As you drive up I-5 toward the Canadian border from Seattle, the last sizable city you’ll pass through is Bellingham (population 82,000), a hilly and green port city on Bellingham Bay, an arm of the Salish Sea, the island-dotted body of water that separates the mainland from Vancouver Island and comprises Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia. Whether you come to Bellingham by boat (it’s the Lower 48 terminus for the Alaska Ferry) or car, this diverse community that’s home to the leafy campus of Western Washington University and is hugely popular with outdoorsy types and creative spirits, you can’t help notice the city’s close ties to the water.
Just a 90-minute drive north of Seattle and a 75-minute drive southeast of Vancouver, BC (the Canadian border is just about 20 miles north), Bellingham makes for a popular weekend getaways with residents of both cities. From its waterfront, you’re treated to expansive views of the San Juan Islands, which lie due west. Look east, and you’ll see the snow-capped peak of 10,781-foot Mt. Baker, which is home to one of the area’s most popular ski facilities. Apart from waterborne recreation and winter sports, the area is rife with opportunities for hiking and biking.
Bellingham may be a comparatively small city, but as one of the more liberal and artsy enclaves in the state, it does have plenty of LGBTQ residents, and you're apt to encounter a mix of folks of all orientations and the many bars, coffeehouses, and restaurants around the city. The city is the site of Bellingham Gay Pride weekend, which takes place in mid-July each year, and Gay InsideOut, the LGBTQ community center serving Bellingham and surrounding Whatcom County, is a handy resource.
The hippest and most popular hubs of dining and bar-hopping are downtown Bellingham proper, which is centered around State and Holly streets, and historic Fairhaven, which was founded as an independent city in the late 1880s and is a distinctive neighborhood in the southern end of Bellingham.
Bellingham is home to one bar with a predominantly gay following, Rumors Cabaret (1119 Railroad Ave., 360-671-1849), a large, eclectic space with a nice-size, high-ceilinged dance floor, DJs spinning on weekends, regular drag shows and other entertainment, a games area with air hockey and other diversions, and a few different spots for sipping and mingling. The "Rad" Throwback Thursdays feature retro dance music and are particular well-attended. There's a nightly happy hour from 6 until 9 pm, when the already reasonably priced drinks are priced even lower. It's a pretty great gay club for a community of this size.
Next door to Rumors, Boundary Bay Brewery (1107 Railroad Ave., 360-647-5593) is the senior statesman among Bellingham's fast-growing clutch of craft breweries and brewpubs. This lively place with a large side patio and plenty of comfy seating inside serves a terrific rotation of house-brewed ales - the strong Scotch Ale, Imperial IPA (when available), and relatively light-bodied Dry Irish Stout are all nice options. If you're hungry, tuck into a plate of nachos, a hefty Bavarian-style pretzel with spicy mustard, the much-loved smoked-salmon chowder, the beer-barbecue pizza, or a bowl of Manila clams steamed in a tomato-caramelized onions-garlic broth. Plenty of folks dine here before moving on to Rumors. Boundary Bay Brewery is a regular sponsor of Bellingham Gay Pride.
Some excellent options for fans of craft beer include slick, hipster-favored Aslan Brewing (1330 N. Forest St., 360-778-2088), which turns out hoppy, refined beers (the Ginger Rye Ale, Flagship IPA, and organic Cascadian Dark Lager are all terrific). The food menu favors American and Mexican bites, such as black-bean dip with chips and avocado cream, waffle fry poutine with mushroom gravy, roasted yam tacos, and lean bison burgers. Save room for a dish of luscious Cascadian Dark Lager soft-serve ice cream with Beer Barley Crunch and almonds. The Local Public House (1427 Railroad Ave., 360-306-3731) is another favorite of beer lovers, serving ales on tap from a number of fine breweries around the Northwest as well as tasty modern pub fare.