In itâ€™s Feb. 2011 issue, Sunset Magazine ranked Bellingham and Whatcom County the westâ€™s â€śBest Place to Play Year-Round,â€ť and we agree! Whatcom County is filled with outdoor and indoor fun for kids and adults of all ages.
Have you ever stood in two countries at the same time? Give it a try at the Peace Arch State Park in Blaine,WA (I-5 exit 276). Look for the obelisk that officially marks the U.S. â€“ Canada border running right through the middle of the grassy park. The unmistakable centerpiece of the park is the 67-foot tall, white classical structure known as the Peace Arch, which straddles the border. It bears two mottos, â€śChildren of a Common Mother,â€ť and â€śBrethren Dwelling Together in Unity.â€ť It was built in 1921 to commemorate the first 100 years of peace between the U.S. and Canada (1814 â€“ 1914). Peace Arch State Park hosts an annual outdoor sculpture exhibit, scenic gardens and a childrenâ€™s playground area.
Blaine is also home to a classic, family-friendly Old Fashioned 4th of July Parade through the business district on Peace Portal Drive. Bring your American flags and bucket to store your treats! www.ci.blaine.wa.us.
To the west of Blaine is Birch Bay – a fun seaside community with lots of activity for kids. Check the tide tables before you go at www.birchbayvillage.com/tides/tidetables.jsp. A negative tide of three feet or more during daylight hours means a massive beach has been exposed giving kids acres of room to roam and dig in the sand. The C Shop is a fun pit stop in a bright yellow building on Alderson Rd. Kids love the old fashioned snow cones, ice cream and homemade candy, as well as the pizza and sandwiches. Just across the street is the Bay CafĂ© Espresso and Deli serving clam chowder, hamburgers, sandwiches and coffee. A full list of dining and maps are at www.birchbaychamber.com.
If you bring your galoshes and your binoculars, you are likely to make discoveries in the tideflats and witness a variety of migrating birds at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, near Birch Bay. Featuring 54 acres of forest, bluff and beach, with a Âľ mile fully accessible trail to spectacular viewpoints of the Straight of Georgia and San Juan Islands. A switchback path descends from the bluff to access a windswept cobble beach. From I-5, take the Grandview exit 266 and drive west toward Birch Bay for 8.5 miles. Follow the road as it curves left and becomes Koehn Road, then look for the parking lot on the left. Maps are at www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/pointwhitehornmarinereserve.jsp
Ferndale is home to a classic, small-town Main Street. and three great parks for kids. Located along the Nooksack River, Pioneer Park contains one of the finest collections of original slab-cedar log cabins in the Northwest. Built by pioneers, each of the cabins sat abandoned in old growth forests to deteriorate until they were rescued by volunteers and placed in a village-like setting in Ferndale. Today, families can sit at a desk in a one-room school house, browse in the general store and purchase penny candy, visit a home with a wood stove in the kitchen and see horse drawn wagon used on Ferndaleâ€™s first postal route. Tour guides in period costume are available through the summer months. A play ground and picnic shelter are also available nearby. Hours: May â€“ September 11 a.m. â€“ 4 p.m. www.ferndaleheritagesociety.com
On the opposite side of the river, a giant-size red and white barn built in 1913 anchors the historic farm setting at Hovander Homestead Park, alongside the original farmhouse built by Swedish homesteader Hakan Hovander in 1903. The park features 720 acres, including the original 60-acre Hovander Homestead. Kids love seeing the many farm animals, climbing on old-fashioned tractors and running through acres of grass. Adults also enjoy viewing the blacksmith shop, antique farm equipment and historic structures. Picnic tables and a childrenâ€™s play structure are available. Follow a pedestrian trail on quarter mile to Tennant Lake. Hours: 8 a.m. to dusk. www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/hovander/hovander.jsp
Just a short walk, or a short drive, from Hovander Homestead Park, the Tennant Lake complex includes one of Washingtonâ€™s most spectacular wetlands. An elevated boardwalk leads through the woods and passes by several habitats along the edge of the shallow lake, providing a chance to view birds, identify vegetation and see aquatic animals. Upon entering, visitors pass through an award-winning Fragrance Garden, where they can touch and smell 200 varieties of herbs and flowers. Kids especially love the observation tower with inside stairs and an outside deck at the top. A viewing camera on the tower also provides disabled visitors with a wide range of vistas from the ground level. Hours: 8 a.m. to dusk. www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/tennantlake/index.jsp
A great lunch option in Ferndale is to stop the Haggen grocery store just off the freeway to pick up a picnic on your way to the park or eat at the storeâ€™s spacious indoor seating area. Haggen offers a deli counter, Chinese food, salad bar, bakery and Starbucks Coffee. Families also enjoy Chihuahuaâ€™s Mexican Food in downtown Ferndale. Take Main St. west to Third Ave. Turn left for one block. Chihuahuaâ€™s is on the corner of Third and Vista Ave.
To the northeast, Lynden is a farming community that clings passionately to its Dutch roots. It is Washington State‘s largest Dutch settlement currently with about 30% of its residents having Dutch ancestry. Itâ€™s also the heart of the regionâ€™s farmland. Upon reaching the four-block span of Front Street, known as Dutch Old Town, visitors are greeted by a 72-foot tall working windmill that towers over the street. Â Adjacent is the Dutch Village Mall featuring shops with Dutch imports and a canal running through the mall. The Lynden Pioneer Museum is a fun kid destination. It is home to the largest collection of horse-drawn buggies west of the Mississippi and features an indoor, two-story replica of Lynden as it was in 1900. www.lyndenpioneermuseum.com.
A great place to play in Lynden is Million Smiles Park, with over 25 different activities, this 22,000 square foot play area was built with donation and volunteer labor in only 9 days! www.lynden.org . Grab a tasty lunch at Jake’s Western Grill.
Stretching out from Lynden, thousands of acres of green farmland lie at the foot of snow-capped Mt. Baker, creating breath-taking views. Whatcom County is Americaâ€™s largest producer of red-raspberries, harvesting 65% of the raspberries grown in the nation for jam and juice processing. The region is also first in the nation in milk production per cow. This is a place where tractors are frequently seen on the roads and animals are plentiful. The annual Whatcom Food & Farm Finder lists dozens of locations that are open to the public. Each August the Northwest Washington Fair is held in Lynden, featuring more than 12,000 exhibits, agricultural displays, carnival, and grandstand entertainment. www.nwwafair.com.
Families also enjoy the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway (State Route 542). This 58-mile paved highway starts at I-5 exit 253 in Bellingham, passes throughÂ many small towns, including Deming, Maple Falls andÂ Glacier, winds along the scenic North Fork Nooksack River, and climbs to an elevation of 5,140 feet, where it ends at its well-named destination, Artist Point, which is generally open in August, September and October.Â Artist Point is legendary for its spectacular views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Often there is still snow on the ground at this elevation and what kid can resist snowplay on a summer day?
Just below Artist Point, at milepost 55, a Visitors Center is open daily in summer months at Heather Meadows (10 am â€“ 4 pm). Easy access to family friendly trails from this location include: Bagley Lakes Trail, Fire and Ice Trail, and Picture Lake Trail. The view alternates from lava rock to black basalt, dotted with clear water lakes and 900-year-old hemlock. Exhibits inside the historical Heather Meadows Visitor Center offer a glimpse into the areaâ€™s colorful cultural history.
In Bellingham, an abundance of city parks are a kidâ€™s delight. Among the largest, featuring grassy lawns, play equipment and numerous trails through evergreens are Cornwall Park, Whatcom Falls Park, Lake Padden Park and Fairhaven Park. Kids also enjoy Bloedel Donovan Park on the edge of Lake Whatcom and Boulevard Park on the edge of Bellingham Bay. A favorite spot for kite flying is Zuanich Point Park near the marina at Squalicum Harbor.
Downtown Bellingham (I-5 exit 252) is home to multiple museums that welcome the whole family. Start at the Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) inside the Whatcom Museumâ€™s innovative Lightcatcher building at 250 Flora Street.Â Hours: Tues â€“ Sun, noon â€“ 5 p.m. Admission: $10 general, $4.50 children under 5. This exciting and beautiful new space connects people of all ages, including toddlers, with art related activities that also have a connection to our environment. It features activities that invite children to create, role play, and interact with experiential activities. A resource reading space allows for story time and provides materials on art exhibits found in the other galleries. Throughout the day, ARTCARTS can be rolled out for spontaneous activities for youth. The Lightcatcher also houses several art galleries and features an innovative green roof! www.whatcommuseum.org
Within two blocks are three additional museum venues sure that are sure to entertain. The American Museum of Radio & Electricity is located at 1312 Bay Street. Hours: Wed – Sat 11 â€“ 4 p.m.Â Sun noon â€“ 4 p.m. Admission $5 adults, $2 children under 12. Although not appropriate for toddlers, youngsters age 5 and older will enjoy this unique museum featuring a world-class collection of historic radios and early electrical equipment used for experiments. Kids can learn about Benjamin Franklin, experience great grandpaâ€™s childhood in a 1930s era living room with a working radio set and NO TV, see a replica of the radio room on board the Titantic, listen to a Thomas Edison era phonograph recording, and more. www.amre.us
Around the corner is Mindport Exhibits at 210 W. Holly St. Hours: Wed-Fri noon â€“ 6 p.m., Sat 10 â€“ 5 p.m., Sun noon â€“ 4 p.m. Admission: $2 per person. This unique venue offers visitors of all ages an opportunity to have fun â€śplayingâ€ť with scientific and artistic creations to gain new perspectives of the world around us. The exhibits at Mindport are sure to inspire new inventions of your own! www.mindport.org
Bellingham Railway Museum 1320 Commercial Street. Hours: Tues/Thurs/Fri/ SatÂ Noon â€“ 5 p.m.Â Admission: $4 adults, $1 kids 2 â€“ 16. Kids can take the controls to operate historic model trains on 5 separate tracks, as they learn about logging and historic railroads of the area. Then try an I Spy adventure throughout the facility. Layouts at the Bellingham Railway Museum include G gauge (the largest of the indoor trains) and a nostalgic Lionel exhibit with a push button and transformer control system. www.bellinghamrailwaymuseum.org
For lunch with the kids in downtown Bellingham, the Mount Bakery specializes in gooey pastries and artisan sandwiches, as well as hot chocolate and coffee. It is located on W. Champion St., near the American Museum of Radio & Electricity. Old Town CafĂ© is Bellinghamâ€™s very casual place for breakfast/brunch. It offers a veg-friendly menu with a corner of toys and musicians. Just around the corner from the Bellingham Railway Museum, on W. Magnolia St., is the low-key Mexican restaurant Taco Lobo, with a variety of inexpensive lunch specials. The Bagelry at 1319 Railroad Ave is quintessential Bellingham, featuring freshly made bagels, yummy cream cheese, soups and sandwiches â€“ try the black bottom muffins too! And donâ€™t miss Mallard Ice Cream at 1323 Railroad Avenue, where locally made ice cream comes in dozens of fun and unusual flavors.
On the south side of Bellingham Bay, the Fairhaven Historic District (I-5 exit 250) began as a separate city in 1883. Many of the quaint red-brick buildings were built in the 1890s. Although it officially merged with Bellingham in 1903, the locals still refer to the historic district as Fairhaven and it seems to have its own identity. The six blocks of shops are a fun area for kids and grown-ups to explore. Parking is free and sidewalks are wide. Be sure to look for the toy store, the book store, the double-decker bus that serves fish-n-chips, the ice cream and cupcake shops and the grassy Village Green. www.fairhaven.com.
From Fairhaven, it is also an easy walk to Boulevard Park. A gravel trail leads from the Fairhaven Village Inn, past the granite monument marking the spot where Fairhaven and Bellingham became one, to the Chrysalis Inn. From here the Taylor Dock boardwalk expands over the water, past sailboats and island views, to the awaiting lawns, shoreline and playground of Boulevard Park. This is a great place to toss a Frisbee and see the sunset. In need of another espresso or hot cocoa? The Woods Coffee inside the park makes a great pit stop before the walk back to Fairhaven.