A revitalized riverfront has sparked a renaissance in eastern Washington’s hub city.
As I rode a purple aerial gondola over thundering falls and caught glimpses of a handsome riverside park and a downtown alive with diners and shoppers, I had only one question: Why hasn’t the world beaten a path to Spokane?
Located about three hours northwest of Missoula, Mont., this eastern Washington city of 195,000 hasn’t hummed with this much activity since the late 1800s, when the railroad made it a commercial and cultural hub. About six years ago, River Park Square, a then-new shopping center, began to reverse years of downtown decline. Today, renovated century-old buildings now house galleries, cafés, and stylish inns, such as the 36-room Montvale and the 283-room Davenport Hotel, a venerable grande dame dressed up in marble and gold leaf.
Bite into a plump Northwest clam bathed in lemongrass-curry-coconut broth at Moxie or sip a microbrew amid the pipes and gauges of the Steam Plant Grill and you’ll know that Spokane dining has revved up as well. There are plenty of old-time favorites, too, like the huckleberry pancakes at Frank’s Diner, a wood-paneled 1906 railroad car. For high-energy nightlife, the Big Easy Concert House hosts dance-club nights and performances by top regional bands and national headliners, such as the Wailers, Elvis Costello, and the Violent Femmes.
On a balmy summer evening, take a walk through the historic Browne’s Addition neighborhood, a leafy enclave where you can stay in Victorian splendor at Odell House and sample Mediterranean fare at Café Marron. While in the neighborhood, don’t miss MAC—the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture—which boasts one of the West’s largest collections of American Indian artifacts, including an extraordinarily delicate Coast Tlingit drinking cup made of woven cedar.
Riverfront Park, an oasis for family fun, spreads across 100 downtown acres. You can explore portions of the Spokane River Centennial Trail; see lots of public art, including a steel goat that "eats" trash (aided by a hidden vacuum); and ride both a 1909 carousel and the new gondola over Spokane Falls. A stroll-through fountain pumps jets of water in ever-changing patterns, cooling off the gleeful kids who gather there on warm days.
On the last weekend in July, party like it’s 1749 at the Royal Fireworks Festival, a celebration of baroque arts. The festivities climax in a riverfront performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, complete with pyrotechnics.
Photography by Andrew Geiger
This article was first published in July 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington Tour Book and Spokane map. Contact the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, (888) 776-5263, www.visitspokane.com . Area code is 509 unless noted.
Café Marron 144 S. Cannon St., 456-8660. Frank's Diner 1516 W. Second Ave., 747-8798. Moxie 816 W. Sprague Ave., 456-3594. Steam Plant Grill 159 S. Lincoln St., 777-3900.
The Davenport Hotel $169–$1,950. 10 S. Post St., (800) 899-1482, www.thedavenporthotel.com . Montvale Hotel $129–$400. 1005 W. First Ave., (866) 668-8253, www.montvalehotel.com . Odell House $85–$135. 2325 W. First Ave., 838-9140, www.theodellhouse.com .