Photo Courtesy of Bellingham Tourism & Karin Leperi
Breathtaking scenery, outlandish outdoor recreation, and a heady culinary scene combine to make this place a great destination for a variety of travel itineraries. Add to this the convenience of easy accessibility by plane, train, car and boat, and it also becomes a winning combination for quick weekend getaways.
This is Whatcom County, a Washington State nook that offers the trendy scene of Fairhaven, gastronomic getaways to Lummi Island, the Dutch experience of Lynden, gaming in Ferndale, the bounties of Bellingham, and so much more.
"So..." as my unenlightened east coast friend once asked me, "Just where in the world is Whatcom?"
Located on the 49th parallel and practically kissing the Canadian border, Whatcom County is a lesser known Pacific Northwest treasure. By air, it is less than an hour from Seattle to Bellingham airport. By car, it’s about 90 miles north of Seattle on Interstate 5. For those without wheels, Amtrak Cascades offers service from Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, British Columbia to Fairhaven Station, just south of downtown Bellingham.
Founding Father of Fairhaven
No western town is complete without stories of their founding fathers, and Fairhaven is no exception. Why, the town even honors their famous founder with an annual festival every April. Known as Dirty Dan Harris, he was founder, sailor, scoundrel, and real estate investor. Today many a restaurant, café, and bar bear remnants of his name or fame.
If lucky, you just might see him wandering the brick-and-sandstone walkways of the Fairhaven district. Dirty Dan is easily recognized by his long scraggily beard and generally unkempt appearance. History tells us that he had a general aversion to bathing, which supposedly accounts for the source of his name.
Nowadays, Fairhaven boasts a robust culinary scene with food fare catering to a variety of palates – from casual to fine dining. Pressed for time? Dine on succulent local seafood at the Fino Wine Bar and then embark on a dessert dash through Fairhaven District, with sweet stops at Colophon Café, Skylark’s, Flats Tapas Bar, Dirty Dan Harris’s, and finally the Big Fat Fish Company. Then overnight at Fairhaven Village Inn, an elegant boutique hotel within easy walking distance to most Fairhaven restaurants and waterfront trails.
Sail to Lummi Island and Ferry Back
Lummi Island, the most northeasterly of the San Juan archipelago, is often called “The forgotten island of the San Juans.” With a population around 615, it is an island of tranquility that beckons nature lovers, hikers, bikers, and kayakers. For a romantic outing, set sail for Lummi Island with Captain Charlie DeWeese of Sail Away Charters. "We happily accommodate hikers, kayakers, honeymooners, families with children of all ages, and work groups," explains the Captain. During summer months, you might even have a chance encounter with Orca whales.
Plan on dinner-for-two at the Willows Inn Restaurant. Featuring organic, authentic farm-to-fork fine dining, the resident chef incorporates fresh produce from nearby Nettles Farm. My meal consisted of five courses, with wine-pairings suggested for each dish. The first dish featured favas fritto, spot prawns, asparagus & herb relish with béarnaise aioli. (Spot prawn is the largest shrimp caught along the eastern Pacific and is considered a delicacy – more like lobster than shrimp). After five courses and wine, you may want to overnight. Accommodations are available in the main house and two guest cottages.
For your return trip back to Bellingham, take the Whatcom Chief, a ferry which makes the crossing to Gooseberry point in about six minutes, and runs every hour on the hour until midnight. Fares recently increased to reflect a surcharge and are about $7.00 per person.
Windmills and Raspberries in Lynden
In the heart of Whatcom County farming country lies Lynden, a small rural town fiercely dedicated to its Dutch heritage: Windmill replicas of sorts dot its main street, reminding many nostalgic immigrants of their historical ties. Lynden also hosts an annual mid-July raspberry festival celebrating just about anything made with red raspberries (After all, Whatcom County produces over 75 percent of the nation’s crop of red raspberries).
From signature raspberry-laden vanilla ice cream to all-you-can-eat raspberry pancakes, you simply won’t walk away hungry. Be sure to try Poffertjes from one of the street-side tables. A traditional Dutch delicacy, these are pancake puffs dusted with powder sugar that are heavenly in taste even as they are sinful in calories.
From Farm-to-Fork in Bellingham
Located on weathered bluffs overlooking Bellingham Bay, the City of Bellingham boasts breathtaking beauty in every direction. With broad expansive views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, natural scenic splendor surrounds this town built on a vibrant blend of industry, college, and Victorian architecture.
Locals definitely "get it" when it comes to fresh food and flavor. That is probably why the Bellingham Farmers’ Market is one of the largest markets in Washington State. By connecting local farmers, artisans, and producers with the public, the Bellingham Farmers’ Market is a successful example of sustainable agriculture.
Every Saturday, from April to Christmas, the market attracts large crowds who come for locally-grown produce, food, crafts, and music. Foodies abound: Chances are you may even bump into a chef shopping for fresh local and seasonal ingredients for their restaurant specials.
After stocking up on the bounties of Bellingham, plan on completing the Farm-to-Fork cycle by dining at nearby Nimbus. Providing upscale dining in a casual environment, their focus is on local seasonal cuisine using great ingredients. Nimbus strives to elevate the dining experience by appealing to and engaging the senses in a festival of flavors, textures, and artistic plating. One of my favorites, this is a true gastronomic indulgence.
TIP: For affordable luxury, you might want to consider using the Silver Reef Casino for overnight accommodations. Ferndale is centrally located north of Bellingham on Interstate 5, and can serve as a hub-and-spoke base from which to explore Whatcom County. It features Vegas-style gaming, live entertainment, casual food to exceptional dining, and indulgent spa treatments.