Bellingham, WA

Population: 84,462

Key findings

  • Bellingham has a Livability Score of 72/100, which is considered excellent
  • Bellingham crime rates are 7% higher than the Washington average
  • Cost of living in Bellingham is 4% higher than the Washington average
  • Bellingham real estate prices are 14% higher than the Washington average
  • Rental prices in Bellingham are 12% lower than the Washington average

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      Bellingham Reviews

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      Review Bellingham
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      Living in Bellingham. What Seattle was, 50 years ago.

      Attractions7/10
      Community7/10
      Nightlife5/10
      Dining5/10
      Shopping5/10
      Bellingham is a true Northwest city. What I mean by that, is if you are already from the Northwest and enjoy what the Northwest has to offer, then you will like living in Bellingham. Bellingham has very typical Northwest type weather (think Seattle), so if you are coming from an area that gets 200+ days of sun per year, you may have a problem with Bellingham. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, we get a lot of gray damp days here. However, when the sun does come out during the last week of July...LOL (only kidding), we actually get quite a bit of sun during the summer months. Anyway, when the sun does bless us with it's presence here in Bellingham, it is so awesome around here that you tend to have a very short memory of the winter you just endured. Okay, a quick word about the wind. Just to the north of Bellingham is the Frazier River valley. During the winter months we occasionally experience what we refer to as the "Frazier Blow". The Frazier river valley comes out of the northeastern part of Canada just to the north of us. A few times a year during the winter the wind comes howling out of the mountains to the north and funnels down thru the Frazier valley and exits right about where the Bellingham airport is located just to the north of the city. If you are in Bellingham proper, you may not even know it is blowing. But if you venture just a bit to the north, you will encounter an entirely different world when the Frazier Blow is cooking. Yes, housing to the north of the city of Bellingham is more affordable, but there is a reason.

      Okay, a word about housing here in Bellingham city limits. It's not as high as Seattle, but it is high, and going higher. Apparently Bellingham is getting more discovered all the time. If you want to purchase a home here you need to be very aggressive and be prepared to submit a very strong offer to get a house that has anything going for it. Bellingham proper is divided up into two main parts. Old Bellingham with the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods, and then the Fairhaven area to the south. In between these two areas is Western WA University. Fairhaven is much more upscale than the rest of Bellingham with many view properties and a very trendy "downtown" area. Real estate prices are significantly higher in Fairhaven, with prices starting well above 500-600K for anything worthwhile. In the other parts of Bellingham, you will need to be looking in the 400K+ range to find something you might like. Yes, you can still find nice homes under 400K, but not if you want to be close to downtown. You can still find homes under 400K, but these will be more in the outlying newer cookie cutter type neighborhoods. A nice home in close to the city that does't need a complete remodel, and is more than 1,200 sq ft, and has more than one bathroom, will cost you,...If you can even find one. Real estate in Bellingham is affected by the same geographical stresses that Seattle is affected by. We have the salt water on one side, a large lake on the other side, and a large college campus in the middle with a giant hill to the south. The only area for housing expansion is to the north. Predictably, rents are very high here too. Part of that is on account of the large university here in town. The city government is trying different things to promote more affordable rents, but it will no doubt continue to be a tight market for real estate purchases or rentals. And yes, Bellingham is subject in a certain degree to the big city phenomenon we have all grown to know as "homelessness". (A little secret...for the most part, it's actually a "drug problem"). Anyway, It appears that any city of any size at all here on the west coast is suffering from this, and Bellingham is no exception. Hopefully the city planners will learn something from their much larger neighbors to the south (Seattle and San Fran) and come to the realization that simply throwing money at it in the form of housing vouchers, etc; does not help, and in the long run may actually make things worse. Look up "Seattle is Dying". The homelessness/drug addiction problem in Bellingham is so far, a very small town affair and can stay that way if the city planners and surrounding population realize it is not simply a "housing problem". Hopefully we will never read the headline "Bellingham is Dying".

      Some people complain about the traffic here, but I am originally from Seattle. Yes, Bellingham does have it's traffic problems, especially if you are trying to come into town via one of the main arterials from the more outlying neighborhoods. After you have lived here for awhile, you learn which bottleneck arterials to avoid. Bellingham still has an actual "rush hour". Not like Seattle, where rush hour begins at 6:30am, and lasts till 8:30pm. I think everybody in Bellingham actually gets off work right at 5:00pm, have their rush hour, and then they all take a seat at one of the local breweries.

      Did I mention Breweries? It seems like a new one is opening every few months. In Seattle, it seems like there is always room for another coffee shop. Here it seems there are never enough small breweries. If you like to sample the local fare when it comes to beer, you will likely be able to walk or at least ride a bike to one of the many breweries. Some will offer a food menu, while others depend on the local food trucks to provide a reason to wander over to the brewfest. As if we need a reason.

      I'll sum it up with this last paragraph. A lot of people like living in Seattle because of northwest vibe and all the outdoor activities such as hiking, getting out on the water, visiting the surrounding islands of the sound, skiing, bike riding, etc. The thing I noticed right off when I moved to Bellingham is that this is a city that actually works. In addition to a very northwest vibe, it is a city that for now, still works like a city should. Unlike Seattle, things are accessible here. From downtown, I can be hiking a very alpine type trail within 15-20 min. I can be up skiing at Mt Baker in 80-90 min. I can go out and do errands virtually any time of day and not have to plan the whole outing around traffic. Interstate 5, the main freeway that runs through town is hardly ever moving under the speed limit. It actually works! The airport which has Alaska and Allegiant as tenants is about 10-15 min away, depending. Just about anything you need to do here is no more than 10-15 drive away, and most things are closer. And if you do need to visit the big city to the south, (sorry bout that),...it is only 90 miles away. Notice I said miles, and not time. How long it will take you to get to Seattle is anyones guess.
      • 5 -2
      Drawbacks outweigh attractions

      Attractions5/10
      Community5/10
      Nightlife4/10
      Dining4/10
      Shopping4/10
      A lot of people love Bellingham, but if I had known what I know now, I would not have moved here. Too few housing options, way too expensive for what you get. I can't even imagine trying to live here on less than $75,000 a year. (Roomates? No thanks.) As more and more people get sick of Seattle and the Bay Area, prices are only going to go up. A century of extractive industry has been replaced by gentrification. Not sure which is worse. In terms of community, I have found most people to be friendly, if weird at times. I like the emphasis on environmentally conscious living but feel like a lot of it is being cancelled out by the area's high growth rate. I am liberal on many issues but would hesitate to express any conservative opinions in Bellingham. For all the talk of diversity, it is incredibly lacking in racial diversity or diversity of thought. Western Washington University has a pretty campus but is a fairly undistinguished regional school without much ambition. Incredibly dreary weather. If you're thinking about moving here, be aware that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real problem. I can handle the winters myself, but what I didn't realize I'd have to deal with is other people feeling down for six months out of the year. I get really tired of that. The summers, I'll admit, are awesome. Fantastic hiking and kayaking. And there are some great breweries. Are those things worth paying double or triple for mediocre housing? For me, they aren't.
      • 6 0
      World-class city if you can afford it

      Attractions10/10
      Community9/10
      Nightlife10/10
      Dining10/10
      Shopping10/10
      Bellingham is a world-class city, it has everything a major city has without being the size of say Seattle. City is great for couples, families, young people, singles, retirees and so on. Bellingham is consistently ranked on a national scale among the healthiest, best, happiest and fastest growing metro areas but, of course this city like any other has it's issues and growing pains. It's been growing at a quick rate for the past twenty years and it is almost unrecognizable now as it was in the late 90's (population wise). With nearly 114,000+ people it's no longer a smaller city which is showing more and more as the issues typically dealt with in big cities are residing here now. Cost of living is throw the roof with it being impossible for 90% of the country to buy a home or live comfortably within city limits, homelessness problems especially in the downtown core, violent-crime and crime in general is particularly bad now, traffic and parking is a big issue (during rush hour... no thank you) are just a few of these problems. Bellingham has amazing public schools, neighborhoods, economy, diversity, small/local businesses, job opportunities (tech field especially), political activeness, public transportation etc. the list goes on. Basically if you're able to afford to live here I' d highly recommend this place otherwise don't bother. Homes are very expensive and rent is very high as well, to buy a home in Bellingham will cost you near $500,000+ depending on the area, type of home, and land it's on (you'll find many homes in mediocre neighborhoods with 2 bed, 1 bath less than 1,000 sq ft for at least $380,000). Renting will be costly too as most property in the city will cost you about $2,000/month and certain neighborhoods even being up to $3,500/month. Keeping that in mind if you can afford it or don't mind 5 roommates it's a wonderful city.
      • 3 -3
      Diversity is it's strength and weakness

      Attractions8/10
      Community8/10
      Nightlife8/10
      Dining8/10
      Shopping8/10
      Bellingham is pleasant in the summer. There is lots going on, and the downtown is active. Unfortunately it attracts a lot of homeless and panhandlers, perhaps because of its liberal reputation and expensive housing. Traffic and parking can be problematic, and the layout of the city is not easy to negotiate. Big mountains are nearby and the ocean of course is close by.
      • 2 -2
      Bellingham, Washington - Staring to Grow on Me

      Attractions5/10
      Community6/10
      Nightlife5/10
      Dining5/10
      Shopping6/10
      Although it is a very scenic and pretty seaside city, I went to Bellingham winter of 07 and didn't have the best time of my life. Bellingham has some pretty good skiing but most of the time it was too cold to do anything else like hiking, or mountain climbing.

      My wife and kids loved the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center which is basically a big community pool, but I hated the commotion of the general pool area and the lack of diversity. They also enjoyed the long Bellingham hiking trails available.

      The one thing I enjoyed greatly was the golf course which truly is one of the best in the state. The course was your standard 18-hole, but had a bar with a great big screen tv, snack bar, practice area and we even received a complementary golf lesson.

      The restaurants in Bellingham were average, often times restaurants had a menu of only fish dishes, which unless you love fish is annoying, and the food was lacking in taste for how much it cost.

      I went to Bellingham again with my business partner in the spring of 2010 and actually enjoyed myself more. The city is much more enjoyable in the warmer months. Bellingham is a spring or fall city, if you go in the winter be prepared to have a lousy time.
      • 1 -5
      Reason for reporting
      Source: The Bellingham, WA data and statistics displayed above are derived from the 2016 United States Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS).