Touch tanks at the Marine Life Center in Bellingham

I love the Wenatchee Valley. There’s hardly a time of the year when it doesn’t feel like the perfect place to be. I do however, like to take a field trip now and again to explore new possibilities and expose my children to other forms of Northwest culture, including the arts.

Lately, I have been drawn over and over again to the city of Bellingham. Relatively speaking, Bellingham isn’t that far away (less than a 3 hour drive as long as traffic and the mountain passes are agreeable) but it can feel like an entirely different world. Recently, my daughter and I took a mini road trip to visit our favorite city by the Sound. Here’s a little write up about our experience there with some ideas on what to see and do if you’re planning a quick visit with kids in tow.

One of my favorite things about Bellingham is its close proximity to open water. There’s a tang of salt that hangs in the air; something we don’t get to experience on our side of the mountains. It’s a scent that I want my children to remember, a memory I want them to think of fondly as they move on into adulthood. I want them to have the opportunity to scout out pieces of driftwood on a coarse sandy beach and toss them with abandon into the Puget Sound. I want them to collect broad plumes of bull kelp from the detritus that washes onto the shore. I want them to viscerally explore the abundance of working sea-going vessels that move in and out of Samish Bay. These are also the sights, sounds and smells of Washington State, albeit a wholly different environment than what we experience during our regular day-to-day in the great Inland Empire.

Sea Creatures at the Marine Life Center in Bellingham.
Sea Creatures at the Marine Life Center in Bellingham.

When in Bellingham, we like to visit the free touch tanks at the Marine Life Center on Roeder Ave. Here, kids get the chance to view fish and octopus but can also reach in and explore the tactile sensations of holding a sea star, urchin or sea cucumber. Later, if the weather is good, it’s nice to head over to the waterside playground, beach and walking trails of Boulevard Park. A good lunch stop is the Bellingham Community Food Co-op, where you can grab some salads or sandwiches from the deli before heading down to the park to enjoy some playtime.

Aerial sculpture work at the Bellingham Circus Guild.

On two occasions we have attended performances at the Bellingham Circus Guild. The most recent performance was the 5th Annual Aerial Showcase which happened during the first weekend of December. My daughter is an avid dancer so I thought she might enjoy experiencing a new form of performance other than ballet, which she has become very familiar with. At one point during the show she looked over at me with the largest smile her face could hold and admitted that her hands hurt ‘from clapping so hard!’ The show was incredible. Watching a performance at the Guild feels almost like a guilty pleasure. The seating is intimate and informal; folding chairs on a concrete floor within the confines of the Guild’s training space and warehouse. It’s not exactly the setting you would expect, given the caliber of the performance. The Guild is an incubator for some of the Northwest’s finest and most notorious aerialists. This is their home turf and guests are welcomed with open arms. Tickets are reasonably priced ($10 for children, $17 for adults) and a performance schedule is posted on their website. In the spring we attended the child-friendly circus showcase called Something Wonderful. The storyline was a fantastical adventure filled with mysterious creatures, amazing feats of acrobatics and juggling, highlighted by stunning costuming. Needless to say, we continue to find reasons to return to the Bellingham Circus Guild whenever we can.

A wall of fun at the Bellingham Circus Guild.
A wall of fun at the Bellingham Circus Guild.

The City of Bellingham has (progressively) devoted a beautiful semi-outdoor covered space for use by the Saturday farmers market, making fresh food and crafts a year-round engagement. This December, my daughter and I decided to swing through to see what produce was still in season. Given that the greater Skagit Valley hosts a winter maritime climate that hovers just above freezing, it is possible to find an abundance of fresh winter produce that we Eastside folks can only dream about. Although smaller in size than the typical summer market, there were still an assortment of fresh peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, leeks, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, squash, salad mix, home-made wreaths, baked goods and (my personal favorite) hand harvested gourmet mushrooms. Cascadia Mushrooms is on my list of most admired agricultural businesses in the Northwest. Being able to visit them at the Bellingham farmers market feels like a luxury. I bought a mushroom variety pack for $7 and presented it to my husband as a gift when we got back home (He was psyched). My daughter picked out several beeswax candles to give as Christmas gifts to her best friends. Together, we picked out a chocolate croissant for the inevitable drive back over the mountains later on in the day.

Our most recent visit also happened to coincide with Bellingham’s annual Art on Tap art show. Held at the Bellingham Alley District, this free event is a collaboration of live music, performance and visual art. To me, this space felt very akin to visiting the arts district of Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark….although much, much smaller. This year my daughter and I got to know a new artist, metalsmith Aaron Loveitt. Aaron, of Altility Art Studio, has been creating fine art at the blacksmith shop in the Bellingham Alley District for a while now and was happy to talk with me and my daughter about the evolution of the arts in this little sea-side city.

We also visited our friend, artist, and grade-school art instructor Gretchen Leggitt. Gretchen allowed my daughter to help set up her display of hand-made cribbage boards. Being included in the activities of the Art on Tap event made my daughter feel very special and ‘grown-up’. She made herself at home among the vendors and casually strolled from booth to booth admiring the large assortment of high quality crafted goods. In the end, I found several great Christmas gifts including a hand-knit winter hat for my daughter and some beautiful handmade steel coat hooks created by Aaron. My daughter walked away with a steaming cup of hot cocoa and declared our visit a success.

Later, on the way back home to Leavenworth, my daughter and I took a detour down Chuckanut Drive to visit Taylor Seafood. I always pack a small travel cooler with me when we head to Bellingham specifically for the purpose of bringing home fresh seafood. For $50, I was able to purchase a sack of steamer clams, a dozen fresh oysters, a Dungeness crab (for my daughter) and a package of scallops. The two of us got a chance to watch the boats out on Samish Bay and to take in the vista; the San Juan Islands set in the reflection of gunmetal grey winter skies on cold saltwater, with the low-hanging sun sinking ever so slowly away beyond the horizon.

All told we were gone from home for no more than 24 hours. Time seemed to temporarily stand still, making the trip feel like we were away much longer. For my daughter and me, our trips allow us the opportunity to create our own space for building memories together, away from the distractions of everyday life. For us, Bellingham has become our special place to visit, time and time again. These memories will keep me company when my children are grown and off adventuring on their own. I wouldn’t trade this time together for anything. I hope you have found your special place too.

Posing with a pirate at Something Wonderul, Bellingham Circus Guild
Posing with a pirate at Something Wonderful, Bellingham Circus Guild