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San Juan Island
I-5 Exits 252 - 258
A pedestrian-friendly city that loves its trails, food and beer.
It may be nicknamed the city of subdued excitement, but Bellingham is anything but quiet. With a front-row seat to beautiful Bellingham Bay and Mt. Baker looming just behind, there’s more to do in this busy college town than you can pack into your summer schedule.
A city devoted to all things green, it was designated a “Trail Town USA” by the American Hiking Society and National Park Service in 1996. Since then, it’s gotten even more pedestrian friendly with nearly 40 miles of trails spread across 10 trail systems weaving their way through the city. The trails, used by locals for recreation and daily commuting alike, create an intricate network that fans out through the 600-plus acres of designated park and open space found throughout the city to both downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven, making it easy to get where you need to go, even if you don’t have a car.
One of the system’s gems, Whatcom Falls Park, offers a peaceful wooded retreat from the city and has a spectacular waterfall in its midst. Sitting by the falls is a favorite summertime escape, but we don’t recommend taking a dip. The water is icy cold and the falls can be hazardous. There are several access points to the falls through the eastern part of the city, so grab a trail map and head that way.
If indoor escapes are more your fancy, then you’ll be well served in this cerebral, hipster college town. From unique sculptures gracing the Western Washington University campus to the theaters, museums and art galleries that dot downtown, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. Dedicated to independent cinema, the Pickford Film Center on Bay Street offers up arthouse films and indie flicks with an impressively wide range of shows at its renovated historical downtown venue. For a full schedule check out pickfordcinema.org.
Food lovers won’t be disappointed by what Bellingham has on offer. Accommodating a wide range of palates (and budgets), there are a plethora of options to choose from. The downtown area hosts many restaurants that offer their own take on tried and true genres of food. Try Pepper Sisters for uniquely Southwestern fare or Bayou on the Bay for some classy cajun cookery.
If it’s something sweet you crave, head on over to Mallard’s Ice Cream (cash only, please!) for some uniquely inspired ice cream selections, Chocolate Necessities for drinking chocolate and sugary confections or Pure Bliss for cupcakes that are pure decadence.
Don’t get stuck in downtown. There’s plenty of restaurants off the main drag as well. Head down to the harbor for some classic Italian fare at Giuseppe’s Al Porto for dinner with a bay view, or Kuru Kuru for conveyor belt sushi.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that when the sun goes down the sidewalks roll up. This is a college town, and there’s something happening almost nightly throughout the city. A trip to the UpFront theater on Commercial Avenue for improv comedy will leave you laughing all night.
For more info, visit bellingham.org.
What the locals know:
BYOB(AG): Bellingham has instituted a plastic bag ban, so if you head to the store or market, make sure you bring a reusable grocery bag along with you, or you’ll be shelling out an extra five cents for each paper bag you require.
TAKE A DIP: Lake Padden is a shallow-water lake, which means it warms up quickly during the summer months. Head over to this Bellingham jewel to take a swim, enjoy a picnic lunch and let Rover romp through the park.
STAND UP AND PADDLE: On Tuesday evenings, Kite Paddle Surf hosts stand-up paddleboarding demos at Lake Padden from 6 to 8 p.m.
RETRO: Head over to Boomer’s Drive-In, a Bellingham staple, for a delicious burger on the cheap. This fifties-style drive-in is a college favorite and is serving up some fantastic finds. You can’t go wrong with the Guacamole Bacon Burger and a milkshake. They’ve been voted “Best Burger in Bellingham” several years in a row.
Tip: Try the waffle fries with tartar sauce.
CAFFINE FIX?: Woods Coffee may be everywhere, but for a fantastic brew with a unique twist, check out The Black Drop coffeehouse on Magnolia. A Level 10 Fireball will offer you a latte with a kick!
NEIGHBORHOOD BREW: Check out Elizabeth Station for your beer fix. Newly expanded, this neighborhood pub and mini-market has an extensive selection of craft brews from around the world, and a rotating selection on tap. Not a beer drinker? Have kids? That’s okay. This kid-friendly neighborhood gathering place has food on the menu and a cereal bar to boot.