Hello, Memorial Day weekend! It’s so nice to see you and although we realize that your arrival hardly means that we’re guaranteed sunshine from here on out (every Seattleite knows that summer in the Northwest starts in July!), we’re still thrilled to have a long weekend in your honor. Now… what to do? If your family is itching to get out of the city for Memorial Day weekend, but you don’t want to spend a ton of time on the road, hit I-5 Northbound and make your way to the Ski to Sea Festival in Bellingham, about 90-minutes away.
The weekend-long festival is centered around a race where participants literally ski to the sea – from the snow of Mt. Baker to the waters of Bellingham Bay — and there are countless family-friendly activities to participate in and check out over this fun-filled weekend. This 100-year old tradition in Bellingham brings out the entire town and people travel from all over the world to participate in the race… but somehow, it maintains the feeling of a locals-only event – like you’re hanging out with your coolest neighbors all weekend long. Check it out!
When to Go:
Festivities for Ski to Sea start the weekend before Memorial Day weekend with the Junior Parade and Junior Race. There is a main parade and on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend with the big race happening on Sunday.
From I-5 in Seattle, it takes just over an hour to reach Bellingham. Traffic can be extremely slow heading out of Seattle on Friday night, so try to avoid that time, if you can. Once you get to Bellingham, take exit 250 at Old Fairhaven Parkway and then a left at the bottom of the ramp. Follow the street, which will take you into the Fairhaven, where many of the weekend’s activities happen. You can even take the train from Seattle to Bellingham and it pulls into the station in the heart of all of the Ski to Sea action!
What to watch:
There are seven different legs of the race (cross country skiing, downhill skiing/snowboarding, downhill running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking and kayaking) and you can watch every single leg of the race or just the parts that you’re most interested in. Check out this guide to the best spots to watch the race. The most family-friendly part of the race is when the kayakers come in to the finish line at Marine Park (200 Harris Avenue, Bellingham) – there are booths to explore and plenty of room to play and tons of kid-friendly activities, including a dedicated children’s play area.
Where to shop:
The shops in the Fairhaven district (where the race ends) are some of the best in Bellingham. There is a huge variety of cool stores – everything from bookstores (don’t miss Village Books on 11th Street!) to clothing boutiques to gift stores filled with art and jewelry from local artists. The Fairhaven Toy Garden (1147 11th Street, Bellingham) will certainly catch the eye of your kids and is worth a stop as well. The shops are all charming and most are owned by locals that are happy to share insider tips about exploring Bellingham.
Possible lunch spots:
Kids will love the burgers and fun milkshake flavors at Wins Drive-In (1315-12th Street in Fairhaven) or try eating fish and chips in the old double-decker bus that is Fairhaven Fish and Chips (1020 Harris Avenue, also in Fairhaven). The Bagelry is a Bellingham staple, offering delicious and fresh bagel sandwiches and homemade soups (1319 Railroad Avenue, downtown). For a great place to sit down and have lunch or an early dinner before heading back to Seattle, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro is a popular choice for families (1107 Railroad Avenue, downtown). Katie’s Cupcakes (1005 Harris Avenue) is perfect for an after lunch treat – her cupcakes will rival even your favorites from Seattle.
How to dress:
Even late May in the Northwest can be unpredictable. It’s best to dress in layers and it wouldn’t hurt to throw a rain jacket in the car. Comfortable walking shoes for the entire family are probably a good idea too.
What else to bring:
You’ll do a lot of walking on this adventure, so if you have little ones who get tired legs, bring the stroller – there’s plenty of room to use it on Bellingham’s wide sidewalks. Depending on where you’re planning on catching the race, extra gear might be necessary, such as boots for watching the skiers in the snow at Mt. Baker or a blanket to spread out on the grass as you watch the kayakers finish the final leg of the race.
Need to know:
Skip the Ski to Sea Carnival. It’s located in a mall parking lot and tends to be a teenage hangout rather than a fun family-friendly activity. Don’t miss other smaller events also happening this weekend, such as the huge used book swap at the Bellingham Public Library, and the Block Party (there’s a cupcake race!).Details on all these events, and more, are available on the official Ski to Sea website.
Make Ski to Sea a weekend trip! You can stay right in Fairhaven at the Fairhaven Village Inn or The Chrysalis Inn and Spa. Even better, check out VRBO for vacation house rentals in Bellingham that will give you more space to spread out.
Cost of trip:
There are no admission costs for any of the Ski to Sea events, so cost can be low to moderate, depending on how much eating out and shopping you plan on doing. It would be easy to pack snacks and lunches to eat while you watch the race – there are plenty of great spots around Bellingham to stop for a picnic!
Visit the official Ski to Sea website at www.skitosea.com and their Facebook page for up to date information and details. Don’t forget to read our Explore: Bellingham article for more places to check out while you’re in town!