Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Spokane
Spokane is one of those cities you don’t hear a lot about. In fact, you could say it’s unspoken, really. But as Washington’s second largest city (after Seattle), it’s one of those places that under promises and over delivers. Offering the trifecta of travel experiences — good food, gorgeous outdoors, and a surprising arts and culture community – it’s one of those places that deserves a second look.
For as big as it is, the downtown manages to feel intimate not sprawling with everything walkable in about 20-minutes and architecture that’s nothing short of unexpected. A 20-something with no formal education designed the county courthouse, which looks like a European Chateau plopped in the middle of it all. A gondola traverses Spokane Falls, the second largest urban waterfall in the country. Interactive sculptures line the river, which runs right through town. Windmill shops dot the neighborhoods and the Steam Plant, twin boiler stacks (now defunct), have been turned into a quirky restaurant and event space.
It may seem eclectic to an outsider, but there’s a sense of nostalgia there. A city with a real sense of place, they took what they had and built upon the foundation, enhancing their bones and structure rather than tearing it down (as many cities tend to do). You can tell they prioritize preserving their heritage as they grow and modernize, which makes it all the more charming and gives Spokane that understated je ne sais quoi.
Here are just a few of the many things you (Spok)CAN do there.
I know what you’re thinking – inland Washington as a culinary destination? But believe it. Just because the ocean’s not nearby doesn’t mean they aren’t all about that farm to table life with a sprinkling of seafood for good measure. Trust me, it’s hard to have a bad meal here and I was genuinely shocked by the sheer volume of top rated restaurants and interesting eats I stumbled upon in Spokane. Here are a few (ok, a lot) of the standouts:
Wild Sage Bistro – With a philosophy of “local whenever possible” Wild Sage’s regionally sourced Northwest cuisine is both land and sea centric with a touch of Asian influence (shout out to my fellow kimchi fans). The Yukon taquitos are the go-to dish with a whole station in the back dedicated to their preparation. Personally, I gravitated more toward the duck wontons and the steelhead, a popular entrée, and the quintessential local fish, but you should also save room for the “soon to be famous” coconut cream cake (self-proclaimed, of course).
Gilded Unicorn – In my opinion with a name like that, the decor was missing a bit of rainbow pizazz, but Gilded Unicorn is just one piece of Adam Hegsted’s empire. A James Beard semi-finalist, he grew a cult following by hosting underground restaurant popups and now owns and operates multiple restaurants around town. Their focus is on approachable comfort food and has been known to dazzle with specials like cotton candy grilled cheese and other unexpected bites.
Brunchonette – The best meal of the week, what started as a humble food truck evolved into a homey cafe without losing their personal touch. A built-in service charge ensures employees are paid a fair wage, while a smoker out back is used for everything from melt in your mouth meats to tomato sauce for an updated take on the classics. If you’re wondering what to order, the tamale waffle and bacon sticky buns are always crowd pleasers.
Grain Shed – One of those niche specialty purveyors you can’t help but to love, Grain Shed is just three months old and has already become a neighborhood staple for their beer and stone-milled bread flights. Industry vet Shaun Thompson Duffy worked under big names like Rick Bayless throughout his career, but his hobby was always making bread in his garage. Their double-decker oven was built brick by brick, and the menu is dictated by what grains they source. Pro Tip: visit on Monday, which is pizza night.
Fresh Soul –Part of a three-pronged, non-for-profit community project that also includes tutoring and a b-ball summer camp, Fresh Soul is Southern cuisine on a mission designed to help at-risk youth. A pilot program to teach 14-18 year-olds vital on the job life skills, the 16-week paid internship trains them to get hired at local partner restaurants around town. The bright and cheery building was painted and sponsored by community members and beyond the warm fuzzies, the fried chicken and the mac and cheese are worth a visit alone.
Inland Pacific Kitchen – Part of the 509 Cooks Group, Chef Jeremy Hansen and his team own five restaurant concepts around town, but that’s not the interesting part of their story. Calling themselves culinary first responders, they travel to disaster relief areas for months on end to provide hearty and nutritious meals to anyone in need. The menu at Inland Pacific was inspired by his recent humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico.
Boombox Pizza – Home of larger-than-life Instagram foods in Spokane, Boombox is known for their “Something About Mary,” a giant bloody Mary topped with a pizza slice, meat sticks, and pickled vegetables, which is essentially a liquid lunch. The restaurant is a lighthearted, nostalgic venue with speakers decorating the walls and karaoke, bingo, skeeball, and vintage arcade games for entertainment.
Dotted with tasting rooms and breweries, Washington’s craft beer scene and wineries are not just surviving — they’re thriving. If you’re feeling thirsty or just want to quench your palate, here are a few must-sip stops in Spokane:
Steel Barrel Taproom – Called an incubator brewery, Steel Barrel is a place for home brewers to lease, learn, and, perfect their proof of concept before going at it on their own. It’s a collaborative environment with a constant rotation of local experiments. Tucked inside, Zona Blanca, owned by Top Chef contestant Chad White, operates like an indoor food truck. His cevicheria was inspired by raw cooking techniques he picked up camping in tiny Mexican fishing villages. One bite and you’ll see it’s pretty dang impressive what he can whip up without an oven or even real kitchen.
No-Li Brewhouse – Lovingly called “Born and Raised,” No-Li’s signature IPA is an authentic Spokane-style beer recognized by the FDA in which all the ingredients are sourced within a 200-mile radius. One of the 40+ stops on the Inland NW Ale Trail, grab a passport book and hit the road (or book an Uber).
Hierophant Meadery – Part tasting room, part rescue sanctuary, Hierophant actually feels like an animal farm paired with alcohol, and it’s hard not to smile as llamas, goats, and chickens meander by. The perfect beverage for porch sipping, their meads are not overwhelmingly sweet and focus on dry, herbal flavors like rose cardamom, kombuchas, and mead-mosas.
Sante – For craft cocktail lovers, mixology is front and center at Sante. Simply give the bartender a spirit and an adjective and he’ll craft your perfect beverage, whether that means bourbon and sultry or vodka and bubbly (no judgment). If you’re in-the-know, there’s also a crazy off the menu dessert drink (limit one per night because it supposedly takes 30+ minutes to make) that looks like a delightfully toasted marshmallow. In actuality, it’s a meringue topped with two egg whites but is no less satisfying.
Stretch Your Legs
After eating and imbibing your way around town, there are plenty of places for views and hues, and an autumn sojourn promises a kaleidoscope of color. In fact, Spokane has more square feet of park space than any other top 100 US city, making Washington my new favorite place for fall colors. Truly a four-season destination, there are five ski resorts within 90 minutes of the city and plenty of water to play in the warmer months if you want to get your kayak, SUP, or raft on.
Riverfront Park – The first city to host an environmentally themed world’s fair in 1974, Spokane was also the smallest city to ambitiously host an event of such size. Remnants can still be seen around town from the “garbage goat” (literally a goat statue that sucks trash, encouraging kids not to litter) to the pavilion and a carousel they beat out Disney to keep. You can roller skate in the summer, ice skate in winter and ride the Skyride Gondola year-round for breathtaking views over the falls.
Manito Park – Designed by the same geniuses who landscaped Central Park, Manito Park is 90 acres of pure wow. Broken into various gardens, conservatories, and arboretums, don’t miss Duncan Garden, a traditional sunken English garden, Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Japanese Garden (with bridge and waterfall photo ops), and the regal Rose Hill.
Riverside State Park – Not to be confused with Riverfront Park, Riverside Park is the largest state park in Washington. Skirting along the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, there are 55-miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails. Bowl and Pitcher makes a great base for adventure for its unique rock formations and swinging bridge beloved by photographers.
Where to Stay
The Davenport Hotels are so lavish they could be considered works of art in their own right. A group of five sister properties throughout the city, the Historic Davenport is the centerpiece of town with elegant torrents and a fireplace that never goes off. A Forbes four-diamond hotel, they’ve hosted A-listers, authors, and politicians for over 100 years. It’s where the Crab Louie was invented, but you also can’t leave without trying the signature peanut brittle. Their modern spot, the Davenport Grand has swanky corner tubs, electric fireplaces, and skyline views with beds and linens so comfy you can actually purchase and bring them home with you (and trust me, you’ll want to).
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