Top 20
Best College Towns in America

American Institute for Economic Research, 2018

Living in Bellingham

Welcome the adventure of living in one of America's best outdoor towns. Located between two world-class cities in the Pacific Northwest, you will love living in a vibrant urban city surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery.

Students love to call Bellingham home. Living here you will find all the advantages of a large city, with the charm and adventure of a unique location. Bellingham sits between the mountains and sea, and you will love living where community and adventure meet.

The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a geographic region in the northwestern USA, reaching from the Rocky Mountains west to the Pacific Ocean. The region is famous for its beautiful coastline, green scenery, and spectacular mountain ranges, with some of the nation’s most impressive national parks.

People who call this area home are often eco-friendly, progressive, and ruggedly independent. This is an area well-known for innovation, where you can begin your career at some of the largest and most influential American companies.

Bellingham is uniquely placed at the heart of the Pacific Northwest, nestled between the mountains and the sea. Living here you can discover your inner adventurer by exploring iconic cities, trying countless outdoor activities, and becoming part of a welcoming community.

Things to Do in Bellingham

Bellingham is an eclectic city that thrives off of creativity. With an active community and beautiful location, you will find there are endless opportunities to explore while living in Bellingham.

Wilderness and Adventure

In the Mountains

Bellingham sits at the base of Mount Baker, the third-highest mountain in Washington. It is also one of the snowiest locations in the world and even has its own ski resort. Students at Western can get discounted season passes to Mount Baker, where you can ski, snowboard, snowshoe, sled, and much more. There are also over 2,400 miles of trails with routes perfect for new and experienced explorers. You can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, and even camping overlooking incredible scenic views.

On the Water

If you don't want to head into the mountains, you can try something new out on the water. Bellingham is considered the “Best Paddling town in the USA” by Outside magazine, and it is a great place to try kayaking, paddleboarding, and even sailing. For a more relaxed day out, you can experience the unique ecosystem by taking a ferry to nearby islands or meeting friends at the beach.

Explore the City

Great Food

A 10-minute bus ride from campus takes you downtown, where you can meander the city streets to find farmers markets, unique bookstores, and restaurants serving locally sourced food. With everything from pizza to phở, you can easily find the food you love.

Great Coffee

Coffee is a popular part of life in the Pacific Northwest, and Bellingham is one of the best cities to grab a cup. There are many local coffee shops and bistros where you can meet with friends, relax, and study.

Arts and Culture

Bellingham is home to a vibrant artistic community and a great city for music, theater, and art. Some of America's most popular bands were founded in Bellingham. Many touring musicians stop at the popular venues in the city for a show, and there is an active student music scene. If you like theater, comedy, and films, there are multiple theaters throughout the city where you can take in a show or get involved in a class.

Welcome to Bellingham

Join the Community

Students watch the sunset over Bellingham Bay.

Getting involved in student life on campus is an important aspect of the American education experience. There are over 200 clubs and student organizations at Western so you can find people with similar interests or try new things.

Getting Around the City

It's easy to travel around Bellingham, and you can walk to most destinations. Public transport will take you just about anywhere, and students receive a discount for many travel options.

Biking Around Town

Biking is a popular activity in Bellingham, and the city makes it an easy pastime for you to enjoy. There are several streets within the city limits that offer designated bike lanes. If you like mountain biking, there are many trails that are easily accessible from campus or around the city. These trails will take you around nearby lakes, through local parks, and up mountain trails.

Viking eBikes

As part of Western's commitment to sustainability, the Office of Sustainability currently has an electric bike program on campus. You can reserve a bike for four days, or discuss the option of a quarter-long loan. Western hopes that with this new initiative they will soon be able to provide the bikes to more students, staff, and faculty, reducing the need for car journeys.

FIXIT Station

There are four locations on campus, called FIXIT stations, where you can find all the tools you might need for basic bike repairs and maintenance. The stations are funded by the Sustainable Action Fund.

Annual Events

Each summer, the Tour de Whatcom brings nearly 1,000 bike riders to Bellingham. Beginning in downtown Bellingham, riders have a choice of three routes for enjoying the surrounding county. If you want to attend even more cycling events throughout the year, there is also the Chuckanut Classic, and the Bellingham Traverse - an event for solo, tandem and relay teams.

Local Bus 

For every quarter you are registered for classes, your Western ID becomes a student bus pass for the local Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA), providing unlimited rides on all WTA bus routes.

Late Night Shuttle

Your Western ID can also be used on the Late Night Shuttle, available only to Western students, though you can also take one guest. The Late Night Shuttle runs two specific routes across campus 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sundays. There is even an app so you can get real-time shuttle updates.

Within one mile of campus you can access dining, shopping, and entertainment. It's only a 15-minute walk from campus to downtown Bellingham, where you can see live music and enjoy the city.

Many of the things you need regularly are right on campus, including dining options, cafe's, and a post-office.

A University partnership with Zipcar means there are three locations on campus where you can quickly and easily rent a car for a few hours. For a small monthly fee you will have 24/7 access to Zipcars, with discounted hourly rates for students. Gas, insurance, and maintenance are all included in the rental price. To get started, just register online. International students with a driver's license from outside of the U.S. can supply a color copy of your driver's license and passport attached to their Zipcar application.

Travel Further

Studying abroad in the USA is a great opportunity to explore life in America, explore a new country, and even travel to other nearby countries. While living in Bellingham, you will be uniquely located between two world-class cities: Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Discover Washington & America

Traveling by car, you can reach Seattle in two hours, where you can visit the famous Space Needle and Pike Place Market. There are also Amtrak Cascades trains between Bellingham and Seattle that are a great option to see more of the incredible Pacific Northwest scenery. About two miles from campus you can get a train at the Fairhaven Transportation Center, providing daily services south to Seattle and Portland, or north to Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Students receive a 15% discount on Amtrak, and tickets are available online or from the station.

Washington is famous for its ferry transportation. From Bellingham, you can take a ferry north to Alaska, or drive to nearby Anacortes and take a ferry to the famous San Juan Islands. This trip is another great way to see the unique scenery and wildlife, and it is not uncommon to see dolphins and whales.

From Bellingham International Airport you can explore more of the USA with direct flights to Portland, Denver, Las Vegas, and many more. Plan a connecting flight to travel across the country to places like Hawaii or New York.

Discover Canada

The Canadian border separating Washington from British Columbia is only a half hour drive from downtown Bellingham, making it easy for you to visit Canada and explore another country. Exciting Vancouver, B.C. is just an hour and a half away by car, and a ferry from the city will take you across Puget Sound to Victoria. You can also take the ferry from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, B.C. and drive a short distance to Victoria. 

Before you travel outside the USA, be sure to contact the embassy or consulate of the country you will visit to inquire about customs, visas, and travel procedures. Generally, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after the date you travel. Citizens of some countries are required to obtain a visa to visit Canada. You can apply for a Canadian tourist visa through the Consulate General of Canada in Seattle.

Living in the USA

Learn more about life in America and what to expect when you move to the USA.