A day in Bellingham offers electricity, history and doughnuts

  • Thu May 1st, 2014 6:06pm
  • Life

By Andrea Brown Herald Writer

Want to have a blast?

Go to the cultural arts district of Bellingham.

There’s a doughnut shop with a giant rocket and a museum with a lightning machine that makes your hair stand on end.

Bellingham is an easy day trip. In good traffic, it’s a bit over an hour from Everett. You can sleep in, leisurely explore “the ham” and get home in time to watch “Jeopardy!”

A family of four can tour several museums and grab a bite at Old Town Cafe for about $100, including doughnuts. Parking is cheap. Some spots are free. Everything is within walking distance.

First stop: doughnuts.

Look for the silver rocket by the historic mural at the corner of W. Holly and Bay streets.

At Rocket Donuts, $4 buys a glazed ring the size of a Frisbee that’s as sweet as the sci-fi decor is cosmic.

Next stop: The Spark Museum of Electrical Invention.

Look for the lightning bolts on the front of the building. Inside is everything you want to know about electricity, radio and centuries of inventions.

There are books, treatises and scientific papers by Benjamin Franklin, Volta, Newton, Galileo and Marconi. There’s even a real radio station.

This isn’t for science nerds only.

Artsy types can groove on the retro microphones, Edison light bulbs, vacuum tubes, funky TVs and statue of Nipper, the terrier whose image was the basis for the dog and gramophone logo used by RCA.

There’s lots of hands-on action. You can turn dials and flip switches. Talk into a mike and see what your voice looks like in bright green waves. Play the theremin, the first electronic musical instrument.

There’s no escaping gadgetry: An antique cabinet radio plays music in the restroom.

Weekend visitors can see — and feel — the electricity show with the 9-foot MegaZapper, a Tesla coil lightning machine that delivers 4 million volts of loose electricity and giant arcs of purple bolts. It’s been described as “Franklin meets Frankenstein.”

Saeja Thompson, 15, got a charge out of the relics of the past on a recent school field trip.

“I like that it goes back to the stuff before all the things we know today, that we take for granted,” the teen said. “It’s cool to see where it all started. I like how they show how they recorded music before they had electricity or anything.”

New York resident Michael Spencer made a trip across the border to tour Spark while visiting relatives in Canada.

“I like that it’s not just a bunch of artifacts in glass cases,” Spencer said. “These are real objects. These aren’t replicas. They do live demonstrations. They have somebody here explaining and introducing things.”

Spencer runs a financial tech company that provides mobile banking to people in villages in Africa to reduce poverty.

“People in the most remote parts of the world have phones,” he said. “It all started here.”

Plan to spend an hour or two at Spark.

Next stop: Whatcom Museum campus, which has three buildings: Old City Hall, Syre Education Center and Lightcatcher.

Look for the Victorian cupolas and red-brick bell tower to find Old City Hall.

Inside are mainly historical exhibits. Even if that’s not your thing, you’ll enjoy ogling the building’s architecture and detailed woodwork. It’s fun walking down the expansive staircase and staring up at the high ceilings.

By contrast, Lightcatcher is a state-of-the-art building with contemporary exhibits, rooftop garden, cafe and kid-friendly galleries.

“We’ve got the opposite ends of the spectrum of what museums can be,” museum spokeswoman Rifka MacDonald said.

“A historical museum that looks to our past and preserves, and we also have our Lightcatcher building, built in 2009. We also have our family interactive gallery that is something of a children’s museum.”

Other places in the arts district include Mount Baker Theatre, with performing arts and the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra; Mindport Exhibits; Bellingham Railway Museum; Pickford Film Center, dedicated to independent films; and Upfront Theater with improve comedy shows.

More reasons to go back to Bellingham and get another giant doughnut.

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

If you go

Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, 1312 Bay St., is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

Cost is $6 for adults and $3 for ages 11 and younger.

The MegaZapper Electrical Show, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, is $4 plus museum admission. It is not recommended for children under 4 years of age.

For more information, call 360-738-3886 or go to www.sparkmuseum.org.

Whatcom Museum campus occupies three buildings in downtown Bellingham.

Cost: $10 adults; $8 students/military/seniors 62-plus; $4.50 ages 2 to 5. Free under age 2.

Every Thursday is $5. Moms get in free on Mother’s Day, May 11.

Lightcatcher, 250 Flora St., is open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St., is open noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

Syre Education Center, 201 Prospect St., has photo archives and permanent historical exhibits. It is open by appointment.

For more information: www.whatcommuseum.org.

Stop to eat

Rocket Donuts, 306 W. Holly St.: www.rocketdonuts.com.

Old Town Cafe, 316 W. Holly St.: www.theoldtowncafe.com.