Family Guide to Bellingham
Whatcom County offers so many things to do for all ages, many visitors find they can’t fit it all in one trip. We’ve gathered a set of experiences for family visits to Bellingham, but be forewarned: you may find yourselves boomeranging back for more!
Our bias when traveling - especially with kids - is toward creating a flexible agenda, tailored and changeable to the mood and interest of your family, the weather, and the whim of the moment. With that in mind, we’ve provided a list of options to customize your trip, though there’s much more to do in this fair northwest corner! Ask the Heliotrope staff for their ideas while you’re here.
RAINY DAY | INSIDE PLAY
Mindport Interactive Exhibits - There is nothing quite like Mindport. It is an imagination exploratorium, interactive learning space, art gallery, and mental fun zone all rolled into one. From the website: “Mindport is a place to explore, observe, reflect, question, reason, communicate, and play. We aim to encourage curiosity, conversation, and connection, through a space that integrates art and science, mind and body, stillness and movement.” Great for all ages, though young children should be well attended. Be sure to check on hours of operation before you go.
Whatcom Museum Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) - Like Mindport, FIG is a hands-on interactive space for kids to explore the intersection of art, science, problem solving, cross-cultural understanding, and literacy. Even better, it’s housed under the same roof as a world-class art gallery! Check out their online calendar for FIG’s frequent educator-led workshop and family events.
Railway Museum - For train enthusiasts, the Railway Museum is a dream come true, but the interactive model trains tend to activate anyone’s enthusiasm. History buffs may enjoy a pictorial and text history of regional railroads as well as a display of railroad lanterns, and younger experiential learners will delight in operating the electric railroad and engaging with the train simulator.
SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention - An experiential educational walk through the history of electricity, SPARK is a museum like no other, combining hands-on science with the most complete collection of electrical history and invention of its kind. Recommended for families with older youth.
Marine Life Center - Another hands-on experiential exploring opportunity, the Marine Life Center combines marine education with sensory experience. The interactive touch tank, interpretive signs and several pools and tanks (including an octopus!) appeals to multiple learning styles. Prepare to get your hands wet!
Arne Hanna Aquatic Center - A comprehensive swim center with something for everyone. Four swimming pools include one with beach entry and water slide, a lap pool, a deep dive tank with diving board, and a hydrotherapy pool. Programs are offered throughout the week, including water child care, water aerobics, and family and open swim times.
CreativiTea - A relaxing place to drink tea, and perhaps have a bite to eat while you paint your own mug (or bowl, or picture frame, or one of the many items ready for your imagination). Select your ceramic medium, grab some paints, and experiment with painting freehand or with stencils. Note: it takes a few days to fire so make sure you have time to pick it up.
Mt Baker Theater - Check the schedule while you’re in town at this historic, 1517-seat performing arts venue, offering world-class professional theatre, dance, music, and speaker productions for all ages. Glance at the schedule ahead of time to catch your favorite performances.
Village Books - Bellingham’s best loved independent bookstore. With three floors of books, comfortable nooks, a connected gift shop (Paper Dreams), and an upstairs cafe (Evolve Chocolate and Cafe) with delicious offerings, it’s easy to spend the better part of a day here, wandering among literary riches.
Vital Climbing Gym - Both expend energy and get recharged climbing the walls at this popular climbing gym. With knowledgeable staff and no need for specialized gear, climbers of all ages can learn to boulder or enjoy a sport they already love. Wear comfortable clothing and bring your own or rent climbing shoes.
Perch and Play - The perfect place for kids to play while parents relax at the cafe in easy viewing range, this unique space features two playgrounds, one just for tots, a quiet art zone, and a separate space for babies and their parents. There’s also a drop off program so your young ones can move and play while you check things off your list.
Rook and Rogue - Bellingham’s first board game pub, welcoming all ages for imaginative gameplay paired with a variety of scrumptious foods. The extensive game list is impressive, and continues to grow all the time.
Ruckus Room - A family-friendly arcade and fun center, where parents can share their love of games with the next generation. All ages, with snacks, beverages, and games galore, not to mention prizes!
Trampoline Zone - An 18,000 square foot bounce house, Trampoline Zone’s facility includes two foam pits, a kid zone, ninja course, and areas for dodgeball, dunking, and of course, jumping! All ages welcome for fitness and fun.
Chuckanut Mountain Park - A long ridge of foothills with a couple of distinct peaks, Chuckanut Mountain is part of the Cascade Range, and is the only place where the Cascades come west to meet the sea. Beautiful in every season, the Chuckanut area offers a multitude of popular recreation environments, including caves, cliffs, wetlands, lakes, streams and marine shoreline. From the smorgasbord of trails, select a long hike, a stroll to Teddy Bear Cove or Clayton Beach, a climb to a viewpoint, or a camping trip at Larrabee State Park. Several beautiful routes are open to dogs and bicycles.
Arroyo Park - For a peaceful streamside walk in the woods, head south to Arroyo Park. This land was set aside by early developers who understood that amidst the growth and expansion of a new city, places ought to remain in their natural state in perpetuity for humans and other species. Arroyo, which means stream in Spanish, is one such place, where an uninhibited Chuckanut Creek winds its way down from Chuckanut Mountain’s foothills through Douglas fir, bigleaf maple and red cedar forests. Each year in November, salmon complete their long Pacific ocean journey and return to the stream to lay eggs and continue their life cycle.
Boulevard Park - Probably the most popular Bellingham City park, Boulevard is built on old coal mining, gas works, and lumber mill property. Today, thanks to the Greenways Levy and the vision of the Bellingham Park Department, it features beaches, Taylor Dock - an amazing overwater walkway - a popular cafe, beaches, extensive lawn, picnicking, and a playground. Looking for a great place to watch the sunset? How about a place to jump into Bellingham Bay with local teenagers? A walk after dinner? Boulevard Park sits right between downtown and Fairhaven on the Southbay Trail, part of our extensive trail network that winds through Bellingham and all the way down the Chuckanut Coast.
Interurban Trail - The Interurban Trail links the Fairhaven section of Bellingham with Larrabee State Park to the south. The mixed-surface trail follows an old railway corridor on a mostly level grade, except for one steep section through Arroyo Park. The route is primarily shaded, with peekaboo views of the water and the San Juan Islands. Trail access is from many possible points for a short stroll or long run, passing waterfalls, rivers, beaches along the way. Many trails spur off from the Interurban up to the views and delights of the mountain’s upper reaches.
Lake Padden - A lovely lake oasis nestled in a hillside neighborhood. The 2.6 mile forested, lakeside walking loop is popular in every season and residents and visitors alike flock here for summer swims (and the Polar Bear plunge in January!). Whether you’re looking forward to picnics or a playground, trail running or biking, dog walking or roaming in the off-leash area, Lake Padden is a welcome recreation respite from busy days.
Whatcom Falls Park - A forested water wonderland close to the center of town, this 241-acre park boasts many miles of streamside trails, four waterfalls, fishing pond, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a fish hatchery. Visitors revel in standing on the historic mossy bridge, watching the falls crash down. There are dozens of beautiful picnic spots and winding trails to explore in any season.
Community Boating Center - Seasonal rentals of small craft (paddle boards, kayaks, dinghys, sailboats, rowboats) takes marine adventurers out into Bellingham Bay and beyond. Summer camps, adult lessons, and water safety education round out the offerings of this seaside educational center in Fairhaven.
Bellingham is a thriving community with a multiplicity of year-round events and community connections. There are seasonal offerings and festivals like Ski to Sea in May, outdoor movies and concerts in parks and downtown during the summer, and weekly Farmers Markets throughout the growing season.
Bellingham is the capital of laid back and chill, so most restaurants welcome families of all ages. A few stand outs include:
Breakfast: Old Town Cafe, Avenue Bread and Cafe, Homeskillet
Lunch/Dinner: D’Annas Cafe Italiano, La Fiamma Woodfired Pizza, Brandywine, Twin Sisters, Aslan and Boundary Bay Breweries, Pizzazza, The Filling Station
Sweets: Mallards Ice Cream, Sirena Gelato, Chocolate Necessities
Many of these family-friendly establishments are within walking and biking distance, or just a short drive from The Heliotrope. Bring your family to stay and play, and join us in The Yard around the fire pit for s’mores to wrap up your day!