This post was most recently updated on September 20th, 2018
Spokane is located in eastern Washington near the border of Idaho, only 34 miles from Coeur D’Alene. It is home to several colleges, including Gonzaga University, Whitworth college, Spokane Falls Community College, and the Riverpoint campus of Washington State University. While you may not have heard of it, it IS the second largest city in the state of Washington, after Seattle. If you’d like to have a GPS-guided version of this article, check out my app on GPSmyCity!
The surrounding valley was historically desirable because it was the most viable location for a railroad connection between the east and west, and that’s really how it got its start.
There’s also a river that runs through the valley and the heart of downtown Spokane. The Spokane river attracted settlers for its hydroelectric potential as well as its rugged beauty and life-sustaining qualities. Spokane was primarily known for its natural resources: farms, forests, fur, and mines, as well as being a railroad hub for shipping.
Today, it’s a melding of its past and future. With a large historic downtown district, museums, railroads, state parks and the 1974 Expo site, there’s a lot of the past to discover and explore. But Spokane is growing, too, and you’ll find modern industries, new expansions to their college campuses, and growth in the biotech, high-tech, and healthcare industries. Mining and agriculture still play a key role. Tourism might not be the top industry, but that just means it’s a gem, waiting to be fully discovered!
I had the opportunity to visit my father, who had recently moved to Spokane. Other than a quick jaunt there for a debate tournament in high school (yes, I was kind of a nerd!), I had not really seen much of Spokane. Since my father and I both like to explore new places, we set out to see what makes Spokane unique and interesting today.
Lots of historic brick & stone buildings
Like many other more famous cities (Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto) Spokane had a devastating fire in the late 1880’s. As a result, most buildings built from that time forward were built of brick and/or stone. Not just boring brick boxes, but beautiful, embellished and trimmed, brick buildings. And a lot of them are still standing today because they have withstood the elements. Most have a new purpose these days. For example, the former Empire State Bank building is now an office building with its original vaults, mail chute, ornate staircase, and wire cage for the original elevator.
The original Masonic Temple is now the Riverside Place and is a special events venue, hosting weddings and meetings.
The Review building still serves as the location of the Spokane Review newspaper, with modern additions.
Every once in a while you run into a historic statue as well.
This is just a few I’ve highlighted for you. Drive around downtown Spokane, and you’ll see lots of beautiful brick and stone buildings.
A river runs through it
A very beautiful, and at times raging and rocky, river runs through the middle of the city. Appropriately, it is called the Spokane River.
It makes sense that the town would have settled and grown with the river at its center. The flat valley through which the river winds attracted the railroads. Later, it also attracted power plants as a source of hydroelectric energy. And in 1974, the Spokane Falls and the islands above it became the site for the World Expo.
This area is now known as Riverfront Park, and it attracts many tourists and locals alike. There are groomed walking paths, the US pavilion, the Great Northern railroad clock tower, a sculpture walk, a military memorial, a 1909 carousel, the Spokane Falls Skyride (closed in winter), the Ice Ribbon skating path, and the world’s largest Radio Flyer wagon (which doubles as a slide). There’s also an IMAX theater, fountains, and a Totem Pole.
Spokane has preserved a lot of history for future generations to enjoy
As we drove through the streets of Spokane, I could see history unfolding in its neighborhoods, downtown district, and on the hills overlooking the city.
If you check out the Visit Spokane website, you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know. While perusing the website, I found five historic walking tours. We checked these out and learned so much about early Spokane history; I highly recommend doing this!
I was also impressed that the majestic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist was built in the early 1900’s and still stands as a monument to the devotion and dedication of its parishioners. It reminded me a lot of European cathedrals as I explored all of its beautiful details — a rose window, carved front doors, vaulted ceilings, and stories told in the stained glass panels.
We enjoyed the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes close to the river, too.
There are many neighborhoods of beautiful 1920’s-era Craftsman-styled homes. And there are bungalows built in the 1950’s; they have not been razed to create modern apartment buildings.
The Spokane County building, built in the late 1800’s, is a magnificent tribute to old-world European architecture, built in a 16th Century French Renaissance design and still serving as the county office building.
We also enjoyed a visit to Bing Crosby’s early 1900’s childhood home, which stands at the edge of Gonzaga University to honor the man and his legacy. The home houses the country’s largest collection of Bing Crosby memorabilia.
I got the feeling that Spokane embraces all aspects of its history and does not tear one part down to create a newer one.
Spokane is an outdoor lover’s paradise
You don’t have to drive very far in Spokane before you see the terrain change from valley to gentle hills to more rugged pine-covered mountains.
A visit to Riverside State Park revealed a more rugged version of the Spokane River and some stunning rock formations shaped like a pitcher and bowl. A suspension bridge crossing the river is a thrill to cross.
Continue driving west and you’ll eventually come to the Cascade mountains. Drive east and you’ll cross the Idaho border to Coeur D’Alene. You can fish, hike, kayak, camp, and ski. Or snap photos like I did! In the summer, you can add water-skiing, boating, swimming, and picking fruit to your list of outdoor activities.
A relatively small city with plenty of room to grow
It’s kind of unusual to find a city with several colleges and universities, a thriving downtown, a major railroad hub, and a tourist attraction like the Riverfront Park that is not overcrowded. Yet, it still feels like a small town and acts like a small town. With all the modern amenities you could ask for. Another really unique thing about Spokane is its airport; it is an international airport, yet you can park right in front of the entrance for only $2.00 an hour!
- Oh there’s definitely more…
There’s no way I could have seen everything Spokane has to offer in a three-day winter visit. But when I return, I’d love to visit their popular Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. There’s also the Mobius Children’s Museum and the Manito Park and Botanical Gardens.
- A self-guided city driving tour will take you to all of the must-see sights in the comfort of your car.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has built a beautiful temple in Spokane.
- There’s also a growing foodie culture. While I got to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals during our visit, we did venture out once to eat at Anthony’s, with the best view ever of the Spokane Falls (and great food, too!).
If Spokane wasn’t on your radar, perhaps it should be now. It’s a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, families, and even couples who just want to escape from a larger city’s chaos. There was plenty for us to see and do in the winter. I can only imagine how much more there will be in the summer!