Bellingham, Washington

Best Places to Retire in Washington


Bellingham (population 70,000) is located on Puget Sound, 90 miles north of Seattle and just 23 miles south of the Canadian border. This port city overlooks Bellingham Bay and many of the 172 San Juan Islands. Mount Baker, the tallest of the northern Cascades, rises to 10,778 feet as a spectacular backdrop to the city.

Bellingham is also the southern connection to the Alaska Marine Highway System where cruise ships link the lower 48 states to the wonders of Alaska. Bellingham is the largest city and county seat for Whatcom County (population 169,000). The county consists of 2,126 square miles of the northwest corner of the state and includes more than a dozen small towns. The other major towns are Ferndale (9,000), Lynden (9,400), and Blaine (3,800).

The eastern part of the county includes Mount Baker and extends on through rugged mountainous lands to a part of the North Cascades National Park. The region is marked by beautiful natural scenery and stunning panoramic views. Bellingham has retained its historic look in some of its neighborhoods that have well-kept Victorian-era homes. The downtown section has specialty shops, cafes, boutiques, galleries, and antique shops.

The Whatcom Museum and Mount Baker Theatre mark the cultural district. The waterfront area has parks and promenades and a series of walking and cycling trails. The city also has a thriving arts community. Its galleries feature works of local, regional and national artists, and each quarter there is a downtown gallery walk that showcases featured artists. The Mount Baker Theatre hosts over 100 performances annually, and the Whatcom Symphony performs throughout the year. Western University features a 21-piece outdoor sculptural exhibit by major international, national, and regional artists with works from 1960 to the present. There is Summer Stock Theater, the University’s Performing Arts Series, and the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Outdoor recreation opportunities include swimming, sailing, boating, fresh or saltwater fishing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, biking, camping, skiing, golf, or bald eagle watching and sightseeing.

Arts & Culture

The Western Washington University Performing Arts Series features a broad range of theatrical and music performances. The university has three venues: a 1,100-seat main stage theater, a 77-seat concert hall, and a 200-seat Old Main Theater. These venues are use both by the university and for sponsored events.

Bellingham Festival of Music is an annual event held in August that features two weeks of orchestral performances, chamber music, and jazz. This event has been called the “Premier Northwest Summer Music Festival.”

Western Washington University summer stock program is sponsored by the Theatre Arts Department at the university. (360) 650-3879

Whatcom Symphony Orchestra has performed for more than 30 years. It includes active and retired musicians, and community members. It also performs as a chamber orchestra. Its home is the Mount Baker Theatre. 

The Jazz Project exists to promote jazz venues and playing opportunities for jazz musicians. The following Web site also gives a listing of jazz programming in the area and upcoming events.

Mount Baker Theatre is a 1,500-seat Vaudeville movie palace that opened in 1927. It hosts over 100 events annually. The theatre was renovated in to a plush theater in 1995. 

Whatcom Museum of History & Art is housed in the old City Hall building, an historic 1893 building. 

Bellingham Railway Museum –

Bellingham Public Library –

Lynden Pioneer Museum –


The Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department manages 12 parks that offer a wide range of facilities and recreation opportunities. These include biking, hiking and equestrian trails, boat ramps and access to creeks, lakes, and ponds, salt water access, fishing, beaches, swimming areas, playground equipment, gymnasium, athletic fields, tennis courts, shelters and picnic sites. 

Arne Hanna Aquatic Center is operated by the city’s Parks Department. 

Golfers will find more than a dozen public courses and a good number of private layouts in the area. There are a great number of local trails for bikers offering a variety of terrains. There is canoeing on the Nooksack River, yacht charters, island cruises to the San Juan Islands, charter sail boats and cruises, sea kayaking, Orca whale watching, hiking, snowshoeing or skiing at Mt. Baker, fishing the pristine streams, and more. The Bellingham/Mt. Baker area is outstanding for birding – especially for Bald Eagles. 

Mount Baker (10,778 feet elevation) offers hiking, biking and camping in the summer months, and downhill skiing, snow boarding and cross country skiing in the winter.

The annual Ski-To-Sea Festival, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, begins at the mountaintop and extends to the bay. This 85-mile relay event with downhill skiing, cross country skiing, cycling, canoeing and kayaking, draws thousands of participants. There is also a historical parade and special events. 

Both day cruises and overnight packages to the San Juan Islands or to Victoria, B.C., depart from Bellingham regularly in summer months.

Alaska’s Marine Highway System’s southern connection is the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. It offers week-long voyages through Alaska’s Inside Passage. 


Western Washington University is a four-year liberal arts institution. It is one of six, four-year institutions funded by the State of Washington. Approximately 4,000 students are housed on its 215-acre campus. Total enrollment of full and part-time students is nearly 13,000. 

Senior Programs

The Parks & Recreation Department offers “Adult Enrichment” activities that include dance workshops, arts and crafts classes, yoga, gardening, and more. There are also “Adult Trips.” 


St. Joseph Hospital is a 253-bed two-campus medical center and Level II Trauma Center. 

Airport & Rail Service

Bellingham International Airport has direct connections to Seattle, Las Vegas and other points. 

Amtrak service connects Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver, B.C. (800) USA-RAIL or (360) 734-8851 


The averages for July are 71 degrees and 53 degrees. Annual precipitation averages 35 inches and there are 8.6 inches of snow. 


Bellingham Herald –

State Taxes

Chamber of Commerce

Bellingham /Whatcom Chamber of Commerce –


Blaine – 22 miles

Mount Vernon – 29 miles

Anacortes – 41 miles

Vancouver, B.C. – 60 miles

Everett – 61 miles

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