Normally the idea of being trapped in a car with my kids for several hours makes me cringe. I adore road trips, but my perception of them has been greatly altered with the addition of young children. However the drive to Spokane, Washington is an annual family tradition I can never pass up, even with the kids in tow. This is for a few reasons: 1) My parents caravan with us so we can divide and conquer and get some help along the way; 2) My family has been doing the trip as long as I can remember, and the nostalgia factor helps drown out some of the screams and “Is this Spokane?”/”No, it’s Okotoks” exchanges; and 3) Spokane is in full bloom much earlier than Calgary. Everything is green and plush by the May long weekend.
It’s only appropriate than that we usually arrive in the city in time for the Lilac Festival (which always falls on the Victoria Day long weekend). Not only are there lots of great family-friendly activities during the celebration, the whole city is awash in colour and the gorgeous scent of blossoms. Twist my arm, why don’t you?
Having visited the city as often as we have, we’ve had the opportunity to stay in all quadrants of the city: the Spokane Valley and further north in the city, close to airport. Our favourite by far though, is the downtown area. Spokane’s famed Riverfront Park is surrounded by hotels: two Marriotts, a Doubletree and the Red Lion Inn at the Park. You can fall out the front doors of any of them and go for a walk along the river.
On this trip, we decided to use the FlipKey website and chose a condo in Spokane’s historic Browne’s Addition (the city’s first neighbourhood). Our entire family could stay in one place (now that’s love – and tolerance), we had a kitchen, living room space where we could relax with a glass of wine once the kids were in bed and we were still a leisurely stroll away from downtown.
Where to go when visiting Spokane:
Riverfront Park is one of our family’s favourite spots. The paved walkway is perfect for a morning or evening walk along the gorgeous river, with a view of the spectacular Spokane Falls. Near the entrance of the park, the (giant) Red Wagon is an interactive sculpture that also happens to have a slide the kids loved. Nearby is the Rotary Fountain, an impressive 30-foot structure with 40 overhead jets. But what appeals to my kids is that it’s a very esthetically-pleasing water park This is definitely a hotspot for the littles – quite literally. On a hot day, they can run under the spray or splash in little puddles along the perimeter (recommended if you don’t have a change of clothes for them, a lesson we learned the hard way the first time we discovered it). A short distance away is a gorgeous, historic carousel that’s still operational despite being constructed (all the animals are hand-carved) in 1909.
If you want the best view of the falls, the Spokane Falls Skyride will take you right into the heart of them. It’s so good that CondeNast Traveler named it one of the 12 best gondola rides in the city. I personally will have to take their word for it, as my fear of heights has not yet waived enough to convince me to actually get on it.
Twenty minutes north of the city, Green Bluff Growers, a cooperative offering fresh fruits and vegetables either pre-picked or U-picked. Obviously you can’t bring your wares back across the Canadian border, but you can certainly enjoy them on your trip. Be sure to check the website to see if one of the seasonal events (they had me at Cherry Festival) falls during your visit. The co-op also features a winery, antiques and an alpaca ranch.
For the art lovers (or a rainy day), the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture (more commonly known as the MAC) is a Smithsonian Institute Affiliate and is a great place to go to check out regional history, art and American Indian history.
Perhaps what makes Spokane so unique (and stunning) is all the natural beauty within the city. There are certain spots, such as Riverfront or just north of Browne’s Addition where you might lose track of the fact that you’re in a large city. Large green spaces, huge beautiful trees and stunning views overlooking valleys are commonplace. If you have a family of outdoor lovers, Manito Park is another of these spaces, 90 acres with five major garden areas and the perfect spot to go biking, walking or rafting.
Where to eat
Speaking of Manito Park, if you happen to enjoy some time there, stop in at the Manito Tap House for a pint and a bite to eat. Kids are welcome, there are over 50 beers on tap (my husband and father were like kids in a candy store. Or adults in a…tap house), and an impressive menu known for its awesome soups and my personal favourite, green chile mac and cheese. A kids menu offers the mac and cheese without the heat, as well are other child-friendly fare such as sliders.
Located in Browne’s Addition, the Elk Public House is a family favourite and was conveniently a two-block walk from our accommodations this trip (but it’s worth the drive even if you’re staying further away). The outdoor patio is lively and a great place to people watch in this quaint neighbourhood, that blends history with hip, vibrant residents.
For breakfast, Frank’s Diner is a fun, revamped train car, with huge portions, booths and counter service, and an electic atmosphere. Show up early if you’re visiting on a weekend – the crowds show up in droves to this popular spot. The 9th Street Bistro in Huckleberry’s Natural Market is a great option for a quick casual breakfast that you can stick around to eat or take on the go. Fresh-made omelettes and breakfast bagels, a juice bar and an espresso menu will give you the boost you need to tackle your busy day. Be sure to browse the market for an impressive beer and wine selection to keep you hydrated once you’re back at your accommodations and the kids are in bed for the night.
Where to shop
There are always deals to be had when shopping in the U.S., whether you prefer clothing for your family or unique little treasures. River Park Square downtown features the usual Nordstrom, Macy’s and Williams Sonoma. Within a couple blocks are fun stores such as Boo Radley (for kitschy novelty lovers) and Artemis for vintage inspired clothing and home décor.
The Spokane Valley and North Division Street also features bargain stores such as Ross Dress for Less, Kohl’s and Nordstrom Rack (in the Valley only).
My favourite store in Spokane hasn’t changed from the time I was a young child and we used to visit on family vacations. White Elephant has two locations (East Sprague and North Division) and first opened in Spokane in 1946. In a nutshell, it sells sporting goods, fishing supplies and hunting gear, but also has a massive section devoted to toys and games. I used to love wandering the aisles and choosing out a few new things to take home and it’s even more fun to take my kids now to do the same. Sure, my daughter galloped down the aisles on a hobby horse and my son tried to single-handedly empty an entire shelf of dump trucks, but that’s the best part of being an out-of-towner. They aren’t likely to remember you when you only get to visit once or twice a year. The prices are lower there than most big-box toy stores and the cramped aisles are just more fun (probably for the kids than the adults who have to clean up after them).
After we’d already returned home, I discovered Spokane recently opened a Cork District (hereby known as Mommy’s Playground), featuring several local wineries and downtown tasting rooms. I generally don’t need any additional reasons to get excited for this annual outing, but if I did, this would be a good one.
After a full four days, no one was ready to come home and not only because of the eight-hour whinefest back home. The amount of unaccomplished things on our to—do list is almost enough to make a case for making this trip semi-annual. Maybe once teleportation is invented or Toyota makes a parent-only soundproof compartment in the Rav 4.