16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Bellingham, WA
Author Brad Lane lives in the Pacific Northwest and enjoys his annual trips to Bellingham.
Not far from the Canadian border, Bellingham is a Northwest gem of a city and represents everything the region has to offer. With seaside access to the San Juan Islands and only a stone's throw from North Cascades National Park, Bellingham is convenient to several of Washington's best attractions.
Outdoor recreation is easy to find. Within city limits, places like Whatcom Falls Park offer abundant hiking trails and ways to get outside.
Pacific Northwest culture is also easy to find in Bellingham. With many museums and numerous local storefronts, Bellingham is also home to Western Washington University. The campus puts a notable college town twist on this city of 89,000. Whether it's the friendly faces in the streets or the abundance of trailheads to explore, Bellingham is one city in Washington worth more than just a weekend getaway.
Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Bellingham.
1. Whatcom Falls Park
Whatcom Falls Park is a 240-acre city park on the eastern edge of Bellingham. This public space features modern park amenities, some of Bellingham's best hiking trails, and plenty of open space to explore.
The four different waterfalls within the park, created by the cascading Whatcom Creek, are a sightseeing favorite and among some of the best waterfalls in Washington. Among other trails, the Whatcom Creek Trail Loop explores these falls.
The Stone Bridge, constructed near the parking lot of Whatcom Falls State Park, provides a scenic viewpoint not to miss on a visit. This iconic walkway is often photographed, but no-one completely captures the classic Pacific Northwest beauty of the mossy green environment and running water. This monumental bridge gives a testament to the park's century-plus history in the city.
Paths wind throughout the entire park, catering to short hikes after a picnic or longer trail runs. Visitors to the park also find picnic tables, basketball courts, and covered shelters.
Address: 1401 Electric Avenue, Bellingham, Washington
2. Chuckanut Drive
The Chuckanut Mountains converge upon Samish Bay just south of Bellingham, offering a dramatic landscape of the Cascade Mountains colliding with the sea. Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway (WA-11) navigates the narrow shoreline, offering several pull-offs to explore the postcard environment.
Chuckanut Drive begins near the Fairhaven Historic District and spans 20 miles south to Burlington. The northern half of the route, in particular, is a tourist destination and has been for several years. Larrabee State Park, Washington's first state park, beckons visitors along this route with sprawling amenities and hiking trails.
3. Fairhaven Historic District
Fairhaven the town, or Fairhaven the village, sparked to life in 1889 with its seaport location and the booming impacts of the logging industry. After two decades of rapid growth, Fairhaven joined with three other towns in the area to form what is today considered Bellingham.
Fast forward to the present time, and the streets of the Fairhaven Historic District still ring to life with bustling sidewalks, red-brick Victorian architecture, and the same beautiful views of Bellingham Bay.
Alongside its placement on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairhaven has sprouted many unique shopping and dining attractions that add to the Bellingham experience. Whether looking for local shops or cozy spots to enjoy a meal, places like Village Books or Skylark's Hidden Cafe easily satisfy an appetite.
Fairhaven Winterfest spans the month of December and features festive lights and horse-drawn carriages. The Bellingham Cruise Terminal is also near Fairhaven and caters to whale-watching tours and San Juan Island explorations.
For some of the most scenic lodging in Bellingham, the Fairhaven Historic District also offers seaside accommodations like The Chrysalis Inn and Spa or the Hotel Bellwether.
4. Nooksack Falls
Nooksack Falls is one of several stunning natural attractions lining the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) north of the city. However, this waterfall certainly stands out thanks to its 80-plus-foot plummet and easy access. It's only a short detour from the highway and an even shorter walk from the off-road parking area.
A fence surrounds the cliff's edge with the best view of the falls. Heed the warning signs throughout, as slippery conditions exist and accidents have occurred. However, keep a safe distance and enjoy the dazzling view.
This ease of access makes Nooksack Falls great for an easy side adventure or standalone family outing. The rest of Mount Baker Highway, east and west of Nooksack Falls, has a nearly endless adventure appeal. The highway itself ends at the aptly named Artist Point, with jaw-dropping views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan.
Read More: Top-Rated Waterfalls in Washington State
5. Boulevard Park
Boulevard Park is a charming bay-side community space connecting the Fairhaven Historic District to the south and downtown Bellingham to the north. The park features a performance stage for local concerts, open space for throwing a frisbee, and some of the best views of Bellingham Bay found anywhere else in the city. The park also has great walking and biking trails along the shore.
Woods Coffee is centrally located in the middle of the park and provides an extra boost of caffeine during the day. Public barbecue pits and sandy beaches make Boulevard Park popular for picnics. Fishing is also a fun activity, and the park has several shoreline fishing spots and a boardwalk where visitors can drop a line.
Address: 470 Bayview Drive, Bellingham, Washington
6. SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention
The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention proudly displays some of the biggest innovations that have shaped the modern world as we know it. This family-friendly, fully interactive downtown establishment guides visitors through four decades of electric milestones.
The museum features five permanent collections ranging from the Birth of Electricity to the Golden Age of Radio. Replicas of Edison's first light bulbs are on display, as are thousands of radios from throughout their history of design.
Among the many other tourist attractions, a nine-foot Tesla Coil, known as the "MegaZapper," also keeps the whole family interested and engaged. The "MegaZapper Electrical Show" takes place every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year.
Address: 1312 Bay Street, Bellingham, Washington
7. Go for a Hike in Bellingham
With so much mountainous terrain to explore, hiking is a way of life in Bellingham and a top tourist attraction. From the glaciated slopes of Mount Baker to the Chuckanuts abutting the sea, the best hikes in Bellingham put the Pacific Northwest allure on full display.
A few iconic hikes in Bellingham include the trails at Whatcom Falls Park and Oyster Dome in the Chuckanut Mountains. Larrabee State Park, Washington's first state park, is also a hot spot for hiking trails in the Chuckanuts. Farther north, Mount Baker is an epicenter of world-renowned hiking trails, catering to a wide range of day trips.
It's not all mountain climbing and rugged terrain when it comes to hiking around Bellingham. Several spots, like Lake Padden Park and Boulevard Park, offer accessible gravel paths throughout waterfront landscapes. All abilities have hikes to look forward to in Bellingham.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Washington State
8. Lake Padden Park
Lake Padden Park is a popular place for recreation on the southeastern tip of Bellingham, next to Interstate 5. With dozens of hiking trails weaving in and out of the woodlands, as well as challenging mountain biking trails, fun at Lake Padden is often forward motion.
Outside of the blood-pumping recreation, picnic areas are available for an afternoon meal. Visitors to Lake Padden Park can also let their furry friend run free at the off-leash dog park, or maybe catch a quick 18 holes at the adjacent Lake Padden Public Golf Course.
Lake Padden itself is also a top attraction. This 160-acre lake provides the perfect opportunity for paddling a SUP around the water or fishing from the dock. The sunsets at Lake Padden also provide a memorable experience. Spring, summer, and fall are the most popular times of year to visit.
Address: 4882 Samish Way, Bellingham, Washington
Read More: Best Lakes in Washington
9. Galbraith Mountain Bike Park
Galbraith Mountain Bike Park is a defining feature of Bellingham recreation. While the outdoor space and hiking trails encourage many activities, most people visit Galbraith Mountain for mountain biking. Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC) operates and maintains the mountain and provides more than 50 miles of groomed mountain bike trails.
Trails at Galbraith Mountain range from flowy and friendly to fast and frightening. All the trails on Galbraith Mountain cross private land, and access to these trails is reliant on rider stewardship and the efforts of the WMBC. Access to these iconic Bellingham bike trails is available from the north entrance on Birch Street or the south entrance on Samish Way.
Riders and visitors are encouraged to tread lightly and pack out whatever they bring in. Frequent and first-time users are also encouraged to donate or become a member of the MWBC.
Address: Birch Street, Bellingham, Washington
10. Larrabee State Park
Larrabee State Park is a central location within the Chuckanut Mountains on Chuckanut Drive. It operates with the impressive designation as Washington's first state park and holds a certain charm from this longevity. The stunning coastline confronted with tall Cascade peaks also leaves quite the impression.
Larrabee State Park caters to every activity the Chuckanuts have to offer. Hiking, boating, mountain biking, fishing, and camping are everyday things to do at the park. And much of the excitement includes exquisite sightseeing across Samish Bay toward the San Juan Islands.
Larrabee offers more than 50 electric campsites and a boat launch to explore Puget Sound. Reservations are recommended throughout the summer months and into the shoulder seasons. The area is also well known for its first-class mountain biking trails.
Address: 245 Chuckanut Drive, Bellingham, Washington
Read More: Best State & National Parks in Washington
11. Bellingham Farmers Market
The Bellingham Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from April through December downtown at Depot Market Square. Over 100 vendors comprise the rows of local shopping opportunities at these markets. Fresh produce, homemade confections, and local artisan goods comprise many of the stalls. Local live music also accompanies this lively public event.
Third Saturday Markets take place throughout January, February, and March. These winter markets occur within an expansive indoor pavilion and feature similar fares. Bellingham Farmers Market also features special events throughout the year, including a Spooktacular celebration in October and Demo Days once a month.
Address: 1100 Railroad Avenue, Bellingham, Washington
12. Mt. Baker Ski Area
Just over 50 miles east of downtown Bellingham, Mt. Baker Ski Area is one of Washington's top ski resorts. It's not only a powder destination for residents of Bellingham, but the dramatic backdrop and impressive slopes draw tourists from around the world. The mountain features more than 1,000 acres to explore, ranging from bunny hills to expert-only cliff areas, with something for nearly every level of winter athlete.
With an average of more than 600 inches of snowfall each year, fresh tracks are common at this Cascade Mountain ski mecca. Within the boundaries of Mt. Baker Ski Area, the community also hosts annual events, including the acclaimed Mt. Baker Film Fest and the Legendary Banked Slalom race in February. This acclaimed winter event is one of the largest snowboarding races in the world.
Address: Mt. Baker Hwy, Deming, Washington
13. Mount Baker Theatre
The historic Mount Baker Theatre occupies half a city block in downtown Bellingham's Arts District.
The theater dates back to 1927 and experienced major renovations in 1996, with its former elegance remaining in decorative features like the Main Stage auditorium. Today, the theater operates three different venues that host national and local performances throughout the year
The theater puts on a wide range of entertainment, including musicals, magicians, and classic instrumentalists. Many shows run late, providing several evening performances and things to do at night. The theater is also involved with several community events.
Mount Baker Theatre is also home to the touring and popular Missoula Children's Theatre camp.
Address: 104 N. Commercial Street, Bellingham, Washington
14. Whatcom Museum
The Whatcom Museum, spread throughout downtown Bellingham, recently celebrated 75 years as a regional showcase of arts and culture in the northwest. It's accredited by the American Association of Museums with more than 200,000 artifacts in its collection, offering more to explore than possible to see in a single visit.
The collection is spread across the three Arts District buildings, including the iconic and historic Old City Hall, as well as the modern Lightcatcher Building. Whatcom rotates its exhibits throughout the year, but the collections all focus on regional art, relics, and an impressive vault of photographic archives.
Numerous events and educational experiences that cater to adults and children occur at the museum. Regular scheduled programming includes workshops, lecture series, and summer camps.
Address: 121 Prospect Street, Bellingham, Washington
15. Lake Whatcom
Lake Whatcom, directly east of Bellingham, provides the drinking water for the city. This 10-mile lake services nearly 100,000 residents in Whatcom County and offers several recreation activities. Boating, swimming, and fishing are all popular things to do on the water. Because of its important role as a drinking water supply, certain restrictions and boat regulations apply when visiting.
Shoreline activities are also popular at Lake Whatcom. Hikers should head to Lake Whatcom Park to find some trails. The Hertz Trail at Lake Whatcom Park follows the shoreline of the lake on a converted railway line.
No campgrounds are currently available near the shore, but private cabins and cottages to rent line the lakeside.
16. Big Rock Garden
The city of Bellingham has overseen this small community treasure known as Big Rock Garden since 1993. This 2.5-acre garden sits within a lush forest landscape atop Lake Whatcom, with over 37 permanent pieces of art on display. No admission is necessary for this family-friendly destination, where the public can explore at leisure.
Several renowned and local artists contributed to the statues and installations at Big Rock Garden. The park also hosts a seasonal sculpture show in May to reveal new works. However, the changing seasons reveal the most artistic evolution throughout the year. Visit during the spring, summer, and fall for a rotating pallet of color.
Where to Stay in Bellingham for Sightseeing
Bellingham is blessed with many great hotels. Several hotels are southeast of the downtown district, near the Western Washington campus, and cater to a variety of stays. More hotels, including some of Bellingham's nicest hotels, are north of the city near Bellis Fair Mall. Other charming options are in Fairhaven Village and near the coast.
- North of the city near Bellis Fair Mall, Oxford Suites Bellingham has one of the best reputations for a good night's sleep in the city.
- Nearby, the TownePlace Suites by Marriott also features modern rooms with extra amenities, like granite countertops and adjustable workspaces.
- In Fairhaven Village south of town, one of the best places to stay is the Fairhaven Village Inn.
- Bellingham has several budget hotels to choose from, and some are better than others. The Coachman Inn is one such recommended budget hotel, close to downtown and Western Washington University.
- The GuestHouse Inn Bellingham is another affordable hotel option that doesn't skimp on service.
Best Time to Visit Bellingham, WA - Historical Climate Averages
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|Average monthly precipitation totals for Bellingham, WA in inches.|
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