Bellingham, Washington is a sneakily nice city.
Seattle and Vancouver get all of the hype. Well, Bellingham is perfectly located between both world-class cities. It’s far enough from both cities to get space – but close enough to enjoy the airports and pro sports teams.
Everyone from the Lower Mainland is familiar with Bellingham. However, Bellingham is criminally underrated (or completely unknown) for most Americans.
I’m not a Bellinghamster. I just spent a summer in the area. However, we did plenty of exploring around Bellingham.
Here are my top 6 must-see things to do in and around Bellingham, Washington.
6) Walk Through Fairhaven
Fairhaven is an old port city located just down the street from Bellingham. They started as separate cities, but Fairhaven has been part of Bellingham since 1903.
Visit the Fairhaven Historical District and walk around. There are breweries, restaurants, and shops. It’s a popular tourist destination.
Like other historic districts, Fairhaven has building restrictions. All buildings have a similarly cool and unique appearance for a reason.
If you want to feel like you’re walking around a Pacific Northwest port city from the 1800s, then Fairhaven is tough to beat.
Fairhaven isn’t large. After grabbing a drink and a bite to eat, you can move on to our next step.
5) Walk the South Bay Trail and the Pier
The South Bay Trail goes from Fairhaven to Bellingham. You can walk, bike, or run the whole thing.
The highlight of the South Bay Trail is the pier and the park. Google Maps tells me they’re calledthe Bellingham Boardwalk, the Taylor Dock Boardwalk, and Boulevard Park.
All of this is a must-see stop in Bellingham – especially on a sunny and clear day.
From the pier, you get fantastic views of the islands and surrounding coastline. Boulevard Park is a perfect (and popular) place from which to watch the sunset. There are kids swimming and jumping in the water, friendly people walking dogs, people chilling and having a picnic in the park. It’s all very nice.
If you walk the entire South Bay Trail, you’ll end up in downtown Bellingham.
4) Swim, Kayak, or Paddleboard at Lake Whatcom
Lake Whatcom dominates the east side of the city of Bellingham. The lake is surprisingly long, and it’s an understandably popular spot all summer.
The best spot to rent paddleboards, go swimming, and chill at Lake Whatcom is Bloedel Donovan Park. It’s busy, and I know there are better swimming spots around the lake. However, this is the most popular spot – and the easiest spot to access.
We rented a kayak and cruised up the lake, checking out some of the beautiful homes along the way. Bloedel Boat Rentals made it easy to rent the kayak. However, you can rock up with a towel and have an equally good time.
3) Hike the Chanterelle Trail and Hertz Trail
On the north end of Lake Whatcom, about 15 minutes away from Bellingham, you’ll find a park with two great hikes: the Chanterelle Trail and the Hertz Trail. Both are worth the walk.
Chanterelle Trail: This trail takes you upward through the woods before reaching a power line clearing. It takes you far above Lake Whatcom, giving you spectacular views over the lake and surrounding mountains. It’s not the quietest or most remote hike in the area, and you’ll have plenty of company at any time of day, but it’s worth the hassle.
Hertz Trail: The Hertz Trail takes you along the side of Lake Whatcom that doesn’t have a road. The road ends at this part of the northeast side of the lake. To go further, you’ll need to hike the Hertz Trail. We did a good chunk of the Hertz Trail the same day we did the Chanterelle Trail, and we found it a good way to unwind. It’s a flat trail that follows the lake the whole way. There are plenty of nice swimming spots along the way, and you get great views of the lake at every step. This is also a sneakily good spot to watch the sunset.
2) Visit a Brewery
For a town of under 100,000 people, Bellingham has a surprising number of good breweries.
Two of the best-known names in town are Aslan Brewing Company and Kulshan Brewing Co. You’ll see their beers at grocery stores across this corner of Washington.
Aslan Brewing Company has an excellent brewpub and patio in downtown Bellingham, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for a proper meal and good beer.
If there’s a long wait at Aslan Brewing Company (as was the case when we visited), walk to nearby Schweinhaus Biergarten. It’s a popular German beer garden with a great atmosphere.
Kulshan, which is named after a nearby mountain peak, has three locations in town, including their new Kulshan Trackside Beer Garden at the waterfront in the old industrial part of town. If you want a unique outdoor atmosphere, I’d go there.
1) Drive to the Samish Overlook and Hike to Oyster Dome
Many Bellinghamsters told us that Oyster Dome was the best view in Bellingham. After hiking to Oyster Dome, it’s hard to dispute that claim.
Drive up to the Samish Overlook and find a parking spot. Then, hike up to Oyster Dome. It’s a short hike that’s mostly uphill. Eventually, you come to a clearing with a large cliff. From that cliff, you get an incredible view of the ocean, the islands, and the entire coastal area. It’s spectacular.
The drive up to Samish Overlook is a little rough. It’s a dirt road with a few bumpy sections. Drive slowly and take your time. It’s worth it.
Pack a picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables at the top. We popped some champagne to celebrate our anniversary, had a nice picnic, and enjoyed a fantastic summer sunset in Bellingham, Washington.