There’s Great Stuff in Bellingham!

Typically, we blast through Bellingham, Washington, making no more than a coffee and bagel stop downtown to fortify ourselves for either the Canadian border crossing at Peace Arch or the bumper to bumper traffic between Everett and downtown Seattle. Chock full of coffee and carbs, we grip the steering wheel, navigate Interstate 5, and wonder if Bellingham doesn’t warrant a little more time someday.

It’s an only an hour and half away give or take a bit, from our home in Seattle, close enough for a motivated day trip. I did spend a few lazy afternoons poking around Bellingham’s excellent book stores and junque shops some years back, but I’d never visited Fairhaven, a restored historic district just south of downtown, and it had never even occurred to me that a person might want to spend more than an afternoon in the university town to the north.

Yeah, that was an oversight. We recently had a primo weekend in Bellingham. We ate well, we slept in comfortable beds, we saw cool things, we wandered around in the winter sunshine, it was a perfect getaway. We are totally going back on our own, over and over and over again.

Now, a disclaimer. Our entire weekend was arranged by Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. They covered our hotels and provided a stack of museum passes and gift certificates for local restaurants. Just FYI, okay? Okay then.

Hotels

The Village Inn: Location, location, location. This little hotel is right in Fairhaven, you can walk to the restaurants and bookstores (there’s an excellent one) and there’s a trailhead for a leisurely wander along the water just there, too. (More on the trail, below.) The bed was SUPER comfortable and the room was spacious and no, we did not have a suite. We did have a view towards the water — the rooms on the opposite side cost less but still have all the benefits of the waterside rooms. Breakfast is included — a very nice person will make you a waffle or two.  I liked this hotel a lot, it’s not a cookie cutter property, the staff is genuine and helpful, there’s free wifi, it’s very nice. Published rate? About 275/night. A bit high for my budget, but I feel great about recommending it. [*Comped stay.]

Hotel Bellwether: In the marina just north of downtown, on the water. The setting is nice, but you’re probably going to get in your car to head back to downtown if you don’t want to eat in the marina restaurants. Also very comfortable, a big jetted tub (ahhh!), breakfast included, free wifi, big rooms — inside the room, there are style similarities with the Village Inn. Published rate? Around 200/night, but I found this property on Expedia for 109/night while we were there. That’s quite a deal, if you can get that, snap it up, you won’t be disappointed.  [*Comped stay.]

If money weren’t an option, I’d pick the Village Inn, I’m a sucker for an indy property. But both places are very nice and both meet my very reasonable but hard to find requirements for a good hotel: a comfortable, clean, quiet room.

Another place to stay in Bellingham? The Axton Road B&B, reviewed here.

Restaurants

Skylark’s: There were lots of things on the menu I wanted to eat, I ended up going with a pesto halibut, my sidekick had the surf and turf — salmon and steak. Everything was cooked perfectly and served in generous portions. The place has great atmosphere, a big wooden bar, lots of framed pictures, it’s cozy and a nice date spot. I thought the food was okay. All good quality ingredients and nicely prepared. I didn’t swoon, but  I’d certainly be willing to give it another shot. We did have an excellent dessert and because it’s so nice in there, it seems like a great place to go for a drink. Dinner for two? About 60 with tip, dessert, and drinks. [*Partially covered by a gift certificate.]

The Big Fat Fish Co: Based on the apologies we got from the waitstaff, it seemed like there was some kind of kitchen meltdown going, but we both thought things seemed like a busy Saturday night anywhere — a little slow, but far from intolerable, plus, I had a mango mojito to keep me pacified. We started with the ceviche which, while made with very fresh stuff, left us both wishing for something snappier, but the entrees were first rate. J had cedar planked salmon — perfectly cooked, yum, and I had the clam linguine which was excellent, really excellent, and I hated not being able to finish it all. We passed on dessert, we were stuffed. Kids get crayons, is that fair? I like crayons TOO. I’m sure they’d have given some to me had I asked. Dinner for two? About 80 with appetizer, drinks, and tip. [*Partially covered by a gift certificate.]

Colophon Cafe, Fairhaven: Various friends told me to go eat treats here; we made the mistake of going for breakfast. Well, it wasn’t a mistake — they have very good coffee and the light breakfast menu has yummy things on it, but we missed out on the famous baking. I had a croissant sandwich — scrambled eggs, avocado, Swiss cheese and J just had toast, but we were happy with the bottomless coffee and the little framed notes on the table that tell you not to be a wifi hog, man, when it’s busy, share your table, already. We’ll be back. Light breakfast for two with coffee and tip? About 20.

Rocket Donuts: Bacon maple bars and vintage sci-fi posters and a big old replica of Gort in the little dining room, what’s not to like? Coffee and snacks for two, about 10 bucks.

The Bagelry: We ALWAYS go here when we blow through town because the bagels are damn fine. It’s a busy, hippie, kinda crunchy place where you can get a bite, browse through the local free papers and learn about treehugging things to do or just gawk out the window at downtown Bellingham’s transitory wanderers. Turkey and lots of greens on a pumpernickel bagel to share for a snack, about 7 dollars. Yum.

Want more Bellingham eats? Here’s another roundup.

Diversions

The Whatcom Musuem: Wow, do these folks have a stunning new museum or what? The building is a beautiful modern swoop of concrete and panels that let in lots of soft light (we were there on a lovely sunny afternoon). You may not see what we saw and art, oh, appreciation of art is so subjective, but we rather enjoyed a lot of what we saw. No small feat as the husband is a skeptic and I’m a terrible snob, what with my art school edumacatin’ and all. We saw a collection of photos of loggers and their big equipment — heart breaking and beautiful at the same time, rough people with hard lives and oh, the fallen big trees! We also saw an installation by artist John Grade, very engaging, attractive, interesting stuff. The museum is so new that they’re not finished with the cafe yet, but I’m looking forward to going back to see more work there. Got kids? There’s a very cool interactive kid zone. Admission? 10 for adults, 4.50 for kids. [*Passes provided by tourism.]

The American Museum of Radio and Electricity: I have a lot to say about this place and will do so in another posting. For this list, I’ll keep it very short. It’s nerd heaven. Go. Now. Admission? 5 for adults, 2 for kids. [*Passes provided by tourism.] I bought their brand new book as a souvenir, 34.95, because I wanted to take the place home with me.

Old Town Antique Mall: By accident — isn’t that how all these things happen — I seem to have a small collection of vintage postcards from Hawaii. They surface from the detritus on my desk now and then and make me smile. I have a few from the early 60s that show pictures of kids eating pineapple and feature polar bear stamps — I love that! — and in the stack I picked up in Bellingham there’s one from the early 70s that says “Go to Hawaii NOW!” in curly handwriting on the back. The antique mall in Bellingham is huge, packed with things you didn’t know you wanted or wish you hadn’t given away, you know the drill. You might want to leave your wallet in the car.

Boulevard Park: This strip of park along Bellingham Bay makes for an excellent meander. We watched some very attractive duck like birds do some fishing, cracked up over ladies walking very tiny dogs dressed in poofy jackets (the dogs wore the jackets, not the ladies), gawked at the fishing boats coming and going, and snapped photos in the bright cold air. Ambitious types can walk about three miles from Fairhaven right into downtown Bellingham — had we been staying in Fairhaven again that’s exactly what we’d have done, ditched the car and walked. Public parks and green belt spaces, you rule, and this one is especially attractive.

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8 thoughts on “There’s Great Stuff in Bellingham!

  1. Pam, I really like this overview of Bellingham. You’ve provided enough details on places to stay and eat and things to do to give a good picture of what it’s like to spend a couple of days there–all from the point of view of a real person rather than a marketing brochure. Nice. And I totally agree about the crayons. 🙂

  2. Hi Pam,

    Bellingham definately has more than meets the eye.I love walking the trail around Lake Padden – it’s a park with multiple personalities.
    I’ve stayed several times at the Chrysalis Inn & Spa and despite a train running periodically in front of it I have always enjoyed myself. Great breakfasts and killer views. The Hotel Bellwether folks turned me off with their unfriendliness and I concur with the Fairhaven – also a very nice place to stay.
    Also like the fact that there is an REI store in Bellingham.

  3. Hi Pam,
    Enjoyed your take on Bellingham. Here are a few ideas for another trip.
    One of the hottest places, to be, in town these days, is at ‘The Foundry’ Check out their website. It’s a haven for all ages who are ‘Makers’. http://www.whatcomtalk.com/2015/01/16/foundry-makerspace-bellingham/ The ‘Ragfinery’ is on the same street. http://www.grownorthwest.com/2014/04/ragfinery-brings-new-life-to-discarded-clothing-textiles/
    The Big Rock Garden is really nice http://www.cob.org/services/recreation/parks-trails/big-rock.aspx

    Noticed you are a Ukulele player. Imagine you have heard of Michael Flateryhttp://www.artwoodgallery.com/content/michael-flaherty-and-his-handmade-ukuleles. Michael has done some work for us. He was hired by WWU, to teach work working skills to the design students and engineers, so they would not hurt themselves.

    And, two of our favorite eateries is https://www.facebook.com/goatmountainpizza , The sourdough based dough, melts in your mouth!
    http://ciaothyme.com Ciaothyme is only open on weekdays.

  4. As once upon a time residents of Bellingham, got my first degree from Western back in ’78 (ouch), love, love, love the changes that have occurred in the B’ham area. Fairhaven has so transformed itself. It’s hardly recognizable. When we visit now, we stay in hotels only rarely as friends of ours have lakefront property on Lake Samish, hard to pass up free lake front digs, but we like to check out whats happening in town. The Chrysalis and Bellwether are pretty spectacular waterfront locations with great views. And, the Colophon does serve up some tasty dishes, and how can you beat the bookstore that’s right there. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room!

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