Easy Escapes

Bellingham: A Scenic Escape North of Seattle

by  Lara Dunning | Mar 21, 2019
Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham, Washington / SEASTOCK/iStock

Set along Bellingham Bay, the vibrant town of Bellingham, Washington, is halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, and makes the perfect pre- or post-cruise day trip. Bellingham is located right on the water and is close by to the Cascade Mountains, and is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy kayaking, hiking, and skiing. What’s more, its college scene provides plenty of culture. Throughout the year, there are educational lectures, musical performances, and theatrical shows, as well as boutique shopping, craft breweries, and a lively nightlife scene.

Where to Stay

A stay at the Hotel Bellwether means luxury accommodations, beautiful scenery, and plenty of relaxation. Almost all of the rooms here are complete with private balconies, patios, and picture-perfect views of the marina. When it’s time to head inside after sunset, cozy up by the gas fireplace and relax in a soaking bathtub. Additionally, this luxury hotel also offers one of the most unique accommodations in Bellingham  a three-story lighthouse suite that offers 360-degree views on its top floor (for rates, contact the property directly). In the evening, head to the adjacent waterfront park, which is perfect for a romantic sunset stroll. Afterwards, unwind with a cocktail at the bar and head to the on-site restaurant to sample a wide selection of meats, cheeses, and seafood (dinner entrées from $16). Rates from $198 per night, depending on the season.

If you want to be close to all the shopping, dining, and scenery that Bellingham has to offer, book a room at The Chrysalis Inn & Spa, which will become part of Hilton’s Curio Collection in the coming months. Perched over Bellingham Bay, many of the rooms here feature cozy reading nooks with panoramic vistas, gas fireplaces, and jetted tubs large enough for two people. While you're here, consider stopping by the property's magnificent spa, where you can pick and choose from an array of treatments and services. Afterwards, sample authentic Pacific Northwest fare (think lots of seafood) at the hotel restaurant (dinner entrées from $21). What’s more, the property is close to the Historic Fairhaven District, the railroad, and the Taylor Boardwalk, the latter of which connects to the scenic two-mile South Bay Trail that extends to the city's central business district. Rates from $199 per night, depending on the season.  

Located in the Historic Fairhaven District, Fairhaven Village Inn is just steps away from an array of shops, galleries, restaurants, and pubs. The guest rooms are tastefully decorated, and the Harborside rooms have private patios. After you’ve settled in, head to the hotel’s deco-era bar for a cocktail or two (all guests receive a discount). Rates from $169 per night, depending on the season.

For travelers who seek a little more solitude, there are two luxury accommodations less than an hour away from Bellingham. The Willows Inn, a boutique property on Lummi Island, provides charming accommodations. Plus, guests receive priority for reservations at the property’s up-and-coming restaurant (the chef was awarded Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation). Rates from $235 per night, depending on the season.

If you're craving resort-like amenities such as golfing, an on-site spa, and a 50-seat movie theater, reserve a room at Semiahmoo. Located on a scenic spit that extends out into Semiahmoo Bay, a majority of the guest rooms here have fireplaces and offer scenic views. Rates from $169 per night, depending on the season. Look out for midweek and seasonal discounts.  

What to See and Do

Art and history lovers should stop by the Whatcom Museum, which spans two different buildings ($10 adults). Lightcatcher is all about art, and its exhibits highlight Pacific Northwestern and American artists; the 180-foot long and 37-foot high translucence wall is a piece of art in itself. In the Old City Hall (about two blocks away), you’ll find the history museum. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the John M. Edson Hall of Birds. This unique exhibit displays taxidermy birds and offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about bird migration and conservation.

Besides the museum, one of the star attractions in Bellingham is the historic Mount Baker Theatre. A former vaudeville movie palace, the theatre’s shows, musicals, and live performances take place inside a Moorish-Spanish-style auditorium. If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, purchase tickets to the MegaZapper Electrical Show at Spark: Museum of Electrical Invention. The show features a mix of theatrics and science that will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into Frankenstein’s laboratory. At the end, opt to go inside the Faraday cage (also known as the Cage of Doom) and watch as it gets zapped by one of the largest Tesla coils in the country. Afterwards, stroll through the rest of the museum ($12 adult, plus an additional $10 for the Cage of Doom).

If you prefer exploring the outdoors over strolling through museums, hop on board the 160-foot Schooner Zodiac for one of its themed sailing cruises (think beer tastings dinners, Friday salmon dinners, and Sunday brunch; $55 to $85 per person).

Additionally, check out Chuckanut Scenic Drive, also known as Washington’s Big Sur. This curvy road, which features peek-a-boo views of Bellingham Bay, is certainly a must-do when in town. If you're looking for added adventure, stop at Larrabee State Park ($5 for a day pass) and hike one of its many trails (Oyster Dome is a favorite).

Where to Eat and Drink

Bellingham has some of the best craft breweries in the state. For happy hour and traditional pub fare, stop by Aslan Brewing Co., Boundary Bay Brewery, Uisce Irish Pub, or Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen. Alternatively, if you're looking for great cocktails and tasty bites, head over to either The Black Cat or Fireside Martini & Wine Bar.

Next to the Mount Baker Theatre, Hundred North specializes in creating delicious meals from locally sourced ingredients. As a result, the menu changes daily. Shared plates from $11; entrees from $25.  

For dinner with a view, book a table at The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive. The innovative menu varies by season and often features local berries, vegetables, seafood, and, of course, raw oysters. Be sure to sample their regional seafood dishes like the fresh Idaho rainbow trout and the cedar plank roasted king salmon, which are both staples of Northwestern cuisine. Appetizers are all under $19; entrees from $32.

A trip to Bellingham isn’t complete without the one-hour trip (including a short ferry ride to Lummi Island, which will cost you $13) to The Willows Inn. Known for its hyperlocal ingredients and James Beard award-winning chef, midday seasonal snacks are available from noon to 4 p.m. No reservations are needed for lunch, but they are required for dinner. However, a meal here can be pricy (we found a sample tasting menu on their website for $225).

Getting There

Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air both offer direct flights to Bellingham International Airport from select western cities including Palm Springs, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Seattle, Washington; and Los Angeles, California; among others. There are four car rental companies at the airport. You can also use Uber or Lyft, which will cost about $22 to get to downtown Bellingham (about a 20-minute drive from the airport). However, if your home airport doesn't fly directly into Bellingham, you can fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, rent a car, and drive  around two hours north. If you don’t want to rent a car, consider hopping aboard the Bellair Airporter Shuttle ($80 roundtrip; discounts for seniors and children) which takes about three hours one-way. Alternatively, you can take Amtrak or Greyhound.

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