. The vintage buildings are beautifully preserved, with European-style cobbled alleyways and a bustling village green in the heart of town.
Get your caffeine fix at Colophon Cafe, and browse the great selection of literature at Village Books at the green. Over summer the village green at Bellingham also hosts an open-air cinema.
Bellingham has so many cute shops, like Three French Hens gifts, located in a historic bank building. These are a cut above the usual cheap, touristy shops, and offer an array of beautifully curated products.
Bellingham's tree-lined Harris Street is full of fun shops, cafes and restaurants.
This is another perspective of Harris Street, with colorful, floral displays on the vintage lamp posts.
The Fairhaven Village Green is a popular gathering place in Bellingham, and is a fun place to hang-out. It's anchored by Village Books and the Colophon Cafe.
There are regular movie nights here during warmer months, with plenty of space to spread out on the lawned area.
2. Walk along the picturesque South Bay Trail at Bellingham, starting at Taylor Avenue Dock.
Stroll down to the scenic Taylor Avenue Dock (on the intersection of 10th Street and Taylor Avenue), a short distance from the Fairhaven Village Green.
The Taylor Avenue Dock juts out over the water for 0.5 miles, until it reaches Boulevard Park. It has a sheltered picnic area on the dock and plenty of benches to enjoy some of the best views of Lummi Island from Bellingham. You can take a ferry out to Lummi Island, but there isn't a huge amount to do there, other than a small lodge with a restaurant.
These views across Bellingham Bay can't be beat!
Continue past Taylor Avenue Dock to the waterfront path. It's all part of the 2-mile South Bay Trail, that connects the Fairhaven Historic District, to downtown Bellingham. Both are lively areas, with lots of restaurants and shops.
Wood's Coffee is a short distance from Taylor Avenue Dock, and has some of the best views of Bellingham Bay.
The rustic interior and comfy sofas are a lovely place for a coffee.
Continue along the South Bay Trail until you get to Downtown Bellingham. Can you see the distinctive red tower of Old City Hall in Downtown Bellingham, visible across the water? That's roughly how much further you need to walk.
3. Visit Downtown Bellingham, for cool restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries.
Downtown Bellingham has an abundance of historic, architectural buildings full of restaurants and cafes. The overall scene is relaxed and unpretentious, but this is clearly a town that likes to indulge.
Eat yummy cajun food at Bayou on the Bay, or comfort food at the Bellingham Cider Company. The Camber Cafe has a sleek, European-style interior, perfect for your morning cuppa or brunch. Looking for some restaurants with loads of charm and atmosphere? Then look no further than The Rock and Rye Oyster House, or Honey Moon Alley Bar & Cider House.
Downtown Bellingham is also a mecca for the arts, with a bustling cultural center loaded with fun museums and galleries.
Arts enthusiasts will love the exhibitions at the Lightcatcher building or Allied Arts Gallery. There's also the Whatcom Museum in Old City Hall for history buffs, and the Spark Museum of Radio and Electricity for curious minds. Kids can participate in hands-on activities at the Mindport Exhibits or Family Interactive Gallery.
4. Learn about local history at the stunning Whatcom Museum, at Old City Hall.
The Old City Hall was originally built in 1892, and is Bellingham's most striking landmark. Today it houses some fascinating historical exhibits on Bellingham and the building's architecture. Learn about Bellingham's early logging industry and maritime heritage, and check out a hall with 500 mounted birds.
Even if you're not interested in local history, it's worth stepping inside to see the gorgeous interior of this unique building.
Check hours and admission (121 Prospect Street).
5. See art exhibitions at the Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher building.
The Lightcatcher building opened in 2009, with a magnificent 37-foot high and 180-foot wide translucent wall, known as the "lightcatcher". At 42,000 square feet, this is a spacious, airy building, perfect for viewing temporary art exhibitions. There's also a Family Interactive Gallery, with lots of activities to keep your kids entertained for hours.
Check hours & admission (250 Flora Street).
6. Visit Spark Museum of Electrical Invention at Bellingham.
Visit the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention at Bellingham, with interactive exhibits on the history of electricity inventions from the 1600's to 1940's. There are amazing artifacts, like edison bulbs, early music boxes and radios, telegraphs and telephones, and radios. You can even find some original scientific papers from Galileo and Newton.
This is a super fun place with lots of hands on experimentation, like the static electricity that makes hair stand on end, or the Tesla Coil with 9-foot long sparking displays that resemble bolts of lightning.
Check hours & admission (1312 Bay Street).
7. Take your kids to the Mindport science museum.
Bellingham has its own science museum for kids!
There's so much for kids to do at the Mindport science museum, where every exhibit is designed to be interacted with. See a real hurricane simulated inside a tunnel, play on an organ, or shoot ping pong balls through overhead tubes. This is an absolute gem of a museum, and the admission is dirt cheap.
Check hours & admission (210 W Holly Street).
8. Experience the local art scene at Allied Arts Gallery.
Allied Arts is a gallery for emerging artists from Oregon, Washington State, California and Alaska.
Check hours (1418 Cornwall Avenue).
9. Catch a show at the historic Mount Baker Theater.
The lofty white tower of the Mount Baker Theater is one of Bellingham's most dramatic landmarks. The elegant Main Stage is listed on the register of National Historic Places and has a calendar of world-class acts. The venue is huge, with seating for 1,517 people. This is one of America's most beautiful theaters, tucked away in the small town of Bellingham.
Check shows & tickets (104 N Commercial Street, #4408).
10. See gorgeous waterfalls at Whatcom Falls Park.
It's a short drive to the north-east side of Bellingham to the 241-acre Whatcom Falls Park.
The easiest access to the falls is along the Silverbeach Road entrance off Lakeway Drive. From here the falls are just a 2-minute walk from the car park. A historic stone bridge provides the perfect vantage point for Whatcom Falls. It was built during the depression era as part of President Roosevelt's public works initiative.
Continue walking along the Lower Gorge Trail through lush temperate forest to discover other smaller cascades and waterholes along Whatcom Creek. In summer the gorge is very popular with swimmers (no lifeguards on duty).
11. Admire beautiful sculptures at the Big Rock Garden Park at Bellingham.
This 2.5 acre park has 37 striking sculptures by local and international artists, nestled amongst the lush, forested setting. Follow the path lined with evergreens and maples and ferns, to discover a diverse range of sculpture. It's open from dawn to dusk (2900 Sylvan Street).
12. Visit the marina for waterfront dining and a scenic park.
The Bellingham Marina has a wonderful selection of upscale waterfront restaurants, like Anthony's Hearthfire Grill, Anthony's Restaurant, the Hotel Bellwether Restaurant, and Lombardi's. There's also a beautiful waterfront park, with walking paths and a playground. This is a great place to watch the sunset!
Stroll around Zuanich Point Park, for some of the best views of Bellingham Bay.
The swanky Hotel Bellwether anchors the Bellingham marina, and is a short distance from all the nice restaurants.
13. Stay in a gorgeous waterfront Bellingham hotel.
Bellingham has a great choice of luxe, waterfront hotels, perfect for a special weekend away.
The Chrysalis has an incredible waterfront location, just steps from all the fun at the historic Fairhaven district. It also overlooks the Taylor Avenue Dock, perfect for long walks to savor the beautiful views.
Hotel Bellwether is another popular choice, with a quieter location at the marina, but within walking distance of some of Bellingham's most high end restaurants. For a unique experience, rent a hotel room in the lighthouse tower.
14. Visit the Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden.
Art lovers can drive 5-minutes south of Bellingham to the Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden, on Chuckanut Drive (Highway 11). View an extensive collection of fine-art, glassware and pottery. There's also a small garden with lovely water features.
Fun things to do near Bellingham.
Consider taking a 6-minute ferry ride to Lummi Island from Bellingham. Alternatively, head east along the Mount Baker Scenic Highway to explore the stunning Artists Point at Mount Baker (only accessible during summer). The spectacular Chuckanut Drive near Bellingham, is also a must see.