It doesn’t rain every day all winter long in Whatcom County. It just seems that way.
With another winter upon us, parents face the annual challenge to get kids out of the house without getting them soaking wet.
The good news: Bellingham and Whatcom County are richly-endowed with enough indoor attractions to fill up those weekend, holiday and teacher-training days when rain splatters the window panes.
Here are some options for rainy day fun, including both contemplative and active options.
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In downtown Bellingham, the Whatcom Museum provides a number of attractions that should amuse youngsters within a wide range of ages and interests. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday.
For the little ones, there’s the Family Interactive Gallery in the main Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St. It features a variety of play stations with costumes, play theater, building sets and nature- and farm-related activities, as well as arts and crafts.
The Lightcatcher also includes the museum’s current art exhibits, which are always worth a look for museumgoers of all ages. Current offerings include photographs of marine invertebrates, ending Dec. 31, and a traveling exhibit billed as “National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs,” ending Jan. 15, 2017.
Don’t forget the old museum still operating in the onetime City Hall Building at 121 Prospect St. This grand 1892 red brick structure was the city’s main museum until the Lightcatcher opened in 2009. The building itself may be the biggest attraction – its interior is also impressive – but don’t forget the displays that recreate late 19th Century living rooms and bedrooms. The kids will especially enjoy seeing the toys included in the recreated children’s rooms.
A visit to the old museum is included in the admission price for the new Whatcom Museum.
As of fall 2016, admission to the museum was $10 for adults, $8 for ages 6-17, and $5 for ages 2-5. If you and your family expect to be regular museum visitors, check out a variety of annual membership options that include free admissions for a year, explained in detail on the museum’s website. You can also find information about special events, programs and tours.
Another not-to-be-missed downtown attraction is the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, 1312 Bay St. It features an eye-popping collection of old radios and phonographs. It also has displays outlining the development of even older electronic technologies, such as the telegraph, the telephone and the battery, allowing visitors to learn about scientific discoveries that laid the foundation for the electronics-driven civilization we live in today.
This is not one of those museums stuffed with pictures and replicas. For the most part, the materials on display here are the real article, and many of them are genuine rarities.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. General admission is $8, or $5 for children under 11. Spark Museum also offers annual memberships; the website has details.
Also worth a peek downtown are Mindport Exhibits, combining science and art at 201 W. Holly St., and the Bellingham Railway Museum at 1320 Commercial St. The railway museum features a big old Lionel model train layout that kids can operate, but not touch.
If your youngsters are of a suitable age and temperament, the Old Town area along Holly Street is just a short walk from downtown museums. There are several quirky shops in the area, crammed with an assortment of everything from valuable antiques to old junk. Kids may find a few curios in their price range.
Don’t forget the Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Ave. – a relaxing place to end your day downtown. In the downstairs children’s section, the librarians are never happier than when they are helping patrons find wonderful new books. But don’t restrict the older kids to the children’s section. Browse the upstairs “oversize” shelves for fascinating illustrated books about art, archeology and architecture.
Here’s one that most people don’t even know about: the Geology Museum in the Environmental Studies Building at Western Washington University. Strong points: It’s free, open from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day but Saturday, and features an interesting array of rocks, minerals and fossils from the region. The only downside here and everywhere else at WWU is parking – check out the university website for instructions on getting a visitor’s parking pass.
If the rain lets up after you’ve seen the rocks, you can roam the campus to check out the outdoor sculpture collection.
Another out-of-the-way option is the Marine Life Center tucked in behind Port of Bellingham headquarters at 1801 Roeder Ave. It consists of a selection of regional marine life displayed in small aquariums, plus a large central tank stocked with fish, crabs and other critters. There is also a tank where you can roll up your sleeves and touch some creatures. Admission is free; donations are welcome. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Lynden Pioneer Museum, 217 Front St., has a strong emphasis on history. Grandparents might enjoy experiencing this one with grandkids. Lovingly-detailed recreations of Victorian living quarters and shops are among the highlights here. A display of antique farm equipment highlights Lynden’s identity as the hub for local agriculture.
The Pioneer Museum is open every day but Sunday. Phone 360-354-3675 for current hours and prices.
Once you and the kids are done with the museum, Front Street has a number of shops worth investigating. A couple of blocks from the museum, Lynden Dutch Bakery or Dutch Mothers Restaurant are good places to tamp down your hunger pangs while completing the Lynden experience.
Okay, all of that mental stimulation is terrific for adults as well as kids, and it may pay off for the youngsters if it boosts those SAT scores in a few more years. But you also want the kids to get some exercise to keep them from bouncing off the living room ceiling all day.
▪ How about bowling? Not a bowler, you say? Well, isn’t it time you tried something new? Local bowling alley staffers are only too happy to help new customers get started in this ancient pastime, practiced in embryonic form in ancient Egypt and Rome. Bowling alleys come equipped with bumpers that can be deployed to stop those annoying gutter balls that would otherwise discourage the novice.
▪ The Bellingham Sportsplex, 1225 Civic Field Way off Lakeway Drive via Orleans Street, has public ice skating and organized indoor sports activities for kids during school breaks. Call 360-676-1919 for information.
▪ Nearby is the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center at 1114 Potter St., the city’s municipal pool complex. The main pool features a 135-foot water slide. Consult the website or call 360-778-7665 for information on open swims as well as organized activities.
▪ In Lynden, you can still experience indoor roller skating at the Lynden Skateway, 421 Judson St. on the alley. The schedule is variable. Check the website or call 360-354-3851 for information.
▪ The Whatcom Family YMCA, with facilities in Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale and Sudden Valley, offers a rich range of physical activities for kids and adults. The Lynden and Bellingham centers feature pools. Bellingham has a climbing wall. That just scratches the surface of the wide range of youth and family activities that include both organized sports leagues and drop-in use of facilities. Day passes for non-members are available. Call 360-733-8630 or consult the website for information.
▪ For kids 10 and under, there’s Perch & Play, 1707 N. State St. This is an indoor space with a couple of play areas: the Pea Patch designed for the small set, and the Backyard for bigger kids. There is also a lounge where adults can kick back while keeping an eye on the young ones, and a small cafe for both adults and children. Consult the website for information on hours and admissions charges, or call 360-393-4925.
▪ For a really high-energy experience, a good bet is the Trampoline Zone, 4201 Meridian St., Suite 107. It features a variety of jumping opportunities calibrated for all ages and skill levels. Little ones will likely enjoy the foam pit, while the bigger youngsters can fantasize about basketball superstardom as they leap up on a trampoline to dunk a basketball. Trampoline Zone is open every day, with varying hours and price rates depending on the day and the age of the child. Call 360-255-0722 or consult the website for details.
Many a Northwest winter day features rainy spells punctuated with breaks of sunshine. On days like that, we have enjoyed many a trip to Larrabee or Birch Bay state parks, where there are cozy picnic shelters. Bring the camp stove, cook up some weenies and a pot of beans and enjoy the sound of rain on the evergreens. When the sun peeks out, dash down to the beach.