One of the portals to that hypnotically beautiful chain of Pacific Northwestern islands known as the San Juans, Bellingham, Washington offers a dazzling array of outdoor pursuits for the hundreds of rugged young people who descend on this little town every year. While many attend college at Western Washington University, students often find themselves sticking around after graduation to enjoy the Bellingham lifestyle. Once you’ve kayaked, sailed or stand-up paddleboarded in Bellingham Bay or any of the adjacent islands, climbed a few bouldering routes at Larrabee State Park or driven to Mount Baker to ski or snowboard on the mountain that holds the US record for most snowfall in a single season, the many small, local restaurants and breweries provide a welcome respite to the daily adventures Bellingham has to offer.
Willows Inn at Lummi Island
One of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants happens to be within a stone’s throw of Bellingham. Before starting at The Willows on Lummi Island, chef and James Beard Award-winner Blaine Wetzel had been apprenticing at Rene Redzepi’s renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. Wetzel was also only 24 years old. Redzepi’s influence is clear, as Willows Inn is an “ultra-locavore” restaurant. Everything served comes from the island itself or the waters around it, which is an easy enough task with the Northwest’s abundant seafood and foraged mushrooms, seaweed and nettles. Dinner is best digested while taking in the breathtaking views of the nearby islands.
Aslan Brewing Co.
In May of 2014, friends and founders Jack Lamb, Frank Trosset and Pat Haynes opened this beautifully bright and sustainable 15-barrel brewery in a former sign company building in downtown Bellingham, which they gut-renovated using recycled materials. Trosset now oversees Aslan’s line-up of anywhere from 11 to 14 beers that pay homage to traditional brewing techniques with a distinctly Northwestern twist. For example, their summer seasonal Berliner Weisse is served with a shot of either bright pink raspberry or bright green wheatgrass-mint syrup. Chef Paul Arsenault’s flavorful, fresh produce-heavy menu avoids fried, fatty foods to keep locals and visitors alike fit and healthy for any adventures to come.
This classic tall sailing ship dates from the 1920s, when she competed in the Transatlantic Race for the Kings Cup. Now the Zodiac functions as a touring vessel in and around the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands and Puget Sound. There is no better way to better see the islands than from the bow of a sailing ship, moving almost soundlessly through the water. The gorgeous wooden vessel is entirely functional, with a wooden wheel and sails that have to be maneuvered by rope, pulley and hand. The experienced crew also teaches landlubbers sea-faring basics, as well as offering youth and maritime internships for those drawn to the open sea.
The Local Public House
One of Bellingham’s newest gathering places is also the taproom for Menace Brewing, a brewhouse started by friends Ben Beccarelli, Brandon Petersen and Tom Raden. But The Local, as it’s known, has evolved into much more than a bar. With its warm, honey-colored wood decor, wide windows and pedestrian-friendly location in the heart of downtown Bellingham, the Local attracts an eclectic mix of beer-lovers, young families and couples catching a quick meal of fresh, local ingredients that might include anything from house-made pickles to chicken skewers with fig chutney.
It’s impossible to spend any amount of time in Bellingham without feeling the itch to get outdoors. Even the most quiet, quaint pub or restaurant is full of outdoor adventurers. The majority of pub walls are lined with photographs of athletic pursuits near and far, or in the case of Boundary Bay Brewing, a full-sized canoe hands on the wall. Stop at Fairhaven Bicycle, which opened in 1971 and was the first shop to introduce both snowboards and mountain bikes to Bellingham, and rent a pair of bikes to get on the South Bay Trail. The trail runs for several miles along Bellingham Bay, meandering out over the water on Taylor Dock and through picturesque Boulevard Park before retreating into the woods on a gravel path and popping out in downtown Bellingham. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, get your morning started with an espresso from the knowledgeable, discerning baristas at Onyx Coffee Bar.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what’s unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Images courtesy of respective venues