The Happy Wanderer: An Olympic dream

HILLS NEWSPAPERS  August 7, 2009

The countdown has begun for the 2010 Winter Olympics. And while most of us will opt to watch it on TV, there’s a misc2 016pre-Olympic event well worth catching in person. A short two hour flight from Oakland puts you in Spokane, Washington for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Jan. 14-24. It’s the final event before selection of the team that will represent the U.S. in the Olympics 18 days later.

Spokane is a surprising city. Compact and friendly, you can walk almost everywhere downtown, including the host site for the skating event – the Spokane Arena. If you recall the 1974 World’s Fair, you remember a splendid urban setting along the Spokane River.

But long before 1974, the river, along with timber and silver, were bringing big money into Spokane. In 1914, one of the world’s finest hotels opened downtown – the Davenport. It was a masterpiece in the Gilded Age; a luxurious landmark that served as a gateway to the Inland Northwest and the first hotel with air-conditioning and a central vacuum system. Restored to its original splendor, the Davenport is one of Spokane’s crown jewels today.  It’s ranked number 10 in the world according to Expedia Insider’s Select List of hotels. Conde’ Nast has it in its top 100. Everyone should experience luxury like this – at least once in their life.

So you’re probably thinking, “Okay – I’m sold on the skating and I know where to stay, but what else is there to do in Spokane in January?” In honor of the figure eight, here are my top eight picks:

1. Ring a ding Bing: Did you know that the Bing Crosby Museum is located on the campus of Gonzaga University in

Big Crosby's childhood home

Big Crosby's childhood home

downtown Spokane? Not only can you see the largest public collection of his memorabilia, you can tour his childhood house – now used by the Gonzaga Alumni Association. Walk a few yards and you’ll see the magnificent St. Aloysius Church where Bing was an altar boy. Then, swing by the Bing Crosby Theater and see a stunning example of 1915 neoclassical design.

2. Take a hike: The Spokane River runs through the heart of downtown, with the scenic Centennial Trail as its companion. Take a stroll or jog along the paved pathway, all the way to the Idaho border and beyond.

3. Splish Splash: Feel the spray of one of the country’s largest urban waterfalls, Spokane Falls. Take an all-weather gondola across the river and under the historic Monroe Street Bridge, snapping shots of the whitewater below. Or, catch the view from Riverfront Park or a spot on the deck of one of the city’s premier restaurants, Clinkerdagger, (known for its burnt crème desserts).

4. Get a goose: Or hook a salmon. Celebrated outdoorsman/chef Marty Hogberg not only helps you catch your meal

Killer Chef Marty Hogberg

Killer Chef Marty Hogberg

– he prepares it for you – on site, or in his popular downtown restaurant, Luigi’s.  Known locally as the “Northwest Killer Chef”, Hogberg takes groups, big and small, on a gourmet game hunt. It’s all feast and no famine – plus a great story to share with friends.

5. Ride a painted pony: Celebrate life’s ups and downs on Riverside Park’s 1909 Louff Carrousel. Hold tight to the reins or use one hand to toss a ring in the clown’s mouth – a signature of these hand-painted turn-of-the-century gems.

6. Crack the whip: Think ice is nice? Lace up your blades and take a glide on one of the country’s best outdoor skating rinks, the Riverfront Park Ice Palace.

7. Shoosh and whoosh: Embrace Mother Nature with a day of cross country or downhill skiing. There are five ski resorts within two hours of Spokane. Don’t ski or snowboard? Rent a snowmobile on Mt. Spokane or pretend you’re in Waikiki at the indoor water park (for guests only) at Silver Mountain.

8. Wine and dine: Seattle has nothing on Spokane when it comes to Washington wines and eclectic eateries. Savor a steak and a micro-brew at the Steam Plant Grill, in the historic brick building that once provided heat to downtown Spokane.  Sample the local offerings of five downtown wineries and sup on the award-winning fare at Europa (in the historic Atrium Building), Wild Sage Bistro, Moxie and more.

Want more information on the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane? Log on to For more photos and video of Spokane, check my website at


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