Arts and Attractions Rise to New Heights in Bellingham

On our way to Bellingham Cider Co. in the former Cascade Laundry building, my daughter and I sidestepped actors rehearsing at the Maritime Heritage Park amphitheater. Over a remarkable hyper-local dinner, I marveled at how Bellingham has transformed from a laid-back college town known for its hippie history and outdoorsy vibe into a place where you can dine at sophisticated restaurants, immerse yourself in the arts, explore newly reclaimed waterfront, hike or bike on a burgeoning network of trails and enjoy sunset views over Bellingham Bay from gorgeous parks. Even more exciting — all this is just a start.

(Please take recommended safety precautions when considering any travel, and call or check online before you go to confirm the availability of specific amenities and seasonal events and gatherings.)

bellingham whatcom museum photo by benjamin benschneider
Whatcom Museum (photo by Benjamin Benschneider)

Rewarding Renewals and Arts Incubators

A historic industrial piece reincarnated as art is swiftly becoming a landmark in Bellingham’s new Waypoint Park on Whatcom Creek.

The spherical Waypoint sculpture known as the Acid Ball was an acid accumulator at the pulp mill that occupied this site for nearly a century. Today it overlooks a new 1.5-acre park with restored beach, a playground and the renovated Granary Building. A yoga studio has already opened in this striking, historic building, which will have a ground-floor food hall with tenants like Artivem Mead Co.

A few blocks from the Granary, Hotel Leo opened in the historic 1929 building that was originally the city’s grand hotel. Renovations revealed elegant terrazzo floors, adding to the Moorish tilework and a vast, chandeliered ballroom. The project includes apartments, 40 hotel rooms, a restaurant and gathering spaces.

More than cider is fermenting in the renovated Cascade Laundry building.

Ideas bubble up to the surface regularly at Sylvia Center for the Arts, which opened a mainstage and lobby art gallery in 2018 supplementing its smaller studio theater. The play whose set we walked through, “Briseis” (based on “The Iliad”), was written by the center’s artistic director, Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao. Nearly all of the works produced at Sylvia are original — just one illustration of the immense artistic talent in this arts-fueled town. (The Sylvia Center for the Arts is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

B’ham’s historic Mount Baker Theatre remains a key arts influencer, drawing regional and national talent. Performances are scheduled to resume as early as January 2021.

The Whatcom Museum’s spectacular Lightcatcher building is home to exceptional exhibitions.

But the newest arts entrant is awe-inspiring in both its brilliance and its lovely forested setting. Sculpture Woods, a 14.5-acre park on nearby Lummi Island, features larger-than-life, myth-inspired bronzes by sculptor Ann Morris. Gifted to Western Washington University, the site is open to the public the first Saturday of each month.

Bellingham's Taylor Dock and the Fairhaven Historic District viewed from above the blue waters of Bellingham Bay

Bellingham’s Taylor Dock and the Fairhaven Historic District (photo by Beau Gaughran)

Sips, Savories and Sweets

With more than a dozen breweries, Bellingham’s suds scene is hopping, but some are taking it to the next level. Twin Sisters Brewing Co. opened in 2018 with a huge restaurant and extensive outdoor spaces that draw families. And Bellingham Cider Co., an eco-conscious cidery and restaurant, features upscale bistro fare in a chic space with apple-box lighting fixtures. The restaurant is 100 percent solar, gets kale for its salads from a backyard farm just blocks away, and donates its used cooking oil to a local farmer who uses it as biofuel for his machinery and sells vegetables back to the restaurant.

Among notable dining options, Saltine yields refined and memorable New American cuisine in a contemporary space with crisp design details. The owners are Craig Serbousek — who operated Crow and Betty restaurants in Seattle before moving north — and his wife, Valerie Markus.

Evolve Chocolate + Cafe inside Fairhaven’s Village Books offers creative meals with complex flavors and overlooks Fairhaven Village Green. With a no-waste kitchen and monthly book readings featuring drinks and dishes inspired by characters, Evolve is a community favorite.

Fairhaven’s Iron Rooster Bakery & Café rules the roost when it comes to European-inspired pastries. Their Mama Hen’s Nest, made from croissant dough and pastry cream, is a delight — one of many new treats and renovated treasures found today in Bellingham.

–Written by Leslie Forsberg

– Top photo of Bellingham Bay by Beau Gaughran

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey, and was updated in October 2020.

  • From Seattle: About 90 miles
  • From Spokane​: About 360 miles
Best For
  • Arts
  • Local flavors
  • Waterfront history
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