Tide pools, breweries, indoor rock climbing and waterfalls—these and so much more are waiting for you when you visit Bellingham, WA. Just south of the Canadian border, Bellingham sits in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest and is an ideal family vacation destination any time of year. Our recent winter visit had us wanting to plan a return trip ASAP and here’s everything we loved about it.
Outdoor Adventures Are Around Every Turn
The protected seashore of Bellingham and Whatcom County is perfect for exploring tide pools, taking scenic hikes and watching seabirds swoop in for their catch. If you want to see all the beauty this area offers, head down Chuckanut Drive and stop at Larabee State Park for hiking trails and water access. It’s $10 to enter the state park and you’ll have loads of options for a day by the shore.
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We particularly liked exploring the shore at low tide at Teddy Bear Cove. There’s a small pull-out on the side of Chuckanut Drive that offers parking right by the trail to get down to this rocky shore. Look for seastars, sand crabs and sea anemones as you take in the gorgeous coastline views. There are tons of rocks for climbing for kids who prefer land over sea.
For a hike that offers a big reward (and is conveniently located right by the Silver Beach Road parking lot), Whatcom Falls Park is your spot. Walk a few hundred feet at you’ll find a playground as well as the gorgeous Whatcom Falls and hiking trails that surround it. Head up the path and you can check out what’s happening at the fish hatchery—a kid highlight for sure. Need a post-hike bribe? Lafeens Family Pride Donuts and Ice Cream is right across the street from the park.
Bellingham’s Zuanich Point Park is the perfect picnic destination. You’ll often find people flying kites there which is a real treat for kids and parents alike! Walk the paved path to the playground and then head over to Squalicum Harbor for a bite to eat and a view of the sailboats that dock there.
Here you can also find the Marine Life Center, a spot where you can learn more about the marine life that makes its home in the Pacific Northwest. Be on the lookout for a surly octopus, it’s a visitor favorite. Bonus: The Marine Life Center is free to visit! Check if they are requiring appointments before you head over.
There’s No Shortage of Indoor Activities (for When the Rain Comes)
If the temps dip and the rain falls during your Bellingham visit, there are still tons of options for keeping the kids active. We particularly loved our visit to VITAL Climbing Gym where the drop-in rate of $17/person can’t be beat. Kids can rent shoes here and your pass is good for the whole day so you can take a break for lunch (crepes! See below!) and return for more bouldering action.
The quirky and eclectic (or electric?) SPARK Museum should definitely be on your must-visit list. Kids will love learning about static electricity through hair-raising hands-on demonstrations. Find out how things like telephones worked before smartphones were invented (i.e. “the olden days”). Upstairs in the museum is an area just for the littlest visitors. If you visit on the weekend, time it right so that you can check out the Megazapper live show as it’s certainly going to inspire your little scientists.
Good to know: The Whatcom Museum is right around the corner if you are looking for more museum fun and there’s an adorable spot for Turkish coffee in the neighborhood that serves up baklava and Turkish delights, among other treats.
If your crew includes tweens or teens, downtown Bellingham has tons to offer from quirky souvenir shops to antique malls full to the rafters with treasures (Penny Lane was our favorite). The Ruckus Room is an old-school arcade where you can definitely blow a pocket full of quarters in an afternoon and there’s even a seating area for tired parents, right in the middle of the action.
Put Historic Fairhaven on Your Itinerary
This Bellingham neighborhood offers a totally different vibe from downtown Bellingham and you’ll want to check it out when you visit. We loved strolling the streets visiting shops like A Lot of Flowers (succulents galore!) and Fairhaven Toy Garden.
There Are Loads of Kid-Friendly Dining Options in Bellingham
Drive by Zane Burgers in the Fairhaven neighborhood and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time to the days of carhops. We found the burgers to be delicious and inexpensive, just what you want when feeding a family.
Topping our list of favorite restaurants in downtown Bellingham is AB Crepes where sweet and savory crepes are the focus (our favorites: the Nutella and banana crepe and the crepizza) and the POG mimosa really hits the spot. When dinner time comes along, make a stop at K-POP Chicken and Beer. You’ll get a kick out of the K-POP stars covering the walls and the K-POP tunes playing over the speakers, but it’s the Korean fried chicken and bulgogi beef bowl that really satisfy.
Keep Bellingham’s many breweries in mind when you visit as they not only have unique beers for the adult members of your crew but their energetic vibe drowns out all sorts of cranky toddler moods. Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro was serving up a blackberry wheat on our visit and offered Etch-a-Sketches to the kids while they waited for food (BRILLIANT).
Twin Sisters Brewing Company had a massive dining area, seated us quickly on a Friday night and had some of the best garlic fries we’ve ever tasted.
Want a real taste of the PNW? Anthony’s at Squalicum Harbor really delivers and it is very kid-friendly. You can enjoy fish and chips, coconut shrimp, and an especially delicious three-course sunset menu for early diners (i.e. parents). The rainbow trout with rice pilaf was a favorite! You’ll get gorgeous sunset views of the harbor which just tops it all off.
Farm-Fresh Produce and Delicious Eats Were Found at the Bellingham Farmers’ Market
If your Bellingham visit falls over a Saturday, make your way to the Bellingham Farmers’ Market (right across from Boundary Bay). Here you’ll find handmade wares like screen-printed tees and jewelry, farm-fresh produce and some of the tastiest soft pretzels we’ve ever had. Got a sweet tooth? Make your way to the Antler Baking Company booth where giant cookie sandwiches, cinnamon rolls and carrot cake are on display.
Stay for the Weekend
Whether you are visiting from out of state or driving up from Seattle, you’ll definitely want to spend a few nights in Bellingham to check out all that this town has to offer. Families looking for bigger rooms with space to spread out will enjoy the SpringHill Suites Bellingham. Our rooms there had a large sitting area that was great for kids who wanted to watch a show while someone else was still sleeping. A hot breakfast is included with your stay and they have an indoor pool.
The Four Points by Sheraton is another Bellingham option that’s conveniently located right off the highway. Rooms were standard size with an in-room coffee maker and mini-fridge. Some room rates include breakfast. Keep in mind that the rooms are located around a central indoor pool which can be a bit loud at times (but the pool closes at 8pm).
Traveling from Seattle is easy as Bellingham is just 1.5 hours north via I-5. Do yourself a favor and make a detor to stop in the adorable town of Snohomish on your way north to check out Snohomish Pie Company. This spot has all the homemade sandwiches and massive salads that you are craving, and did we mention pie? Not only can you get your pie warmed, straight up, or a la mode, but you can even get a slice blended into a pie shake. Their massive cookies can feed your whole family so definitely snag a few for the road.
Another great detour destination is the Hibulb Cultural Center in Tulalip. Here you can learn all about the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes. Start your visit in the longhouse where you can hear stories told by Tulalip’s storytellers before you head to the main gallery for interactive exhibits the kids will really enjoy.
Bellingham International Airport
Arriving from out-of-state means that you can fly into Bellingham International Airport and totally avoid all the traffic around SEA-TAC airport. You’ll find this smaller airport to be easy to manage with Southwest, Alaska Airlines and other airlines flying in daily.
Plan Your Bellingham Visit
For more information on what to do and see while you are visiting Bellingham and Whatcom County, check out the visitor’s bureau website. Here you can find out what events are coming this summer, when you can head out on a whale watching tour and where to get the freshest seafood, right off the boat.
—images and story by Kate Loweth