Spokane, Washington

Spokane: A Haven of History Surrounded by Natural Beauty Is Building a Future

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?


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 sky ride 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 (pictured above) with rotating and permanent exhibits dedicated to regional and global history and culture. You won’t want to miss the historical Campbell House, a 1910s craftsman that looks like the family just stepped out for a moment. Tours are available throughout the week all year, but the holidays are an especially fun time to visit, complete with living history players.

Spokane’s crown jewel is Manito Park, 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 Spokane sister city Nishinomiya, a diverse rose garden, duck pond and a traditional English garden. Even when it’s cold, you can slip into the conservatory for a glimpse of summer all year.

Tour St. John’s Cathedral, a gothic building rich in history and stained glass, with a breathtaking view from the highest point in Spokane.

A stroll through 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.


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 (pictured above) 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 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 orchard. 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 donuts, 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 food trucks, local artisans and regular live music.


Experience the Future

While Riverfront Park was a leap forward in the 1960s, it’s time for more progress. You’ll want to check out the skate ribbon, a sort of lazy river ice skating rink that is the first of its kind on the West Coast. (It’s open during the off season for roller blading and skating.)

The arts and culture scene is gaining strength, with players like Terrain (pictured above) putting on annual events like their eponymous curated art show each fall, which includes performance art and music, and Bazaar, a showcase of local artisans in a street fair environment.

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.

It’s never been a better time to eat and drink in Spokane. There’s something for everyone, from Top Chef contestant and Spokane native Chad White’s new ceviche bar Zona Blanca and 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.

Take in a concert and sip a glass of wine at Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, located on the property of a historic estate. Taste your way through the many breweries popping up downtown, 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

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
Best For
  • Year-round outdoor activities
  • Family-friendly fun
  • Beer and wine tasting (remember to plan a safe ride home)
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