Spokane is Washington’s second largest city, and the only noticeable metropolitan area for hundreds of miles around. However, its location on the far eastern edge of the state makes it the ideal home base to explore not only Eastern Washington, but the Idaho Panhandle and Western Montana as well.
Many people, though, make the mistake of simply utilizing Spokane for its airport, flying in and out, but bypassing the city entirely. This is a mistake, as Spokane not only has more than enough to offer for a night or two, but even as a worthy destination all to itself. Outdoor adventures, a vibrant food scene in a walkable downtown core, and a shocking amount of culture all await a visitor with only the desire to open his mind and have a wonderful time with some incredible people.
A view of Spokane. The tall castle-looking building is the courthouse.
Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, you will be getting to Spokane by plane, as its relative isolation makes it a harder destination to reach via car from most other places. Fortunately, the city has a lovely mid-sized airport that accommodates regular flights from as far away as Chicago Midway. This is incredible, as it means that nearly all those living in the western United States can fly to Spokane direct, while those in the east can make it on the carrier of their choice with a single stop.
One warning about the airport: it is laid out like a ranch home, long and narrow. From my gate coming in on Alaska Airlines it was a fairly decent walk all the way down to the rental car facility on the opposite side of the two terminals, with no moving walkways. If you need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask for it rather than to assume that since everything is connected it is all very close.
In Spokane, everything is close. Do you remember the line from “Clueless” that everything in Los Angeles is 30 minutes away? While that seems comical now, in Spokane everything really does seem to be less than 15 minutes away. That is the positive.
The negative is that public transportation is minimal at best. So you will want a car, unless you plan to spend your entire time in Spokane downtown, which is entirely possible. If so, your feet will be better transportation than your vehicle, for while public parking is readily available, it is not free. However, if you want to get out of downtown, you will be grateful to have that car with you, even though it will be accumulating parking fees at your downtown hotel.
The fountains in Riverfront Park are one of the downtown highlights, especially for children splashing around!
Where to Stay
When coming to Spokane, there is only one real option: stay downtown. As most things you’ll want to see will be within an easy walk, it just makes the most sense. Plus you have the river right there, the restaurants and shops, and the excitement of any similar area in the world. As for which hotel, that is up to you, and Spokane has options in all price ranges and with pretty much every hotel chain. If you don’t stay at the Historic Davenport Hotel (it is affiliated with Marriott for you points lovers out there), at least make sure you walk through. It is that cool of a building.
Alternatively, you could decide to stay a bit further out and drive downtown, park at one of the lots or structures, and explore from there. It will likely save you a bit of money, but at the cost of some atmosphere.
A view of the lobby of the Historic Davenport from the second floor mezzanine.
What to Do
For a fairly small metro area, Spokane doesn’t lack for things to do. Dozens of lakes are within an easy drive, so camping, hiking, fishing, and boating opportunities are in abundance. Focusing solely on the city, though, here are a few of my favorites.
Get out on the river! The Spokane River runs right through the heart of the city. The upper portion is perfect for kayaking or standup paddleboarding, while the lower river has some pretty awesome rafting. Just be sure to follow directions so as not to risk going over the falls.
Downtown Spokane is a lovely place to walk around. You’ll for sure want to visit Riverfront Park. Boardwalks lined with public art cross the green space where the 1974 World’s Fair was held. You can ride the Looff Carrousel or take a 30 minutes trip on the Skyride over Spokane Falls.
Want culture? Even if you ignore the world-class theatre facilities Spokane offers (you shouldn’t, as most major Broadway productions come through here and it is a great chance to see a show), check out the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The museum can be walked through in about 45 minutes, but the connected Campbell House – the gem of the property – needs a guided tour.
Campbell House. Totally worth a stop.
What to Eat
I will be honest. I haven’t had a meal in Spokane that wasn’t stellar. However, as with all cities, I do have a few specific recommendations.
Park Lodge is a hard place to get a table, but the view overlooking the river and the incredible food make the endeavor worthwhile. I ate duck breast over duck confit with sweet corn and huckleberries, and would gladly eat it again most days.
If you like Southern food in the north, Casper Fry provides some awesome fare. It’s a bit more polished than you’ll find in New Orleans, but just as tasty.
In the mood for a drink? Don’t miss a stop at One Tree Cider House for what is easily the best cider flight I’ve ever enjoyed. Flavors like Pineapple-Mango and Lemon-Basil will tantalize your taste buds.
My duck dish from Park Lodge was as beautiful as it was tasty.
Other Useful Information
Spokane is known as the Lilac City, and every May they host a lilac festival.
This is huckleberry country. Whether huckleberry pancakes, muffins, cider, or something else, it’s a good chance to try something not commonly found elsewhere.
The climate here is not what most people think of in the Pacific Northwest. Summers are hot; winters get snow. Plan accordingly.
Using the Google Maps app as my navigation system, getting off the freeway heading to downtown was confusing. If you accidentally find yourself on the wrong street, don’t worry. Downtown Spokane is a grid system and you can easily get yourself back on track.
Another lovely outdoor spot in downtown Spokane, called the Tribal Meeting Place.
Spokane, Washington is a wonderful place to spend a long weekend – or even longer – whether as part of a larger trip to the region or as a stand-alone. People here are friendly, and truly seem to love living here, which is refreshing. Regardless of what you enjoy doing, I think you will love your time here in the Lilac City!
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