Visiting Bellingham – The Portland of the North.
In the past couple years Portland’s popularity as a tourist destination has sky rocketed, especially for folks from Vancouver (BC). Vancouver’s love of all that is Portland has even spawned a bar called Portland Craft which features food and drinks inspired by Stumptown. Great idea and concept but really? Thankfully Vancouver’s craft brewery scene is taking off so we can start celebrating our own a little more. Don’t get me wrong, I love Portland. So much so that it has become an annual (at least) trip for us. All I am saying is Vancouverites need not drive 6 hours down the I-5 to get what Portland has to offer. If you are looking for a little Americana to go with your craft brewery a mere 30 minutes across the border will do. Of course I am talking about visiting Bellingham, Washingtonhere you can find many of the things that makes Portland so great without the 6 hour drive.
With that in mind I headed south last weekend for a night of great eats, drinks, and oddities. Here is a touch of what I head to Portland for and where it can be found much closer in visiting Bellingham.
Yes Portland is the micro-brew capital of North America but did you know that visiting Bellingham can offer beer lovers much of the same? With three micro-breweries within its city limits, 2 more on the way, and another 2 breweries within a short distance from the city, visiting Bellingham can wet your whistle. You may have more options for your self guided brewery tour in Portland but you can have a good time brewery hopping in Bellingham just the same. Not to mention some award-winning beer along the way. Boundary Bay Brewing, Chuckanut Brewery, and Kulshan Brewing are more than worth the short trip south for those thirsty travelers.
Portland is also known for its love affair with food trucks and has some seriously tasty restaurants. Visiting Bellingham is not without its share of great eats. Bayou on Bay offers a taste of NOLA in the Pacific Northwest. This popular bar/restaurant serves up amazing Po’Boy sandwiches and has a brunch menu that features the best shrimp and grits this side of the Mississippi. Brunch time at Bayou on Bay also features a build your own Caesar/Bloody Mary bar that is not to be missed!
It’s hard to go three blocks in downtown Portland without seeing a tourist (or local) carrying a pink box full of creative treats from Voodoo donuts. Bellingham may not have these pink boxes but they do have Rocket Donuts which features some creative staples of their own. Jalapeno Maple Bacon bar anyone? Rocket Donuts are not only creative but served fresh and are perfectly paired with a mug of their organic, fair-trade espresso or brewed coffee.
Sure we covered the Micro-brew scene already but visiting Bellingham also offers some really great bars and pubs. Being a college town drinks are kept cheap – not that it matters is you are coming from Vancouver, home of the $8 pint. Head to The Coppr Hog for a huge selection of local brews on tap as well a great menu and an even better patio.
Be sure to hit the Green Frog for bacon and a pint. It is exactly how it sounds and is an amazing thing. A pint (or cocktail as we found out last weekend) also gets you a delicious strip of freshly cooked bacon. God Bless Bellingham. The Green Frog also has a great patio and features some seriously talented musicians on stage.
Elizabeth Station is more of a beer store/oddity then a bar – although they do serve rotating craft beer on tap. This beer nerd mecca is crammed full of craft brew from the region and beyond and includes several gluten-free options. Definitely a unique place – so much so that it has a serve yourself cereal bar!
Keep Portland weird. It is a motto that Portlanders strive to maintain. It is also a great thing for tourists as it makes for some fun people watching. Bellingham is not without its quirks. For one, Erin and I saw our very first real life Bronies cruising the main strip in downtown Bellingham. If you are not familiar with the term Bronies please click on the link provided. In short they are grown men with a fixation on the popular 80’s children’s toy and cartoon called “My little Pony” …which is marketed towards young girls. As you can imagine it was a great sight to see.
Bellingham is also home to the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention. This shockingly awesome (see what I did there?) interactive museum is a must do when visiting Bellingham. There is a massive collection of electrical inventions that are interesting and odd – like a prostate warmer from 1934 (wtf?) and a massive collection of cool looking tubes. Staff at Spark are very friendly and eager to shock you with their knowledge and with their exhibits – literally.
Just like Portland there are many great outdoor street art pieces to enjoy when visiting Bellingham. From murals to odd art installations, Bellingham has you covered.
Another oddity that keeps us coming back is the microwaves in the hallways of the Coachmen Inn. This no frills, clean, motel is a cheap place to crash and warm your 3:00 am burritos, or in last weekends case, Hot Pocket. Never again. The Hotpocket that is. The Coachmen Inn has become a tradition when visiting Bellingham.
The Great Outdoors
Much like Portland, Bellingham is an outdoor lovers perfect jumping off point. Lake Fazon, Fountain Lake, Green Lake and Lake Whatcom are all within a short drive as is Mt.Baker for those looking to hit the slopes. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and Ross Lake National Recreation Area are a short 22 miles away and offer plenty of great hikes and camping opportunities. Visiting Bellingham in the summer is great for white water rafting as well as for golfers. Visiting Bellingham is also a great way to start your trip to the San Juan islands which are a short ferry ride away.
Oregon is blessed with no sales tax making it a great shopping getaway. Although sales tax is 6.5% in Washington state, the selection of unique stories and handcrafted goods makes visiting Bellingham an attractive destination for cross border shoppers. Of course they have the Bellis Fair mall with all the big box stores and there are two outlet malls within an hours drive from the city center. If you are into that.
Sorry Bellingham (and the rest of North America) Portland has you beat. Hands down. We took (kidnapped) a friend to Bellingham last summer for his stag and to our surprise (and relief probably) found no strip clubs. Even if there were some they would not be as interesting or unique as Portland’s. I mean striperokee? Come on.
Strippers aside you can see that visiting Bellingham has more than enough going on to entertain you. The similarities for what I love about Portland are so close that it makes visiting Bellingham an easy choice when looking for a quick Vancouver getaway.