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Be Wild in Bellingham

This being my first real visit to Bellingham (I’d driven through it many times on my way to Canada), it’s love at first sight. With stunning views at every turn, a laid back, small town vibe, and easy access to oceanfront beaches, freshwater lakes, cascading waterfalls and forest trails, it’s a dream come true for nature lovers and dog lovers alike.
Written by Brandie Ahlgren | Photography by Julie Clegg
As we roll into town, our first order of business is food and drink, and the dog-friendly Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen has just what we need. We are met by Mari Kemper who, along with her husband Will, have owned and operated the brewery since 2008, creating award-winning craft beers. Mari shows us to our table on the outdoor patio and we settle in with our four-legged companions, Thya and Ziggy, to enjoy the brewery’s friendly and lively environment.

The beer and food at Chuckanut changes with the season, with six rotating taps and a “locavore” menu comprised of seasonal ingredients sourced from local suppliers, from Bangers & Mash, made with Hempler’s sausages (Ferndale Wash.), to Chuckanut Chowder, made with Northwest clams, veggies and house smoked bacon. Paired with an ice cold Kolsch, it doesn’t get much better than this—and with Thya and Ziggy by my side, it’s the best!

Refueled, we are ready to explore our surroundings and start with Zuanich Point Park, located just a hop, skip and dog trot away. It’s the perfect place for enjoying a picnic under the shade of a tree, strolling with your pooch along the paved path, or relaxing on one of the park benches to take in stunning views of Bellingham Bay, Mt. Baker, the Twin Sisters, Olympic Mountains, the Chuckanuts, Lummi Island and even the San Juan Islands off in the distance.

Alas, we need to keep moving to squeeze in as many places to sit, stay and play as we can into this short visit, so we head to our next destination, Whatcom Falls Park. Even though it’s located just a few miles from downtown Bellingham, once you step onto the forested trail, it feels like you’re out in the wilderness. After the devastation of the 1999 pipeline explosion, the park has rebounded, with 240 acres of lush forest, a beautifully restored stone bridge overlooking the cascading Whatcom Falls, and miles of winding trails perfect for mountain biking, hiking or a leisurely stroll with your pooch. Dogs must be on leash at all times in the park, unless on the Waterline Trail, where dogs can run leash-free!

Next, we venture over to nearby Bloedel Donovan Park, located on Lake Whatcom. It’s a gorgeous, late summer day and people can be seen swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking and simply lounging in the sun. Unlike Seattle parks, Bellingham has fairly liberal leash rules, with designated off-leash times in multi-use, public parks (similar to Portland, Ore.). At Bloedel Donovan Park, the off-leash hours are 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. year round to allow your pooch some play time and exercise leash-free. For a list of parks and off-leash times, visit the City of Bellingham website at

With the day winding down, it’s time to wend our way to SpringHill Suites, our home-away-from-home for the night. Located just a few miles north of downtown, SpringHill Suites’ dog-friendly accommodations (which is all of their accommodations) features welcome baskets for Thya and Ziggy, with water bowl, bottled water, treats and poo bags, a super comfy king size bed in the separate sleeping area, a sitting area with a couch and large, well-lit work desk plus a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and wet bar. The hotel also features a 24-hour fitness room, indoor swimming pool and hot tub, complimentary continental breakfast plus nightly dining options in the Chuckanut Bar.

Speaking of dining options, once Thya and Ziggy are settled in, we head back south to find Skylark’s Hidden Cafe & Wine Parlour in Fairhaven. Here, the ambience is warm and cozy (even a little romantic) and the menu features a wide assortment of items from garden fresh salads, burgers and sandwiches to seafood, steak and pasta dishes. The restaurant also features a beautiful outdoor patio, where dogs are welcome while you dine.

Between the hotel and restaurant, it’s worth mentioning our jaunt to Birch Bay to catch the sun before it sets. We start with a drive through Birch Bay State Park, a 194-acre camping park with 8,255 feet of saltwater shoreline. Once we reach the edge of the bay, we head north on Birch Bay Drive to the small community guessed it, Birch Bay, Wash. This is definitely a family-friendly vacation destination, where you can walk the beach, dig for clams, ride your bike, play golf, taste wine at a local winery, bird watch plus enjoy a water slide, miniature golf and even a train ride. Alas, we pull off to one of the public beach access areas and simply enjoy the gorgeous sunset.

A visit to Bellingham would not be complete without a visit to historic Fairhaven, and that’s exactly what we do the next morning. Founded by Dirty Dan Harris in the 1800s, today Fairhaven is bustling with activity as folks gear up for the Wednesday Farmer’s Market, which just happens to be the day we are here—but first, we need fuel.

Located adjacent to the Village Green (a gathering place for concerts, outdoor movies and the Farmer’s Market), we find a dog-friendly, outdoor patio at Colophon Café, where we enjoy a fresh-brewed and much-needed cup of coffee. Next, we wander over to Village Books, featuring three floors packed with new and used books in every category you can think of plus a cafe on the upper floor, reading chairs tucked away in cozy nooks, and a large children’s area with comfy pillows for kids to read.

Fairhaven is chock full of quaint shops, cafés, art galleries, boutiques and bistros—most of which are dog friendly (some of them listed to the right). Also, keep an eye out for historic markers, pointing out places of interest like the site of “Sam Low’s Opium Den, 1905” or “Cleopatra’s Barge: Lions and Camels Paraded Here, 1891.” There are many others, but those two caught our eye!

After exploring Fairhaven, it’s time to head back home to Seattle and we decide to take the scenic route along Chuckanut Drive, a winding, shoreline-hugging byway and much better alternative to I-5. Along the way, we stop at Larrabee State Park to stretch our legs. As Washington’s first state park, Larrabee features 2,683 acres, with 8,100-feet of saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay, plus two freshwater lakes, saltwater coves, tidelands and 15 miles of hiking trails. It’s just one more gem this region has to offer residents and visitors, two- and four-legged alike.

Back home, thinking about my visit to Bellingham, I can’t wait to go back. This venture just scratched the surface and there’s so much more to see and do, with an abundance of year-round outdoor activities, cultural attractions, interesting history, and Lummi Island, one of the best-kept secrets of the San Juan archipelago. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger says in the Terminator, “I’ll be back.”

More Information
SpringHill Suites by Marriott
4040 Northwest Avenue, Bellingham, Wash.
$75 pet cleaning fee; 360.714.9600

Chuckanut Brewery      
601 W Holly Street, Bellingham, Wash.

Colophon Café
1208 11th Street, Bellingham, Wash.

Village Books and Paper Dreams
1200 11th Street, Bellingham, Wash.

A Lot of Flowers
1011 Harris Avenue, Bellingham, Wash.

The Greenhouse
1235 Cornwall Avenue, Bellingham, Wash.

Artwood Gallery and Good Earth Pottery
1000 Harris Avenue, Bellingham, Wash.

Bellingham Dog Parks: Lake Padden Park, Bloedel Donovan Park at Lake Whatcom, Maritime Heritage Park on Bellingham Bay

Bellingham Trails: South Bay Trail connects downtown Bellingham to Fairhaven District through the trees and along the waterfront, including Boulevard Park.

For more information about dog-friendly Bellingham, check out
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