Are you visiting Bellingham for the first time? My favorite tips and locations for visitors to Bellingham, Washington. Thank you to Caroline Kinsman and Annette Bagley of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism for their assistance with this post.
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to Taylor Avenue Dock, a raised board walk that sweeps across the edge of Bellingham Bay. The Taylor Dock trail leads to and from the Fairhaven Village Inn.
To escape work I take a long lunch or early dinner in Bellingham’s Fairhaven Village, offering six blocks of eclectic dining and shopping. Many of the historic red brick buildings were constructed more than a century ago, when Fairhaven was a frontier town originally owned by Dan Harris. Today the district’s artistic side prevails with shops that feature pottery, woodworking and glass.
When I’m interested in Bellingham cuisine, I turn to the Whatcom Food & Farm Finder. Here you can find 132 local forms, restaurants, cafes, bakeries and delis featuring locally grown products. The guide is produced by Sustainable Connections, a grass-roots organization committed to maintaining a local economy built on sustainable business practices. In typical Washington style, Bellingham restaurants have joined forces to present an Eat Local series on Thursday nights from May through October.
Bellingham is my one stop shop for local raspberries. Surrounding farms in Lynden and Whatcom County produce more than 90 percent of all individually quick frozen (IQF) raspberries grown in the United States. More than 57 million pounds are harvested in Washington each July. Although many are gobbled up by locals, the vast majority become raspberry juice used by Ocean Spray and Smuckers. Here in California, Driscoll’s, based in Watsonville, produces about 90 percent of our fresh berries.
If you come to Bellingham, get your picture taken on a sailboat with the city’s skyline in the background. Bellingham was settled from the shoreline inward, so the best views of the city are from the water. Early pioneers arrived in this region by boat, as the original trees were too thick to travel between with a horse and wagon. Today, several charter companies operate out of Bellingham. Sail Away Custom Sailboat Charters is skippered by Captain Charlie DeWeese on his 50-foot wooden-hulled sailboat, Happy Talk.
If you have to order one thing off the menu at Fino, get the peppered pork tenderloin with mushroom polenta and chianti sauce. Keep in mind that the menu changes every couple of months to reflect whatever is fresh.
For a huge splurge, go to Silver Reef Hotel for Caesar salad prepared tableside, an enormous steak and save room for the molten Chocolate Rockettes or the Flaming Cherries Jubilee.
When I’m low on funds, I go to the Bellingham Farmers Market where I can discover new recipes from local chefs and hear live music for free.
Photo opportunities in Bellingham include the concrete “Welcome to Bellingham” sign set into the hillside on State Street. Although it appears to be in a random location today, this is where the original settlers landed by boat. They climbed a series of stairs to the mainland, which was covered in towering evergreens. Photo ops also include the Whatcom Museum and Mount Baker Theater buildings, as well as 10,778- foot Mount Baker to the east and the San Juan islands to the west.
For the best views, walk to the top of the lookout tower in the Sehome Arboretum, or ride the elevator to the 14th floor of the Bellingham Towers building. You can also check out the Nimbus restaurant, providing areal views and a dinner menu featuring in-season, local ingredients.
The most random thing about Bellingham is the piano races at Dirty Dan Harris Days in the Historic Fairhaven District.
Bellingham locals love to be outdoors; go biking on either the Interuban Trail or Galbraith Mountain in the morning and sea kayaking on Bellingham Bay in the afternoon.
If you like walking, start at Fairhaven to the downtown trial through Boulevard Park.
Bellingham’s best museum is the Whatcom Museum of History and Art in the Lightcatcher Building, featuring art exhibitions, as well as a family interactive gallery for young children.
If you enjoy dancing, go to the Wild Buffalo. Skylark’s Hidden Cafe is the spot for late night dining.
The Bellingham Herald or Cascadia Weekly newspapers will keep you posted on what’s happening in Whatcom County.
Downtown Bellingham offers an Art Walk event on the first Friday of the month from 6-10 p.m. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership also hosts Downtown Sounds summer concerts and the Bite of Bellingham with Allied Arts La Bella Strada Arts Festival in August.
In the spring you might enjoy the Ski to Sea Festival on Memorial Day weekend. Don’t miss the 90-mile relay race from the snow fields of Mt. Baker to the waters of Bellingham Bay. Seven legs include cross country ski, downhill ski/snowboarding, running, road bike, two-person canoe, mountain bike and sea kayak.
In the summer you should attend the Raspberry Festival in Lynden on the third weekend in July for raspberry sundaes in this Dutch-style farming hamlet. For something different, don’t miss the raspberry and blackberry wines at Samson Estates Winery, just east of Lynden on Van Dyk Road.
In the fall you should visit the Fall Fruit Festival at Cloud Mountain Farm, the first weekend in October. Taste 200 varieties of apples, pears, grapes and uncommon fruits, as well as cider, nuts, jellies and sauces.
In the winter you should go to the symphony, the Mount Baker Theatre and the independent Pickford Film Center.
Nature and art lovers will know that Bellingham is home to the Big Rock Sculpture Garden. This 2.5 acre wooded park includes more than 35 permanent sculptures by local and international artists.
For a great breakfast treat or expresso, go to the Wood’s Coffee in Boulvard Park overlooking Bellingham Bay.
Just outside of Bellingham you can visit Mount Baker and have lunch at Everybody’s Store in Van Zandt. The 58-mile Mount Baker Scenic Bayway, also known as Washington State Route 542, reaches from Bellingham’s coastal city limits to snowy slopes of the mountain. In the summer months, the highway ends at a 5,140 foot parking lot known as Artists Point. Everybody’s Store is a short jog south on Highway 9 for a nice lunch break.
In you have kids, you won’t want to miss Chocolate Necessities or climbing on rocks and beach combing at Boulevard Park.
What are your favorite things to do in Bellingham, Washington?
Photos by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown