Are you ready to discover the hidden gems of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most underrated cities? Let’s tour Spokane’s distinct neighborhoods and discover what makes each unique, from outdoor adventures to food and drink.
Discover one reason Spokane should be on your Pacific Northwest travel bucket list.
But first, this week’s “Worth a Stop” location:
Worth a Stop – Smokey’s BBQ
If you’re traveling across I-90 from Seattle to Spokane, the town of Cle Elum makes a very convenient pit stop, and since you’re stopping anyway, I recommend Smokey’s Barbecue.
The food is delicious. It’s one of our favorite barbecue restaurants. I suggest you try ‘Smokey’s Train Wreck.’ It’s smoked meat, topped with baked beans, coleslaw, and cheese on top of their house-made cornbread. And yes, it looks like a train wreck.
There’s something else unique about Smokey’s. It’s housed in the historic South Cle Elum Depot.
So while you wait for your food, you can wander over to the adjoining railway museum and get a little dose of history. A museum and barbecue in one building. That’s worth a stop.
What makes Spokane unique?
Let’s head northeast to explore beautiful Spokane, Washington. The drive from Seattle is about four and a half hours; from Portland, it’s five and a half hours; and from Boise, six and a half hours.
I think Spokane is underrated and overlooked as a vacation destination in Washington.
Why go to Spokane?
First of all, the great weather. Yes, it is cold in the winter, but there are many days of sun and less rain than in some of the more popular Pacific Northwest destinations.
It’s also the second largest city in Washington, which offers a mix of cultures. And, as we’re about to find out interesting neighborhoods and a surprising food, coffee, and brewery scene.
The wide open space of Eastern Washington is filled with nature and outdoor activities, and there are many day trip opportunities. There’s Silverwood Amusement Park, Mount Spokane, and Palouse Falls, to name a few. If you make Spokane your home base, Coeur d’Alene is right nearby.
When is the best time to go to Spokane?
I will probably say this for every town, but it depends on what you want to do.
In winter, it’s cold; there will be some snow but plenty of sunshine. Gonzaga basketball is enough of an excuse for some people. The art, music, and theater scene is hopping, and Mount Spokane offers the usual snow sports.
In the spring, you’ll see the weather warm up around May. This is also the greenest time in Eastern Washington because the rest of the year is, at best, a golden wheat brown, so you’ll want to get outside in the spring and enjoy all the parks and recreation sites. This is also when the festival season starts to kick in.
In the summer, things begin to heat up. You’ll usually find days in the high eighties to nineties, but there are plenty of outdoor activities and water to take advantage of.
This is an excellent place to mention that the Pacific Northwest is obsessed with garage doors on restaurants, coffee houses, and brew pubs, and when the weather starts to warm up, these doors roll up, and the party spills outside.
Fall, though, is my favorite time in Eastern Washington. October is glorious. We were here last October, and the weather was so warm that we were still out paddle boarding well into the month. The fall color is beautiful, and of course, Eastern Washington University football is nearby.
Let’s get into Spokane’s Neighborhoods. Spokane is divided into 29 distinct official neighborhoods. Each has its personality and something to recommend it. Today I’ll be highlighting 12 of those neighborhoods going loosely from west to east.
Kendall Yards is on the west side of Spokane and is the newest neighborhood.
It’s the most bougie, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Sustainability, walkability, livability, community gardens, public green spaces, public art, front and center with all the buzzwords.
You can walk above the Spokane River and Spokane Falls on the paved Centennial Trail, which connects Spokane’s Riverside State Park to downtown Spokane’s Riverfront Park.
The Nest is another spot to look for in Kendall Yards. This is where concerts and all the outdoor events happen. There’s also a beautiful park and playground called Olmsted Brothers Green.
I would stop at the Maryhill tasting room if you’re into wine tasting. Maryhill Winery is in the Columbia Gorge, but they have a beautiful tasting room in Kendall Yards.
The river-facing part of the building is all glass. You can get a table overlooking the river and order a wine flight and a small plate. This is a fancy word for a really good snack.
Kendall Yards is also known for its shopping, and there’s something for everyone. At French Toast, you can find children’s gifts and clothing. Boutique blue for women’s classic clothing. Fleet Feet has specialty fitness footwear and Prairie Dog Mercantile – because you can’t leave out the family dog.
There’s also mom’s custom tattoo and piercing. If you really want to remember your trip to Spokane, you can stop here. It’s very spa-like. So, if you’re a little more Lululemon than Walmart, you’ll be comfortable here. No shade on Walmart – everybody loves a Walmart deal.
The main draw to Kendall Yards, though, is the food.
I have a few personal favorites. Mole serves elevated Oxacan-style Mexican and is at the top of the list.
There’s also Baba Mediterranean. The menu is very innovative, and they also serve brunch. You are in for a treat if you’ve never had a Mediterranean-style brunch.
Also, the Yards Bruncheon serves classic brunch every day of the week.
Around the corner, you’ll find Crepe Cafe sisters. They serve savory and sweet crepes. They team up with local breweries and create special event pairing menus. The best place to find these is on their Instagram account. I love this place.
You can finish your evening at the Scoop ice cream parlor, where they serve dairy, vegan, gluten-free, and just regular ice cream. They also have a second location on South Hill.
Hello Sugar is for the serious donut lover. They also have breakfast options and all the fancy coffees. They have this beautiful donut wedding cake.
At one end of Kendall Yards, you’ll find My Fresh Basket grocery store. This is grocery shopping eye candy.
They have a full-service deli with house-made fresh food: an espresso bar, a bakery, and all the usual grocery departments. There’s patio seating and a second-story deck with seating overlooking Kendall Yards.
Let’s move to the 1940s-era Garland District, a few miles north of downtown Spokane.
It’s charming, eclectic, and uniquely Spokane.
The historic Garland Theater, restored to its original 1945 splendor, offers a mix of current – meaning in the last few months – films.
Classics, which could be anything from the 1940s to the 2000s.
They also telecast the Gonzaga basketball games.
They host the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. I mean, how many theaters can say that?
The tickets range anywhere from free to $5. You have to look at their schedule to see how eclectic the lineup is. They also serve a few small plate treats and have an in-house bar.
Also in the Garland District is the Blue Door Theater, which has comedy improv on Friday and Saturday nights.
There’s plenty of unusual shopping, the Garland Mercantile being one. The Mercantile features unique and local products from Spokane and the Pacific Northwest, ranging from beauty to food, coffee, and garden items.
It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts. This is the neighborhood for diners. The most unique is Mary Lou’s milk bottle, housed in a giant milk bottle. They are famous for their milkshakes. Right next door is Ferguson’s Cafe, which is another local favorite. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner diner style.
- Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle (no website)
- Ferguson’s Fountain Cafe (no website)
And there’s the Garland Sandwich Shop, another local favorite. For all you low carb-ers, the Garland Sandwich Shop has ‘The Big Dill.’ This is a huge sub sandwich with all the fixings, served between two slices of a giant dill pickle.
For comfort food, go to North Hill on Garland. They serve elevated pub food in a beautiful 1920s Masonic building.
Garland Brew Works is another good stop. They serve unique brews and have a small pub food menu. Families are welcome here.
The Brown Derby Tavern is said to be one of the oldest bars in all of Washington. They also serve pub food.
- Brown Derby Bar (no website)
And finally, you have the Garland Drinkery, which is popular for its patio, live music, and karaoke.
You can have lunch at one restaurant, see a movie at the Garland Theater and top it off with dinner and a drink; who said history is boring?
North Monroe District
For unique shopping, let’s head to the North Monroe District with its long string of antique thrift and upcycled decor shops.
I love to start at one end of the 12-ish blocks of shops and wander up and down. Paint in My Hair, Atomic Threads, 1889 Salvage, and Chic and Shab are some of my favorites, but there are at least a dozen unique shops.
On the topic of breweries… Spokane has over 28 unique breweries and brew pubs, and that’s just the breweries listed on the Spokane Ale Trail. If you happen to be over in the North Monroe area, treasure hunting, try Bellweather Brewing. It’s gorgeous.
Or, you could try Four Eyed Guys Brewing – also wonderful. They have a taproom and shareables and lean more towards the IPA and Hazy IPAs.
Ladder Coffee Company is a large, beautiful, bright space for coffee. They have a variety of seating, so if you’re by yourself or with a group, they’ve got you covered.
The coffee is delicious. And they also have a small menu of fresh breakfast and brunch items made in-house. They have multiple locations, so if you’re looking it up on the GPS, ensure you’re heading to the one on North Monroe.
If you want a meal, I would try Elliots: an Urban Kitchen; they have a very creative American-style menu that changes frequently.
In the heart of the city and the hub of most of the tourist activity, you have downtown Spokane.
The centerpiece of which is the Spokane River and Falls. Riverfront Park runs on both sides of the river, and you can cross back and forth over multiple pedestrian bridges.
You’ll find a SkyRide gondola, which will take you over the falls, a carousel, and the Ice Age playground.
The playground is pretty new. It’s a fantastic play space with a three-story slide. It makes me want to be a kid again.
There’s the pavilion where they put on evening light shows and the radio flyer Red Wagon, a Spokane icon.
The garbage goat – another Spokane icon – is half metal sculpture, half trash can. The clock tower is a great place to meet up, and a skating ribbon, which in the winter serves as an ice rink and, in the summer, a roller rink. It’s not really a rink, though. It’s more like a racetrack – very fun.
There’s also the Providence Playspace, labeled an inclusive free movement assisted devices sensory-rich playground. It’s unusual and really extraordinary.
Of course, the highlight of the Spokane River is Spokane Falls, and there are many viewing points throughout Riverfront Park.
The Mobius Discovery Center sits at one end of Riverside, just outside the park. This is a science museum that is suitable for all ages. I took my 18-month-old grandson there, and he had just as much fun as I saw the tweens, teens, and adults having.
The Martin Woldson Theater houses the Spokane Symphony right there in Riverfront Park.
In Spokane, we have the historic Davenport Hotel. If you’re into that, it has a spa and a fancy restaurant.
The Peacock Room Lounge sits under a huge stained glass ceiling of a peacock. You may want to pop in and take a look at the lobby because it is gorgeous. You could treat yourself to a drink at the bar.
My favorite trifecta in Spokane is Uncles, Aunties, and Atticus. Uncles is a game and puzzle store. Aunties sits next door- a full-service, two-story independent bookstore. If you go about a block and a half down, you’ll find Atticus’s Coffee, a coffee/bookstore/gift store that is fun.
Around the corner, you also have Boo Radley’s Toy Store, which is not to be missed. But then I couldn’t say trifecta.
River Park Square is a shopping mall in downtown Spokane with higher-end shops like Pottery Barn, Anthropology, and Free People.
Before I share my favorite restaurants downtown, I want to talk about Spokane’s coffee culture.
Portland and Spokane are well-known coffee hubs in the Pacific Northwest, but surprisingly Spokane is where it’s at for coffee. The coffee in Spokane is good. I mean really good and abundant, and all the spaces you can drink your fancy coffee in seem special. There are multiple excellent coffee shops in every neighborhood.
I will mention one of the most unique: Evans Brothers is inside the Wonder Market building.
The Wonder Market Building is a repurposed 1909 Wonder Bread Bakery, which has been turned into an open concept space full of eateries, a working area, and free games. Think ping pong, giant Jenga, cornhole, and foosball. They also host a farmer’s market.
The Wonder Building opened BC in 2019, which slowed the progress down, but now that we’re getting back to “normal,” it’s growing and filling out, and they’re beginning to host many community events.
We love to go there as a family, pick up coffee and make it our giant living room.
There are so many places to eat downtown. I’m going to suggest a few.
One Spokane Institution is Franks Diner; it’s housed in a train car, so things can get a little tight, and if you don’t like to be hot, don’t let them seat you next to the counter because you’re going to feel the heat off of the grill.
Besides that, you can’t go wrong stopping here for breakfast or lunch. They have all the traditional and unique dishes – like fried green tomatoes and nine different eggs Benedict dishes.
The Bruncheonette is another stop for breakfast. They have brunch every day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu is curated. It’s a clean, minimal space and pretty hip.
Another good choice for all-day breakfast is Satellite Diner and Lounge. This is an old-school breakfast spot and lounge with a vast menu. Their claim to fame is that they’re open until 4:00 AM. The food is generous, and it’s delicious.
Queen of Sheba, Ethiopian food in the flower mill building is at the edge of Riverside Park. It’s one of our family’s favorite places to eat. The food is served family style. You’ll pick a few dishes, and they bring them out on a huge platter. Then you scoop it up with injera; if you’re unfamiliar, it’s a traditional pancake-like flatbread. Communal eating is part of the experience, so be forewarned.
Another favorite of mine is The Onion. They are famous for their bacon-wrapped onion rings, and they do live up to the hype. They also have 51 beers on tap. Plus, a full menu of delicious food.
Nudo Ramen House is Japanese food. What makes this restaurant the most fun is the minimalist meets comic book interior.
The food is excellent – the interior is Instagram-worthy.
Next up is Brown’s Addition, the oldest neighborhood in Spokane. It is full of Victorian homes, mansions, and craftsmans, mixed with what we’ll call average homes, so it’s fun to drive around and see what you can find.
Brown’s Addition is also the home of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. There are multiple hands-on places for children—the exhibits change often, usually focusing on Northwest culture. With your ticket, you also get to tour the Campbell house. This is a 1910 mansion that has been perfectly preserved as if the Campbell family just stepped out to run errands. This is definitely worth a stop.
If you have the opportunity, take the docent-led tour. It’s much more interesting than the self-led tour because they point out things you wouldn’t notice alone. I’ve been on this tour three times, and yes, I am a bit of a history nerd, but I learn something new every time.
If you’re looking for live music, try the Lucky You Lounge. It’s 21+; they have a variety of live music, DJs, trivia nights, and other events.
Brown’s Addition is very much a local’s neighborhood, like The Garland; there are lots of eateries to choose from. Try The Elk Public House, housed in a historic pharmacy/soda fountain, and has a great American-style menu.
El Que is an excellent place to stop for Mexican Street food. It’s right behind The Elk. Think Tacos.
Italian Trattoria, which has an Italian menu, serves house-made pasta. Everything is local and seasonal.
Pacific Pizza is a favorite local pizza place. They also serve pizza by the slice, which is handy if you’re traveling solo or you have one of those families that can’t agree on one pizza.
- Pacific Pizza (no website)
Brownes Bistro is a good choice for a classic Sunday brunch. It’s housed in a beautiful historic home with a great patio.
- Browne’s Bistro (bummer – temporarily closed)
The Bijou serves coffee by day and cocktails by night.
Rind and Wheat is a gourmet cheese and bakery shop. They serve pastries, bread, cheese, and charcuterie.
This is a good place to pick up a picnic and take it to our next neighborhood…
Manito Cannon Hill
Manito Cannon Hill is also one of the older neighborhoods in Spokane, and it is packed with beautiful historic homes, tree-lined streets, and Manito Park. Manito is a massive 90-acre park that has a lot going on.
They have a rose garden, an arboretum, a Japanese garden, a conservatory, a lilac garden, and a perennial garden. Besides wandering around and looking at all the pretty flowers, I suggest you take a picnic because you can’t pay for a more beautiful meal setting.
Nearby, you have Cannon Hill Park, which is looser and more natural than Manito’s manicured landscape. Cannon Hill has a nice neighborhood playground.
Manito is primarily a residential district. One eatery I suggest is the Rockwood Bakery, where they have treats and coffee. That’s also fun to take to the park – treats and coffee!
- Rockwood Bakery (no website)
Heading east, we come to the University District.
Being a university district, it has a youthful vibe. This neighborhood has the best thrift stores, and Gonzaga University lives here. There are also satellite campuses of Eastern and Washington State Universities.
Check out the Gonzaga campus; It is gorgeous.
The campus also houses a few of the highlights in this area. The Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center produces ballets, concerts, and theater. And if you like art, don’t overlook the Jundt Art Museum.
One of the coolest things on the Gonzaga campus is the Bing Crosby House Museum. If you grew up with Bing Crosby playing in your house at Christmas, you’ll want to check this out. This is Crosby’s actual childhood home. It’s free, so you can pop in and take a look for an hour or so.
Being the university district, it’s packed with lots of inexpensive places to eat.
Pete’s Pizza is my favorite. They are the self-proclaimed Calzone king. They serve these massive, delicious, made-to-order calzones. Plan on a nap because this is a carb bomb. Another good place is Caruso Sandwiches and Artisan Pizza.
You have Jack and Dan’s college bar, which is very iconic to Spokane, and because it’s near the university, you can imagine it has a pretty energetic vibe.
The Donut Parade, which many people say has the best donuts in Spokane, differs from Hello Sugar in Kendall Yards. If you’re looking for Instagram-worthy photos, go to Hello Sugar.
Donut Parade is your place if you want to sneak out in your sweatpants with your bedhead on a Saturday morning and get a dozen maple bars.
No-Li Brewhouse is in this area; they serve beer and shareables, which is another fancy word for snacks. This is a fun space. We went to a trivia night once, and it was a blast.
Next up is Sprague Union.
Sprague Union has a rich history. It was once the transportation hub in Spokane. This used to be the area where (How do I put this delicately?) you were warned to avoid, especially at night. But it’s turned a new leaf. There are a lot of fun shops – Blue Cat Vintage, ERA vintage, Sprague Avenue Vintage, and Two Women Vintage. Do you sense a theme here?
There are also boutiques, the Greencastle Soap Company, and many other unique shops and places.
A few favorites for food are Bennidito’s Brew Pubs pizza and sandwiches.
The Union Tavern, which is in a historic 1914 building, has a great interior, and they serve pub food.
Sam and Doms is a bar very popular for its pool tables.
- Sam and Dom’s (no website)
Spokane Cheesecake, which is all cheesecake all the time, and Breauxdoo Bakery for your sweet fix.
Cream and Sugar Coffee is a good choice for coffee.
- Cream and Sugar Coffee (no website)
Historically, Hillyard has been a transportation and industrial hub, evolving along with Sprague Union.
Promising to be the next hot thing – it’s like Kendall Yards, but with more grit and older buildings. Antiquing is hot in Hillyard – you have Hillyard Variety, Vintage Jaber, B&B Junk Co, and Market Street Antiques, to name a few.
For eateries, I would try the Kismet, which is Latin-inspired, or Dogtown Taphouse and Barbecue.
South Perry District
Across the freeway, you come to the South Perry District, a residential area. When you head to any of the places I’m about to mention, you’ll probably think that your GPS has bit the dust, and then nestled in a bunch of single-family homes, you’ll stumble on something like…
The Grain Shed. The Grain Shed bakes with ancient grains using traditional slow ferments. They take their loaves of bread and pastries very seriously. They also take the same ancient grain and make delicious beer. Their chocolate croissants are the best you will ever taste, even if you’ve been to France. They also have delicious avocado toast.
There isn’t a central shopping area in South Perry. Some unique and cool places are dotted around, like Lorian Herbs and Natural Foods, and Windfall Thrift.
- Lorien Herbs & Natural Foods
- Windfall Thrift (no website)
And there’s a Title Nine. If you’re a fan of Title Nine women’s clothing, you know there are very few places in the northwest where you can touch and try on the clothes, and this little bright South Perry location is one of them.
For eateries, again, I mentioned the Grain Shed. But be warned, although they have pastries, it’s not a coffee shop – they serve drip coffee. You can take your food out and eat on the picnic tables, on the back patio or grab a loaf of bread to take home.
Next is The Shop, a coffee, and bakery – that features local art. It’s a quirky space. Very cute.
There’s South Perry Pizza, which is a great neighborhood pizza place.
Perry Street Brewing, which serves beer and food.
And the South Perry Lantern, also pub food.
Our next stop is Spokane Valley.
Technically, Spokane Valley, and the next neighborhood I will talk about Liberty Lake, are cities in and of themselves, but for our purposes, we will call them neighborhoods.
You could say that this area is primarily suburban sprawl and big box stores, but there are good reasons to go to the eastern edge of Spokane.
Spokane Valley is a good place to make your hub if you have a family with many different interests and needs. You’ll find the most family-friendly, major hotel chains. This also makes a good home base if you spend time in Coeur d’Alene or take day trips.
Out here, you’ll find the big sprawling Spokane Valley Mall because sometimes, you need a mall when traveling.
There’s also Mirabeau Park and Discovery Playground. This playground is lovely. It is so unique. There’s a bouldering area, fossil maze, water play, secret garden, and more. If you have young ones, this is a must-stop.
Sky High Sports is out here – it’s an indoor trampoline business.
And if you want to do something extra special, check out the Arbor Crest Estates Winery. They host many special events like pairing dinners and the Fireside Dinner and Music series.
You will find every chain and fast food joint imaginable on this end of town, more so than in any neighborhood in Spokane.
But if you’re looking for something unique, try the Outlaw Barbecue. It has excellent food and a fun theme.
There’s also Craft and Gather, which is a gastro pub. They have a lovely patio.
Jake and Clay’s Public House puts a unique spin on salads and sandwiches.
And finally, The Pint House, which serves burgers and brews.
The furthest east is Liberty Lake. This is also mainly a residential area, but it’s a residential area that grew up around some beautiful natural features.
The centerpiece of which is Liberty Lak,e Regional Park. Liberty Lake has camping, barbecues, picnic areas, swimming areas, a playground, and trails.
The Liberty Lake Loop Trail is here. It’s an 8.3-mile loop trail around the Lake.
Micah Moon Zip Tours and Aerial Park tours are in Liberty Lake if you need some adrenaline.
And there is Liberty Lake Wine Cellars. This is a huge tasting room and winery. You cannot miss it if you’re traveling on I-90. It’s right off the freeway. If you’re interested in local wine, you’ll want to check out Liberty Lake Cellars.
For eateries, take a look at Hay J’S Bistro. It’s bistro food at lunch and gets a little fancier at dinner. For a steak dinner, this is a good place.
- Hay J’s Bistro (website currently down)
True Legends Grill, which has an extensive American-style menu, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they claim to play all the games on the biggest screens in Spokane.
Piccolo Artisan Pizza Kitchen has brick oven pizza and other Italian-inspired food.
Bocopop is Bobo Tea and Coffee.
Sweet Annie’s Artisan Creamery serves ice cream. They have a five-flavor flight – I love an ice cream shop that serves flights because I can never decide.
There’s also Trail Breaker Cider. They are housed in a beautiful two-story glass building where they press the cider in-house from Washington Apples.
They serve great food with a cider-friendly menu. There are at least 12 hard ciders on tap. They also offer a non-alcoholic cider, which is just as fresh.
Travel tip of the week
Next up, we have our travel tip of the week.
We took a long road trip through Arizona and New Mexico a few years ago. It was October, but it was very hot during the day – in the eighties. Most days were shorts and t-shirt weather. The warmest thing I had with me was a pair of leggings and a hoodie to layer over my clothes in the early morning.
One day we decided to take the gondola in Albuquerque up 10,000 feet, where it was 40 degrees. It certainly wasn’t life-threatening, but it was very uncomfortable. And because of the crowds, we ended up being stuck there for two hours. And out of that experience, we made the rule that we always take outerwear – no matter what.
We both went out and bought puffy-down jackets. If we’re flying, we can smush them up and put them into a compression bag, or a Ziploc bag works just fine too.
On road trips, I put a collapsible laundry basket in the back of the car so we can toss in coats, hats, gloves, and any outerwear. The basket keeps it all corralled so we don’t lose something or start stomping on it in the bottom of the car.