Bellingham — the northernmost city of more than 50,000 in the contiguous United States — will feel familiar to South Sounders.
Like Olympia, it’s a character-laden college town on the water. And like Olympia, it has a hippie vibe. So if you like it here, you’ll like it — maybe even love it — there.
But Bellingham has its own particular charms, including a plethora of parks and unique views — including Mount Baker to the east and Bellingham Bay to the west.
There are human-made splendors, too, including plentiful Victorian homes in the Fairhaven historic district.
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And there’s the weather. Bellingham has 157 sunny days a year, compared to Olympia’s 136, and 34.8 inches of rainfall, compared to Olympia’s 49.9. During this hot stretch of summer, Bellingham is cooler — often as much as 10 degrees.
If you’re planning to travel soon, though, smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia might continue to be a concern. It’s weather forecast this week actually said “smoke.”
But whenever you might want to head north, here’s a weekend’s worth of Bellingham bounty.
• Stroll Boulevard Park, 470 Bayview Drive (360-778-7000, cob.org/gov/dept/parks). With its stretch of boardwalk over Bellingham Bay, the park is a great place to take in the city’s views and do a bit of people- (and dog-) watching. It boasts a playground, beach access and a coffee shop overlooking the bay.
• Bask in the Lightcatcher Museum, 250 Flora St. (360-778-8930, whatcommuseum.org). The museum offers an art gallery and an interactive art space with activities for children, but it’s most notable feature is a translucent wall 37 feet high and 180 feet wide that brings in the sunlight, which the museum calls “the Northwest’s most precious natural resource.” Admission to the museum — along with Old City Hall and the Syre Education Center, which has historic exhibits — is $10; $8 for youth 6-17, students, military and seniors; $5 for children 2-5; and free for children younger than 2.
• Tour the public art at Western Washington University, 516 High St. (360-650-3900, westerngallery.wwu.edu). Western’s acclaimed outdoor sculpture collection includes such diverse pieces as Mark di Suvero’s striking red-metal “For Handel” (students call it “The Mosquito”) and Tom Otterness’s “Feats of Strength,” a collection of small bronze figures — reminiscent of the Doozers of “Fraggle Rock” — interacting with the landscape.
• Browse the Saturday Market, 1100 Railroad Ave. (360-647-2060, bellinghamfarmers.org). Yes, the Olympia Farmers Market is fantastic, but the Bellingham one is another goodie. Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 17, the market has 100 vendors and plenty of goodies for visitors who might not be stocking up on produce — from cocktail mixers to chocolates and from henna tattoos to Hawaiian shave ice.
• Explore Fairhaven, the southern part of Bellingham along the bay. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is chock full of significant buildings, Victorian homes, charming shops and cafes. Details on the area are at fairhaven.com and fairhavenhistory.com.
Where to eat
Bellingham’s burgeoning food scene offers plenty of variety and lots of options for those looking for local and sustainable dining.
• Bayou on Bay, 300 Bay St. (360-752-2968, bayouonbay.com), has ample Cajun, Creole and Southern options — from collard greens to jambalaya and beyond — and not one but two bars. (The restaurant is family friendly.) There’s sidewalk seating, too.
• Cosmos Bistro, 151 N State St. (360-255-0244, bellinghamcosmosbistro.com), has become a must-stop whenever I’m in Bellingham, with breakfast a particular highlight. Sauces and jams are made in house. Try the Vegetation Nation, a mix of home fries and vegetables topped with eggs and chevre, and one of the many mimosas — perhaps the one with housemade rosemary syrup or the one with grapefruit juice and basil.
• Eat Restaurant and Bar, 1200 Cornwall Ave. (360-306-3917, 4u2eat.com), inspired a return visit with its French-flavored farm-to-table fare. The menu includes creative specials, beef bourguignon, and a burger a teen gourmand deemed the best he’d ever eaten. Service was spotty, though; a server said the restaurant was having trouble finding good help. Note for those watching their budgets: An 18 percent service charge is added.
• The Mount Bakery, 308C W. Champion St. (360-715-2195) and 1217 Harris Ave., Fairhaven (360-778-1261) is way more than a bakery. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, The Mount uses locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. Highlights include frittatas with seasonal vegetables, and crepes and eggs Benedict options, including a vegetarian one with marinated portobello mushrooms.
• Mallard Ice Cream, 1323 Railroad Ave. (360-734-3884), is the place to go for dessert. The shop uses local and organic ingredients to create such flavors as black pepper vanilla (it might sound weird, but it’s wonderful) and strawberry peach sumac.
Where to stay
AirBNBs (airbnb.com) are a good bet in Bellingham, where all three hosts with whom I’ve stayed have been warm and friendly and have provided homemade breakfast, something that’s not required despite the name.
Well-regarded hotels include the waterfront Fairhaven Village Inn, 1200 10th St., Bellingham (877-733-1100, fairhavenvillageinn.com) and Hotel Bellwether, 1 Bellwether Way (877-411-1200, hotelbellwether.com).