Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington

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Bellingham, in northwest Washington, offers a vibrant art community, great food, craft beer, and outdoor activities. Read on for our ultimate guide to 2 days in Bellingham, WA. 

With the Salish Sea at its doorstep and Mt. Baker and the Cascade Mountains in its backyard, it’s no surprise that today Bellingham, a small city in northwest Washington state, offers a smorgasbord of outdoor sports. Kayaking, biking, and hiking are everyday pastimes, and Mt. Baker draws the ski crowd in the winter. But there’s much more to Bellingham than fresh-air pursuits. The 1880s frontier town has grown into a community that thrives on art, craft beer, and outdoor adventures. Visitors will find plenty to do if you stay for a week or even if you only have 2 days in Bellingham.

Over the years, I’ve rushed through Bellingham to the San Juan Islands more than a dozen times. The drive through town to Bellingham Bay provided tantalizing glimpses of old brick buildings, colorful murals, tree-shaded streets, and sidewalk cafes. Bellingham is known for its vibrant arts community, and its farm-to-table restaurants would tempt any foodie. I wanted to see the craft breweries that serve as the community’s living room and backyard, the one-of-a-kind museums, and the stunning scenery. So I made myself a promise: someday, I’d return and savor all the town has to offer. 

I finally got the opportunity to do just that—explore this artsy, historic town, eat like a local, and admire the sea and mountain views. Here’s the ultimate guide to 2 days in Bellingham and what not to miss. 

Cultural Sights in Bellingham 

Creativity and a sense of community are almost palpable in Bellingham. From bold murals to more than a dozen galleries, art is around every corner. So are farm-to-table restaurants and craft breweries, which draw on the region’s delicious bounty. Here are a few places you won’t want to miss. 

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Whatcom Art Market

The Fairhaven neighborhood is an art lovers’ delight, with nearly a dozen galleries in a four-block square area. You may want to visit them all, but for a sampling of the local artistic talent, head to Whatcom Art Market. The artist cooperative showcases the work of more than 45 artists from Bellingham, the surrounding areas, and the San Juan Islands. You’ll find beautifully crafted pieces in various mediums, including paintings, baskets, glass art,  photographs, textile art, jewelry, clothing, and more. The artists also staff the 2,100-square-foot gallery.

Village Books 

Village Books is that rare thing, a thriving independent bookstore in the digital age. Since 1980 the bookstore has captured the heart of the community with new and used books, e-books, and digital audiobooks. Two stories of books fill the tidy brick building on the Village Green in Fairhaven. Tables covered with themed book displays and worn wood floors welcome book lovers into a space that feels as comfortable as a familiar story. The tall wooden bookcases are filled with children’s stories, nonfiction, and everything in between. 

There’s always something going on. The shop hosts countless author events. You’ll appreciate the cafe on the top floor if you often get lost among the stacks for hours as I do. Evolve Chocolates + Cafe serves savory snacks, sweet treats, and espresso. I especially liked the remote work area with expansive windows that offer neighborhood views. 

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham: Village Books.

Village Books is a community favorite with frequent author events, a wide selection of books, and a cafe. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Farmers Market

The Bellingham Farmers Market is like a community party held on Saturdays at Depot Market Square from April through December (and on the third Saturday of January, February, and March). For more than 30 years, the market has brought local farmers, bakers, artists, and other creators together in one spot. Seasonal vegetables and fruit fill only part of the 100 stalls. 

On the Saturday morning I visited, the irresistible aroma of kettle corn filled the air at the Farmers Market. I wandered past booths piled high with vegetables, mushrooms, organic meat, pottery, candles, and wooden creations. Part of the market is outdoors, so dress for the weather as you sample cheese, honey, hot sauce, and whatever else looks tasty. Browse for hand-crafted souvenirs or gifts, find ingredients for your dinner, or wander and be amazed at the quality and variety of foods and art for sale. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham: Samish Bay Cheese at the Farmers Market.

Samish Bay Cheese at the Farmers Market in Bellingham, WA. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Mount Baker Theatre

Even if you can’t catch a show at the historic Mount Baker Theatre, you’ll want to arrange for a tour to admire this jewel box of a theater up close. The 1927 movie palace preserves the glamor of the Golden Age of theaters. In 1978 it joined the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, the 1,517-seat theater has hosted countless films, musical performances, lectures, plays, and other live entertainment on its two stages. 

The free tour took me throughout the building, from the projection room to the Wurlitzer organ in the basement that still occasionally accompanies old movies. The docent explained that the theater’s rich appearance is meant to imitate a Spanish treasure ship. The furnishings and fixtures, such as the ornate 600-pound stained-glass and plaster dome, are original. If you can’t attend a performance, arrange a tour by calling the theater at (360) 733-5793. 

The Mount Baker Theatre is one of the last movie palaces.

The Mount Baker Theatre is one of the last movie palaces. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Boundary Bay Brewing 

Walk by Boundary Bay Brewing on a summer evening, and it’s obvious the community party is in the sunken flower- and tree-lined beer garden beside the brewery. On a Friday evening, I found big band swing music floating up from what the locals affectionately refer to as Bellingham’s backyard. The fun atmosphere proved irresistible. Founded in 1995 in a century-old warehouse, the craft brewery hosts music and events throughout the year. The adults-only taproom and family-friendly bistro serve beer, wine, cocktails, and food from an eclectic menu (deviled eggs, burgers, gumbo, and salmon are among the options). 

Washington: Boundary Bay beer

Boundary Bay Brewery is also known as Bellingham’s backyard. Photo courtesy Visit Bellingham

Peter James Photography Gallery

The natural beauty of Washington state’s snow-capped peaks, emerald seas, wooded islands, and wildflower-filled alpine meadows are on full, glorious display at the Peter James Photography Gallery in the Fairhaven neighborhood. For more than 30 years, he has explored and photographed stunning vistas, and dozens of them are hanging on the walls of his gallery and in the hallway outside. Printed on metal, James’ photos have a luminous quality and vibrant colors that dazzle and engage. Some of the prints are nearly 15 feet wide. The scenic photos made me long for a sunny day and a long hike or drive in the mountains.  

Peter James Gallery.

The stunning photos at Peter James Gallery showcase the natural beauty of Washington state. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Historical Sights to See During Your 2 Days in Bellingham 

The four frontier towns along Bellingham Bay enjoyed a real estate and railroad-driven boom in the 1880s and early 1890s, followed by a 10-year bust. The brick buildings that once housed banks, lawyers, and professionals still line the tree-shaded streets of downtown Bellingham (formerly New Whatcom) and the Fairhaven neighborhood. Today the storefronts are again filled with shops and restaurants, and history is hidden in the details. Here’s how to find it. 

Bellinghistory with the Good Time Girls 

Sin and Gin? Gore and Lore? Or the general history of Bellingham? Bellinghistory with the Good Time Girls leads history buffs and ghost hunters on several entertaining walking tours of Bellingham and the Fairhaven neighborhood. I can’t resist a history walk or a ghost tour, so one evening, I joined the spooky Gore and Lore tour. 

For more than an hour, our group listened and laughed as our guides shared entertaining accounts of the town founder Dirty Dan, the shenanigans of various businessmen, and amusing bits of trivia about Fairhaven. They also pointed out a few haunted buildings and told tales of the ghosts that inhabit them. We only walked about a mile, often stopping to hear the history or a funny anecdote about past inhabitants. Reservations are required for the tours. If you go, dress for the weather.

Bellinghistory with the Good Time Girls tour guides Sarah Fenstemacher and Asia Romaine.

Bellinghistory with the Good Time Girls tour guides Sarah Fenstemacher and Asia Romaine. They led an entertaining history walk around Fairhaven. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Harris Street Historical Markers

Walk along Harris Street in the Fairhaven neighborhood, and if you have a keen eye, you might notice concrete historical markers set into the sidewalk or flowerbeds. These aren’t your usual dull markers. Their brief text often leaves readers with more questions than answers. Some mark locations of long-gone businesses (such as one stating, “Fairhaven Hotel 1889, Finest Hotel West of Chicago, Mark Twain stayed here”). Others provide tantalizing glimpses of life in the frontier town from the 1880s to the early 1900s. One marker reads, “Unknown dead men displayed here in 1901.” Another reads, “Counterfeiters’ hideout, 1905, $5 and $10 pieces passed in saloons on weekends.” The markers stretch from the Amtrak station to Twelfth Street. 

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington: Harris Street Marker.

Brief and quirky, dozens of historical markers can be spotted along Harris Street. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Whatcom Museum 

Bellingham’s early days and industries are displayed at the Whatcom Museum in the old City Hall, a historical treasure built in 1892. One gallery focuses on logging, with dioramas, photos, and fun details, such as the importance of a good cook in the logging camp. Other exhibits describe the influence of salmon fisheries, coal, boat building, and maritime trade. 

What caught my attention, though, was the ongoing exhibit People of the Sea and Cedar, which presents the culture and history of the Northwest Coast people. Located on the second floor of the museum’s Lightcatcher Building, the exhibit is rich with artifacts and interactive displays about how native coast people lived. The exhibit highlights include a cedar-bark dress, a simulated cooking pit, and explanations of native foods, cooking, and language.

The old City Hall now holds the Whatcom Museum.

The old City Hall now holds the Whatcom Museum. Photo courtesy Visit Bellingham

SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention

The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention examines the development of electricity into something we use every day, starting with scientists in the 1600s to radios of the 1950s. Exhibits lead visitors through the development of electrical devices such as telegraphs, telephones, radios, phonographs, and household appliances. The museum also displays Tesla coils, batteries, and lightbulbs (including an original, though broken, Edison lightbulb). 

Many displays are interactive, and the static electricity lab is fun for kids and adults alike. If you can, get tickets in advance for the MegaZapper show. This lively presentation shares the basics of electrical science in a fun and engaging way that entertains children and adults. The show starts with static electricity and ends with the MegaZapper, one of the largest Tesla Coils in the country, and the Cage of Doom. At the show’s end, visitors can enter the Cage of Doom for an unforgettable selfie. 

The MegaZapper and Cage of Doom are a highlight of the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention.

The MegaZapper and Cage of Doom are a highlight of the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. Photo courtesy SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention

Outdoor Activities to Enjoy While Spending 2 Days in Bellingham

Bellingham Boardwalk

At sunset on a summer evening, the place to be is down on the boardwalk. Packs of teenagers, parents with strollers, dog walkers, bicyclists, and couples—everyone is strolling the quarter-mile-long, over the water boardwalk. Part of the South Bay trail, the boardwalk stretches between Boulevard Park and Taylor Dock. You might want to grab a coffee and a morning treat at Woods Coffee in Boulevard Park before a morning walk. Benches along the way invite people to linger. 

More than 100 years ago, the boardwalk would have provided a front-row seat to the tin can factory and salmon packing company that flourished in the bay. Old wooden pilings, slowly rotting away into the sea, are all that is left. Today the views include boats bobbing in the bay, glorious sunsets, and the forested shores of the bay. Parking at Boulevard Park can be difficult to find at sunset, so you might want to get there early.

Boardwalk in Bellingham at sunset.

The boardwalk between Taylor Dock and Boulevard Park is the place to be at sunset. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Whatcom Falls

With five miles of trails spread across 241 acres, Whatcom Falls Park offers a nature escape less than three miles from downtown Bellingham. Trails run along Whatcom Creek, but the waterfall by the old stone bridge is the main attraction. Whatcom Falls cascades about 10 feet. The stone bridge, built in 1939, offers the best view. From the parking lot near the creek, it is about a one- or two-minute walk along a paved path. 

Whatcom Falls.

The best view of Whatcom Falls is from the old stone bridge. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Mount Baker Scenic Byway

The Mount Baker Scenic Byway (State Route 542) is an easy 58-mile drive from Bellingham to Mt. Baker. The double-lane paved road gradually gains elevation and winds into the mountains. It passes through small mountain towns and over creeks, following the rushing Nooksack River. The road climbs high into the mountains, past the Mount Baker Ski Area, and finally arrives at Picture Lake with its reflection of Mount Shuksan. It ends with photo-worthy views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan at Artists Point. The final section is only open in the summer and early fall when the snow is gone. You’ll want a clear day for the best visibility. On a gray, rainy day, the clouds may obscure the mountains and the lake. 

Several campgrounds and trailheads along the way offer the chance to explore more. The last few miles are rougher but still paved, with 15-mph and 20-mph corners. You’re likely to lose cell service at some point. Expect the round trip from Bellingham to take about three hours, or longer if you stop for food in the little mountain towns. 

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington: Picture Lake.

Picture Lake and views of Mt. Shuksan await on the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway. Photo courtesy Visit Bellingham

Big Rock Garden

Big Rock Garden showcases sculptures from local and international artists in a serene Northwest garden. Azaleas, rhododendrons, cedar trees, and more than 100 maples line gravel paths that meander through the 2.5-acre park. More than 35 pieces of art stand in the garden. Creations by renowned Mexican artist Sebastian and Canadian artist David Marshall are among the treasures beside the trails. Hidden at the edge of a neighborhood, the city-owned garden is off-the-beaten-path. You may find that you have it all to yourself. 

Sculpture garden.

Art fills Big Rock Garden, including this sculpture titled Peace, by Tracy Powell. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

Other Places to Check Out in Bellingham

Between the mountains and the sea, Bellingham offers far more adventures than can fit in a weekend. If I’d had more time, I would have loved to have gotten out on the water or taken a mountain hike. I’d also like to explore local flavors, such as artisan cheeses and wine. If you have the time, here are a few ideas for exploring more of Bellingham.

Where to Stay During Your 2 Days in Bellingham 

The historic Hotel Leo hits that sweet spot between vintage elegance in public spaces and comfortable, modern decor in the guestrooms. My 648-square-foot Grand Suite included a kitchenette with a French press for coffee. Wood accents on the built-in desk and bedroom furniture added a warm touch. Thoughtful details were everywhere, such as a cube beside the bed for charging electronics. 

The first floor still has its original vintage details, from the lobby’s tile to the meeting rooms’ chandeliers. The bar, Amendment 21, is named after the amendment that ended prohibition. The bar’s cocktails and light dishes were perfect after a day spent exploring the city. In the basement, guests can entertain themselves in a small movie theater with an extensive DVD collection. Upstairs, guests can play pool or grab a book to read in the hotel library.   

The hotel’s central location made it easy to park the car and walk to restaurants, coffee shops, the farmer’s market, and various museums in downtown Bellingham. But what impressed me was the friendly staff, eager to share the hotel’s history and ensure my stay was enjoyable. 

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington: The lobby of Hotel Leo.

The lobby of Hotel Leo is full of original tile and other details. Photo by June Russell-Chamberlin

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Plan Your Trip to Bellingham 

Located 90 miles north of Seattle, Bellingham is surprisingly easy to reach. It’s along Interstate Highway 5 (I-5) if you’re driving. Visitors also fly into Bellingham International Airport or arrive on Amtrak Cascades, which also serves Seattle and other West Coast cities. If you’d rather fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, shuttle buses can bring you to Bellingham. 

Once here, downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven are both walkable neighborhoods. I found it easiest to leave the car parked and walk around town. Local buses, Uber, and Lyft all serve the city. 

Bellingham is the launch point for the ferry serving the Alaska Marine Highway. Regularly scheduled ferry sailings take passengers from Bellingham Bay to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and many communities in between. 

The best time to visit is summer, when the city wholeheartedly embraces outdoor living and adventures. That’s when you’ll find more patio dining, music in the beer gardens, and mild weather for water sports. Hiking is a year-round sport below the snowline. Mt. Baker Ski Area and the surrounding area offer snow sports all winter. 

With so much to see and do in this walkable small city, Bellingham is perfect for a romantic getaway or an adventurous weekend with the family. This Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington, will help you make the most of your weekend getaway. Now that I’ve explored the city, one thing is clear: I’ll be back to this charming city by the bay.

Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Bellingham, greater Seattle, or Washington.

Bellingham, in northwest Washington, offers a vibrant art community, great food, craft beer, and outdoor activities. Read on for our ultimate guide to 2 days in Bellingham, WA. 


Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Bellingham, Washington

Written by June Russell-Chamberlin

June Russell-Chamberlin likes nothing better than to explore and photograph the gems and hidden corners of the Pacific Northwest and the world. She’s especially interested in off-the-beaten-path adventures, sailing, history, culture, food, and wine. She is a member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. When she’s not traveling, June can be found tucked into a good mystery novel, hiking in the Cascade Mountains, or indulging in anything chocolate. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her family and very bossy cat.

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