Spokane, WA: No Longer Seattle’s Ugly Sister City

Making plans to visit Spokane, WA to check out the Fall Harvest and the new Northern Quest Resort & Casino, I told my friend from Seattle where I was going and he quickly responded with disgusted reproach in his voice, “Why on earth would you go to Spokane? There is nothing to see.”  (FYI, he had never been there.)

Dear friend, whom I adore, I am happy to report – you are so wrong.

Spokane has outgrown its reputation as Seattle’s Ugly Sister – in fact, they don’t even share the same bloodline.

Spokane, the second largest city in Washington State, has transformed from a town of industry to an international hub of gourmet restaurants, wine tasting, boutique shopping and culture.

But it’s not a mini-me of Seattle either. Spokane has retained its small town charm with a stunning  historic downtown (over half of the buildings are registered as historic) and local flair.

But you have to experience it to believe it. Here is what to sip, eat and do when in Spokane, WA:

What to Sip:

With over 20 Spokane wineries, mostly in downtown, there is much to explore for the locapour. Two favorite stops are:

Barrister Winery – In an obscure area that feels like a place to score something illegal, Barrister Winery has transformed a 100 year old factory into a hip wine tasting room. The wine is ‘train-aged’ by the trains that pass nearby and if you’re lucky, you’ll feel the rumble during a barrel tasting. Wine Enthusiast has given five Barrister wines a score of 90 or more.

Arbor Crest Winery – Located in a 1920’s mansion with panoramic views of Spokane Valley, I fell in love with Arbor Crest. Was it the altitude or was it the wine – who cares? This Spokane wine tasting excursion is magical.

No need to worry about a designated driver when you can sip and float. In the summer, Spokane Parks & Recreation offers Kayak Wine/Beer tasting tours on the Spokane River.

Other tipple tastings: Dry Fly Distillery – Washington’s first distillery since prohibition, making craft-distilled Vodka, Gin & Whiskey.

Northern Lights Brewery – Stop in for pub fair and sample some Blueberry Crème or Chocolate craft beer.

What to Eat:

To see Spokane’s farm-to-table food movement at its best, eat at Santé or Masselow’s.

With Spokane sourced ingredients, Chef Jeremy Hansen’s menu at Santé gives homage to French cuisine like house made charcuterie, Lapin Au Vin and Duck Confit with a vegan options like Lentil Du Puy. While you’re there, stop by Auntie’s Bookstore – one of the last stellar independent bookstores in the US.

Chef Bob of Masselow’s at Northern Quest Resort is so dedicated to local that he makes his own butter – beyond that he works with local farmers for rest. When you want a very elegant night out in Spokane, Masselow’s is the only AAA Four Diamond awarded restaurant in Northeastern Washington.

As an example of Spokane’s food revolution, trendy restaurants like Vintages @ 611 are cropping up in off-the-beaten track neighborhoods like South Hill. Owner Tana Rekofke has turned an industrial space into a sophisticated eatery featuring homey Spokane favorites like Gorgonzola fries, gourmet macaroni and cheese, and Filet Mignon topped with Bearnaise sauce and fresh crab.

During fall weekends, head out to Harvest House, one of the thirty farms on the Green Bluff Growers circuit just outside Spokane to taste the legendary local favorite – Pumpkin Donuts. Warning: Harvest House pumpkin donuts are so good locals wait up to two hours to get their fix.

What to Do:

Ask a local what they love about Spokane and they almost always answer – the Great Outdoors. Maybe it’s due to 260 days of sunshine or maybe because it has 76 lakes, 33 golf courses and 5 ski resorts within a few hours drive. One thing is for sure -  Spokane has limitless options of rugged, unspoiled nature to explore.

Green Bluff Farms – As mentioned above, one way to get out and enjoy the picturesque landscapes of Spokane is to spend an afternoon tasting the fruits of the local farmers’ labor. Experience country living at its best – homemade apple/huckleberry pies and cider tasting at Walters, punkin’ chunkin’ (hurling pumpkins from a high powered air gun) at Knapps and even huckleberry wine tasting at Townshend Cellars.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park – With it being only thirty minutes from downtown Spokane, you can hit the slopes in the day and the Northern Quest Casino slots at night!

Backcountry Aerosports – For a bird’s eye view of Spokane, soar high above rivers, mountains and farms in an ultralight aircraft.

Row Adventure – Very few US cities have a river flowing through its center. With Row Adventures, experience not only urban river rafting in downtown Spokane but wild as well in the Riverside State Park.

Kalispel Tribal Pow-Wow – Visit the Kalispel tribal land in Usk, about forty minutes outside Spokane, to meet tribal members, take a Salish language lesson and marvel at the Native American dance festival held annually.

No matter if you come for the keen culinary/wine scene, the pristine nature or the gaming, Spokane is Washington State’s newest  ‘belle of the ball’  travel destination.

If you want both posh luxury, free Cadillac Escalade transport to Spokane and gaming options galore, stay at AAA Four Diamond Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

For more ideas on what to do when in Spokane, www.visitspokane.com

Lanee Lee Written by:

Lanee Lee is a Los Angeles based writer who uses her craft to pursue her passions - travel, artisanal food/spirits and maximizing quality of life. Lanee has traveled extensively - always in search of those golden moments of bliss. When she's not gallivanting the globe, she enjoys learning french cooking from her boyfriend and emulating Grace Kelly style. You can follow her latest adventures: www.laneelee.com, @wanderlushdiary on twitter.