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Fireworks Martini at Bistango
(photo courtesy Bistango Martini Lounge)


Knapp's on Green Bluff, Spokane


Spokane sky


Spokane Falls

Sunstruck Spokane

The Spokane River flows through town and drops, thundering. I’m afraid of heights, so standing on the bridge staring down at the Spokane Falls is a little weak knee-ed tremulous. I remount my rental bike and head back into Riverside Park where trees and lawns and public art abound and the river is but a pretty blue companion. I ride for a few miles upriver past Gonzaga University and know I could ride the paved Centennial Trail 37 miles to the Idaho border, but have other things to do. The remarkable thing about Spokane is that there are so many things to do. There’s the Cherry Picker’s Trot and Pit Spit, Bing Crosby’s childhood home, museums and art, live jazz, wineries, martini bars and Minor League Baseball. And that’s not counting kayaking, white river rafting, fishing, winter sports and golf.

Spokane developed with the arrival of Northern Pacific Railroad 1881 and is part of the Inland Empire–an immense region encompassing eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana tucked between the Rockies and the Cascade Mountain ranges. Fire destroyed the town in 1889 but thanks to a gold rush in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Spokane was booming by the turn of the 20th Century. Much of that original city planning and handsome brick architecture remains. Early designs by the Olmstead brothers laid groundwork for wide boulevards and splendid parks.

I’ve been to Spokane several times and am always glad to see that sun. Aptly named by indigenous tribes meaning “Children of the Sun,” Spokane averages 260 days of clear skies. It’s not truly summer until I get east of the Cascades in that delicious dry heat.

A half hour out of town, six of us put in our kayaks at the almost 2,000-acre Little Spokane River Natural Area with its eight miles of navigable water through marshy wetlands. Rental kayaks and transportation is provided and we are dropped off and will be picked up at the designated spot downriver. We carry our kayaks along a path through head-high native grasses to the water’s edge and float together a bit. My new friend Caitlin and I paddle away from the happy chattering women and the slow beginners who remain behind with our guide and whom we learn later capsize a number of times. Caitlin and I gain some distance and drift into the bliss of birds and wildlife, flowers and tall grasses. We see flycatchers, common yellowthroats, mallards, hummingbirds, butterflies, a diving osprey, a heron with a fish and just peaking out from marshy grasses, a baby beaver. The river here is slow and idyllic and we take out before white water, sit in the grass and wait for the others to arrive. Then it’s lunch at Downriver Grille and a burger way too much for me that a couple of the guys in our kayaking group eagerly polish off.

There are so many terrific restaurants in town, most within walking distance of downtown hotels, that it’s hard to choose. Luckily, a smattering of smart watering holes are within walking distance too, since it’s fun to stroll in the warm evenings and explore Spokane’s martini scene as bartenders vie to see whose fantastic concoctions can get furthest from a real martini. For example, at Twigs, one might indulge in a Key Lime martini or at Bistango get your eyebrows singed with the flaming Fireworks. I don’t really consider these things martinis – only vodka with olives for me. But then some consider anything other than gin obscene. A night out bar hopping and I think it would be swell to settle in at The Davenport Hotel’s Peacock Lounge before heading up to my spacious room. The Peacock inspired ceiling is dazzling but there’s something off—too bright, too spacious, too big clunky furnitured, too kinda businessmen-hang-out-here-after-hours-creepy. O.K., so I just was looking for something more intimate comfortable.

For foodie grazers, try the Happy Hour tapas menu (and great drinks) at Wild Sage, artisan cheeses at Saunders Cheese Market, Coeur d’Alene Olive Company and The Chocolate Apothecary. Tours of the renovated historic Fox Theater and The Davenport Hotel (ask the concierge about the History Detective scavenger hunt) will leave you agog. A foursome of elderly ladies in snappy suits, one in Chanel, are playing bridge in the lobby and seem just right—hair freshly coiffed, discreetly be-jeweled. I bet they were here in younger days. The extravagant opulence does make me wish for an earlier, more decorous era when shorts and tennis shoes were not standard wear. A visit to Finder’s Keepers can fix that: vintage clothing and a stupendous array of antique and art deco jewelry. I ogle, but don’t buy.

Auntie’s Book Store, art galleries, shops, and Riverfront Park with its famous hand-carved carrousel, Spokane Falls Skyride gondola, ferris wheel and delightful sculptures (check out the bronze runners, the oversized red wagon and the garbage eating goat) will keep you and the kids in town, but it’s worth a drive out of town to visit wineries and the Green Bluff area to taste farm stand produce or pick your own fruit.

After a tractor ride through the orchard and an outdoor-on-the-deck-in-the-sunshine breakfast of so-so eggs and pancakes (on paper plates, erg) smothered in a variety of sticky too sweet fruity syrups at Knapp’s u-pick farm and watching Larry Knapp practice cherry pit spitting for the upcoming Pit Spit contest, a visit to Cat Tales Zoological Park is a mixed blessing. Zoos tend to make me cringe and this is no exception even though these kind folk are rescuing and training animals that otherwise would remain injured, neglected or abused. The big cats – pumas, leopards, tigers – are tremendous to see close-up and well cared for, yet I can’t help wish they didn’t have to be here. I did get to pet a Tiger cub. Not soft. Bristly, the coat full of lanolin. It chirped a purr while the handler fed it from a bottle.

Spokane has four municipal golf courses (over 30 in the vicinity), including Indian Canyon, a Golf Digest top 25 public course pick and The Creek at Qualchan, which has qualified for the Audubon Cooperative Sancturary Program.

This trip, I opt for another water adventure, a leisurely guided rafting float on the Spokane River below the falls. We stop at a sandbar and as our raftsman/guide uncorks the wine and prepares a cheese and snack spread, two of us jump in the river. It feels great. Our other two raft mates and even the guide are startled. What else are you supposed to do? Ater all, it’s hot. In Spokane. In summer.

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