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Spokane

Inland city really surprises visitors from coast

By STEVE FRENZL

One of the most surprising destinations in the Pacific Northwest is Spokane. This Eastern Washington city sometimes is imagined to be less sophisticated by "Coast" people who may lump a city like Spokane in with the tiny wheat-farming communities that dot the state's Columbia Plateau. But Spokane is so much more.

Spokane is a beautiful and thriving community of half a million people, and this economic and cultural center of the Inland Northwest, deserves high praise. A few facts: Spokane is the largest metro area between Seattle and Minneapolis. It hosted the 1974 World's Fair. It hosted the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships. It was the childhood home of one of America's most beloved singers (Bing Crosby). It boasts spectacular parks, sparkling waterfalls, fascinating museums, outstanding shopping, exciting nightlife, and a myriad of outdoor activities nearby. It is also home to one of America's truly exceptional hotels.

And that last point is why, while I usually begin a story about a destination's attractions, this time I will start with where to stay. How come? Because when you check in at this extraordinary hotel, you may never want to leave again! Indeed, one of Spokane's original hostelries is so elegant and enchanting that it alone is worth a getaway to experience. And that place is the Davenport Hotel.

Hotel Heaven

The Davenport Hotel can hold its own against any fine historic hotel in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Paris, or London (and I've seen enough of them to know). Step into the Grand Lobby and I'll wager that your first reaction will be like ours: wide eyes, awe-struck silence, than an uncontrollable Ooooohhhh wooooowwwwwwww! And the more we saw, the more we marveled. It is truly a magnificent hotel, its success driven for many decades by its founder's philosophy: "We are sincerely focused on so well pleasing our guests that they will be glad they came, sorry, to leave, and eager to return." Few words have been more true. It certainly worked on us -- and obviously countless thousands of other enchanted guests since its doors opened in 1914.

When I first met the Davenport management team, one member was introduced as "Communications Director and Historian," an unusual title for hotel folks. Then after a few minutes I understood why. From his beguiling tales, we learned that the Davenport is really a time machine, filled from top to bottom with stories and secrets spanning nearly a century. Its history is a fascinating fable recounting humble beginnings, high hopes, huge success, famous guests, changing lifestyles, waning times, shutdown, darkness, new vision, reconstruction, and today a revitalized spirit and splendor that rivals the finest hotels anywhere. For historic hotel aficionados, never fear: the hotel's modern-day amenities blend beautifully with its Old World style and grace.

A self-guided tour is offered and I urge you to take it. The ballrooms and public places are stunning in their size, opulence and design detail. Be sure to see the Marie Antoinette Ballroom, the Hall of the Doges, and the Mezzanine. The d'cor is breath-taking, the history spell-binding. You won't want to miss it.

But the Davenport's elegance doesn't end on the first two floors. Take your pick of nearly 300 elegant guestrooms and over 20 penthouse suites, each with hand-carved mahogany furniture, a beautiful Travertine marble bathroom with spacious walk-in shower, and beds simply too comfortable to describe (I am not kidding). The mattresses are custom-made exclusively for the Davenport, so you will never see the same style in any other hotel anywhere in the world. However-and here's the lucky-for-you-part, you can enjoy the identical mattress in your home because the hotel sells them through its Signature Collection store in the lobby. A dozen sets are purchased every week by guests who can't bear to go home without one - and that ought to tell you something about the restful night's sleep you'll enjoy at the Davenport.

To meet rapidly rising demand, the Davenport Hotel recently opened its new Davenport Tower just across the street. It offers the same classic creature comforts as the original hotel but in an elegant 21st Century motif.

I'm sorry there's not nearly enough space here to tell you about the limitless delights we experienced at the Davenport Hotel. So start by visiting their website, then go for a getaway - it will be one of the finest experiences you will ever enjoy under a roof.

Attractions abound

So what's there to do in Spokane: Local and regional tourism magazines go on for scores of pages listing the hundreds of things to see and do here. We saw just a few and hope to return soon to enjoy many more. Here's a sampling:

RIVERFRONT PARK. Ask most locals what to see first and they'll invariably say Riverfront Park, which was the site of the 1974 World's Fair. The park spreads its 100 lovely acres around and across the river and spectacular Spokane Falls, the second highest urban falls in America (Niagra is first). You can ride the new "Skyride" gondola over the cascading falls, mount a beautifully carved and colorfully painted horse on an original Looff Carrousel (also known as a good-old-fashioned-merry-go-round for those of us born before 1950), see an exciting IMAX movie, slide down the handle of a monstrous Radio Flyer wagon (it's actually a sculpture), and so much more. The park is adorned with spectacular rock outcroppings, sparkling fountains, flower-spangled gardens, tree-lined walks, broad green meadows, and dozens of world-class sculptures. Little wonder it serves as the center stage for Spokane's civic events and celebrations.

BING CROSBY MUSEUM. On the campus of Gonzaga University (of recent fame for its nationally-ranked basketball team), is a small glass-walled room holding the artifacts of one of America's most beloved singers, Harry "Bing" Crosby. The Crosbyana Room houses the world's largest public collection of Crosby memorabilia, including many gold record awards and Oscars.

FRANK'S DINER. This place is a gotta-do. On your first morning in Spokane you absolutely have to eat breakfast aboard Frank's Diner at the west end of downtown. I say "aboard" because that's where you go aboard a magnificently restored historic rail car that served as a diner in Seattle years ago (and their loss today). Voted Spokane's best breakfast 11 years running, you'll see why when you taste Frank's famous cheddar cheese and gravy-smothered hash browns. No need of lunch or dinner.

MUSEUM OF ARTS & CULTURE. Mighty MAC hosts a wide variety of excellent traveling shows every year, plus it showcases permanent displays depicting local and regional cultural collections.

DINNER DELIGHTS. Hopefully by evening you've worked off breakfast at Frank's so, for dinner, we recommend the Clinkerdagger Restaurant, perched above the river overlooking the city skyline. Its wood-beam atmosphere is cozy and inviting, and the food simply excellent. It's a great way to lunch or sup while gazing at the torrent of water flowing by just outside your window.

SHOPPING. You would expect a city of over 500,000 to offer a wide range of shopping choices, and Spokane is no exception. In fact, its elegant downtown riverfront center, River Park Square, offers a unique mix of quality stores, restaurants and theaters including Nordstrom's, Restoration Hardware, Williams-Sonoma, AMC 20 Theaters and much more. And it's all enclosed in inspired architecture that puts most other shopping centers to shame. You have to visit this place.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES. There's more to do here that you ever imagined: Bike, paddle, hike, run, climb, raft, jetboat, fish, golf, off-road, and ski. Plus, the scenic Centennial Trail, a paved path that runs along the Spokane River for many miles, has something for everyone.

GREEN BLUFF GROWERS. First things, first: the biggest and most mouth-watering caramel apples on earth are here! Where? atop a green bluff on the shoulder of Mount Spokane about a 30-minute drive northeast of the city. That's where 33 family-owned farms operate a cooperative offering fresh fruits and vegetables to the public from mid-June to late fall. Halloween was approaching during our visit so the apple trees were heavy with fruit and visitors were swarming though the farm yards of places like Walter's Fruit Ranch, eating treats, buying gifts, riding the wagon train through the orchards, picking fruit right off the branches, You can't truly appreciate the full meaning of "fresh" until you've tugged a tree-ripened apple from a branch and chomped loudly into its sweet and tangy flesh.

At nearby Knapp's Farm, we watched a pumpkin cannon shoot its orange-colored ammo into a grove of trees - over half a mile away. Bet you didn't know a pumpkin could fly 1,000 feet high at 600 mph, huh?

Lots of farm festivals and celebrations to enjoy all year long. Check the Green Bluff website for harvesting and celebration schedules.

Excellent accommodations

The Davenport Hotel isn't the only cozy place in Spokane to rest and rejuvenate your body and soul. Other fine choices include Hotel Lusso, just across the street from the Davenport. It's a delightful boutique hotel with elegant furnishings, beautiful guestrooms, and Fugazzi, an award-winning restaurant.

The Oxford Suites, a beautifully appointed all-suite hotel located near downtown next to the river, is ideal for family getaways. Add an indoor pool, 24-hour on-site market, complimentary evening receptions with wine and beer, plus full hot breakfasts and it's the best hotel value in town.

The Montvale Hotel is another center-city boutique you'll want to check out-then check into. Elegant guestrooms with comfy beds are exactly what you'll want after overdosing on wood-stone fired pizza and spirits at Catacombs Pub, the hotel's popular restaurant.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: On I-90 in Eastern Washington, a pleasant and picturesque five-hour drive from Seattle.

WHAT: A cosmopolitan city in a river, hills and valley setting.

WHEN: Year-around. With a four-seasons climate, you can visit anytime and enjoy a wide range of activities and events.

WHY: Spokane has something for everyone. It offers a wide range of cosmopolitan and outdoor/nature experiences without busting your budget. And if you don't already have the most comfortable bed ever, here's your chance to sleep on one in high style at The Davenport Hotel.

HOW: Contact the Spokane Area Visitor Information Center, 201 West Main Avenue, (509) 747-3230 (www.visitspokane.com) or (888) SPOKANE. The Davenport Hotel and Tower (800) 899-1482 (www.thedavenporthotel.com).

Photos, from top: Davenport Hotel; Spokane skyline; Riverfront Park skyride; downtown Spokane.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles onSalish Lodge, Skitchine Lodge, Lake Chelan and the Rocky Mountaineer.

Here is a list of Spokane Hotels based on user reviews from across the web



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