Bellingham (Washington)

Bellingham is a city in the North Cascades region of Washington State.

Bellingham Bay and Lummi Island


The City of Bellingham (aka the City of Subdued Excitement) is the northernmost city in the contiguous 48 states. This is not widely known, as the state of Maine in the Northeast often appears to be further north on many maps. It was formed in 1903 when the cities of New Whatcom and Fairhaven consolidated from what were once four separate settlements. The local economy got its start in resource extraction, notably coal and timber. The Georgia-Pacific mill on the waterfront, whose site is now being redeveloped into a dynamic mixed-use neighborhood, sustained the local economy for many years. Recently employment has diversified from heavy industry to education, services, tourism, and retail.

Situated on Bellingham Bay, you can venture from downtown and in minutes be in rural farmland, the North Cascades or out on the salt waters around the San Juan Islands. Bellingham is situated about 80 miles North of Seattle and 55 miles South of Vancouver, BC. Bellingham is the seat of Whatcom County.

The historic Fairhaven District at the south end of the city is probably the most tourist-oriented area, with a number of nice shops and restaurants. Many of the buildings in Fairhaven date back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Beautiful historic homes overlook the bay from the South Hill neighborhood, just north of Fairhaven. Western Washington University on the flank of Sehome Hill boasts an outdoor sculpture garden and adjoins the Sehome Hill Arboretum, with a number of trails and a lookout tower at the top. Downtown lies to the north of the University. Although less touristy than Fairhaven, it is still vibrant during regular business hours, and caters to college revelers at night.


Environmentally friendly practices, such as recycling, are part of the culture here. Bellingham is known for being a town that cares for its environment and its residents enjoy the many outdoor activities the region supports. Outdoor adventure is a key reason why people live and visit here. Activities range from skiing on nearby Mt. Baker to whale watching near the San Juan Islands.

The city's downtown has a variety of locally owned businesses, fine dining and nightlife options. It is also the cultural core of the city, with an eclectic mix of museums and performance venues all within blocks of each other. Coffee is a way of life in the Northwest, and Bellingham certainly has its share of local espresso stands.

Western Washington University attracts students from across the region to Bellingham. This keeps the city relatively young and vibrant, and contributes to an unusually rich local cultural scene. WWU is also home to one of the largest & finest collections of outdoor sculpture on the West Coast, featuring works of internationally renowned artists including Richard Serra, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper and Anthony Caro.

While the community is growing, it still retains much of its authentic self and its commitment to a laid back, progressive style.

Get in

Visit the Tourism Bureau's transporation page for more information on accessing Bellingham and travel within the region.

By plane

Major national rental car agencies at the Bellingham Airport include Avis, Hertz, Budget and Enterprise. For information on airport parking call +1 360 676-6286. The parking rate is $9 per 24 hour period.

By train

By car

view from Chuckanut Drive

Access to Bellingham is primarily from the seven exits off Interstate 5, although travelers using the Lynden/Aldergrove border crossing will arrive via State Route 539, a.k.a Guide Meridian. Fairhaven is served by Exit 250, and downtown is served by Exit 253 Lakeway Drive.

A scenic alternative when coming from the south is Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11), a winding road that follows the side of Chuckanut Mountain along the water overlooking the San Juan Islands. Turn off I-5 at Exit 231, reach the village of Bow at State Route 11, and turn right (north). Expect to take an extra twenty minutes to reach downtown. This route is also popular with cyclists (warning: narrow shoulders) and has been used frequently for national car commercials.

Another rural alternative in the eastern part of the county is State Route 9, which parallels Interstate 5 and can be accessed south of Whatcom County via Skagit County. This route carves through a valley east of Stewart Mountain and the Mt. baker foothills. On a two lane highway, you pass through small towns and by various farms, follow the south fork of the Nooksack River, and end up at the border community of Sumas on the U.S. and Canadian border. Be sure to stop in at Everybody's Store in Van Zandt for unique provisions and treats. To connect back to Bellingham, visitors should go west on Highway 542 when it intersects with Highway 9.

By bus

By boat

Get around

You can get around on foot within the Fairhaven district, downtown, and the University, but transportation between these areas is best by bicycle, car, or bus.

By car

Parking is 75¢ per hour downtown, and notably more expensive at the University. On-street parking is available at most hours, except in resident parking areas, and there are some free lots. Downtown Bellingham, though small, is something of a maze, with many odd angles and one-way streets. It may be helpful to have a detailed map handy when navigating this area. Free maps are available at the Visitor Center just off I-5 at exit 253. Some Whatcom County roads outside of Bellingham are referred to by locals with a preceding the: Guide Meridian is "The Guide," and so on.

Because traffic is relatively light and parking is relatively easy, most locals get around by car. Many students, some ecologically-minded souls, and other people walk, ride a bicycle, or use the local buses.

By bus

By bicycle

There is a network of bike and pedestrian paths, with a map available online. Riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk in a business district is prohibited.

By taxi

By powered wheelchair

Powered wheelchairs can give some visitors better mobility, but are difficult to transport on airliners. They can be rented from some stores, and a few are available for a donation from the local Lion's Club charity.


Old Stone Bridge Whatcom Falls Park






Major employers in Whatcom county represent about 25% of the total jobs in the county. The city encourages small business development and small businesses make up a large percentage of employment. The top ten employers in the county are:


A major retail center is the Guide-Meridian Street, off I-5 in the North end of town. This includes Bellis Fair Mall and a variety of strip malls and major retail outlets.

For those in search of something authentic, downtown Bellingham and the historic district of Fairhaven offer a number of small one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, bakeries and unique services. Nearby communities like Lynden and Ferndale are smaller, but have some interesting retail and dining options. Throughout the region there are seasonal produce stands and orchards that offer locally grown items.


This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget less than $10
Mid-range $10 to 25
Splurge $25 or more





This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget less than $80
Mid-range $80 to $150
Splurge $150 or more




Stay safe


The crime rate is relatively low for an urban area by American standards. Violent crime perpetrated by strangers is nearly unheard of, but property crime is more common. If you are parked at a trailhead or in a park, keep your valuables out of sight, or better yet leave them where you're staying.

There are few areas of the city that couldn't be considered safe at all hours of the day and night. The downtown bar scene sometimes attracts a drunk and somewhat rowdy crowd at night, and a few street corners downtown attract groups of loiterers that have occasionally become belligerent. But overall no unusual precautions need be taken. Certain areas in Alabama neighbourhood should be avoided.

Rail/Trail Crossings

When hiking in the area it's not unusual to have to cross the railroad tracks that hug the shoreline south of the city, or in some cases walk along the tracks (though both are technically considered trespassing). Be sure to stay alert; while the numerous freight trains that pass through make plenty of noise, the passenger trains are surprisingly quiet and can easily sneak up on an unwary hiker.


Bellingham's winters are often long and rainy, and it's the northernmost city of its size in the lower 48 states. If you visit between the months of October and May be prepared for a good deal of wind and precipitation.

Go next

Routes through Bellingham

Vancouver Ferndale  N  S  Burlington Seattle
Langley Lynden  N  S  END
Vancouver  N  S  Mount Vernon Seattle

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 15, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.