Spokane should be atop your list of places to visit.
The second-largest city in Washington state has something for everyone to see and do. There is also a noticeable feeling that it’s a world removed from Seattle, thanks to a mayor who actually wants to crack down on the kind of problems that plague better-known cities in the Pacific Northwest.
After flying into Spokane’s spaceship-looking airport, a classic example of 1960s architecture, and picking up a rental car, I made my way downtown to check-in at the Historic Davenport Hotel.
Saved from demolition — the kind of so-called urban renewal projects that destroyed historic buildings in countless downtowns across the country — it is flagged under Marriott’s upscale Autograph Collection brand. The landmark hotel with its Old World-inspired lobby stands in stark contrast to Parkade Plaza, which at first glance may seem like any other massive concrete parking garage but is actually a landmark in its own right and serves as a big draw for midcentury modern enthusiasts.
While very much an underrated destination, the city has actually been on the map since hosting Expo ’74.
By hosting the direct successor to the more famous world’s fairs and international expositions of earlier eras, Spokane was the smallest city to ever hold such an event. And just as world’s fairs in 1899 and 1900 gave Paris the Eiffel Tower and other iconic landmarks, Spokane, too, has its own iconic leftover: the one-time U.S. Pavilion that today anchors Riverfront Park.
The once-neglected park, which occupies land formerly blighted by industry and railroads, straddles both sides of the Spokane River around the unoriginally named Spokane Falls. Here, a gondola, the Numerica SkyRide, takes passengers on a 15-minute scenic ride above the falls.
The twin spires of St. Aloysius Church (Roman Catholic) on the campus of Gonzaga University are visible from anywhere along the river. While the church is worth visiting, Spokane’s most notable church is the Episcopal cathedral a few minutes from downtown.
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, which serves as the seat of the Episcopal bishop, is one of the finest examples of Gothic church architecture anywhere in the United States. I consider it Gothic and not Gothic revival because it was constructed entirely of masonry in the same manner as true medieval Gothic (Pugin would approve). The pointed arches aren’t merely decorative or stylistic details, which is pretty impressive considering the fact that traditional church architecture was well out of fashion by the time of its construction between 1925 and 1961.
No visit to Spokane would be complete without an adventure on its namesake river.
A couple of different outfitters offer excursions ranging from stand-up paddleboards to whitewater rafting and casual floats. I went with the approximately two-hour float from Wiley E. Waters that can easily be done by anyone, including those with zero rafting experience. For me, it was the perfect relief from temperatures that soared above 100 degrees during my visit in mid-August.
If you go
If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have rented a car. You can get almost everywhere by walking or through one of the popular ride-sharing services. The only thing that really requires a rental car is getting to Mount Spokane State Park and the summit of Quartz Mountain at 5,129 feet in elevation.
For those arriving by car, the drive to Spokane is about four hours from the airport in Seattle. If you choose to fly, American, Delta and United are among the airlines flying into Spokane with nonstop flights from major hubs.
Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.
Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.