Suspended in a Gondola above the country’s second largest urban waterfall is not what I initially envi sioned for our mother/daughter adventure, but it proved to be a fortuitous stop nonetheless. Each time the Skyride hovered while more onlookers boarded, I realized that unlike the rushing rapids below us, I had finally slowed down to enjoy a vacation.
While there’s something to be said for destinations within driving distance, every once in a while, my inner explorer begs to let loose. We set our sights on Spokane, Wash., and after four fabulous days of roaming the city’s best shops, restaurants and wineries, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.
A River Runs through It
A hidden gem situated on the Spokane River, Spokane is tucked into eastern Washington, approximately 20 miles from the border of Idaho and less than four hours east of Seattle. After hosting the World’s Fair in 1974, the city transformed the fair- grounds into its highly popular 100-acre Riverfront Park, where the SkyRide, twice ranked among the world’s top 15 gondola rides by Conde Nast Traveler, carries locals and visitors alike across the falls from high above the gorge.
Another haven of happiness resides a quick drive from downtown through Spokane’s Victorian-style South Hill neighborhood to Manito Park and Botanical Gardens. Nestled inside this expansive park are five gardens, a greenhouse conservatory and the impressive Nishinomiya Japanese Garden. With the sun setting behind the Japanese sculptures and traditional bonsai- looking trees, we followed a pebble path as it guided us around a beautiful pond and cozy coves perfect for pondering life.
At the time, we were much more interested in fulfilling our appetites and Luna, a beloved bistro among Spokane residents, awaited. The bustling restaurant, where friends and family convene over fine wine and fabulous food, believes in living deliciously and nowhere was this more apparent than my spaghetti made with kale pesto, house bacon, portabella, sundried tomatoes, asparagus and pistachios. With our first glass of wine from Washington’s Walla Walla Valley in hand, our expedition in the Inland Northwest quickly evolved into a food and wine pattern we honestly didn’t even try to break.
Generations of Grandeur
As much as we loved Luna — everyone loves Luna — the next best thing to culinary creativity is sleeping at a legendary locale. Best known as Spokane’s living room since 1914, the Spanish Renaissance- styled lobby inside the Historic Davenport Hotel is nothing short of stunning. Named for its proprietor, Louis Davenport, Spokane’s grandest hotel has its own walking tour during which guests can architecturally visit Italy, France, England, Spain and Imperial Russia. Knowing the Davenport aspires to pamper its guests, we settled in for unparalleled privilege.
The Isabella Ballroom, just off the lobby, holds a Sunday brunch the likes of which most guests rarely, if ever, have experienced before, compliments of the mirrored walls, endless tables of food and the original “electroliers” still hanging in the room. The Hall of Doges (dough-jez), he only flying ballroom in the world, gets my vote purely for the logistics necessary to construct the masterpiece in one place and then move it — intact — by crane into the hotel. Of course, a glass of champagne after a heavenly spa treatment inside the Forbes Four-Star Davenport Spa only added to our attachment.
Narrowly saved from demolition, The Davenport Hotel was spared by Walt and Karen Worthy and is now part of The Davenport Collection, along with the Davenport Tower, Hotel Lusso and the highly anticipated Davenport Grand Hotel opening late spring.
Of Grapes and Growlers
Two reasons to visit Spokane are The Cork District and The Inland Northwest Ale Trail. Washington state is one of the American wine industry’s heavy hitters — ranking as the second largest premium wine producer in the country, with more than 850 wineries and wine regions ranked among the world’s finest — and is well on its way to becoming a getaway for wine enthusiasts.
Staying at the Davenport provides proximity to several of the wineries in The Cork District. Among the most convenient are Cougar Crest, Whitestone Winery and Patit Creek, all with tasting rooms in the same block as the hotel. Spokane is easy to navigate and very walkable, so we earned our sips at Barrister Winery and then cruised further afield to Arbor Crest Wine Cellars. Though this winery has an in-town tasting room, go for the short drive — the view from the Cliff House Tasting Room is worth it.
Veering back downtown, we ventured into Overbluff Cellars. Once owned by Jerry Gibson who now focuses his time and talent as the winemaker, Overbluff Cellars specializes in big wines. Intense, complex and sustainable, these wines reflect the pas- sion of Gibson, who never ceases to draw a crowd, due in part to his wine knowledge and the rest to his irresistible personality. Ready to share stories and sizable pours, Gibson is onsite often, which makes the experience even more memorable. We left with several bottles of wine in hand and a signed stave from one of the barrels.
Wine isn’t the only libation landing Spokane on the map and after sufficiently hydrating for a day, we put a stopper in the wine tour and ambled along the Inland Northwest Ale Trail. Had we followed the Ale Trail Map to 10 of the participating craft breweries, we could have earned a growler to call our own, but a cold pint served us just as well. No-Li Brewhouse, situated right on the banks of the Spokane River, proved to be the perfect place to start. The internationally award-winning brewery prides itself on innovative beers made in Spokane by locals, using ingredients sourced from within 300 miles of the city. As a girl who loves dark and delicious craft beer, I ordered the Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout and anxious awaited its promise of coffee, chocolate and brown sugar. Meanwhile, Stacks at the Steam Plant might not have the familiar pub ring, but the dual smokestack building that once provided heat to most of downtown now supplies necessity in the form of surprisingly good bites, a fun tour and plenty of good brews.
The Culinary Trail
While no one left breadcrumbs for us to follow along a bonafide culinary trail, all roads led to a fine meal regardless of which direction we went. Walking around hungry or thirsty in Spokane is like not being able to find sweet tea in the South — it just doesn’t happen.
Between wine stops, we lunched at Fire Artisan Pizza, whose Camino, with roasted chicken breast, Kansas City bacon, red onion, aged white-cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and chipotle bbq sauce, finished with fresh cilantro and habenero sea salt couldn’t have made me any happier … until they brought out the skillet cookie.
Betting on a completely different scene, we drove to the suburbs just outside of Spokane for dinner at Masselow’s, a Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond award-winning restaurant inside Northern Quest Resort and Casino. While I’m normally unlucky at casinos, in the hands of Executive Chef Bob Rodgers, we left feeling as fortunate — and full — as one could hope. The food, inspired by the local Kalispel Tribe and regionally sourced, was well worth the detour.
The following day we found ourselves back in the neighborhood of South Hill. Casper Fry was a Baptist Minister whose church stands across the street from what is now a restaurant by the same name with his great, great grandson at the helm.
Inside the innovative space, which has one of only 13 solid fuel-burning Josper ovens in the country, classic Southern-inspired American dishes grace the menu with a modern approach.
As the owner shared why she buys Mill’s Farm Red Mule grits only from Athens, I realized that while Spokane’s
beauty initially draws travelers to visit, once here, guests are treated like friends by locals eager to sit and experience the best of their city right along with you. It’s a warm welcome unlike any other.