“Near Nature. Near Perfect.” That’s the prevailing motto these days in Spokane, Washington, the second-largest city in the state and one that is crazy underrated. We were fortunate to spend several days exploring the town that gave birth to…me! So, we’ve got a lot of unique things to cover and a multitude of reasons why Washington has much more than just Seattle to offer.
As noted in every city/state report, this is not a tour guide. It’s not a must-see or must-do or must-visit. It’s simply what we did when we were there. If you need a longer version of our standard disclaimer, please see the beginning of this post.
Alrighty then. Spokane is on the opposite side of Washington from Seattle, very close to the Idaho border and not too far from Canada. About 200,000 people live here, and more than double that amount live in the area. It’s pretty big for a “small” city, and its location gives one easy access to both urban and rural environs. You can be in the midst of downtown, and still be at the ski resort on Mt. Spokane in about an hour.
We came to visit for a variety of reasons. As noted above, the city gave rise to this particular half of Jets Like Taxis, many moons ago. It’s also the home of Red Lion Hotels, one of our “Fabric of America” tour supporters. Since we were in the general vicinity of this region anyway, we figured we should head back to a place I hadn’t been in over two decades, and one that has never had the pleasure of meeting Ang.
After driving through and greatly enjoying the state of Montana (read our “State of the Union” report here), we headed in an arc through the panhandle of Idaho and landed back down in Spokane, just in time for 4th of July weekend. Before we get into where we stayed and what we did, let’s have a look at how we got to Spokane in the first place.
As previously mentioned, we spent some time in Montana before our arrival in the Lilac City. Our departure point was Montana State Highway 200 in Thompson Falls, with a detour at Ross Creek Giant Cedars before we hit Idaho and jumped on US 2 in the resort town of Sandpoint. We then crossed the Washington border and took US 2 all the way into Spokane. Pretty simple this time!
Here are the details:
- State Highway 200 west/northwest from Thompson, Falls, MT
- A detour on State Highway 56 north to visit Ross Creek Giant Cedars, MT
- Back to State Highway 200 west/northwest
- US 2 west at Sandpoint, ID
The entire drive is fairly short, even with the couple hours we spent at Ross Creek. Easy peasy, and you should not miss out on any of these places because northwest Montana is bonkers in its own right.
Being that Red Lion Hotels is a sponsor of our journey, we were fortunate to be able to get a room at their flagship property in Spokane. The Red Lion Hotel at the Park literally sits on Riverfront Park, smack-dab in the middle of downtown. This hotel features all the bells and whistles, including two swimming pools – one with a slide, woo-hoo! – three restaurants and cafés, free shuttle service, and access by foot to everything that central Spokane has to offer. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner or a better place to stay.
The holiday weekend was extremely busy, but we still scored a balcony room. This is something that is both rare and a luxury these days, since so many hotels don’t even offer outside space anymore. Wi-fi here is blazing fast, and the fridge/microwave combination is something that’s a must-have for us while we’re on the road. We also had plenty of work space, and got good nights’ rest on their ultra-plush beds.
I’ll stop the gushing now. Check out our full, in-depth review of our four nights at the hotel right here. Basically: Stay here.
The location of the hotel:
303 W. North River Dr.
Spokane, WA 99201
Tel: +1 (509) 326-8000
We always look to hotel employees as ambassadors of tummy delights when we’re in a city where we don’t know apples from oranges. We do rely on our deft online research as well, but it’s always nice to have local suggestions from actual locals. David and Kris at Red Lion helped us out a bit, as did our contact from corporate, who we had the pleasure of dining with on one occasion. (See below for more about the latter.)
O’Doherty’s Irish Grille: I’m not actually sure how Irish this place is, other than the University of Notre Dame paraphernalia all over the walls. Regardless, it came highly recommended and we had a nice walk through the park and across the river to get there. They serve typical pub fare with excellent service and decent brews on tap. Ang went for the fish and chips, which was pretty damn good, while I went for the heart-attack-inducing bacon-cheddar-onion ring-burger. We rocked a splitsies so we could each have some, and washed it all down with some proper IPAs. We’d go back, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Steam Plant: Housed in a former power plant, this was recommended to us both for its unique fare and the fact that it’s a brewpub surrounded by century-old ironworks. The inside of the place is cavernous, and there’s plenty to look at as much of the machinery and other equipment has been buffed and saved for display and decor. While the service was dynamite – seriously – Ang’s IPA was great and my porter was absolutely terrible. We’d probably give their overall beer score a middle-ground rating. There’s not much we don’t like, but we both couldn’t stand the nitro I ordered. Food is also insanely priced here; so much so that we skipped the unimpressive entrée menu and went straight for apps on nothing more than principle alone. We were fortunately greeted to some heavenly delights with a huge plate of toasted parmesan bread and more than enough “Korean” ribs to count as an entire meal for two. I say “Korean” because the only thing Korean about the dish was the name. That doesn’t mean they weren’t hella fantastic, though! I think it’s worth going here for appetizers, but skip the main courses and stay away from the nitro.
Frank’s Diner: This place is consistently voted as the best breakfast in Spokane, and the owners are not shy about their bragging rights. There are actually two locations now, and we opted for the original, just outside of downtown. They did not disappoint one bit, with healthy servings of all the breakfast fixings that made up for the 20-minute table wait. You can only fit so many people into a rail car-turned-diner, so we really can’t complain. Plus, we never get mad when the wait is worth it. I have no idea how the second location on the north side of Spokane is, but this one gets an A+ and you need to go here, if for nothing else but the thick-cut bacon. Also, their food lacks the typical swimming pools of grease that usually come with a diner, and we appreciate it since we’re no longer care-free college kids who don’t have to worry about a daily heart attack. Oh yeah…Service: Unbeatable.
Room Service at Red Lion Hotel: After a long run on this particular day, we decided to stay in and order food from one of the three restaurants at our hotel. We’re not entirely sure which restaurant our food came from, but it was darn good. As is always the case with room service, it was pricy. Alas, there is a cost for staying in, and it was worth it as the food was on par or better than most restaurants we visited. If you feel like kicking up your feet and eating in your pajamas, then by all means!
Brews Bros. Espresso: After Ang got her hair done at a fancy salon, we headed across the street to visit this local coffee joint. The espresso was delightful with plenty of bite, and the breakfast pastries we had did our bellies right. Also, they serve beer. A coffee house with beer? Yes, please. ‘Nuff said.
Satellite Diner: Think of this as the gritty alter-ego to the aforementioned Frank’s Diner. Located in the heart of downtown, locals and tourists alike are drawn to its greasy-spoon reputation, which is perfect for both filling your belly and curing a hangover. This is a favorite breakfast haunt of our new friend Pam from Red Lion, and she was kind enough to lead the way over there on our last morning in town. The service is surly at best, but it’s part of the charm as you grind through an early morning looking to wake up and attack the day. There’s also a bar connected to it, but I’m not 100% sure what the deal is with that. I personally preferred the food and service at Frank’s. Atmosphere is a toss-up since they’re so different and each one has its own flair. Still, damn good.
Let’s get down to what you really care about. Unless you care about food as much as we do; in which case, you can revert to the above.
Watch the Fireworks: So as far as I know, this is a once-a-year opportunity. Unless they do it at New Year’s or Secretary’s Day or something, the only time you can catch this is on the 4th of July. Since you’re staying at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park anyway – per our recommendation – you won’t have any trouble stumbling across these and you won’t have to find a crazy place to park in order to get to the event.
We could actually see them from our balcony, or simply go outside on the grass and watch the extreme magnitude of patriotic explosions occur over Riverfront Park for all to see.
Riverfront Park: Talk about a nice green space. This park spans both sides of the river, as well as the island between them in the center of town. Our hotel sits on it, and all you have to do is walk outside and you’re there. Presto!
While the park has plenty of walking and biking paths, it also contains the old watchtower, a carousel, a small amusement park, a cable car, and an IMAX theater. Some park, eh? It’s a great place to walk around, and bonus that it’s outside the hotel and just a quick hop through to arrive in the center of downtown.
You’ll also find some nice sculptures, including a huge Radio Flyer wagon that never seems to be free of little munchkins climbing all over it.
Oh yeah, and the falls. It seems to be the case that all river-centric towns we visit on this trip have some waterfalls. Spokane is not immune to that, with both a dam and natural falls that cascade over jagged rocks all the way through downtown. It’s such a sight that it’s actually part of the city’s official logo now. More on that in a bit.
Visit the Past on Behalf of Your Family: We visited several old haunts of my family, including the house where I only remember falling asleep on a rocking horse – but my sister remembers everything – and my family’s old church. If you never lived in Spokane, I guess this is sort of a pointless activity. However, you can always visit random houses and places of business and act like you once lived there! Relive some old memories of things that never happened! Sounds fun, right? No? Come on people, use your imagination.
Race Go-Karts: Oh yeah. I had the random idea that we should test our miniature race car skills with some go-kart fun. Ang was a bit anxious at first, but then she beat me in the race and now thinks she’s the female Richard Petty or something.
We asked David and Kris at our hotel where we could do such a thing, and they pointed us to Fast Kart, well-known in Spokane for all of its karting antics. The place was unfortunately a bit dead when we were there, so we only raced one-on-one. Ang kept the lap times so she could prove bragging rights for the next decade. I’ll get her back next time.
Mt. Spokane: Even though western Washington is more recognized for its towering humps of former volcanoes and earthquake results, eastern Washington has mountains, too. Just outside of town, you’ll find Mt. Spokane, which towers over the steppe and plateau on which the city holds its ground. While it’s ‘only’ just under 6,000 feet high, it does indeed tower over everything around it. It’s part of the Selkirk Mountains, which is a mountain range whose name I can probably bet you’ve never heard before.
You can actually drive up this sucker, which is ace for us since phrases like ‘hiking is the best’ and ‘we use our legs to climb up elevated forms of geography by choice’ are not even remotely part of our vocabulary, in any language we speak. So then, we made our way northeast of town and drove up the mountain, past many houses that have been there for decades, beyond the cheesy winter ski condos that people own, around the lifts for the ski resort, and up to the tippity-top of the mount.
There’s an historic lodge up there, which was closed when we were in its midst.
Nonetheless, we got some killer views of the other mountains that must look up to Mt. Spokane with jealous rage, and had fun driving on the guardrail-less, winding roads up and down this fellow. Well, I had fun doing it; I’m not particularly sure Ang enjoyed it as she always thinks we’re going to drive off vertical edges whenever we’re near them. I am not Thelma and she is not Louise. This shall not happen on my watch!
Also, this dude says hi.
Get Your Hair Done at a Fancy Salon: While I’m usually the one looking for a real barber, Ang found herself needing her ‘hair did’ while we were here. This led us to the basement of the ultra-fancy, zillion-star, historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane.
I got to wait in the lobby of the spa, reading newspapers for dudes who are there to wait for their better halves while the women get hand massages while surrounded by the sound of Tahitian beaches or something. Then they have their hair done while we continue to wait, content to read newspapers – you know, those things that have already-dated ‘news’ and get black print all over your fingers – and suffer since the spa is below ground and there is absolutely zero cell service.
Fortunately for all of us, it was worth the wait and Ang was happy-happy-happy with her lovely new ‘do.
Get Tattoos: I would normally expect this to apply to a small portion of the population. Alas, everyone gets tattoos nowadays, except the rest of our families since they’re too chicken. I keep offering to get matching tattoos with my dad, but he laughs that laugh that tells me to continue making the request even though he’ll never do such a thing.
We had previously made appointments with the gang at Screamin’ Ink Tattoo, and this day led us back to the shop to get inked up. Ang decided to go the text route with one of the many suitable quotes that fits our lifestyle. This one is from John Steinbeck.
I went for the first of a series of tattoos that will have me looking like an old steamer trunk by the time I’m an old steamer trunk. I will be getting a tattoo for every place I’ve lived, which, by now, is around the dozen mark. I started it off in the city where I started off, which we all thought was fitting.
Thanks to the exquisite work of Bryan Patrick, who did mine…
and to Shane Roman, who did Ang’s.
They’re both great artists, and we had a hilarious time and some good talks during our few hours there. We recommend the both of them if you ever find yourself in Spokane.
Spokane Falls: Technically, this falls into the arena of Riverfront Park, which you read about at the beginning of this section. However, the falls are vast and furious and require their own write-up. While our hotel sits at the dam above the falls, you can easily access them by walking through the park.
There are both auto and pedestrian bridges that cross the several waterfalls, giving you plenty of opportunity for photos.
The only downside is that you can’t get a very good picture from the bottom of the falls unless you take the Spokane Falls SkyRide, aka the cable car that goes across the river at the bottom of the falls. Unfortunately for us, the SkyRide was closed when we tried to go. The employee at the ticket counter told us it was due to the heat and that she had no idea when it would reopen.
As disappointed as we were, it was what it was and there was no point getting all snippy about it like some of the other tourists who were there. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t annoying to watch the cable car go by less than a half-hour later, though. The major problem with all of this is that, if you take the cable car, I’m not even sure you can get all that great of a view or picture from below the falls and all the way up. Ah well.
Manito Park and Botanical Gardens: Established over a century ago, this park and garden covers over 90 acres on the hills south of the Spokane River. This area is actually a conglomeration of various parks and gardens, of which the most-visited is probably Duncan Garden.
It is undoubtedly European in influence and design, and is quite impressive even after being at some of the most famous gardens on the old continent. While these parks and gardens are very well-known, they kind of hide themselves in an affluent and historic residential area. Finally getting to them makes it feel like an even better treat, as if they’re elusive and mysterious in some form or fashion.
View the City from Above: I actually can’t even remember where this is. At the suggestion of the folks at our hotel, we originally tried to view the city from High Drive. Well, there are no views of the city from High Drive. It goes around the backside of Spokane, only giving views of the urban sprawl south of the city as well as the airport west of the city. Finding nothing we were looking for on that journey, we made our way to the top level of the parking garage at Deaconess Medical Center.
We weren’t high enough at this vantage point, but we did run into a nurse there named Robin, who was happy to talk to us about Spokane and give us suggestions for better views. The Spokane panorama on Wikipedia is actually from the same parking garage – something I just found out – but we didn’t seem to think the view was as good as the photographer makes it look. You can check that out right here.
We’re lucky ducks, though, because we mentioned this to our contact at Red Lion Hotels the day we left, and she showed us where the good stuff is. Again, I don’t remember where this is from, but it’s a small parking area that overlooks the city from a residential street on the south side of the river. Killer goodness for viewing delights.
Make New Friends: Everyone in Spokane is crazy nice. Okay, probably not everyone, but everyone we met was nice. We like nice. We had a good time shooting conversations with people we met everywhere. From the coffee shop to the tattoo parlor, the gabs we had were all memorable and enjoyable. We even had the opportunity to connect with our ‘contact’ at Red Lion. Here is Pam, the lady who loves her job so much that you’d normally want to hate her for it, since most of you probably hate your jobs with a passion. (I can help you fix that, and then you can help you fix that.) Good thing Pam is so good that you can’t possibly dislike her, no matter how much she likes her job. We have never – ever – met anyone in PR who is as good at her job as Pam is. That’s probably not saying much, since most PR people don’t have a clue how to do their jobs.
But, Pam is the pinnacle of what a PR person should be. Not only that, but she loves what she does. She loves her city and she loves her company, and has every reason to love them both. She has been a joy to work with during our “Fabric of America” tour, and we were delighted to get to sit down and have breakfast with her, as you read about earlier in this post. She gave us the scoop on the botanical garden and the killer view of Spokane as well, and knows more about this city than anyone else we’ve ever talked to and anything else we’ve ever read. So, you might be lucky to meet her in Spokane one day. If not, there are thousands of other wonderful folks who call Spokane home, and you should do your best to meet them when you visit.
It’s pretty obvious that we had a blast in Spokane. Even if I didn’t hail from the town, we still would have had just as memorable of an experience during our four nights there. Part of that is because we’re always open to learning new things, meeting new people, and exploring new places.
But, a lot of the credit goes to the people of Spokane as well. They’re proud of their city and they’re not afraid to show it. Remember: “Near Nature. Near Perfect.” They love it, and we love it, too. Next time you think about going to a city where everyone else goes, try being a little different and heading to a proud city that has no qualms about showing you why it’s such a great place to both visit and call home. Thanks to Pam at Red Lion and all the other people we met during our time there. It was well worth it and everyone we ran into helped make our stay one that we’ll never forget.
Have you ever been to Spokane? Did you visit any of the places in our post? Do you have any suggestions for things people should see when they stay in the region? Any other thoughts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!