Bellingham, Washington Retirement

If you enjoy rainy days, breathtaking scenery and endless outdoor recreation, Bellingham, Washington, population 80,000,  may be the fulfillment of your dreams.  Small-town friendliness and a mellow lifestyle in a college town beckon to many a retiree.  Situated on bluffs overlooking Bellingham Bay, between Vancouver and Seattle, the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Bellingham’s beauty and accessibility are hard to beat.  Awesome rainforests and 10,000 ft. Mt. Baker provide a truly stunning backdrop, and a varied cultural mix of college students, aging hippies and Native Americans make Bellingham a stimulating retirement spot.

Despite development of other towns nearby, Bellingham retains its well-known charm.  Outdoor recreation opportunities are everywhere with 29 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails in and around town.  Skiing, kayaking, golf (14 public courses), river rafting, cruises, climbing, clamming and crabbing are just a sample of the activities available.  Museums, the oldest operating theatre in the Northwest which presents Broadway shows, and the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra provide cultural amenities.  Annual events such as the Ski-to-Sea Race from Mt. Baker to the Bay, Holland Days and the Mt. Baker Blues Festival add to the variety of events available to retirees.  For opera buffs or ballet aficionados, Seattle is just 90 minutes away, and Vancouver, 60.

Housing is available and includes single family homes, apartments, condominiums and townhomes.    Prices are above the national average; an average home sells for $150,000.  Health care is good.  St. Joseph’s Hospital is a two-campus, acute care facility with comprehensive medical coverage in all areas.   Interstate 5 and two state highways serve the area as does the Bellingham International Airport.

A drawback to retirement here might be Bellingham’s high unemployment rate.  Since this is a college town, competition for available jobs can be stiff.  But at the same time, the presence of Western Washington University, a four year liberal arts college with a student population of 11,000, adds to the town’s vibrancy.  Seniors aged 60 and older can take classes at no charge (on a space available basis) and enroll in programs as diverse as art, business and environmental studies.

Retirees can also take advantage of the Bellingham Senior Center.  For $16 a year, seniors can enroll in classes, receive tax advice and participate in health screenings.  AARP and the OWLs (Older Women’s League) also offer programs.


Climate:  The elevation here is 150 above sea level.  Average January high is 42 degrees, and the average January low is 31 degrees.  Average summer high temperature is 72 degrees, and the low is 53 degrees.  The area receive 35 inches of rain and 14 inches of snow yearly.  Humidity ranges from 49% to 75%.

Cost-of-Living:  The cost-of-living is 25% above the national average, and housing is 40% above the national norm.  Medical care is 20% to 50% above the national average.

Health Care:  St. Joseph Hospital is a two-campus, acute-care facility.  

Housing:  The average price of a new 3 bedroom home is $310,000.  Two bedroom apartments can be found for $950 a month.

Taxes:  There is no state income tax.  State and local sales tax is 7.8%, and groceries are exempt.  Property taxes are $13 per $1,000 of assessed value, and homes are assessed at 100% of market value.  Seniors age 61 and older may receive some tax exemptions if they have lived in their home for over a year.

Safety:  Bellingham’s crime rate is slightly higher than the national average.  Violent crime, however, is rare.

Contact:  Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1801 Roeder Ave., #140, Bellingham, WA  98227, (306) 734-1330.