On our first visit to Bellingham’s Fairhaven district last summer, my companion and I left from Seattle for an impromptu Sunday afternoon drive on scenic Chuckanut Drive. Arriving in Fairhaven, we browsed in a few shops, had dinner, and decided right away that we’d be back for a longer visit. Since then, we’ve returned twice for overnight stays to discover more of this unique historic district.
Many of Fairhaven’s restored brick buildings date back to the late 1800s when the town went through a boom-and-bust decade that brought 35 new hotels and boarding houses, 30 saloons, bordellos, and a 500-seat opera house. All the growth was to prepare for a potential new railroad terminus, but in the end another location (Seattle) was chosen.
A quiet area for decades, in the 1960s Fairhaven became a popular “hippie haven.” In recent years development has brought new condos and hotels, a thriving downtown district of independent stores and restaurants (no chain stores or fast food), and fun events and activities, including a weekly farmers market and outdoor movies at the Village Green.
Several dozen shops line the streets of Fairhaven. We loved browsing through the three-story independent bookstore Village Books, on the corner of 11th St. and Mill Ave. The cleverly named Fair Trade Haven, 1210 11th St., carries fair trade items from around the world, as well as products by local artisans using “green” practices and materials. At the open-air garden shop A Lot of Flowers, 1212 11th St., you’ll find flowers of course, and garden sculptures and gift items too. For another kind of garden, check out Fairhaven Toy Garden, 1147 11th St., and its great selection of wood toys, art supplies, kites, musical instruments, and much more.
Another shop with a clever name, Mud in Your Eye, 911 Harris Ave., caught our eye with its assortment of handcrafted pottery. Renaissance Celebration, 915 Harris Ave., features bright, colorful glass art and jewelry. At Two Turtle Doves, 909 Harris Ave., we admired luxury imported bedding, attractively displayed in bedroom vignettes. The owners also run Three French Hens, 1100 Harris Ave., a “boutique for chicks” housed in an 1800s bank building. They are planning to open a housewares and linens shop this spring called A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
Fairhaven has nearly two dozen restaurants, with cuisine ranging from Asian to “Wine Bar.” We visited Skylarks Hidden Café, 1308B 11th St., one summer evening and sampled the varied menu. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the two-level restaurant features free live music several nights a week. At Dirty Dan Harris, 1211 11th St., we enjoyed the very private booths, classy atmosphere and décor, and tasty seafood and steak for dinner. The Colophon Café, 1208 11th St., is tops for breakfast pastries and quiche, and hearty sandwiches and soups at lunch. Their legendary desserts include Peanut Butter Pie, which was so rich and tasty that we shared half and saved the rest for later.
Past downtown Fairhaven but within walking distance, is Fino Wine Bar, 804 10th St., a waterfront restaurant located in the Chrysalis Inn and Spa (see below). We enjoyed a simple but tasty breakfast buffet there, and room service from the European-themed menu for a late dinner. Next time we’ll come for dinner and wine as the sun sets over the bay.
Just outside the Inn, the Taylor Avenue Dock and Boardwalk runs six-tenths of a mile along the scenic waterfront; at the end is Boulevard Park and Woods Coffee, 470 Bayview. The cozy coffee shop has an indoor-outdoor fireplace that’s nice to sit by while sipping coffee outdoors in brisk weather.
The Chrysalis Inn and Spa (804 10th St., 888-808-0005, www.thechrysalisinn.com) is a few blocks north of the historical district; an easy walk via the South Bay Trail. Built just seven years ago, it features Northwest woodsy architecture with a beautiful open staircase. The rooms are spacious and serene, each with water views, a window seat (that can also be an extra twin bed), two-person bath, gas fireplace, and luxurious robes and bedding. Suites provide even more space, and the corner suites feature two-person Jacuzzi tubs by a waterfront view window. The spa offers a full menu of treatments and a steam room open to all hotel guests. Packages that include both lodging and spa services are available. Room rates start at $189/night and include breakfast and secure underground parking.
Right across from the Village Green, the Fairhaven Village Inn, (1200 10th St., 877-733-1100, www.fairhavenvillageinn.com) is also fairly new yet its architecture blends well with the historical buildings. The location couldn’t be more convenient; we parked the car and took off on foot to explore all of Fairhaven right outside. Parkside rooms provide views of the park and historic district. Bayside rooms overlook the working waterfront and bay and have fireplaces and balconies too. All of the rooms are quite spacious, with club chairs and cozy down bedding. Rates start at $159/night and include breakfast.
With its charming blend of old and new architecture, unique shops, diverse restaurants, endless photo-ops, and lovely hotels, we plan to make Fairhaven a regular getaway destination.
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