With 500 taxidermied birds, jail cells from the 1800s, and a mysterious mannequin that’s been known to appear in the clock tower window (not an official exhibit, but a bonus), the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington, is a must-see.
The museum spans three buildings: At the Lightcatcher, take in fine art and traveling exhibits, indigenous cultural displays, and bring children to the Family Interactive Gallery. In Old City Hall, wander the John M. Edson Hall of Birds and listen to their unique calls, learn about local Pacific Northwest history (can you spot the hidden Bigfoot?), or walk inside a 19th-century padded cell in the basement’s old city jail and read the prisoners’ carvings preserved in the walls. And if that’s not enough, make an appointment with a local historian at the Syre Education Center to examine the museum’s priceless photo archives. (Ken Burns has.)
With 200,000 items in its care, the museum’s collections are a little like grandma’s attic—and you never know what new and surprising items will be on display. But the Whatcom Museum is also a Smithsonian Affiliate, hosting masterpieces from around the country. From the weird to the wonderful, it has something for everyone.
Know Before You Go
Admission to the Whatcom Museum gets you into both Old City Hall and the Lightcatcher, which are a couple of blocks apart. There is a parking lot at Old City Hall (121 Prospect St.), and street parking is available near the Lightcatcher (250 Flora St.). The historic Old City Hall jail cells are available for viewing by tour only (included with admission fee). Tours are held most Sundays, and details can be found on the museum website.