Bellingham Day Trip from Vancouver (BY BUS)!

It’s summer time and my more ambitious travel plans to Asia didn’t really pan out, but I randomly read about BoltBus (www.boltbus.com) online, an intercity bus service with service from Vancouver, BC to Bellingham, Seattle and Portland. Having been to Seattle and Portland before, I wasn’t really interested in those cities and definitely didn’t want to go a long bus ride. Also, those trips can not be completed in just one day. So I was left with Bellingham - a small, unfamiliar town 2 hours away from Downtown Vancouver including border crossing times.

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From what I knew about Bellingham prior to my “research” on TripAdvisor, it is just a small town who’s main attractions are Costco, Walmart, and a large shopping centre; all of which popular with Canadian families looking to head down to the United States (U.S.) to get some cheap groceries. I also knew of their international airport, popular with people looking for a cheaper flights compared to flying out of YVR. Is there really anything for young people or even tourists to do in Bellingham?

Well that’s what today’s blog topic is about!

After doing some research on TripAdvisor (http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Tourism-g58350-Bellingham_Washington-Vacations.html), I pinpointed THREE separate areas that I wanted to visit. There really wasn’t much decision needed as Bellingham is pretty small.

My plan was to take the BoltBus from Vancouver (~$14-$20 return). It seems the earlier you book, the higher the chance you have to get a cheaper ticket. The only departure time viable for a day-trip was the 6:30 am from Pacific Central Station (arrive Bellingham at 8:30 am), so that was the one I picked. Coming back from Bellingham, the latest departure back to Vancouver was at 8:00 pm, so I booked that as well (arrive Vancouver at 10:00 pm).

All the trip planning was done. Tickets booked. Now time for the trip!!!

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Let me just preface by saying: I have never taken any sort of intercity bus in my life (i.e. Greyhound, Quick Shuttle, etc.), so I was excited to finally experience intercity bus travel! My friend (I’ll refer to her as “K” for the rest of the blog entry for simplicity) and I realized one thing, 6:30 am is REALLY EARLY. We noticed that most of the other passengers were carrying a few pieces of baggage; they were continuing on the bus towards Seattle and Portland.

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The BoltBuses are equipped with free Wi-Fi and power outlets. The driver was a nice guy with European accent. The buses themselves were clean and comfortable. The best part we noticed about the ride both going to Bellingham and coming back to Vancouver was that the bus ride is really quiet. Our fellow passengers were respectful people or just trying getting some sleep, I sometimes felt like we were the only ones talking and laughing on the bus haha. A misconception I had about intercity bus transport was that they were usually loud, dirty and smelly. This was definitely a pleasant surprise, perhaps it was because BoltBus isn’t really a typical commuter service between cities in the same country, but an international service which I’m sure is used by a lot of people traveling for a leisurely purpose.

We arrived at Cordata Station in Bellingham 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of 8:30 am. Thank goodness as I really needed to go to the bathroom… A common complaint I read online about BoltBus vs. Greyhound and Amtrak is that BoltBus drops passengers at Cordata Station. I did not find a problem with this as Cordata is only a 10 minute walk to Bellis Fair Mall and the transit station is shared with local public transit buses operated by the Whatcom Transportation Authority (http://www.ridewta.com/).

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Our first destination of the day was the Fairhaven Historical District in the southern part of Bellingham. We first needed to catch a bus from Cordata Station to Downtown Bellingham, and then another bus from Downtown to Fairhaven. The most direct way from Cordata Station to Downtown is taking the #15 (http://www.ridewta.com/route_15). I love public transit so was excited to try the public transit down in Washington.

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First thing I noticed was how clean and modern the transit exchanges were compared to Vancouver. At Cordata Station, it was unique in that instead of having distinct spots for each route, they simply split the station into platforms A and B. The buses stop either at platform A and B and then they line up behind other buses already there. I guess this system is great for smaller towns like Bellingham, probably wouldn’t work too well in the big cities. All the transit exchanges are also staffed by an transit employee, so you can always ask them for help if you are lost. The buses are $1 per route, they take exact change (coin or bill); very affordable. We spent a total of $4 each on public transit the whole day.

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Funny thing I remembered when taking a photo of our bus to Downtown, the bus driver asked me what camera I was using because she was a photographer as well. We exchanged some photographic conversations and she told me that someone recently stole her Panasonic Micro Four Thirds Camera :(. I don’t think she sees many people with cameras around their neck in Bellingham (tourists), and we started talking about Vancouver and she was saying how the Celebration of Lights Fireworks in August were awesome and welcomed us to her little town. What a nice way to be welcomed into Bellingham!

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The bus was very quick, we got to Downtown in ~20 minutes. Along the way, the streets were very quiet, it sort of reminded me of Victoria, BC. Downtown Bellingham has the major transit exchange in Bellingham: Bellingham Station. This is pretty much the central spot for connections. We wanted some McDonald’s for breakfast but realized there’s no McDonald’s in the Downtown area. It was around 9:00 am and most of the stores were closed. We found a small cafe that was open so we went there.

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This is the type of place where if I was in Vancouver I wouldn’t go to, but when you are a tourist it doesn’t matter. The food was decent and filling. I said it was a little pricy, but both of us laughed when “K” said it was cheaper than IHOP. Now THAT place is expensive for breakfast.

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After breakfast, we headed to the Fairhaven Historical District (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g58350-d4003878-Reviews-Fairhaven_Historic_District-Bellingham_Washington.html). From Bellingham Station, there are two bus options: #14 (http://www.ridewta.com/route_14) or the #401 (http://www.ridewta.com/route_401). The #401 is the faster, more direct option running along Bellingham Bay, while the #14 passes through the Western Washington University campus and several residential neighborhoods. I recommend taking one bus there, and the other bus back, so you get to see more of Bellingham. 

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Bellingham has several bus routes they refer to as “GO Lines”. These “GO Lines” have bus service every 15 minutes on weekdays. The #401 is the RED “GO Line”. We found that transit is quite reliable and always on-time, benefits of a small town I guess.

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Bellingham Bay acts as the backdrop of Fairhaven, making for some amazing scenery.

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Fairhaven contains several blocks of historical buildings, many of them appear to have been restored with their historical flair intact. Everyone was smiling and all the shopkeepers were happy to see visitors to their stores. Perhaps it was a weekday, but we did not see any car license plates from Canada, nor did we see ANY Asian people besides ourselves; we laughed the whole trip about how we were pretty much the only Asians in town haha. Most of the visitors were from Washington State.

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There was a gift shop which also contained a small visitor information office. My friend was looking for Bellingham/Fairhaven postcards for her friend. We bought a few, and returned to the store later get some more. The shopkeeper recognized us as it was pretty quiet that day, and we had some small talk about Vancouver. People here are really friendly!

Pictured below is a outdoor square which was hosting a farmer’s market. The square is also used for outdoor movies. The walls were beautifully painted.

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I really enjoyed walking around the small neighbourhood and poking into the different stores; really appreciated the touristy, small-town feeling.

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We grabbed a map of the area and noticed that there was a Marine Park beside Bellingham Bay. So we walked about 10 minutes from the neighbourhood down to the park. Turns out this is where the Alaska Cruise and the Amtrak Train Station is. I was worried that it would be a really hot day, but the constant sea breeze blowing from the bay made for comfortable temperatures. “K” was actually freezing!

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The views of Bellingham Bay from the park were spectacular. It was a very windy day. I won’t post the shots of our crazy hair when we were at the park ;)

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There were a number of different restaurants there, I had previously looked them up and decided on an Italian place. But we saw some places with fish and chips, a Thai restaurant, etc.

We had lunch at Mambo Italiano Cafe (http://mamboitalianocafe.com/). I had the Oyster Poor Boy Panini (breaded and pan fried local oysters with aioli, lettuce, tomato, house dressing). It was huge. I was still pretty full from breakfast so I finished half of it and just ate the rest of the oysters.

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My friend had a soup and a salad.

We were done checking out the neighbourhood, so we took the bus back to Downtown Bellingham.

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After the touristy feel of Fairhaven, Downtown Bellingham certainly felt a bit different. Downtown was more a “functional” area, providing daily goods and services to residents. The area is bigger than Fairhaven, but you could still walk around most of Downtown in 1 to 2 hours. We didn’t check out any of the museums in Downtown, but some of them such as MINDPORT (http://www.mindport.org/) and the Spark Museum of Electrical Innovation (http://www.sparkmuseum.org/) seemed interesting.

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We finished our walk around Downtown with ice cream at Mallard Ice Cream (http://mallardicecream.com/). I decided on ice cream there because of high ratings on Yelp and Urbanspoon. The shop design was very modern, reminded me of bubble tea cafes in Richmond. They had many interesting flavours, we shared this one: Chocolate Chip Cookie in Vanilla and Mint Oreo. I thought the taste was a bit weird LOL.

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The last part of our day trip was taking the bus to Bellis Fair Mall (http://www.bellisfair.com/), which is within walking distance of Cordata Station, where we board the BoltBus back to Vancouver. I had heard a lot of things about this mall, because it is always featured in Vancouver’s news broadcasts when they talk about cross-border shopping. I had an expectation that it was similar to malls like Pacific Centre, Metropolis at Metrotown and Richmond Center (i.e. huge malls with many name brands). Both of us were quite disappointed because it felt more like Brentwood Mall, Lougheed Mall and Capilano Mall. We finished walking around the mall in a hour or so. The target audience isn’t really young people, but more family-oriented because they have stores like Macy’s, TARGET, jcpenney, etc. The pictures below were taken with my phone so excuse the quality!

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Grabbed dinner for $5 for 20 McNuggets at the McDonalds at the mall :D.

We walked over to Cordata Station, about a 10 minute walk, and waited for the BoltBus back to Vancouver. The ride back was just as good as the ride going, “K” had a nap while I was looking and laughing to myself like an idiot at the photos in the camera that you have all just seen! Arriving back in Vancouver right at 10:00 pm, we heard another group which had just finished traveling all over the U.S. say, “We made it!”, I joked to “K”, “We made it!”; “K” gives me a look of disapproval…

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Thank you for reading and hope your trip will be just as pleasant as mine!