Spokane in Spring: A Washington getaway offers historic and modern delights, restaurants

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If you’ve ever read a book that is super place-specific and then visited that area immediately after, you’ll know how I felt on a recent trip to Spokane, Washington. I’d recently read Jess Walter’s 2020 best seller, “The Cold Millions,” a novel set during the labor and free speech demonstrations that exploded here in the early 1900s. Surfacing from the book’s pages into its real world setting evoked an eerie sense of deja vu, with the city’s modern self lightly superimposed over the historic landmarks that fill a reader’s imagination.

Spokane is less touristy than other Pacific Northwest gems, and its mix of past and present makes it a delightful destination, even if you haven’t read “Cold Millions.” And there’s no better place to set up headquarters for your dive into the past than the Historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane.

This century-old, majestic beauty is a treasure. When it opened in 1914, it was the height of modernity, the first hotel in the country to offer air conditioning. Obviously, that’s not why you’ll be checking in here. You’re coming for the grandeur, the ornate lounge and ballrooms, and an expansive indoor courtyard that’s known as Spokane’s living room.

Spokane’s 110-year-old Historic Davenport Hotel is known for its ornate ballrooms, including the grand Hall of Doges. (Courtesy of The Davenport Hotel Collection)

This central gathering space has long been a hub for the arts, these days thanks to Grammy-nominated singer Sacha Boutros and her Sacha’s Supper Club, which hosts a “Swing with Bing” series celebrating the music of Bing Crosby, a Spokane native and once-frequent hotel guest. Speaking of the crooner, the vintage Bing Crosby Theater is just steps from the hotel. The venue, which opened in 1915 during the first wave of motion pictures, still hosts film presentations as well as live music and theater.

The hotel itself is said to be haunted, and perhaps it really is. It’s certainly easy to imagine a few literary ghosts hanging out here — Ursula the Great, say, a vaudeville singer in “The Cold Millions,” sipping martinis at the Davenport’s Peacock Room. The Jazz Age lounge is known for its stunning stained-glass ceiling, which depicts peacocks, of course, its cocktails and its popularity with the theater crowd, who flock pre- and post-show for cocktails and bites.

The Peacock Room at Spokane’s Historic Davenport Hotel is a favorite with theatergoers who flock there before and after shows. (Courtesy of The Davenport Hotel Collection)

A 10-minute walk north toward the Spokane River brings you to the dramatic Spokane Falls. Hop aboard the Numerica SkyRide gondola for a closer view and spare a moment to reflect on the labor force that built the city’s bridges and railroads. Then stroll through Riverfront Park for a bit more history and be sure to take a peek at the hand-carved Looff Carrousel. Built in 1909 by Charles I. D. Looff, who made the carousel for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk two years later, Spokane’s merry-go-round offers 54 horses, a giraffe, a tiger and two Chinese dragon chairs and, of course, a brass ring.

Traveling with kids or grandkids? Check out the park’s Garbage Goat, an interactive metal goat sculpture, and the 40,000-square-foot Ice Age Floods Playground, which opened in 2021 with a three-story Columbian slide tower, Glacial Dam splash pad, a log jam climber and a mammoth bones dig convey the geology and history of this region.

A trio of gondola cars hovers above the Spokane River in Washington. (Getty Images)

There’s plenty more to explore in Spokane, where more than two dozen craft breweries dot the cityscape. Be sure to check out Lumberbeard Brewing, where the brew list includes half a dozen hoppy IPAs, such as the Bluetooth Sharpie, as well as helles, pilsner, sour and barrel-aged beer, like a Maple Goodness barleywine. And don’t miss No-Li Brewhouse, the city’s oldest taproom which opened in 1993 with a lineup of IPAs, hazy ales, stouts and seltzers and a tasty food menu that includes fully-loaded nachos, burgers and chicken sandos, as well as grilled cheese for the kiddos.

Wine lovers will find 20 wine tasting rooms here, with more than a dozen clustered in the downtown “Cork District.” Among them: Greg Lipsker and Michael White’s Barrister Winery. Housed in an old brick building, Barrister has an unusual distinction: It offers “train settled” wines. The barrel room lies under a train trestle, and every time one of BNSF Railroad’s trains pass through — some 25,000 times per year — the vibrations gently shake the barrels, which helps the sediment settle out.

Washington’s Spokane Falls spill dramatically near Spokane’s historic downtown. (Getty Images)

Spokane’s restaurant scene is thriving too. The downtown quarter offers the Cochinito Taqueria, a fun spot for tacos with inventive fillings — from heritage duroc pork cheek carnitas to fried maitake mushrooms — and great drinks. Wooden City opened in 2020, offering cocktails and tempting fare including wood-fired pizzas and crispy artichokes.

Slightly east of Riverfront Park, you’ll stumble onto a block full of great spots, including vintage shops, a natural grocery store and the Saranac Commons food hall, which houses Peace Pie Pizzeria — think New York style slices — and Hatch Beaker + Burr, a coffee geek’s dream come true. Restaurateur Celeste Shaw opened Cafe Coco just across the street last summer. The European-style cafe serves decadent baked goods, including a striped pistachio croissant.

Spokane’s Cochinito Taqueria is a fun spot for tacos with inventive fillings and great drinks. (Courtesy Amber Turpin)

On the north side of the river, the year-old Sorella in the Kendall Yards neighborhood is an Italian spot whose fresh, housemade pasta has set Spokane abuzz. (Psst, you’ll need reservations.) Also in that neighborhood: upscale ice cream at The Scoop, where the flavor rotations range from passionfruit cheesecake to caramel coffee toffee and Hostess Ding Dong. The same space houses the Hidden Bagel shop — and the nearby river and waterfall views are a bonus.

And USA Today readers recently named Jenny Slagle’s Indigenous Eats the No. 4 best new restaurant to open in the U.S. in 2023, praising its take on Native American comfort food, such as frybread topped with huckleberry sauce.

If You Go

The Historic Davenport Hotel: Rooms start at $158 at this historic property at 10 S. Post St. in Spokane; www.davenporthotelcollection.com.

Numerica SkyRide:, Tickets $9-$13. The Riverfront Park SkyRide is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on select days at 720 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.; www.my.spokanecity.org.

Bing Crosby Theater: Find the show schedule for this venue at 901 W. Sprague Ave. at https://bingcrosbytheater.com.

Lumberbeard Brewing: Opens at 11:30 a.m. daily at 25 E. Third Ave.; www.lumberbeardbrewing.com.

No-Li Brewhouse: Opens at noon daily at 1003 E. Trent Ave.; www.nolibrewhouse.com.

Barrister Winery: Opens at noon daily at 1213 W. Railroad Alley; www.barristerwinery.com.

Cochinito: Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday at 10 N. Post St.; www.cochinitotaqueria.com.

Wooden City: Open for dinner daily at 821 W. Riverside Ave. Walk-ins welcome, but reservations are recommended to avoid the wait; www.woodencityspokane.com.

Saranac Commons: Open daily at 19 W. Main Ave.

Café Coco: Opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 24 W. Main Ave.; www.instagram.com/dearcocoonmainstreet.

Sorella: Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday at 1122 W. Summit Parkway. Reservations are a must;  www.sorellaspokane.com.

The Scoop Kendall Yards: Opens at 2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday at 1238 W. Summit Parkway. Hidden Bagel  is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. those days in the same spot. Find details at www.thescoopspokane.com and www.hiddenbagel.com.

Indigenous Eats: 829 E. Boone Ave.; www.instagram.com/iespokane/

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