History Activities

Bellingham and the land surrounding it are steeped in rich history. For thousands of years, the first residents of what is today known as Bellingham and Whatcom County were North Coast Indians, comprising the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo tribes. Visitors will notice that this has influenced the naming of many locations that still remain today. The word "Whatcom" is derived from Lummi Indians and means "noisy, rumbling water," inspiring Whatcom Falls and the name for this area's first permanent town, which was simply called Whatcom.

Since the late 1800s, Bellingham has seen many industries - coal mines, lumber mills, shipyards, and fish canneries - come and go from this gem of a city along Bellingham Bay. For a deeper dive into the history of this entire area, explore the museums, historical locations, and activities listed below.

Spark Museum
Whatcom Museum
Lynden Heritage Museum

Start planning your next adventure with the Visit Bellingham | Whatcom County Culture Crawl! Our quest itineraries are free, easy to use, available on your mobile device, and can offer great ideas on where to go while providing amazing deals, promotions, and prizes along the way.

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Point Roberts, Washington

This 4.9-square-mile exclave, located on the southern part of Canada's Tsawwassen Peninsula, became part of the U.S. when it was discovered that it extended south of the 49th parallel, the official boundary line drawn to separate the U.S. and British territories in 1846. 

Separated from the rest of Washington State by a border crossing, this peaceful area is surrounded by natural beauty. It is said the beaches here are some of the best spots to see whales from the land. 

Washington's First State Park!

The opening of Larrabee State Park and the dedication of Chuckanut Drive coincided with each other in 1915, making it the first state park in Washington. 

Originally known as Chuckanut State Park, the park's name was later changed in honor of the Larrabee family that donated the land.

Whether spending a few nights at the campground or just visiting for the day, Larrabee State Park is a must experience location in Bellingham, especially for catching the sun set over the San Juan Islands.

Peace Arch State Park

Unique among parks, Peace Arch State Park actually spans two countries. Washington State Parks owns the southern half of the park and the monument itself while British Columbia Parks owns the northern half. 

The 67-foot concrete arch, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built to honor the centennial of the treaties resulting from the War of 1812. These agreements between the U.S. and Britain established a peaceful, undefended border between the U.S. and Canada. 

Today, you can stroll through the park’s lush gardens and enjoy views of Point Roberts and Vancouver Island.

The Double Thunderbird

  • Location: 23 Bellwether Way, along the Squalicum Harbor Promenade

Memorial Healing Totem Pole

  • Location: Whatcom Falls Park

Salmon Art Trail 

  • Location: Various locations in Downtown Bellingham

The Indigeversal Collective and Boardmill Mural

  • Location: Waypoint Park and Portal Container Village

The City of Bellingham has created several different self-guided tours that can help immerse you in the dense history of this area.

Follow along with audio tours and digital booklets on your mobile device or purchase a physical copy of the walking tour booklets at Whatcom Museum's Store.

Learn about Bellingham’s colorful history with costumed guides from The Good Time Girls! Tours are offered at various locations in Bellingham and focus on people from all walks of life, including sex workers, teetotalers, rough 'n tumble laborers, immigrants, rumrunners, and traveling preachers. 

Both informative and fun, the tours aim to get you thinking about the past, how it has shaped the present, and what it can teach us going forward.

Interested in researching Whatcom County history? Our area is lucky to have a public resource at the Whatcom Museum’s Photo Archives.

They offer a database of photographic and archival collections that are open for searching using names or keywords. Local history books, city directories, maps, and reference materials are also available.

Public Open Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Location: Syre Education Center, 201 Prospect Street in Downtown Bellingham

[Photo Courtesy of Whatcom Museum Photo Archives. Image: the S.S. Princess Sophia docked in Downtown Bellingham.]

The Old Whatcom County Courthouse is the oldest brick building in the state and has now been restored as the museum honoring prolific Pacific Northwest artist Helen Loggie. The newly curated museum features her etchings, oils, and pastels. 

Currently only open by reservation. 

Location: 1308 E Street in Downtown Bellingham

Dedicated in 1919, Memorial Park is the second oldest park in Bellingham. 

Surrounded by trees, which burst full of color during the fall, the main feature of the park is a monument dedicated to Whatcom County’s fallen soldiers.

Location: the corner of King and E. Maryland Streets behind Sunnyland Elementary School

In the late 20th century, a local newspaper publisher received a grant to install historical stones throughout Fairhaven Village, one of Bellingham’s most storied neighborhoods. 

Today, the markers, which are located throughout the area’s downtown core, capture Fairhaven’s illustrious past, from its “City Drowning Pool” to the location where dead men were displayed for identification.  

Interesting stories are everywhere. "Good Time Girls" Kolby and Wren live this mantra and share their knowledge on the streets around Bellingham as the co-owners of Bellinghistory walking tours. 

Now their podcast expands on the stories covered in their in-person tours. Expect to be entertained through wide-ranging episodes, including interviews with local ghost hunters and historical tales about sanitariums. 

Subscribe now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, and more.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
Visitor Center Located at I-5 Exit 253 - Check Hours
904 Potter Street, Bellingham, WA 98229
Phone: 360-671-3990

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