Is Bellingham a Good Place to Live? Pros & Cons

by Rentals Editorial Team | Published: Aug 17, 2023

Bellingham is a charming city nestled in the northwest corner of Washington state. Situated between the picturesque Bellingham Bay and the stunning Mount Baker, this city offers breathtaking views at every corner. With its proximity to both the Canadian border and the San Juan Islands, Bellingham provides residents with endless opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Bellingham is surrounded by several vibrant cities that add to its appeal. Just 20 miles south lies the bustling city of Mount Vernon, known for its rich history and vibrant arts scene. To the north, Vancouver, Canada, offers a diverse cultural experience with its international flair. Additionally, Seattle is approximately 90 miles south of Bellingham, making it easily accessible for weekend getaways or day trips.

Location and Surroundings

Bellingham is a charming city nestled in the northwest corner of Washington state. Situated between the picturesque Bellingham Bay and the stunning Mount Baker, this city offers breathtaking views at every corner. With its proximity to both the Canadian border and the San Juan Islands, Bellingham provides residents with endless opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Nearby Cities

Bellingham is surrounded by several vibrant cities that add to its appeal. Just 20 miles south lies the bustling city of Mount Vernon, known for its rich history and vibrant arts scene. To the north, Vancouver, Canada, offers a diverse cultural experience with its international flair. Additionally, Seattle is approximately 90 miles south of Bellingham, making it easily accessible for weekend getaways or day trips.

Mild Climate with Four Distinct Seasons

Bellingham enjoys a mild climate with four distinct seasons that showcase the natural beauty of the area. Summers are warm and pleasant, with average temperatures hovering around 70°F (21°C). Winters are cool but not excessively cold, typically ranging from 30°F (-1°C) to 45°F (7°C). Spring brings bursts of colorful blooms throughout the city, while autumns offer stunning displays of vibrant foliage.

Outdoor Activities Year-Round

The climate in Bellingham allows for a wide range of outdoor activities throughout the year. In summer, residents can enjoy hiking in nearby Mount Baker National Forest or exploring one of many picturesque parks along the coast. Winter brings opportunities for skiing and snowboarding on Mount Baker’s slopes or hitting the trails for snowshoeing. The moderate temperatures during spring and fall make it ideal for cycling enthusiasts to explore scenic routes in the area.

Nature and Outdoor Activities

Bellingham is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by scenic beauty, the city offers a wide range of activities for those seeking adventure and serenity.

One of the highlights is the stunning Whatcom Falls Park, featuring beautiful waterfalls, walking trails, and picnic areas. It is a great place to hike, bike, or simply relax amidst nature. Lake Padden Park is another popular spot with its picturesque lake, walking trails, and opportunities for boating and fishing.

If you are into hiking, head to Chuckanut Mountains. It offers breathtaking views of the city and Puget Sound from its numerous trails. Larrabee State Park is perfect for camping enthusiasts with its campsites nestled amidst lush forests.

Bellingham Bay provides an opportunity to indulge in water-based activities like kayaking, sailing, or paddleboarding. You can also explore the San Juan Islands by taking a ferry from Bellingham.

City’s History

Bellingham has a rich history that dates back to its founding in the mid-19th century. Originally settled by Native American tribes like Lummi and Nooksack, Bellingham became an important trading post during the late 1800s.

The historic Fairhaven district showcases Victorian-era architecture and offers a glimpse into the city’s past. Stroll along the streets lined with charming buildings that now house boutique shops, galleries, and restaurants. Visit the Whatcom Museum in downtown Bellingham to explore exhibits that celebrate the region’s history.

The city also played a role in industrial development with industries like coal mining and lumber milling. The Bellingham National Bank Building serves as a reminder of this era with its striking design.

Culture and Arts

Bellingham has a vibrant and thriving arts scene, offering a diverse range of cultural experiences. The city hosts numerous art galleries, theaters, and music venues that cater to all tastes.

The Mount Baker Theatre is a historic venue that showcases a variety of performances including Broadway shows, concerts, and dance performances. The Pickford Film Center is a popular spot for movie lovers with its selection of independent and foreign films.

Bellingham’s downtown area is dotted with art galleries featuring local artists’ works. You can explore unique exhibits and even participate in art walks held regularly. The Bellingham Symphony Orchestra adds to the cultural richness of the city with its captivating musical performances.

The Western Washington University plays an integral role in the city’s cultural landscape, hosting events like lectures, exhibitions, and performances by talented students and faculty.

Bellingham: A City Full of Entertainment

Bellingham is a vibrant city that offers a wide range of entertainment options for residents to enjoy. Whether you are a nature enthusiast, an art lover, or a foodie, there is something for everyone in this charming Pacific Northwest gem.

Outdoor Adventures

With its proximity to the stunning natural landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, Bellingham is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The city is nestled between the rugged mountains and the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound, providing endless opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing. Popular outdoor destinations like Mount Baker and Whatcom Falls Park offer breathtaking scenery that will leave you in awe.

Cultural Attractions

Bellingham also boasts a vibrant arts scene with numerous galleries and theaters showcasing local talent. The Mount Baker Theatre is a historic landmark that hosts a variety of shows ranging from Broadway productions to music concerts. The Whatcom Museum features rotating exhibits that highlight the region’s rich history and culture.

Festivals and Events

The community spirit thrives in Bellingham through its many festivals and events throughout the year. The Bellingham Farmers Market is held every Saturday, offering fresh produce, artisanal goods, and live music. Other popular events include the Ski to Sea Race, Bellingham Beer Week, and Downtown Sounds summer concert series.

Local Sights and Attractions: Unveiling the Beauty of Bellingham

Bellingham is not just known for its outdoor adventures; it also boasts captivating sights and attractions that showcase its unique charm and character.

Fairhaven Historic District

Step back in time as you wander through the quaint streets of Fairhaven Historic District. This beautifully preserved neighborhood is filled with Victorian-era buildings, charming boutiques, and cozy coffee shops. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and soak in the nostalgic atmosphere.

Whatcom Falls Park

Whatcom Falls Park is a hidden gem nestled within the city limits. This 240-acre park features picturesque waterfalls, tranquil forests, and serene walking trails. Pack a picnic and spend a relaxing day surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Lake Padden Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of city life at Lake Padden Park. This idyllic retreat offers a peaceful lake for swimming and paddleboarding, as well as scenic trails for hiking and biking. The park also has picnic areas and playgrounds, making it a perfect spot for families to enjoy.

Job Opportunities in Bellingham: Thriving Economy with Major Employers

Bellingham’s economy is diverse, with a range of job opportunities available across various sectors. The city has seen steady growth over the years, attracting both established companies and startups alike.

Major Employers

  • Western Washington University: One of the largest employers in Bellingham, WWU provides employment opportunities in education, research, administration, and more.
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: With its focus on scientific research and development, PNNL offers employment opportunities in fields such as energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, and renewable energy.
  • St. Joseph Hospital: As one of Bellingham’s largest healthcare providers, St. Joseph Hospital offers job opportunities for medical professionals across various specialties.
  • The Boeing Company: Although located just south of Bellingham in Everett, Boeing plays a significant role in the local economy by providing job opportunities in aerospace manufacturing and engineering.

Overall Economy

Bellingham has a thriving economy with a diverse range of industries contributing to its growth. The city’s average household income is above the national average, making it an attractive place to live. The unemployment rate in Bellingham is relatively low compared to the national average, reflecting the city’s strong job market.

State taxes and local taxes

Bellingham, Washington is known for its relatively low tax rates compared to other cities in the state. Residents benefit from Washington’s lack of state income tax, which means they do not have to pay personal income tax on their earnings. However, it is important to note that Washington has a higher sales tax rate compared to other states, currently set at 6.5%. Additionally, Bellingham levies a local sales tax of 2.2%, bringing the total sales tax in the city to 8.7%. Property taxes in Bellingham are based on assessed property values and are generally considered moderate.

Education system

Bellingham offers a strong education system with various options for students of all ages. The city is home to Western Washington University (WWU), a well-regarded public university known for its quality programs and beautiful campus. WWU offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees across numerous disciplines.

Additionally, Whatcom Community College provides affordable higher education options with transferable credits for those looking to start their academic journey or gain vocational skills. Other nearby colleges and universities include Everett Community College, Skagit Valley College, and Seattle Pacific University.

City’s public transportation and traffic

Bellingham has an efficient public transportation system that connects various neighborhoods and surrounding areas. The city operates multiple bus routes through its transit agency, Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA). WTA buses can be relied upon for commuting within Bellingham as well as traveling to nearby towns such as Ferndale and Lynden.

In terms of traffic, while Bellingham does experience congestion during peak hours on major roads like Interstate 5, it is generally manageable compared to larger metropolitan areas. Commuters enjoy shorter travel times and less traffic compared to cities like Seattle or Vancouver. Additionally, Bellingham is well-connected to other regions through its proximity to major transportation routes.

Neighborhoods in Bellingham

1. Fairhaven: Known for its historic charm, Fairhaven offers a mix of residential and commercial spaces. It features unique shops, cozy cafes, and waterfront trails.

2. Downtown: The heart of Bellingham, downtown is a vibrant area with a lively arts scene, local breweries, and a variety of dining options. It also hosts numerous events throughout the year.

3. Columbia: A family-friendly neighborhood with tree-lined streets and parks. Columbia is known for its strong sense of community and proximity to schools.

4. South Hill: Offering stunning views of Bellingham Bay, South Hill is an upscale neighborhood with elegant homes and easy access to trails and outdoor recreational areas.

5. Sehome: Home to Western Washington University, Sehome has a youthful vibe and offers a mix of student housing, rental properties, and single-family homes.

6. Barkley Village: A newer neighborhood featuring modern apartment complexes, retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment options.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list as Bellingham has many more diverse neighborhoods with their own unique characteristics that make the city an appealing place to live.

Is Bellingham a Family Friendly City?

Bellingham is known for being a family-friendly city that offers a wide range of amenities and activities for people of all ages. The city boasts numerous parks, playgrounds, and recreational areas where families can spend quality time together. Some popular family-friendly attractions include Whatcom Falls Park, which features beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls, and Marine Life Center, where children can learn about marine animals through interactive exhibits.

In addition to its outdoor spaces, Bellingham has an excellent school system with highly-rated public and private schools. The city also offers various extracurricular activities and sports leagues for children to participate in. Furthermore, Bellingham has a strong sense of community and hosts events throughout the year that cater to families, such as festivals, farmers markets, and outdoor concerts.

Tourism in Bellingham

Bellingham is a beautiful city with plenty to offer tourists. Its picturesque location between the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, and whale-watching in the surrounding natural areas.

The city itself has a vibrant downtown area with unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Fairhaven Historic District is another popular spot for tourists, featuring charming Victorian-era architecture and quaint streets lined with boutiques and eateries.

Bellingham also has a thriving craft beer scene with numerous breweries offering tours and tastings. Additionally, there are several museums in the city where visitors can learn about local history, art, and culture.

Moving to Bellingham

If you’re considering moving to Bellingham, you’ll find it to be a welcoming community with a high quality of life. The city offers a diverse range of housing options, from cozy suburban neighborhoods to modern downtown apartments. The cost of living in Bellingham is generally affordable compared to larger cities in the region.

Bellingham has a strong job market, particularly in industries such as healthcare, education, technology, and outdoor recreation. The city is home to Western Washington University, which provides opportunities for higher education and employment.

With its proximity to nature and abundance of outdoor activities, Bellingham offers a healthy and active lifestyle. The city has excellent healthcare facilities, including hospitals and medical centers.

Overall, Bellingham provides a great balance between urban amenities and natural beauty, making it an attractive place to live for individuals and families alike.

Retiring in Bellingham

Bellingham is a wonderful city for those looking to retire. With its beautiful natural surroundings and relaxed atmosphere, it offers a peaceful and enjoyable retirement experience. The city has a strong sense of community and plenty of recreational activities to keep retirees active and engaged. The mild climate also makes it an attractive destination for retirees who prefer to avoid extreme weather conditions. Additionally, Bellingham’s healthcare system is well-regarded, ensuring that retirees have access to quality medical care.

Pros and Cons of Living in Bellingham

Living in Bellingham has many advantages, but there are also a few drawbacks to consider. Here are some pros and cons:

  • Pros:
    • Breathtaking natural beauty with stunning views of the mountains and the bay.
    • A vibrant arts scene, offering numerous galleries, theaters, and music venues.
    • A wide range of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, biking, boating, and skiing.
    • A strong sense of community with friendly and welcoming residents.
    • A thriving local food scene with farm-to-table restaurants and farmers markets.

  • Cons:
    • Higher cost of living compared to some other cities in the area.
    • Limited job opportunities in certain industries, leading to potential commuting or remote work requirements.
    • Moderate rainfall throughout the year may not suit everyone’s preference.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bellingham

What is the cost of housing in Bellingham?

Bellingham’s housing market can vary, but overall, it is considered to be more affordable compared to larger cities in the region. The median home price in Bellingham is lower than cities like Seattle or Vancouver, making it an attractive option for those seeking homeownership.

Is Bellingham a safe city?

Bellingham is generally a safe city with a low crime rate. However, like any other place, it’s always advisable to take necessary precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Are there good schools in Bellingham?

Bellingham has excellent educational institutions, including both public and private schools. There are also options for higher education, with Western Washington University offering a variety of degree programs.

What is the transportation system like in Bellingham?

Bellingham has an efficient public transportation system, making it easy to get around the city and its surrounding areas. The Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) operates buses throughout the region. Biking is also popular in Bellingham, with many dedicated bike lanes and paths available.

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