Visiting Western Washington University

Newcomers who step foot onto Western Washington University’s (WWU) brick-lined campus for the first time often agree that it’s unlike any other university in the state. Located in Bellingham, Washington, WWU is within walking distance of 180 acres of forest and more than 500 downtown businesses. The university’s mid-sized campus is positioned between Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington and is a hub for outdoorsy-types due to its proximity to Mt. Baker and the Puget Sound.

Wilson Library at WWU

The Beginning of a University

WWU began drawing curious minds to Bellingham in the late 1890s.

It was established under the name New Whatcom State Normal School by Governor John H. McGraw and officially began offering classes out of a single, sandstone building on September 6, 1899.

The college was the third publicly-funded school dedicated to training teachers in the state, and the second in Whatcom County.

“Eighty-eight students enrolled the first day of classes,” according to the college’s archives. “By the end of the week, the number grew to 160 and four weeks later to 220.
Although this was a hoped-for, but unexpected outcome, it strained the meager resources of the fledgling operation and ‘pioneer spirit’ was needed by students and staff alike to get through that first year.” That spirit turned out to be enough for WWU, which now has more than 16,000 enrolled students, 175 academic programs and 115,000 graduates.

First Stop, Sculpture Collection

If you’re not sure where to begin your tour of WWU, don’t think twice about exploring the Outdoor Sculpture Collection. The collection is comprised of more than 35 prestigious works the university began collecting in 1960 and is located throughout the campus grounds.

Among the many eye-catching pieces is “Feats of Strength” by Tom Otterness, which is made up of seven bronze figures hoisting rocks atop their heads. The sculptures are set in a landscape of boulders that are setup to replicate the geography of the nearby San Juan Islands.

More than 60 buildings dot WWU’s 200-acre campus. So, if rain is in the forecast, don’t fret!

You can swing by Wilson Library to peruse a book collection (made up of more than 1.5 million volumes), seek out tucked-away study spots or stop by Zoe’s Bookside Bagels for a quick bite.

But be warned, Wilson Library has a reputation for being haunted.

Bronze art at WWU
sculpture at WWU

According to WWU’s campus newspaper The Western Front, some student workers and staff have reportedly had encounters with the spirit of Mabel Zoe Wilson, the library’s first librarian. Wilson worked at the library for 43 years before she retired and later died at the age of 86.

If live music and hot coffee is more your scene, stop by The Underground Coffeehouse located on the third floor of the Viking Union.

The coffee shop serves specialty drinks and pre-packed food and offers plenty of seating in cozy couches. On weeknights, students and visitors can stop by for trivia, stand up, open mic, live concerts and karaoke.

Underground Coffee House at WWU

Sehome Hill Arboretum

If you’re ready to venture off campus, consider taking a hike through the Sehome Hill Arboretum.

The nearly 180-acre forest is located just behind WWU’s campus and contains several trails with a moderate incline. An 80-foot-tall observation tower is located at the summit and offers expansive views of Bellingham, and far beyond.

Places To Eat Near Western Washington University

If you’re hankering for food or drink, make your way downtown. In 2018, more than 200 business licenses were issued for the area, which means there is no shortage of restaurants to choose from.

Try the Gumbo at Bayou on Bay, made with bay shrimp, chicken, local andouille sausage, okra, peppers and onions, or the Butifarra Sandwich at Cafe Rumba, made with house-roasted pork, yam, romaine lettuce, salsa criolla and aji amarillo.

Sip a “Shoe Toss” IPA at Wander Brewing or “Sunnyland” India Pale Ale at Kulshan Brewing.

Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, take a stroll through town and shop!

You’ll find one-of-a-kind artist prints, apparel and housewares at Phoebe Bird, cacti, tropical palms and other indoor plants at Babygreens Plant Shop and Cafe, and handcrafted jewelry at Apse Adorn.

You can also stop by the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays through December to get your fix of fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods. There’s so much to explore in Bellingham. What’s not to love?

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Stefanie Donahue

Stefanie Donahue is a freelance writer living in Bellingham, Washington. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Her fondest memories harken back to visits to the coast, where she has always enjoyed taking walks and collecting rocks. Stefanie has a flair for baking pastries and breads and enjoys painting portraits. She has a bachelor’s degree in news and editorial journalism from Western Washington University.


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