During the summer of 2023 my wife and I spent time in Bellingham Washington. This town has an adorable sister town two minutes away called Fairhaven. We enjoyed exploring their art galleries and used books stores. Those amenities can also be found in Bellingham with it’s cool Turkish coffee shop, and eclectic downtown waterfront vibes. We had an enjoyable time there and if you're considering visiting the North Cascades region, Bellingham (or Anacortes) is a great option.
If you’re a fitness nut, the Bellingham Fitness center is a great gym to join. They will work with your abbreviated time schedule, allowing you to sign a few month contract. And because the folks there are friendly, professional, and helpful, you’ll remain enthused to work out. The facility itself was always clean, had ample weightlifting and cardio machines as well as a lot of dumbbells and sufficient floor space to move.
Bellingham was the most expensive place we have stayed, however it wasn’t an unreasonable amount of money to live. There are plenty of grocery store options to choose from to help keep food prices in-check, along with free activities such as open-play pickleball courts, great hiking within Bellingham city limits, and strolls along Boulevard park. One side note to remember is that Washington state has historically some of the highest gas prices in the country. To offset the cost of fuel I found a bike on Facebook marketplace and peddled around town as often as I could.
Let’s run through the tops spots we enjoyed while we were staying in Bellingham. Whatcom Falls Park offers unpaved dirt paths with rolling terrain through a heavily wooded park that is perfect for the whole family. The big cherry on top is the swimming hole in the center of the park that feels like something out of a dinosaur movie. We’re talking ferns, waterfalls, round slippery boulders all tucked away in the middle of a forest…in the middle of a city!
Take a hike up Sehome Hill Arboretum for a short walk with a nice arial view of the city by scaling the fire tower.
Make sure you check out Larrabee State Park, pictured above. I know this park does get mentioned a lot in other blogger’s posts but for good reason. It’s a quick 10-minute drive from Bellingham and the park offers everything from a beach walk to a mountain hike that overlooks the bay and don’t forget about discovering the ‘secret’ Fragrance Lake.
Eat the best oysters we’ve ever found in the US at The Oyster Bar or try to shuck your own from Taylor’s Shellfish Farms. Both of which are very close to one another. However, be warned, that getting down to Taylor’s is a real pain. The road feels like a private road and on the weekends, it stays extremely busy and the road is a single lane…and that single lane is on a sheer sided mountain.
Check out Cornwall Park for ample amounts of pickle ball courts and warm, welcoming players. I learned how to play on those courts and every person there truly wanted to see everyone have a good time.
Two quick side notes. I didn’t meet a single mean person in Bellingham. Granted I didn’t go down grocery isles shaking hands with every person I met but in general, people were super nice.
Oh, and the weather couldn’t have been beat (for our preferences at least). It was somewhere in the ball park of 70 degrees and sunny, almost every day we were there. The deep Pacific water surrounding the city helps modulate the ambient air temperature. It never gets too hot or cold in this region because the ocean acts as absorbent pad offsetting any extreme temps. It also hardly rained because it’s in a rain shadow from Seattle.
Onto the islands! San Juan island specifically. (A sail boat our ferry passed on the way to San Juan Island.) Run down to Anacortes, pop a ferry over to the island and ride a trolley out of Friday Harbor. Ferry rides are less than $20 per person round trip and the trolley ride, that will run you around the island, giving you a talking tour, doesn’t cost much more. You can get on and off the trolley whenever you like, stopping at the multitude of farms, harbor towns, state parks, and Orca sighting spots.
Okay, hiking time. The North Cascades (pictured above) are about an hour and a half drive from Bellingham, but if you want great hiking without the traffic, check out Mount Baker Ski area. This little gem can be accessed much more easily from Bellingham. On your way, be sure to give some love to the little coffee shops and gas stations you’ll drive by on route 542 as there are a handful of mom and pop shops that are super neat but rely on folks like us to bring in business.
And while you’re so close, don’t forget to run up to see arguably one of Canada’s prettiest cities, Vancouver. Oh what the heck. While we’re getting off topic, let’s run through a couple of other REALLY OUT OF THE WAY places that we checked out while on the west coast and was so glad we did.
Keep in mind, we both were born and raised on the east coast, so things like the massive red wood trees absolutely blew our minds. So, yes, go make the 10 hour drive down the beautiful 101 and check out those Redwood National and State parks. While you’re close, be sure to drop in on Crater Lake, we’ve been told its life changing. Don’t forget about Mt Rainer National Park too!