City life getting to you and your kids? We realize that Seattle is no NYC, but after a while, battling the traffic, tourists and general busyness of living in the city can take its toll. And when Seattle is full of tourists and the Mercer on-ramps are closed for yet another weekend, the city can feel even more crowded and frantic than usual. Thankfully, Seattle families have so many easy-going day and weekend trips at their fingertips to choose from – the perfect way to re-group and simply relax, while having some kid-friendly fun at the same time. If you can find your way around the Mercer Mess and hit I-5 Northbound, Bellingham is ideal for families looking to leave city life behind.
Take the Scenic Route
If you have a little extra time, exit I-5 just after Burlington and take Chuckanut Drive, a scenic, windy road that hugs the Chuckanut mountains. There will be a lot of ooh-ing and ahh-ing from the backseat… that is unless your kiddos haven’t already fallen asleep in the backseat during the drive (lucky you!). The drive provides spectacular views of the San Juan Island, with plenty of spots along the way to get out and take in the view or hike down to the shoreline. Make Larrabee State Park (245 Chuckanut Drive) your first stop for an easy hike down to the beach – the perfect way to stretch out those car legs!
Family Fun in Fairhaven
Try saying that ten times fast! Taking the Chuckanut route lands you in Fairhaven, a quaint little village full of shops and cafes on Bellingham’s South Side. Not to be missed are the Fairhaven Toy Garden (1147 11th Street), well-stocked with everything from classic wooden toys to bedroom decor; Wild Blueberries (1106 Harris Avenue) with a quality selection of toys and baby goods; and Village Books (1200 11th Street), a cozy independently-owned bookstore with comfy pillows for kids to sit and read. Plus, a stop at Katie’s Cupcakes (1105 Harris Avenue) is a must for a treat.
BYO Bikes to Bellingham
About a half-mile north of Fairhaven is Taylor Avenue Dock and Boardwalk, a quarter-mile path along and over the water that leads to Boulevard Park, one of Bellingham’s most beloved spots for local families. It’s worth packing scooters or even bikes to Bellingham just to ride this trail, which is easy enough for even the littlest day-trippers. When the tide is low, hop down to one of the little beaches that’s created when the water is out to hunt for shells and sea life or hop down on the huge rocks that create the shoreline of the park. There’s also a small playground that is geared towards little ones (preschool and younger), a Wood’s Coffee with a walk-up ordering window (ask for some chocolate whipped cream on a lid for your kids!) and plenty of green grass for relaxing or tossing a Frisbee around.
Hippie Foodie Heaven
Next head into downtown Bellingham. It’s about 1-1/2-miles along the South Bay Trail from Boulevard Park (this is where bikes come in handy), or you can always circle back to Fairhaven and drive downtown. If you visit on a Saturday, be sure to check out the Bellingham Farmer’s Market (one of the largest in the state) for farm fresh produce, local crafts, and live music. The last Saturday of every month is Kids Vending Day, where local kiddos can sell their own goods. And this market gets major bonus points for being indoors on those drizzly Bellingham days. Keep sampling some local Bellingham flavor with ice cream at Mallard’s Ice Cream (1323 Railroad Avenue), potato burritos at Casa Que Pasa (1415 Railroad Avenue) and the deliciousness of “seed to plate” at Brandywine Kitchen (1317 Commercial Street).
On your way out of town, if you still have time and energy, check out the Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) at the Whatcom Museum. Numerous exhibits include the illumination activity area, where kids can create “a rainbow of colored shadows” and the Art Naturally zone, an enclosed area where toddlers can crawl and climb through different levels, exploring artwork and peek-a-boo holes.
Beyond the Tourist Traps
Want to go off the beaten Bellingham path for your visit? Head to the end of Lake Whatcom to walk or bike out the path and discover tons of hidden spots to access the lake and even find the illusive rope swing. Drive out to Hovander Homestead Park (5299 Nielsen Avenue, Ferndale) to visit the animals that make the park their home and climb up the tower. Or, get lost in Whatcom Falls Park (1401 Electric Avenue) trying to find both playgrounds, the falls, the bridge, the fish hatchery and more.
Where do you and your family head to escape city life? Let us know below!
— Katie Kavulla