Off The Beaten Path in Spokane

Every province and state in North America has a primary city as well as one or more secondary cities that live in the shadow of its big brother.  For example, in Washington State, Seattle is the primary city with 3.5 million people, while Spokane is the “second city” with just 500,000 people. We love visiting “second cities” as they often have fun, funky and quirky, off-the-beaten-path (OTBP) things to see and do.   That’s likely due to the fact “second cities” are often left to evolve naturally over time without massive urban renewal mega projects that often gentrify and make “big” cities all look the same.

Here are our top seven “OTBP” things to see and do in Spokane. You will note that in some cases the places are not OTBP, but the things to “see and do” there are.

Frank’s Diner

No trip to Spokane is complete without breakfast at Frank’s Diner.  Housed in a 1906 railway dining car, sit at the authentic diner-style counter or grab a booth and enjoy a hearty breakfast.  With Frank’s serving up over 30,000 eggs and 2.5 tones of fresh hash browns a year - no wonder its been voted “best breakfast” place in town 14 years in a row.  While Frank’s is well known by the locals, it is on the western edge of downtown beyond the scope of most tourist treks.

Located at 1516 West 2nd Ave.

Everyone loves a walk back in time at Frank's Diner located in an early 20th century dining car.

Parkade Tour

Tour the streets of Spokane’s downtown and you will encounter some of the most interesting mid-century modern parkade structures anywhere.  In fact, the city’s skyline is dominated by a large “Parkade” sign (175 feet from the ground) that proudly sits on top of a massive parkade.

Simply called the “Parkade,” this 10-level 1,000 stall, above-ground parkade was built in 1967 as part of a massive downtown urban renewal project.  In 1968, it won an award of excellence for its use of concrete.  Local architect Warren C. Heylman wanted to create a parking structure that was pedestrian-friendly, had skywalks circling the structure offering protection from the elements and separated pedestrian traffic from automobile traffic.  It is an excellent example of mid-century modern parkade architecture.

It is interesting that the term “parkade” is used mostly in Canada and South Africa.  In the US, a multi-story car park may be called a parking garage, parking deck, parking ramp, parking podium or parking building depending on the design of the structure and where you are in the country.  In Spokane you can find parking structures with several of these names. Some of the best views of the city are from the top of the parkade, or is that garage or ramp? 

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In what other city does the parkade dominate the city's skyline. 

At street level the Parade has a wonderful sense of pattern and rhythm.  The yellow awnings create a patio like visual.  

Spokane has several vintage parkades with great neon signs at the entrance.  One has to wonder how this parking garage got the name "Evergreen." You would never associate a parkade today with the term evergreen. 

As you can see Spokane's parking structure terminology ranges from parkade to parking garage to ramp.  

The Parkade ramp and tower are very sculptural when viewed from this angle. Also not the skybridges that connect the Parkade to neighbouring buildings without having to go to street level.  

The parkade attached to River Front Square while newer, has none of the charm and character of The Parkade.   

Nordstrom’s Fitting Rooms

We don’t usually hang out at major downtown shopping malls (not OTBP enough), but one rainy day we decided to explore Spokane’s River Park Square.  Since we didn’t have a Nordstrom in Canada (though we will have soon), I thought I’d explore it.  To my surprise, I found a good deal on golf pants.  I was as surprised – and impressed – also to find amazing art on the wall of the men’s fitting room. I don’t know for sure, but I expect it is the same in women’s change area.  I love finding interesting art in strange places.  

One of the artworks in the men's change area at Nordstroms.  I loved the whimsical drawing, the Magritte like floating hat and the newspaper background.  

The briefcase was the companion piece to the hat.   

Browne’s Addition

Browne’s Addition is named after John J. Browne who came to Spokane from Portland in 1878 and bought 102 acres of land above Spokane Falls.  By the end of the 19th century, when Spokane’s rich and famous were discovering the charms of the area, Browne applied for and received a homestead grant for additional land in the area.  Browne’s Addition became home to numerous large mansions (most of them built by local architect Kirtland Cutter) that have a wonderful history.  In the mid 20th century, it became known as Browne’s “Addiction” as many of the homes became low-income lodging houses.  However, today most of the homes have been restored to their original glory and make for a wonderful morning or afternoon walking tour.

Grab a coffee at Cannon Coffee & Cone (corner of Cannon St. and 4th Avenue) or lunch at Café Marron (144 S Cannon St) and take a history-rich stroll on your own…or with the help of a the self-guided walking tour booklet available for $6 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture…or print off the Kirtland Cutter “Age of Elegance” information on the web
Browne’s Addition is west of downtown with Coeur D’Alene Park at its centre.

The W.JC. Wakefield House was probably the first Mission Revival house in the northwest. LIke most of the homes in Browne's Addition it was designed by local architect Kitland Cutter.  

John Finch House was built by Kitland Cutter in 1897.  The tall Ionic columns convey the aristocratic aspirations of many of Spokane's wealthy businessmen at the turn of the 20th century.  

Albert Held was the architect for the  Reid House built in 1900. It is one of the few houses that wasn't designed by Kirtland Cutter and one of the few Craftsman style homes on the block.  2315 West First Avenue.     

Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park, a 100-acre park just upstream from the famous Upper Spokane Falls, is not exactly OTBP given it was the home of Spokane’s Expo ’74 and now has many of the city’s popular tourist attractions.  The Park’s Skyride over the falls, as well as a ride on the 1909 Looff Carousel are on everyone’s list of things to see and do.  However, the “Garbage Goat” created by Sister Paula Turnbull, is a fun, interactive piece of public art tucked away in a grotto-like space.  With a vacuum digestive system that allows it to eat small items when you feed it, it has widespread appeal to young and old alike.

Also worth seeking out is the children’s playground, where a huge (12 feet high, 12 feet wide, 27 feet long) 26-ton Red Wagon with its handle that doubles as a slide. The wagon will hold as many as 300 people and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  You have to give it a try! It makes a great photo op!

Brenda feeding the "Garbage Goat" while young friend watches. 

The world's largest red wagon becomes a playground slide.  

Garland District

Just a few minutes from downtown lies the Garland District, developed in the early 20th century in conjunction with the building of the street railway line in 1910.  Today, it is home to three buildings on the National Registry – The Romanesque Revival Masonic Temple (1922); the mimetic architecture where buildings are designed to copy their function Milk Bottle (1935) and the Art Deco Garland Theatre (1945). 

This arts community is a great place to explore vintage clothing and thrift stores, check out improv theatre or see a movie.  It is also home to many fun diners and cafes, as well as Bon Bon Lounge at the Garland Theatre with its hand-muddled cocktails (made by pressing herbs and/or fruit against the side of a glass with a muddler which releases flavors and binds with the alcohol).  Who knew?

Garland District is 3.2 km north of downtown along N. Post St and Garland Avenue.

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The art deco Garland Theatre is the anchor for this charming arts district. 

The  1935 Benewah Milk Bottle is the other iconic building in the Garland District. 

Loo with a view!

The Red Lion Hotel at the Park is definitely not off the beaten path as it is has a prime location on the edge of Riverfront Park and the banks of the Spokane River.  However, the men’s washroom in the Skyline Ballroom has perhaps one of the best views of any washroom in the Pacific Northwest…maybe North America.  Men can enjoy the vista out the picture window above the urinals that looks out over the Gonzaga University district with Mt. Spokane in the background.  It is definitely a bathroom with a view!

The hotel’s pool is also a hidden gem with its 28-foot waterslide and 6-foot rainbow LED light waterfall cascading from a lush native Northwest landscape scene. The pool has a fun history.  When it was first opened in 1983, the hotel manager, losing a bet with the contractor that the pool wouldn’t be ready for the grand opening, he had to go down the waterslide in his business suit.  The manager, Don Barbieri, is now Chairman of the Board of Directors for Red Lions Hotels Corporation. 

In keeping with tradition, current General Manager Patrick Shimon also was the first to go down the waterslide – and in his business suit - after the 2012 renovations. 

When visiting Spokane, Red Lion at the Park is our recommendation. It is located at 303W North River Dr.   More information at

This is the view from the picture window above the urinals at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. 

The pool at the Red Lion at the Park in Spokane.  

Love to hear your stories about "off-the-beaten-path" places you have visited in Spokane or elsewhere.