the Local Public House brew pub, co-owner Ben
Buccarelli hangs photographs of other local
breweries made by artist Omar Wheelock in
Wash. — Most visitors to this college town make a
beeline for Fairhaven, the understandably popular
gentrified historic district at the north end of Chuckanut
Drive. On your next visit, mix it up: Head downtown, where
Whatcom Creek meets the bay.
downtown draws worth your time: lively arts and good beer.
the first of the month near? Go for the First Friday Art
Walk, with up to 30 or more participating venues in a
walkable downtown from 6 to 10 p.m. on the first Friday of
every month (bit.ly/1cPrECD).
expect the ordinary. You won’t find a lot of traditional
galleries; you will get to meet outside-the-box artists in
cozy studios and shops sprinkled across a walkable
downtown arts scene has several anchors:
Museum’s classy Lightcatcher Gallery, 250 Flora St.,
innovative museum with its 180-foot-long translucent wall
is the current must-see destination, with its special
exhibition, "Vanishing Ice." The exhibit melds
art, science and eco-politics in an intriguing look at how
glaciers, polar ice caps and icebergs have played a role
in life on Earth — and what their disappearance may mean
to our future. The exhibit ends March 2.
Film Center, 1318 Bay St., pickfordfilmcenter.org
didn’t expect to spend a pleasurable evening in
Bellingham watching David Tennant as "Richard
II" with the Royal Shakespeare Company from
Stratford-upon-Avon. But I did, at the nonprofit Pickford
theater, the only venue between Seattle and Vancouver,
B.C., offering a daily, year-round schedule of
independent, art house and noncommercial films.
film center, named for silent-screen maven Mary Pickford,
occupies a lovingly restored 100-year-old building on Bay
Street with two screens and a raw-brick lobby worthy of
spending time in for wine and cheese before a show. Also
don’t miss the locally made Nanaimo bars at the snack
counter, or the GMO-free popcorn, with brewer’s yeast
available for sprinkling.
Baker Theatre, 104 N. Commercial St.,
beautifully restored 1927 Moorish-style architectural
treasure, listed on the register of National Historic
Places, is a popular venue for live theater as well as
appearing soon include Judy Collins, Keb’ Mo’, Ani
DiFranco and Arlo Guthrie. Coming theater productions
include an onstage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s
"The 39 Steps" and traveling shows such as
"The Addams Family" and "Hair."
deep Among beer lovers, Bellingham is being touted as the
Northwest’s next great craft-beer destination. Before or
after a show or art walk, sample one of Bellingham’s
newest downtown haunt is The Local Public House, 1427
Railroad Ave. Opened in October, it lives up to its name
with a rotating 14-tap sampling of local and regional
ales. Freshen up with something like a Chili Bravo ale,
from Ferndale’s Menace Brewing, the pub’s affiliated
brewery, or relax over a dark and brooding Locomotive
Breath Imperial Stout, from Anacortes.
you won’t find: Stella Artois or — drumroll, please
— sports TV.
trying to encourage conversation," manager Chris
at mealtime; every menu item comes with a beer-pairing
suggestion. The changing dinner menu recently included
Pork Belly Tacos ("pairs with hoppy pale ales,"
$9) and Curried Fish and Chips, with a titillating
curry-beer batter and coconut-chili aioli ($11).
good downtown options include:
venerable, award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro,
three blocks down the street (1107 Railroad Ave.,
bbaybrewery.com). It’s been here 19 years, and it felt a
tad tired on our visit, but maybe the crowds are the only
endorsement it needs. Sports TV in the taproom.
Hog Gastropub, 1327 N. State St., claims to serve
"fine foods, tasty beers, select wines and
non-pretentious cocktails." While not associated with
a brewery, it is close to the hearts and gullets of
Bellingham beer lovers. The menu includes such
beer-friendly choices as a pulled pork sandwich with
smoked ancho chili-tamarind barbecue sauce, smoked-apple
slaw and house-cut fries ($10). In a recent check of its
15-tap draft list, only five were from outside Washington
or Oregon, with interesting choices such as Snipes
Mountain Jackal, a sour brown beer from Yakima County.
the edge of downtown is Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen,
601 W. Holly St., with a Locavore Menu listing strictly
local dishes. It also does menu pairing, specializing in
German-style lagers. chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com
to Interstate 5 is 2-year-old Kulshan Brewing, whose
Kulshan Fresh Hop Ale took first place in the Yakima
Valley Fresh Hop Ale Festival this past fall. Kulshan
doesn’t serve food but frequently features local food
new breweries, Aslan Brewing and Wander Brewing, are
slated to open in or near downtown in the first half of
2014, which will bring the brewery count in Bellingham’s
city limits to five.
we stayed — and other lodging
B&B near downtown that sounded good was closed when I
visited, so I chose the four-mile drive east of town up
the Mount Baker Highway to the Tree Frog Night
You’ll love this place. It was built with sustainability
in mind, from the naturally pigmented clay walls to the
efficient radiant-heat in the bathroom floor (a
delightfully toe-friendly eco-amenity on a cold morn).
Black and Kurt Yandell, founders of progressive-minded
Duwamish Cohousing in West Seattle, moved to Bellingham in
2005 and built two lodging suites next to their home on
five wooded acres above wild Squalicum Creek. A third
lodging room is in the main house.
choice was the Coast Salish Suite, beautifully decorated
with art and carvings by local Native artisans and lots of
custom design touches. A stand-alone gas stove provided
cozy heat in the living room. Nearby, a sauna. Outside, a
a bed-and-breakfast, but opting out of breakfast holds the
nightly rental to $110 on a winter weeknight ($140 on
weekends). Add $30 for breakfast for two.
only downside: The suites, while in a separate building,
look right at the front windows of the main house, a few
choices: Three non-chain hotels situated away from the
freeway — my first criteria — are well-regarded, but
on TripAdvisor is the Fairhaven Village Inn, in the
district for which it is named, with a special weekend
rate starting at $159 through February.
in Fairhaven, but more bayfront, is the luxurious
Chrysalis Inn and Spa (thechrysalisinn.com). Winter
weekend rates start at $219 per night, with no extra
charge for the freight trains running beneath your window
the bay closer to downtown — next to a marina, a little
farther from trains — is the Hotel Bellwether, with
winter weekend rates starting at $189. hotelbellwether.com
hotels closer to Interstate 5 include SpringHill Suites by
Marriott ($149 winter weekend rate, cheaper if prepaid);
and Best Western Plus Heritage Inn ($120 winter weekend
rate). Other choices include Comfort Inn, Motel 6 and
On scenic Bellingham Bay, the city is sandwiched between
the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker. To the south,
winding Chuckanut Drive is a popular scenic driving route
with hiking and mountain-biking trailheads leading up
Blanchard and Chuckanut mountains.
numbers: With about 82,000 people, Bellingham is home to
Western Washington University, the town’s second-largest
employer (the local hospital is first). It’s the county
seat of Whatcom County, which in 2012 voted by equal
margins — 55 percent — for President Barack Obama and
same-sex marriage, and 57 percent for marijuana
The bay (and later the city) got its name in 1792 from
Capt. George Vancouver, honoring a rather obscure official
of the Royal Navy.
‘Hamsters (yes, they call themselves that) tend to be
active, outdoorsy types who snowboard more than ski, sail
more than power, kayak more than anything. And they read
enough to support a good independent bookstore or two.
stereotype: Many men wear knit watch caps — they use the
French Canadian term "toque" — and have
beards, sometimes down to their waists.
the locals say:
local who had an antique shop and a wry sense of humor
coined a nickname for Bellingham: the City of Subdued
describes Bellingham a little — you can get excited
about stuff but not go overboard," said Will Davis,
whose Lucky Monkey gift shop, 312 W. Champion St., sells
T-shirts with the "Subdued Excitement" saying,
which he calls "the unofficial official slogan"
of Bellingham. "Up here, we’re doing our thing, and
it’s nice, but we take it as it comes."
who live here really love it and care about the community,
with a sense of ownership — it’s small enough they can
do that," said Kara Black, who moved to Bellingham
from Seattle in 2005 and now runs her Tree Frog Night Inn
information: Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism,
800-487-2032 or bellingham.org.