Bellingham is located in the far northwest corner of Washington state, is just 90 miles north of Seattle on Interstate-5 and 50 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Nestled on Bellingham Bay, this City offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Islands, Mount Baker, and the Cascade Mountains. Bellingham is also a college town, home to Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College.
It has a population of around 70,000 and an elevation of 60 feet above sea level.
A little History
Long before the first European settlers came to this area it was home to several Coast Salish Native Tribes. The Lummi Tribe now located on the Lummi Peninsula and the Nooksack Tribe that lived further up the Nooksack River harvested the fish and shellfish of this area.
The first European settlers were led to the bay by Lummi Tribe members in canoes. Tribal members also helped clear the land and build the first buildings here, providing food and helping them survive their first winter here.
A photo of the Museum is loading……… This city received its name in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver, an English explorer, sailed into the Bay and named it after Sir William Bellingham a controller in the British Navy. Soon settlers came to the area and four different towns were platted.
Whatcom founded in 1852, Fairhaven founded in 1853, New Whatcom (Sehome & Fairhaven) founded in 1854, and Bellingham founded in 1853. Each town had its own interests and personality, but they came together to form one. It was incorporated in 1903 and consolidated the four cities on the bay.
Industry Beautiful City of Bellingham
In 1852 Henry Roeder and Russell Peabody built a sawmill at Whatcom Falls. Also in 1852 coal was discovered, soon the Bellingham Mine was the largest coal mine in the state yielding at its peak 125,000 tons of coal each day. Bellingham was also an early home to the world’s largest salmon cannery.
Bellingham and Whatcom County’s economic base was dependent on agriculture, fishing, forestry, and mining up until the early 1950s. Then the economy shifted toward manufacturing, trade, and services. Recently Georgia Pacific closed both its paper and pulp mills that were located on Bellingham’s waterfront.
It has connections through its waterfront to Alaska, Victoria, and the San Juan Islands. It is also the last major city on Interstate-5 before the Canadian Border. Interstate-5 cuts right through the City of Bellingham. Visit our Bellingham Exit by Exit page for details about each exit and the neighborhoods around the exit.
The streets in the City of Bellingham are a challenge to navigate because the city is made up of the plots for four separate towns. To make navigating through the city easier we have divided the Bellingham area of our site into three different sections, North Bellingham, Downtown, and Fairhaven. The three areas are shown on the map at the top of this page.
The Historic Fairhaven District
A photo of Fairhaven is loading… Fairhaven is a historic district on the south side of this city. The area is filled with unique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Fairhaven is also Bellingham’s major transportation hub. In Fairhaven, you will find the Bellingham Cruise Terminal where the Alaska Ferry departs from each week.
The Amtrak /Greyhound station is located next to the Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven. Amtrak offers train service between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia making stops in Blaine, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Everett.
The main access to Historic Fairhaven is from Interstate-5 Exit 250 then west on the Old Fairhaven Parkway to 12th Street (at the traffic light in about 1.3 mi.) then turn right and go north on 12th Street for three blocks to 12th and Harris Avenue. This intersection is the center of Fairhaven
If you turn left (west) on Harris and go down the hill for about 6 blocks you will find yourself at the Amtrak Station, Greyhound Bus Station, and a city transit terminal all in one building and across the tracks, you will find the Bellingham Cruise Terminal where the Alaska Ferry docks.
Historic Downtown Bellingham and its Waterfront shopping areas
Downtown Bellingham is a family-friendly area filled with many retail shops, art galleries, restaurants and several museums including the Whatcom Museum of History and Art pictured above.
Located just west and downhill from the central downtown area are Old Town and the Waterfront Areas. In Old Town, you can find a variety of antique shops and cafes as well as Maritime Heritage Park and the fish hatchery.
The waterfront is home to a marina full of beautiful boats, a marine life touch tank, exquisite restaurants, and luxurious lodging accommodations.
Southeast of the downtown area you will find Sehome Village and the Samish Way area at Interstate-5 Exit 252 (Samish Way / WWU). Both the shopping center and Samish Way north of the exit have interesting shops and restaurants. This area was historically Bellingham’s motel row.
The Fountain District is another historic district at the south end of Meridian Street about 5 mi. south of Interstate-5 Exit 256. It is another interesting neighborhood in this city with restaurants and shops along the south end of Meridian Street. This is a quieter neighborhood commercial area along the Meridian arterial.
In the northeast quadrant of this city, you will find a new shopping area called Barkley Village. This area has a Haggen Grocery Store as its most visible anchor and has a nice variety of restaurants and shops.
It is most easily found by going east on Sunset Drive from Interstate-5 Exit 255 and going to the third stoplight and turning right on Woburn. You will find it in a couple of blocks on the left.
The North Bellingham Area
bellisfairNorth Bellingham which refers to the areas north of downtown (see the map at the top of this page). In general, it is the area along Interstate-5 Exits 255, 256, 257, and 258.
At I-5 Exit 258 you will find The Bellingham International Airport west of the freeway and to the east, you will find the Bakerview Road. Bakerview is becoming Bellingham’s latest commercial area. You will find several new shopping centers east of the exit.
Exit 256 is the Meridian Street Exit. You will find Bellis Fair Regional Shopping Center located at this exit. To the north, this road becomes the Guide Meridian and it goes north to Sumas, Lynden, and the Canadian Border. The first couple of miles north of the freeway is lined with shopping centers.
Whale Watching Cruises
For a uniquely Washington State experience, take a day to see the San Juan Islands. There are hundreds of islands in the Greater Puget Sound (for simplicity we include the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands).
There are three pods of Orca Whales that call these waters home. On occasion, you may also see grey or minke whales in the Sound. These whale watching excursions offer to see these animals in their native environment.