Bellingham (/ˈbɛlɪŋhæm/ US dict: bĕl′·ĭng·hăm) is the largest city in, and the county seat of, Whatcom County in the State of Washington. It is the twelfth-largest city in the state, with 80,885 residents at the 2010 Census, or fifth-largest by metropolitan area after Seattle-Tacoma, the northern side of the Portland metropolitan area, Spokane metro area, and the Tri-Cities. The boundaries of the city encompass the former towns of Fairhaven, Whatcom, Sehome, and Bellingham.
The name of Bellingham is derived from the bay on which the city is situated. George Vancouver, who visited the area in June 1792, named the bay for Sir William Bellingham, the controller of the storekeeper's account of the Royal Navy. Prior to Euro-American settlement, Bellingham was in the homeland of Coast Salish peoples of the Lummi and neighboring tribes. The first Caucasian settlers reached the area in 1854. In 1858, the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush caused thousands of miners, storekeepers, and scalawags to head north from California. Whatcom (Bellingham's original name) grew overnight from a small northwest mill town to a bustling seaport, the basetown for the Whatcom Trail, which led to the Fraser Canyon goldfields, used in open defiance of colonial Governor James Douglas's edict that all entry to the gold colony be made via Victoria, British Columbia.
The mean annual salary of a wage earner in Bellingham is $37,990, which is below the Washington State average of $44,710. Adjusted for inflation, wages in Bellingham and Whatcom County have been declining for more than 30 years as service-oriented jobs gain prominence in the local economy, and goods production (mining, construction and manufacturing) decline as a share of total employment. Service oriented jobs now constitute at least 77% of all non-agricultural employment in Whatcom County. Between 1989 and 1999 median household income grew 41% in Whatcom County while housing costs grew 108% over the same period. In each year 1998–2000 the average wage in Whatcom County was not enough to afford a two-bedroom rental unit.
- The Ski to Sea race is a team relay race made up of seven legs: cross country skiing, downhill skiing (or snowboarding), running, road biking, canoeing (2 person), mountain biking, and kayaking. The racers begin at the Mount Baker Ski Area and make their way down to the finish line on Bellingham Bay. Organized by the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the event was first held in 1973 and traces it roots to the 1911 Mt. Baker Marathon.
- The Bellingham Bay Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K held the last Sunday every September attracts over 3,000 athletes. The point-to-point marathon course starts at Gooseberry Point on Lummi Indian Reservation, then circumnavigates Bellingham Bay while offering sea & mountain vistas with several miles along a bluff overlooking the bay, through rural farmland, through beautiful neighborhoods, along waterfront greenways and over top Bellingham Bay before returning to an exciting finish downtown. 100% of net proceeds of the event benefit non-profit Whatcom County youth organizations.
- The Bellingham Highland Games & Scottish Festival is held every year at Ferndale’s Hovander Park the first full weekend in June. The outdoor event celebrates Scottish culture and heritage, with two days of games, spectator sports, dancing, music and food.
- Whatcom Community College and Whatcom Human Rights Taskforce host the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference on MLK weekend every January. Event workshops, guest speakers, a silent auction and food address the general theme of Human Rights as expressed in the teachings of Dr. King. This event has been held since 1998.
- LinuxFest Northwest is a free conference dedicated to discussion and development of the Linux operating system and other open-source and free-software projects. Held at Bellingham Technical College during the last weekend in April, it draws more than a thousand Linux enthusiasts from across the northwestern US and western Canada. Since the first conference in 2000 it has become one of the largest events of its kind.
- The annual International Day of Peace is celebrated in Bellingham on September 21. The holiday was instituted by the United Nations as a 24-hour global cease-fire. The Bellingham-based Whatcom Peace & Justice Center publishes a calendar of upcoming activist events with a theme of non-violence, community dissent, and worldwide Peace.
Although Bellingham is smaller than neighboring metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Vancouver, or Victoria, the city and its surrounding region offer many attractions which are popular for both residents and visitors. The Whatcom Museum of History and Art sponsors exhibits of painting, sculpture, local history, and is an active participant in the city's monthly Gallery Walks which are pedestrian tours of the historic buildings of the city, offering history and art lessons for local schools and adult groups, and historic cruises on Bellingham Bay. The Bellingham Railway Museum
is where one may find educational displays explaining the history of railroading in Whatcom County, as well as model trains, and a freight-train simulator.
The SPARK Museum Of Electrical Invention
, formerly known as the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, is a unique local establishment which features a collection of rare artifacts from 1580 into the 1950s, providing educational resources about the history of electronics and radio broadcasting. The AMRE also operates KMRE-LP 102.3 FM, a low-power FM radio station which broadcasts a number of old shows popular many decades ago, as well as programming of general interest to the local community. Mindport is a privately funded arts and science museum, and is also occasionally involved in the Gallery Walks.
The Bellingham International Airport offers regularly scheduled commuter flights to and from Seattle and Friday Harbor
, Washington, and regularly scheduled jet service to Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, and Palm Springs, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Reno, Nevada, and Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona. In 2010 Alaska airlines began regularly scheduled direct flights to Hawaii. The airport is home of the first Air and Marine Operations Center, to assist the US Department of Homeland Security with border surveillance.
Being located on a major highway, halfway between two major cities, Bellingham has traditionally had a natural advantage of drawing many diverse and highly acclaimed acts to perform at various venues. The presence of a large university-age population has helped Bellingham in that it has been home to a number of regionally and nationally noted musical groups such as Death Cab for Cutie, The Posies, Crayon, Idiot Pilot, Mono Men, No-Fi Soul Rebellion, Sculptured, Federation X, The Trucks, Black Eyes and Neckties, Black Breath, and Shook Ones. Local independent record labels include Estrus Records and Clickpop Records. The town is also home to What's Up! Magazine – a publication devoted to the local music scene for over 15 years, as well as being the hometown of the worldwide "Lemonade Magazine" which is devoted to music and entertainment of all kinds.