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Five Best-Kept Tourist Secrets of Bellingham, WA
You can consider yourself pretty lucky if you live in a city that attracts thousands of tourists a year and has been named the second best place “to reinvent yourself” by AARP. Bellingham, only 25 minutes south of the Canadian border by car, boasts astounding green spaces, a lovely waterfront on the Puget Sound with San Juan Islands in the distance and memorable views of the snow-capped Cascades, particularly Mt. Baker. Coupled with the locals' addiction to coffee (Bellingham ranked 4th in the Western United States with 2.1 coffee shops per 10,000 people, right behind San Francisco and the greater Seattle area), this city represents a great tourist destination in the Pacific Northwest and, truly, one of those places to live many can only dream of.
There are some local secrets, however, many tourist guides, visitors offices, and websites do not advertise much .... yet. After eight years of living in this magnificent place, I have discovered nooks, crannies, and faces of Bellingham I will now share with you, in hopes you will keep them secret but quietly check them out when you make your way up to our beautiful corner of the world. So ... hush now.
Big Rock Garden
This is a hard-to-find, lush, small park on Sylvan Street, at the top of Alabama Hill. A tiny gem of less than three acres, this park offers not only meandering walking paths, a canopy worthy of the rain forest with azaleas and rhododendrons ablaze in the late Spring, and peekaboo views of Bellingham, but also a rather impressive collection of outdoor art. There are a few outstanding pieces by local artists that celebrate natural materials, Native American influences, and the puzzling questions our generation of humans has to face. My favorite, an expansive, very three-dimensional piece of stone, granite, and bronze raises awareness about child poverty and hunger. The almost too realistic images of two extremely malnourished children in rags facing a third spot in which only the tiny footprints of a child already departed are visible never fail to make me shed a tear. It is hard to find a peaceful place that lets you celebrate nature, architecture, art, and human values at the same time – but Big Rock Garden does so, every time. Check out this link to get a small taste of what awaits you: http://www.cob.org/services/recreation/parks-trails/bigrock.aspx
On to brighter and tastier things …..
Woods Coffee at Boulevard Park
Did I mention we hang on to that coffee up here for dear life? Well, in a place with approximately 168 days of measurable precipitation per year (can you say rain, folks?) a warm coffee cup often keeps you going. Small coffee stands have nearly saturated the market but also created a new aspect of our local culture. This Woods Coffee Northwest structure exhibits extensive woodwork, high ceilings, a stone-covered fireplace, and local artwork. Forget the coffee – all you need to know is that the deck seating by the outdoor fireplace overlooks Bellingham Bay, and that the sunsets in this setting are to die for! Put your feet up, bite into a yummy Mocha Chip muffin, and the world will seem like a very fine place.
If you need to walk off all that coffee and muffin, you should then head south on the ….
Boulevard Park Over Water Walkway & South BayTrail
Ok, folks, it's a fancy name but the term “bridge” just does not cut it. This bay trail boasts a wooden walking bridge very popular with joggers, dog lovers, and couples out for a stroll in the fresh breeze. It will take you from Boulevard Park, alongside the Chrysalis Inn (fancy massage, anyone?) to charming Fairhaven. I should warn you: this area is generally abuzz with tourists during summer, but the slow pace inherent to this area, the leisurely spread out eateries, and the artsy, small-town stores take the hectic out of life. Have a seat at the Fairhaven Green to enjoy a gelato that would make Italians jealous. Indulge in eclectic outdoor music or stay for a free-of-charge Fairhaven Outdoor Theatre movie showing during the summer months. Or, if you feel like having a laugh, run and get some tickets for ….
The Upfront Theatre
Located at 1208 Bay Street (the short block between Holly and Chestnut), the 85-seat Upfront Theatre was established to exercise muscles you forgot you had. Yes, laughter is at the heart of this small venture and its mission to offer finest live improv comedy in an intimate setting. At $10 (and only $5 on Thursdays) ticket prices are ridiculously cheap, if you ask me. Remember Ryan Stiles from Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Yes, I mean the tall guy with the funky shoes). As a resident of Bellingham, he decided to stake a claim and established this venue in 2004, thereby furthering local and Canadian talents with a preference for giggles. Here's a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-X8XF1hc7Y
Need I say more to endorse this place? No? Then we can move on to the ….
I had to close with an eatery, didn't I? Mt. Bakery in Downtown Bellingham features European-style outdoor seating, but due to street and sidewalk traffic, I would recommend you find a table inside and enjoy the local art displays that never cease to amaze here. Then turn your attention to the menu and learn a little about the art of slow food. Did I say "slow food" - the antidote to fast food and modern life? Local ingredients dominate the items on the menu. Coffee and loose-leaf tea varieties are served in charming, mismatched real china. I couldn't tell you whether it is the motherly Belgian woman who seats you, always with a pat on the back; or the amazingly light crepe creations with Nutella made in-house; or the smells and sounds and shouts wafting over from the busy kitchen; or the neighborhood feel oozed by other visitors and the locals hanging out at the front door just for a friendly morning chat ... but this place feels like home and vacation all at once. One thing I do know for sure: their Opera Cake and the Caramelized Lemon Tart are positively sinful.
I hope I have left you drooling for Bellingham with this promise of thought-provoking artwork, fresh air, green walking trails, comforting zips of espresso, a stiff breeze, world-class entertainment, delightful local food, a slower pace, joie de vivre, and landscapes you simply have to see to appreciate them. And remember ..... psssst, don't tell anyone!
Bellingham Visitors Map: http://www.bellingham.org/index.php/visitors/maps