Best of Both Worlds in Four Cities: Spokane, WA

written by: Dan Nailen

photo courtesy of: Visit Spokane/James Richman

Inside, Outside Spokane

Chamber of Commerce types like to say Spokane is “near nature, near perfect.” And that motto holds some truth considering the easy access to a world of outdoor options. But no brochure lingo can capture the spirit of Spokane in 2017. It’s a city evolving in all the best ways after years of fighting a reputation as a dying railroad town. Once-abandoned downtown buildings are bristling with new eateries and shops, and Spokanites have embraced their vibrant literary scene and craft-beer boom as passionately as they have the local Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball team.

Visitors find ample opportunity to combine luxury and outdoor adventures just minutes apart. The fall buzzes with activity, ranging from Terrain (Oct. 6), an epic one-day outsider-art festival, to the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival (Sept. 22-23), a massive celebration of local and regional brews. The Tinnabulation Music Festival (Sept 8-10) is one of many draws to Riverfront Park, a sprawling outdoor playground tucked between downtown and the Spokane River undergoing a $64 million renovation 43 years after hosting the World’s Fair.

For the outdoors-inclined, every day offers good reason to make the 75-minute flight from Salt Lake City. Mt. Spokane State Park boasts myriad hiking and mountain biking trails, while Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a prime bird-watching spot, its ponderosa pines and wetlands making it some of the last, best breeding habitat for waterfowl. Elk, moose, cougars and other wildlife might join your stroll.

In the city proper, find a patio in Kendall Yards and watch osprey hunt the Spokane River. Or rent a bicycle and cruise the Centennial Trail, a paved wonder running alongside the river through Spokane for nearly 40 miles.

On my first visit, I stayed at the Historic Davenport Hotel, a 1914 gem on the National Register of Historic Places completely renovated in 2000, and I’ve been pointing friends and family there ever since. The Historic Davenport is in the heart of downtown, just a couple blocks from the Spokane River. For something less grandiose and more fun/funky, check out the Hotel Ruby or the Montvale.

All offer easy access to downtown dining, entertainment and the burgeoning “Cork District,” where dozens of Washington wineries have established tasting rooms. Consider Barrister Winery a must-stop, at either of their two Spokane tasting rooms. One is a beautiful space tucked in an alley, and the other is nestled in the Liberty Building, home to Auntie’s Bookstore, simply one of the best book shops in the West, and a place you’ll regularly spot local authors reading or just hanging out—folks like Jess Walter, Sherman Alexie and Sharma Shields.

If beer and cider are more your taste, you can spend days touring the “Northwest Ale Trail,” eastern Washington’s fast-growing craft-beer scene. Iron Goat Brewing, No-Li Brewhouse, River City Brewing and Liberty Ciderworks all offer award-winning quaffs in an increasingly creative array of styles.

The Spokane food scene is growing by leaps and bounds, too. At Ruins, the menu changes almost daily, in dramatic and delicious ways. Sante Restaurant & Charcuterie is ideal for meat lovers; go to the Butcher Bar in back for a finely crafted cocktail with your cheese plate. For great food with a view, both Central Food and Clinkerdagger offer dramatic patios overlooking the roaring Spokane River’s downtown waterfalls and bridges.

Bowl and Pitcher

Riverside State Park abuts the western edge of town, and offers excellent hikes of varying lengths and difficulty among its 14,000 acres of lush forest and freshwater marshes alongside the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. Inside the park is Nine Mile Recreation Area, where you can camp, swim, boat and fish. Spend time looking at the  Native American pictographs as well.

But the true gem of Riverside is the Bowl and Pitcher, a dramatic intersection of raging water and basalt best experience by taking the easy 2-mile trail that starts by crossing the river on a suspension bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps way back when.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

This dramatic structure on Spokane’s South Hill is well worth a walk-through, even a guided tour. The cathedral is built entirely of cut stone and took 30 years to complete after its 1924 groundbreaking. Carvings and figures in the Gothic-style stained glass include figures from various global religions, and the cathedral’s organ has 4,039 pipes. Add the 49-bell carillon up top, and you have a remarkable structure and one of Spokane’s iconic touchstones.

See the other 3 vacation spots we recommend: Boulder, COBoise, ID | Santa Fe, NM

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