Bellingham, Washington is an ultra-unique city chock full of hidden gems. Located 90 miles north of Seattle in Whatcom County and just 20 miles south of the Canadian border, its access to all things nature is unparalleled. Whether you’re hungry for adventure, keen on beer tasting and nightlife, or gravitate towards the arts, Bellingham has something for you. And while it might not be the first city you see on the map, I promise it’s worth a visit.
In this post, I’ll cover the best times of year to visit Bellingham, what to do both in and around town, where to stay, where to eat (and drink!), and how you can maximize your Cascade Range experience from one central location.
Truthfully? Bellingham is epic all year round. But, since Bellingham experiences an average of 39 inches of rain per year, it’s important to consider your activities of choice before planning a visit.
If hiking, sightseeing, and San Juan Island-hopping is your priority, I recommend visiting Bellingham in the summer. Temperatures average a beautiful 69 degrees in June and 74 degrees in July and August with less than 7 days of rain in each month. This means your chances of catching bluebird mountain views are pretty darn high. Not to mention the possibility of enjoying a local Bellingham beer at an outdoor brewery while you watch the sunset at 9:30 pm!
By July, most of the snow will have melted off the highest hiked points in the Cascades. So if accessibility is a priority and you don’t want to putz around with any winter gear, plan on visiting in July.
Parading around the Cascades isn’t just reserved for summer. And while your chances of catching a rainy day are higher, September and October bring milder temperatures (highs in the 50s) and spectacular foliage. Just remember to bring a beanie and a puffer jacket for peak fall comfort.
Bellingham winters and springs are mostly cold and wet, but it’s well worth a visit if you enjoy skiing or snowboarding. Mt. Baker Ski Area is just an hour east of Bellingham and boasts the highest average snowfall of any ski area in the continental United States. You’re practically guaranteed a powder day!
Bellingham does have its own airport. Southwest, Alaska Air, and Allegiant service this airport. For those coming from father or looking to save a few bucks, you can fly into Seattle (1.5hrs south) or Vancouver (1hr north; requires border crossing).
Bellingham is a small city and you’ll want a car to get around and see the sites! There are counters here at the airport but if you’re flying into Seattle you can get a rental for a pretty good price. If coming in the winter, you’ll want an SUV with 4×4 if you plan to head into the mountains.
One thing to note. Many of the passes and mountain highways require you to carry chains. You might not need them but it is a requirement to have in your car. You can purchase them at places like Walmart and sometimes find rentals. Near Rainier it’s easy to find rentals but less so in Bellingham. Most car rental companies state you can’t use chains on their rental cars. Typically, if you have them on and something happens to the car/accident/another person, the chain use would invalidate the insurance. Call the rental companies and find out their policies.
Rain or shine, Bellingham has plenty of unique experiences. In this section, I’ll divulge some of my favorites!
The SPARK Museum of Electrical Innovation is truly something out of a science fiction novel. See artifacts from some of the first-ever electrical experiments dating back to the 17th century and experience hands-on exhibits demonstrating the power of electricity. Entry is only $12, which includes their live lightning MegaZapper Electrical Show.
Whatcom Falls Park is textbook Pacific Northwest. Stroll the 4-mile Whatcom Creek Trail Loop to see the falls and lush forest, rain or shine. As an added bonus, they have specific areas for off leash dogs that aren’t a dog park. With 3 hyper four legged children, having dedicated areas for off leash dogs is wonderful. Bellingham boosts several areas besides dog parks.
Bellingham is one of the Mountain Biking capitals of the United States! Stop by Jack’s Bicycle Center to pick up a rental and head just two miles to Galbraith Mountain Bike Park. Here, you’ll find 3000 acres of scenic singletrack routes fit for any level. Don’t have mountain biking experience but really want to try? Book a lesson with Radical Routes to learn the ins and outs of one of the most popular sports of the Pacific Northwest.
Chuckanut Drive is a 24-mile scenic byway that runs along the coastline from Bellingham to Burlington. Start your day at Camber Coffee, an artisan roastery located downtown, and hop on Chuckanut Drive to mosey on over to Bellingham’s Fairhaven Historic District for a scenic stroll. Continue south, making a stop at Larabee State Park to finish your coffee on the beach overlooking the San Juan Islands, then stop for lunch at Taylor Shellfish Farms for local, sustainable oysters. If you’re down for a slight 2-mile detour, visit the Terramar Brewstillery Speakeasy in Edison.
You won’t find a better access point to nature than Bellingham, Washington. From North Cascades National Park to the San Juan Islands, everything is truly right at your fingertips. Here are some nearby day trips that will give you a taste (well, more like a meal!) of the true Pacific Northwest.
Washington boasts three gigantic National Parks: Mt. Rainier, Olympic, and the North Cascades. While over 2 million people visit Rainier and Olympic every year, North Cascades sees a fraction. And at just an hour and a half’s drive from Bellingham, you can experience what’s known around here as the “Alps of America.” Grandiose, alpine scenery sprinkled with lakes and colors that will make you forget how close you are to Bellingham and Seattle. Here are the essential hikes you should consider when planning your day in and around the North Cascades.
Cascade Pass Trail (continue on to the Sahale Arm if you can spare another 6 miles)
Bellingham is just one hour away from the famed Mt. Baker. Along the Mt. Baker highway, you will witness a magical transition from rainforest to Alpine. Stop at the popular Wake ‘N Bakery (about halfway along the route) for some breakfast and then continue along to Artist Point. Here, you can hike as much as you want, or simply drive up to the top and stroll out of your car to see Mt. Baker. On your way home, stop at Chair 9 Pizza & Bar for a well-earned slice and an absolute favorite of locals.
Visible from Bellingham’s waterfront, the San Juan Islands are an archipelago known for resident Orcas. Hop on the ferry in Anacortes (44 miles from Bellingham) that will take you directly to San Juan Island. Here, you can rent a kayak, book a whale-watching excursion with Outdoor Odysseys, explore Lime Kiln Point State Park, and enjoy a jaunt through the Pelindaba Lavendar Farm. Pop into Tops’l Sushi and Seafood for an incredible meal before getting back on the ferry to Bellingham.
If Italian is your thing then you need to head over to Storia Cucina for the perfect house made pasta or sourdough pizza! This hearty joint is a staple in our weekly date night rotation. Don’t forget to pair your meal with a Negroni! One of my all time favorite cocktails! Try out their sister bar, Bar Cicotti, just across the intersection for a lovely glass of wine.
Redlight Kitchen & Bar is an absolute Bellingham MUST. Dark and cozy on the inside, it specializes in tender wontons and unique, refreshing cocktails. Planning to cook at your campsite or Air B&B? You can grab their frozen wontons to cook at home and at home cocktail kits. Perfect for an at home date night!
Bellinghamsters love their bar food. Check out Black Sheep for tacos, Elote, and Palomas with house-made grapefruit soda. This is my absolute go to spot for dinner!
I love a restaurant that KNOWS what they love and makes it epic. Bantam Kitchen & Bar specializes in fried chicken! Plus, their mid-century atmosphere adds a level of sophistication to the experience. Reservations highly recommended because this place is THAT good!
Looking for flavors that delight the taste buds? Try out Carnal! Their focus is on live fire cooking and locally sourced meat. You won’t be disappointed by the short ribs!!
Bellingham is known for its world-class breweries. Visit one (or all!) of fourteen local taprooms to taste, and plan your route using a Tap Trail map which incentivizes your brewery visits with rewards. Here are a few of my favorites that will give you a true feel for the Bellinghamster’s unique brewing culture.
Aslan Brewing specializes in 100% Organic beer. Their taproom is full of greenery with epic floor-to-ceiling windows and craft beers for any pallet. Definitely come hungry, they have an awesome menu.
Trackside Beer Garden is a seasonal pop-up from Kulshan Brewing Co. and is a must-see if you find yourself in Bellingham during the summer months. It’s located almost directly on the water adjacent to a former paper mill and Bellimgham’s epic Waterfront Pump Track. Perfect if you want to practice your mountain biking skills before settling in for a beer. For fall, winter, and spring, visit Kulshan’s “K2” Taproom and Production Brewery where you can find 20 taps and rotating food trucks.
Boundary Bay Brewery, established in 1995, is Bellingham’s oldest brewery. Located right downtown, they boast a full food menu and a huge variety of beers. Try the Key Lime Pie Pastry Sour! Boundary Bay loves hosting live music and trivia nights so check out their calendar of events.
Wander Brewing is as Whatcom as it gets. Award-winning beers that stray away from the ever-popular Pacific Northwest IPA culture, all in a cozy, historic industrial building? Sign me up! As an added bonus, they have rotating food trucks to satisfy any craving you might have. Definitely try the Vegan truck!
If you’re looking for an off the beaten path brewery then Otherlands Beer is for you. This quaint little brewery is tucked away in residential streets of Bellingham, offering unique and different rustic beers. Plus, their menu is to die for! Think European street foods. Plus they offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays!
Want to enjoy a proper German lager and sausage with your pup? Then this is the place for you! While most places in Bellingham are pet friendly on their outdoor patios, Schweinhaus is my favorite place to venture with my pup. Plus, it brings back memories of being at Oktoberfest! Check their calendar of events for live music happenings.
Bellingham is super central to tons of outdoor activities in all directions. Here’s where you should consider staying for the ultimate experience.
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