Bellingham touts itself as “the city of subdued excitement,” which, as we

Bellingham touts itself as “the city of subdued excitement,” which, as we head into the holiday shopping homestretch, is preferable to “the city of supremely stressed-out excitement.”

There are more reasons than a slogan to head 90 miles north on I-5. First, there’s Allied Arts’ annual Holiday Festival of the Arts (, a five-week family-friendly festival featuring locally sourced and handmade goods, artist demos, local music, and fun activities for kids. And it’s procrastinator-friendly, wrapping up on Christmas Eve.

Also, Bellingham seemingly has the hottest art scene and most independent shops in Washington—next to Seattle, of course—with a culture that’s hyperconscious of buying locally and supporting small businesses. Bellingham also keeps its shopping sustainable, which is why you’ll need to BYOB (bring your own bags). You can find locally made specialty items just about anywhere, from downtown Bellingham to Fairhaven, Lynden, Barkley Village, and Ferndale.

For a romantic gift, visit Sandmaiden Sleepwear

(1216 Harris Ave., 312-4059), Bellingham’s very own lingerie and loungewear shop. Owner and designer Amanda Boyd integrates feminine ballet-inspired touches to her designs of wraps, tunics, cardigans, palazzo pants, and even swimwear, cut and sewn in-house using natural fibers. They’re admittedly sexy and form-fitting in all the right places, and functional enough to wear outside without looking like a sleaze.

Whimsey (1200 10th St. #104, 733-5568) in Fairhaven sells expertly curated and handpicked works from more than 40 unique local jewelers, sculptors, and independent artists. Their wall-art collection is impressive; the dye-on-silk paintings and “sugar skulls,” hand-painted in various colors, textures, and patterns, are enough to make you rethink your entire approach to interior design.

For the Francophile on your list, visit Three French Hens (1100 Harris Ave., 756-1047) located inside a historic bank building. They do the dirty work of scavenging markets to create a unique shop brimming with gifts, vintage hats and jewelry, wall hangings, and apparel with a French flair.

Finally, before you head back south, stroll through downtown’s Alley District between State Street and Railroad Avenue to find inspiration in its visionary and collaborative community. This creative hub boasts colorful murals and a diverse mix of artisans, cafes, bars, businesses, a community bike shop, and a community darkroom and photography studio. Toward the end of the alley, you’ll find Tide Lines (220 E. Maple St., 441-2368), a charming, unforgettable shop owned by jewelry designer Chelsea Jepson, who features artists from within a 100-mile radius. E