Spokane: A Haven of History Surrounded by Natural Beauty
It’s a wonder that Spokane — Washington state’s second largest city — stays under the radar. Surrounded by mountains, lakes and other natural wonders, Spokane also has a river running through it, a burgeoning arts community and an up-and-coming food, beer and wine scene. And did we mention the “Lilac City” averages 171 sunny days a year?
(Please take recommended safety precautions when considering any travel, and call or check online before you go to confirm the availability of specific amenities and seasonal events and gatherings.)
Manitor Park. Photo by iStock
Step into the Past
Spokane’s 100-acre Riverfront Park was born when a group of citizens worked to clean the area of railroad equipment and get ready to host Expo ’74, a six-month-long world’s fair drawing people from the corners of the globe. Take the Spokane Historical Society walking tour to learn more about the skyride over the falls, the garbage-eating goat and more.
Wander over to Browne’s Addition and you’ll find the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with rotating and permanent exhibits dedicated to regional and global history and culture.
Spokane’s crown jewel is Manito Park (pictured), designed by the Olmsted brothers, whose father was Central Park co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted. Explore 90 acres of gardens, playgrounds and natural areas such as a lilac garden, a Japanese garden created in concert with sister city Nishinomiya, a diverse rose garden, duck pond and a traditional English garden.
The Historic Davenport Hotel will take you back to 1914, when it was the best hotel in the state, frequented by dignitaries and the stars alike. Restored in 2000, it sparkles with all of its former glory.
Spokane River. Photo by iStock
Get Your Nature Fix
There are five ski resorts within a two-hour drive of Spokane (Mount Spokane is the closest), but the mountains offer more than skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. In the summer, go on a hike in search for wild huckleberries, or take a mountain bike ride along the trails.
The Spokane River Centennial Trail runs 37 miles from Nine Mile Falls to the Idaho border and another 24 miles to Higgens Point in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The trail has many heads and is perfect for walking, running and nonmotorized vehicles.
You can float down the Spokane River (pictured) in an inner tube, or take a kayak or canoe to the Little Spokane River. Still feeling warm? There are 76 lakes in the Spokane area.
Take a short drive up to Green Bluff, where you can pick seasonal produce from local farms and orchards. You won’t want to miss peach season — which starts as early as July — or the family-friendly harvest festival, with corn mazes, fresh pumpkin doughnuts, hayrides and everything apple and pumpkin.
Closer to Spokane’s core, you’ll find a thriving farmers market scene. Check out the Thursday Market in the Perry District for a full range of fruits and veggies and local food purveyors, while the Night Market in Kendall Yards on Wednesdays offers fresh farm fare and prepared food.
Arbor Crest Wine Cellars overlooks the Spokane River Valley. Photo courtesy of Arbor Crest Wine Cellars
Arts and Culture
The arts and culture scene is gaining strength, with players such as Terrain putting on annual events like their eponymous curated art show with performance art and music each October and the Bazaar showcase of local artisans in a street fair environment each June. (These events were canceled in 2020, but check back in 2021).
Eastern Washington University’s Get Lit festival is open to the public and draws authors from around the region and the country for a week of lectures, workshops and Q&As in April.
For food and drink, there’s something for everyone, from Top Chef contestant and Spokane native Chad White’s lobster roll restaurant, High Tide, to former fine dining chef Travis Dickinson’s foray into chef-driven tacos at Cochinito, plus the ever changing seasonal menus at staple restaurants like the multicultural Ruins and the elegant Clover.
Reservations are required for wine-tasting visitors to Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, located on the property of a historic estate overlooking the Spokane Valley. Back downtown, taste your way through the many breweries popping up, including Black Label, Iron Goat, and Bellwether, or try brews from several at beer incubator Steel Barrel. As always, remember to plan a safe ride home.
–Written by Cara Strickland
–Top photo of Spokane skyline by iStock
This story was published in May 2019 and updated in October 2020.
Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.
- From Seattle: About 280 miles
- From Spokane: About 30 miles
- Year-round outdoor activities
- Family-friendly fun
- Beer and wine tasting (remember to plan a safe ride home)
Call or visit your nearest AAA store for maps, guides and other travel-planning resources, including assistance from one of our expert Member Travel Counselors.