Our family first passed through Spokane back in 2001, on our I-90 Washington-to-New York driving adventure (with a toddler – yeah, we’ve always been crazy!). Spokane was cute — historic, turn-of-the-century buildings, a riverfront park and bustling college scene. I threw Spokane into my “bucket list” of destinations to visit in the future.
Fast-forward 9 years, and life finally afforded the opportunity to return. Here’s my guide to the best of this Inland Northwest city with kids:
Best place to spend the day in Spokane:
Riverfront Park is one of the most adorable urban parks ever. The park’s 100 acres are packed with preschooler-friendly amusement park rides, an IMAX theater, the fast-spinning 1909 Loof Carrousel (a tiger and a giraffe are two of the unusual animals aboard) and a not-at-all-scary gondola over the Spokane Falls.
Families meander along picturesque, Euro-style bridges and beneath a 1901 Clocktower, slide down a giant Radio Flyer wagon and feed a garbage-eating metal goat. Save money and buy the day pass (in summer, add-on the Skyride and get the whole deal for around $20).
Best way to spend a too-hot afternoon or too-rainy morning:
The deceptively humble Mobius Kids Children’s Museum, housed in a downtown Spokane River Park Square mall. While the 16,000 square foot facility doesn’t look like much at first, my kids loved driving little plasma cars around the streetlight-enhanced Cooper’s Corner; buying fish and sundries from a Filipino market and paddling a canoe in the Bayanihan exhibit; and dressing up in the Globe Theatre. It’s a cute stop worth an hour or so, particularly with preschool-aged kids.
Best place to chill out in Spokane:
Families nestle into Auntie’s Bookstore’s nooks and cluster upon the carpeted steps in the children’s area. You’ll find new and used, board books and chapter titles, cool kits and collectible tomes on the shelves. One of the best little bookstores I’ve seen in Washington State, and right next to Uncle’s Games, where you’ll find games to keep the kids entertained on the way home.
Most unique Spokane park:
Kids will always remember the accessible Discovery Playground, situated about 20 minutes outside downtown Spokane in the town of Spokane Valley. You’ll find adult-sized flowers, a sprinkler-filled play area, climbable rock walls and built-in trampoline. Caveat: No shade here – it’s you and smokin’ concrete and flamboyant sun. Perfect for heat seekers.
Best Spokane hotel with kids:
The heartbreakingly beautiful Davenport Hotel, which offers multiple floors of 1914-era details, a pool, a high-ceilinged reception area (complete with fish pond) and restored ballroom upon restored ballroom. My kids and I loved wandering the second story hallways, where photos are framed by elegant, restored moldings and take-your-breath-away ballrooms fit for a Queen. When booking a stay here, be sure to stay in the historic, restored hotel (not the newer tower), because the pool is in the historic building. If you’re staying with a train-crazed toddler, ask for a room that’s nearer to downtown Spokane’s rail line, and you’ll hear trains all night long (in our family, that was a good thing).
Best kid-friendly foodie restaurant in Spokane:
Sante places some of the best food this side of the Cascades on the table, in the form of omelettes, sandwiches, soups and risottos. We ate breakfast here on our last day. Had I known about the quality beforehand, I would’ve eaten here for breakfast, lunch and dinner on every occasion, bathed in the restaurant’s wall of window light. The charcuterie and dining menu changes weekly, so I won’t bother telling you what we had — but suffice it to say that they’ll always make something delectable for adults and kids to eat. Don’t miss the pastry and sweets case – we picked up hand-made sour fruit candies for the kids.
Best kid-friendly crepe restaurant in Spokane:
Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie, located right downtown, whips up seasonal crepes from scratch. Order from the counter, then sit inside among the bistro-chic tables or head outside (like local families do) to eat al fresco beneath Madeleine’s blue awnings. Before you leave, pick out an eclaire or macaron for later. Yeah, it’ll get smushed in the backpack, but it’ll still be delicious.
Best kid-friendly Italian in Downtown Spokane:
The plush, floral-fabric chairs might make you a little nervous about the quality and kid-friendliness of Europa’s cuisine. But those chairs are awfully comfortable after a day of sightseeing, and the classical music soothes jangled nerves. Tangy bread is delivered to your table – you’ll probably be fighting over the crumbs before your main dishes arrive. I recommend anything made with the pesto cream sauce. The kids loved the “make your own pizza” option; even a small pizza was too much for my kids to polish off.
Best place to pick up food to eat in your room:
The interior of Moxie restaurant is a better fit for couples — and a little fancy for my children after a full day of sightseeing. However, quality Asian-fusion cuisine is always a hit in our home. Excellent, not-too-spicy (unless you want it) fare; it’s not cheap, but the ingredients are top-notch, as is the preparation.
Best place to buy toys in Spokane:
With little kids, head to Whiz Kids Toys, where I was interested to find all the toys organized by subject (toy shop owners: this is a great idea). All the horse books, toys and other equine gear is in one place. If you’re in the market for big-kid jokes, cool collectibles, awesome books and vintage fun, check the shelves at Boo Radley’s. With so many eclectic finds, you’ll be sure to pick up an oddball gift you’ve never seen anywhere else.
Best place to stop on I-90:
Ellensburg, Washington, located about midway between Seattle and Spokane. In Ellensburg, families can dig into breakfast or lunch at the popular Yellow Church Café, where the only thing sinful is the cinnamon roll. Afterward, walk a block to Dick and Jane’s Spot, a fun-show of odd lawn art. Kids will either love the house or get spooked.
Have you been to Spokane with kids? Do you have any recommendations for our readers?