Just 90 minutes south of Vancouver, Bellingham has culture, quirk and everything required for an exciting weekend getaway
Many of us fondly remember crossing the American border to visit Bellingham for cheap booze, American brands we couldn’t get in Canada, a quick stop on the way to Seattle or Portland, or to catch a flight with a discount airline out of BLI airport.
But unbeknownst to many, Bellingham’s downtown area and the historic Fairhaven district are loaded with character, charm and some of best eats and breweries in the Pacific Northwest—not to mention the stunning nature, including the scenic Chuckanut Drive and Mount Baker Ski Area, famed for having the most snowfall and longest ski season in the world.
Whether you’re a beer lover, adventure seeker, or just looking for a good old-fashioned family weekend getaway, here are 12 reasons you should take the 90-minute drive south to explore what locals refer to as B'ham—a gem nestled on the coast of Washington’s Whatcom County—for the weekend...
Lazy Sunday Brunch Spots
1. Old Town Café, 316 West Holly Street
In Bellingham’s Old Town, you’ll find the aptly named Old Town Café, where pothos vines trail the walls and a rotating cast of local musicians regale brunch enthusiasts. On this particular Sunday, The Samara Jade Trio—guitar, upright bass, and trumpet—plays orchestral folk alongside haunting vocals. The kitchen uses as many fresh, local ingredients as possible, and you can taste it. Try the number nine—a fan favourite—with two poached eggs atop a biscuit slathered in cheese sauce and sliced tomatoes. Fingers crossed the next time you’re in town the special is the shakshuka, a perfect blend of eggs, savoury tomato and Middle Eastern spice. There are also plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, including five different tofu scrambles. Wash it all down with a mimosa made with freshly-squeezed orange juice or a piping hot, locally roasted brew.
2. Homeskillet, 521 Kentucky Street
Upon arrival at Homeskillet, you’re immediately transported to what seems like an eclectic junkyard, with cartoon murals and frying pans lining the entrance. Inside, the shelves are lined with kitschy toys, like My Little Ponies and Trolls that take you back to your childhood playroom. The brightly coloured, hand-painted tables are as cheery as the staff. The owners, Kirby and Lisa, met while cooking for scientists at a research base in Antarctica. Kirby is the only cook, and fries just about everything in a cast-iron skillet (hence the name). Tina runs the front of the house and creates most of the artwork. Their homemade biscuits and gravy are a staple, but you can’t leave without trying the pulled pork tater tot hash and eggs and the corned beef hash. Douse everything with their delicious hot sauces named after dogs the owners have rescued over the years (favourites include Scooch and Loretta). On a sunny day, sit outside in the mimosa garden (aka Sunnyland Social Club) with a drink in hand. The menu has an entire page devoted to their love of the citrusy concoction and the staff celebrates every bottle of champagne opened with a cheer. Get there early—there’s always a wait.
The Historical Fairhaven District
3. Fairhaven Village Inn, 1200 10th Street
Peter JamesSituated on the water overlooking a small working harbour where passengers embark on Alaskan cruises and catch ferries to the San Juan Islands, check in to the family-owned, 22-room Fairhaven Village Inn, oozing charm of a bygone era. Though built in 1998, the aesthetic fits right in with the rest of the quaint town founded in 1883. The place feels more like a carefully curated boutique bed and breakfast with its cozy rooms that either overlook Bellingham Bay or the Village Green, which bustles with The Bellingham Farmer’s Market in the summertime. The library next to reception is fully stocked with all your favourite board games, plenty of books to curl up with, and free-flowing coffee by the fire, perfect for a rainy afternoon. Inside the hotel, you’ll also find Galloway’s Cocktail Bar, a '20s-themed bar with an extensive cocktail list. Fairhaven in itself is a true gem, filled with a rich history. Steps from the entrance are boutiques and restaurants housed in red brick buildings with a Victorian-era charm, including Village Books across the street where you can lose yourself in the shelves for hours (don’t miss the staff picks section with handwritten descriptions of why they love them).
Note: In just under two hours, and for $36 round trip, you can catch the train from downtown Vancouver to the Bellingham Amtrak Cascades station right behind the Inn.
4. Gainsbarre, 1143 Eleventh Street
From the moment you enter this modern pastel-pink room filled with plants and quirky wine innuendos—like the neon ‘wineaux’ sign that hangs behind the bar—Gainsbarre feels like the perfect spot to take a deep, relaxing breath after a long day. The servers, dressed in matching denim aprons and chic scarves are equally as knowledgeable as they are kind-hearted. They pride themselves in serving only natural wines—organic or bio-dynamic certified—from around the world. The result is an explosion of flavour on your tongue with each sip. Made the traditional way, biodynamic wines have an extra certification beyond organic. The harvest and production are holistic and tuned into the moon cycles. In some vineyards, cows wander through the vines as part of the fertilization process and different herbs are infused into the water to protect the vines. These wines are hard to come by in North America, but their curated selection is the perfect introduction to some of the most flavourful wines you’ll taste. Manager Patricia Knight says, “You might taste some of the plants that are growing nearby; you really get a taste of the land and the expression of terroir.” Start with the purple radishes, which are both beautiful and pair perfectly with their salted butter, freshly-baked bread, and a juicy, aromatic glass of biodynamic Edelzwicker, a white wine from Alsace. Next, pair the chorizo Iberico with the potent and creamy Caña di Cabra, fig jam, and an earthy glass of Pot du Vache from the Loire Valley.
5. Stone’s Throw Brewing, 1009 Larrabee Avenue
This brewery feels like you're having a beer in your own backyard. Tucked between old homes, it has multiple outdoor seating areas, including a cozy beer garden with a firepit, rotating food trucks, and picnic tables adorned with freshly cut flowers from the garden. The brewery is uniquely built with shipping containers and their ethos is small-batch beer, which means they’re always experimenting with new brews. Try the Blonde Ale, a crisp, cloudy brew with a slight citrus flavour, or the India Pale Ale made with Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops. Their motto is, “The Closest Pint to Adventure,” and rightfully so. This is the perfect spot to grab a fleece blanket, sit by the fire and kick back after a day hiking mountains or kayaking Bellingham Bay. It’s quite literally a stone’s throw from the interurban trail, a popular hiking and biking trail that connects Fairhaven to Larabee State Park, which runs along the awe-inspiring Chuckanut Drive. Don’t want to leave? You can rent a guest house at the brewery through Airbnb where you’ll have tasty ales right on your doorstep.
6. Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen, 601 West Holly Street
Put Chuckanut Brewery—one of the original Bellingham breweries that started it all after nearby Boundary Bay Brewing—on the very top of your must-visit list. Although it opened 10 years ago and they’ve supported many new breweries, it’s still one of the best kept secrets in town. Master brewer Will Kemper—somewhat of an icon in the craft beer movement—has a background in chemical engineering and has worked in breweries and opened brewpubs everywhere from the East Coast of the USA to Monterrey, Mexico, and Istanbul, Turkey alongside his wife Mari. When the pair settled in Bellingham, they renovated an old garage into what is now the North Nut kitchen and brewery (there’s a second tap room in Skagit). Chuckanut’s recipes are truly a science, so don’t miss taking a tour of the brewery. It’s quite literally a beer chemistry lab with a meticulously consistent process and style that’s resulted in award-winning European-style lagers and a few ales. Try the Pilsner and Kulsch (served properly in a traditional Cologne-style glass), which have both won gold at the World Beer Cup. The food is spectacular, and all locally sourced from the Whatcom County area. Be sure to get the Reuben, a local favourite, stacked with sauerkraut and served on homemade marbled rye.
7. Kulshan Brewing, 2238 James Street
A true local hangout, Kulshan is a place where people gather at the end of the workday and where families—kids and dogs in tow—flock to on weekends. It has a casual (think of a Patagonia-fleece-and-socks-with-Birkenstocks kind of vibe) community feeling as local bands play and people spill out onto the patio, enjoying eats from the rotating cast of food trucks every day of the week. On colder nights, tuck into a Kitten Mittens winter ale—which tastes like all your holiday favourites—coffee, chocolate, figs and toffee—and is boozy enough to warm you from the inside out—and play a game on the corkboard dart wall. In the summer, grab a pint of the Bastard Kat, the brewery’s classic IPA.
8. Aslan Brewing, 1330 North Forest Street
This organic craft brewery is a hit with just about everyone. It’s the best spot to spend a sun-drenched day on the sprawling patio with old and new friends. The owners have a commitment to organic, locally sourced ingredients, making the food equally as delicious as their unique, experimental beers. Their Southwest and coconut curry bowls are both flavourful and healthy, eliminating any guilt you might have about drinking that much beer all weekend. If you’re interested in something super-tart, ask for a glass of the Disco Lemonade, an ultra-sour Berliner Weisse that’ll make your lips pucker. For a more classic brew, try the Batch 15, a hazy, juicy IPA made with all American wheat and hops.
9. Schweinhaus Biergarten, 1330 North State Street
Just down the road from Aslan is the Schweinhaus Biergarten—a modern outdoor German beer garden in the heart of Bellingham. They serve a variety of wursts (aka sausages), wood-fired oven pretzels and German-style beers served in proper steins. The best part? The back garden entirely dedicated to the game of cornhole and giant Jenga. Sit under the heated patio on chillier nights, or bask in the sun on a Tommy Bahama lounger on a summer afternoon.
Outside Bellingham: Lynden, Sedro-Woolley, and Mount Baker
10. BelleWood Acres Farm and Distillery
Washington State has its fair share of distilleries, but have you tried vodka, gin and brandy crafted from freshly pressed apples? Plan to spend an afternoon with the whole family at BelleWood Acres, one of Northwest Washington’s largest apple orchards. The orchard is also the state’s only apple distiller. Head inside for a complimentary tasting with Preston, the enthusiastic barman who will introduce you to the full lineup of spirits. That includes Bruce, everyone’s favourite choice, made with a blend of freshly pressed apple cider and bourbon barrel-aged apple brandy. In the fall, there’s a corn maze and cannon, and u-pick apples and pumpkins which pair perfectly with a pumpkin spice liquor hot toddy or spiced apple brandy. Come summer, there’s a tire obstacle course and plenty of goodies to pack up for a picnic of hearty homemade meals from BelleWood Café and Market (open year-round). The apple BBQ chicken wrap and apple hog sandwich are must-tries. For something sweet, grab a bag of the dried apples, a tub of their honey-roasted peanut butter and a freshly baked Dutch apple pie. Cool off with an apple slushie (adults, make it an apple frost with the addition of vodka or gin) or mason jar tonic. Owner Eric Able and his family say their aim is to bring awesome food to the community and they’re doing just that by supplying their apples to many local businesses as possible and creating a community around the space.
Note: Though they’re delicious, don’t try to bring any apples back across the Canadian border; it’s not allowed.
11. The Inn at Lynden
Check in to The Inn at Lynden, a true gem in a mostly undiscovered part of Northwest Washington and the closest boutique hotel to Mount Baker. Housed in the refurbished 100-year-old Waples Mercantile Building which was nearly destroyed by a fire, the Inn is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Each room features a preserved piece of the original design, including exposed concrete walls, old beams and original old-growth fir flooring. The rustic charm is juxtaposed with modern furniture and bright white walls giving it a Scandinavian-chic feel. Enjoy your morning coffee overlooking Lynden’s charming brick buildings and perfectly manicured blooms. In the summer, take one of the hotel’s Dutch-style cruiser bikes out for a spin, or sweat it out with complimentary use of two local fitness clubs. After a long day at the slopes, grab a local brew and play a board game at Overflow Taps, catch a book reading at Village Books, or have a bite at Avenue Bread, all attached to the Inn, making it truly the place to be in town. On your way out to the slopes, stop by The Lynden Dutch Bakery and grab a pumpkin cake for the road.
Note: Book two nights during the 2019 ski season and receive a free lift ticket to Mt. Baker Ski Area.
12. Airbnb’s Cozy Cabin in the Woods, aka Moon Mountain Lodge
If you’re looking for a truly off-the-grid, low-carbon footprint getaway, head to Sedro-Woolley (30 minutes from downtown Bellingham) and check yourself into Airbnb’s secluded Cozy Cabin in the Woods for the weekend. Though the thought of no electricity for an entire weekend might seem daunting, it’s anything but. Get cozy by the fire, light the gas lamps, crack some craft beer or cider picked up on the way from Bellingham, then curl up on the couch with a good book or spend the rest of the evening playing board games by candlelight. This cabin was originally a wood storage building turned into a home with straw bale construction, marble slabs, complete with recycled windows and floors milled from an old tree on the property. It feels like being inside a thatched roof cottage in the English countryside. Come morning you’ll find the fridge stocked with fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and eggs which you can fry on the gas stove. In spring, the resident dog, Smooch is a ready and willing partner to hike with you on the area’s many surrounding trails. Later, warm up around the firepit and roast some s’mores and hotdogs for dinner. In the winter, it becomes just a little more magical with a light dusting of snow, and is the perfect base for a day of skiing at Mount Baker. Leave your cell phone in the car—the best part about the whole experience is the total silence and realizing how easy, and necessary, it is to fully disconnect once in a while.
For more trip-planning ideas, places to stay and unique activities in Bellingham and Whatcom County visit Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.