Bellingham, Washington: Salish Sea Playground

by Michael and Elizabeth Fagin

Bellingham, Washington, is surrounded by water: the Salish Sea to the west and fresh water lakes to the east. At only 1.5 hours from Seattle, it makes a perfect water-centric getaway for paddling, whale watching and dining on delicacies from the sea. 

On the Water

Evening flashes of sparkly white streaks in the ocean and shooting stars overhead. No, this is not a dream but it is what happens when you take a Bioluminescence trip in Chuckanut Bay with Dragonfly Kayak Tours. Bioluminescence is a biochemical emission of light by a living organism like plankton and is only seen at night. When the plankton is disturbed by your paddles or hand, the light is emitted. It is like an under-water sparkler. An added and unexpected bonus is seeing a meteor shower overhead. This two-hour guided trip is perfect for the beginner, since the professional staff spends quality time showing you the basics. 

How about some daytime kayaking or stand-up paddling? We return to Dragonfly Kayak Tours for a guided day trip in our inflatable kayak. We launch at Wildcat Cove in Larrabee State Park and are soon in the company of about a dozen harbor seals patrolling the cove. 

Want freshwater kayaking or paddleboarding? Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom is one of the best options and is just a few miles east of Bellingham. Kayak, stand up paddleboard and canoe rentals are available from Bloedel Boat Rentals.  

When it’s time to return to the Salish Sea, San Juan Cruises delivers. “Guaranteed whale sightings or your next cruise is half price.” We like that offer by San Juan Cruises, so we board the large boat south of downtown Bellingham in Bellingham Bay and several hours later we are rewarded with the sighting of several minke whales frolicking in the water. In the milder months, one is almost guaranteed sunshine, and sure enough we enjoy the sun glistening off the sea and views of the majestic volcanic mountain, Mt. Baker. On the way to see the whales we have magnificent views of the San Juan Islands.

Before the whale sightings, we enjoy the lasagna lunch provided by the cruise company, accompanied by local microbrews. After lunch I doze off for several minutes as the boat glides across the water when the captain yells: “Minke whale starboard!” 

I jolt awake and luckily look to the right and spot the fins of the whale. The whales swim alongside the boat, coming up for air often while the naturalist on board explains everything one needs to know about the whales and other sea life.   


We could go right to the source to buy local seafood from the fishers at Bellingham Dock. While that is tempting, we want someone else to do the cooking. One great option, that we have enjoyed often, is Keenan’s at the Pier. We are never disappointed with the seafood selection and the stunning view of Bellingham Bay. It’s hard to decline my go-to seafood, which did not disappoint. The award-winning Penn Cove Mussels and Chorizo, steamed in a coconut milk broth is excellent. The chorizo really adds a unique taste and texture to complement the mussels. In case seafood is not your thing, their burgers are also delicious.

Want to pair seafood and microbrews? Advertised as “One of the best fish and chips in Whatcom County,” Twin Sisters Brewing Company is on the docket for the next day. We enjoy the beer battered cod, which is flakey with a little crunch, paired with their lightly hoppy Bert’s Beer IPA and some amazing French fries.


With sunset views over Bellingham Bay, private pier access, and walking and biking trails to access parks and marinas, Hotel Bellwether is a terrific location to relax and enjoy all the amenities. Our room has a west view of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. It’s a lovely view upon waking, not to mention the sunset in the evening.

For exercise one can grab one of the courtesy bikes available to peddle the short 2 miles around the Squalicum Harbor to Zuanich Point Park with breathtaking ocean views.

But we wanted to paddle the harbor. At the insistence of the hotel staff, we carry our lightweight kayak through the lobby and walk the short distance to the pier to launch it. 

For dining at the hotel, The Bellwether’s Lighthouse Grill has lots of offerings, and we enjoy a great brunch of the Classic Lighthouse Benedict with ham, poached egg and their own hollandaise sauce on a croissant. Of course, when we return next time there will be many seafood entrees and appetizers to enjoy.