Is Bellingham, Washington A Good Place To Live?

Stacy Randall
by Stacy Randall

Bellingham, Washington, is the last major city in the northern United States before crossing over to the Canadian border. Not much is known about the city of Bellingham compared to its famous neighbor, Seattle. But for Bellingham residents, this quaint town of 90,000 people is as close to paradise as it can get.

Bellingham, WA, is a fantastic place to live, especially for nature lovers of all shapes, ages, and sizes. It is one of the “Cleanest US Cities,” according to the American Lung Association. Cyclists also agree that it is one of the safest American cities for cyclists.

Are you considering a change in scenery? If Bellingham, Washington, is on your list of possibilities, it’s essential to get acquainted with the town first. Here are some points to ponder to see if this quaint, northwestern city is just right for you.

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Why Is Bellingham a Good Place to Live?

Bellingham is usually not at the forefront of people’s minds when considering a major move. But if good schools, clean air, and being surrounded by nature appeal to you, this city is worth looking into. According to Forbes Magazine, Bellingham is also great for business people, ranking 19th Best American Small Town For Business.

Nature Trails Abound

With miles and miles of nature trails, Bellingham is a utopia for hikers and nature lovers alike. Trails range from 1.5 – 114 miles with an elevation of 85 to over 5,095 feet above sea level. If a walk in the woods is how you relax, expect many relaxing days ahead if you move to Bellingham.

Fresh Food in Abundance

Bellingham residents pride themselves on the variety of fresh produce available all year round. Being closely connected to nature, it is not surprising that this small city is home to farmers’ markets galore. The biggest and most popular of these would be the aptly named Bellingham Farmers Market.

The City Has Connections

Bellingham lies in close proximity to Vancouver, Canada, Seattle, and the San Juan Islands. Centrally located to these touristy spots, Bellingham is the perfect jump-off point to engage in activities in these fun locales. An hour’s drive north gets you to beautiful Vancouver, or drive 1 ½ hours down south to exciting Seattle.

If marine activity makes your heart flutter, a trip to the nearby San Juan Islands is just what the cardiologist ordered. A shuttle and ferry ride from Bellingham will take you to the San Juan Islands in 4 ½ hours. You can watch the orcas play, swim in the waters, and return home all in one day.

Best Snowboarding in the State

When it gets too cold for nature-trekking, head to the slopes for some of the best snowboarding you will experience. Bellingham is only 30 miles away from Mount Baker, which is the third highest mountain range in Washington. Aside from its ideal snowboarding sites, Mount Baker also boasts the longest ski season around.

Clean Air Everywhere

Bellingham is one of the top ten cities in the nation in terms of clean air. It consistently ranks highest not just for clean air but also for not having any high particle pollution days. Now that is truly a breath of fresh air.

Top College Town

Come college season, expect a swarm of 15,000-18,000 students to grace local businesses everywhere in Bellingham. Bellingham houses Western Washington University, touted as the best college in the entire state. This seems overwhelming for a city of 90,000 people, but this youthful influx has always been a welcome sight.

Aside from its college stats, Bellingham also takes pride in its high school education standards. For example, the city has consistently ranked in the top 50 best public schools in the state.

Long Summer Nights

The winters may be dreary, but summers in Bellingham peak in the mid-’70s, and daylight extends almost until ten o’clock at night. It never gets excruciatingly hot, and you may need to wear a light jacket during those summer nights. While summers are to die for, winters will have you getting a Vitamin D prescription from your family practitioner.

The Environment is a Priority

We all need to do our part in saving the planet, and Bellingham is leading the pack in that direction. The city has long since implemented a Clean Green program that promotes sustainable disposal of residential yard waste. Composting services are available in the county, and the state enacted a law allowing a surcharge for single-use plastic bags.

Indoor Fun in Bellingham

It is common knowledge that the country’s northwestern region is besieged by rain more often than not. Bellingham is, sadly, not immune to this weather pattern. With 158 days of some form of precipitation annually, the city has taken to offering a varied array of places for some indoor fun and entertainment.

There are many things to see and experience with, neighborhood theaters, quirky museums, and a host of funky local breweries. Local musicians, as well as national acts, make regular appearances on Bellingham’s live music venues. Here is a list of places to visit when it is too wet to be outside.

Bellingham Indoor Activities

  • Fairhaven Historic District
  • SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention
  • Mount Baker Theatre
  • Chuckanut Bay Distillery
  • Whatcom Museum
  • Vartanyan Estate Winery
  • Bellingham Railway Museum
  • Artwood Gallery
  • Kulshan Brewing Company
  • Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden
  • Dynasty Cellars
  • The Upfront Theatre
  • Vital Climbing Gym
  • The Wild Buffalo
  • The Shakedown
  • Honey Moon Mead and Cider
  • Bellingham Circus Guild

The Downsides to Living in Bellingham

Bellingham may sound like the perfect place to live, but no perfect place exists. You may need more than hiking trails and a world-class university to live a fulfilling and peaceful life. Perhaps you seek other pursuits unavailable in this quaint, little town, or it may just be too quaint for you.

Here are some not-too-favorable factors to living a life in Bellingham.

Rising Housing Costs

In recent years, housing costs in Bellingham have gone through the roof. To be fair, this phenomenon extends to a vast majority of cities all over the country. But Bellingham’s housing expenses are a steep 26% higher than the national average.

Owing to the fast turnover and impermanence of the student population, over 50% of residential units in Bellingham consist of rentals. Only 45% of residential properties are owned, with homes valued at 25% more than the national average.

Despite these figures, many people, mostly former Seattleites, are moving to Bellingham. Compared to Seattle, home values in Bellingham are significantly lower and easier on the bank account for many retirees.

Steep Transportation Costs

Aside from housing costs, transportation costs will also put a bigger dent in your wallet in Bellingham than in other US cities. Bus fares and gas prices tend to be 21% higher than the national average. Best to live like a Bellingham resident, go green, and get a bike.

Child Care Costs

If you are a young, growing family considering a move to Bellingham, you need to know the cost of childcare. As with transportation and housing, childcare costs are high, even exorbitant, in this city. For home-based infant care, expect to pay 20% of your annual income to your chosen child-care provider.

Winters are Wet, Dark, and Cold

Bellingham winters are not for the faint of heart. The coldest days may only be about 34°F, but the city gets 9 inches of snow annually, with snow falling typically five months of the year. Therefore, from October to March, expect short daylight hours and stock up on Vitamin D supplements.

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Related Questions

Is Bellingham a safe place to live?

The Bellingham crime rate falls close to the national average, making it not the safest, nor the most dangerous, place to live.  According to FBI crime data, your chances of becoming a victim of violent or property crime is 1 in 78. However, the city is certainly safer than most major cities in the state like Tacoma and Spokane.

Does Bellingham have a racially diverse population?

Notwithstanding the transient student population, Bellingham is not considered a racially diverse city. Over 80% of its residents identify as White or Caucasian, with only 9% of the population being of Hispanic origin.  Asians comprise 5.9% of the population, 1.6% are African American, and other races make up the rest.

Can you commute from Birmingham to Seattle?

Yes, you can commute from Birmingham to Seattle, but not without some caveats.  From Bellingham, you need to drive to Everett, park your car, then board the Sounder Train from the Everett Station.  Once you are on the train, it would be a one-hour ride to downtown Seattle.  Altogether, this commute would take up four hours of your day, five days a week.  This daily routine proves unsustainable for most people in the long run.

Summing it Up

If you find yourself in the northwestern part of the country, hie off to charming Bellingham and see the city with your very own eyes. One can only feel a city’s pulse, its vibe, when stepping foot on its streets. Chat up the locals, hike a trail, and sample the local fare.

The city of Bellingham is not for everybody, but perhaps it may be for you.

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Stacy Randall
Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent's former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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