The Spokane River meanders through the city and eventually feeds the Columbia River.

► Destination: Spokane • 4.5 hours east of Seattle

How does Spokane manage to fly under the radar? It’s the state’s second largest city, bigger than Bellevue or Tacoma. Its far-east location is little reason to forget a downtown wide enough to explore but without traffic or long queues. There are breweries and street art, yet everything is reasonably priced—worlds away from the west side boom.

From the 14th floor windows of the Historic Davenport Hotel, Spokane spreads into the eastern Washington hills but it can hardly be called a sprawl; the final miles of I-90 into the city pass empty grassland and pine. The hotel itself is an international mélange, from the ornate Spanish-style lobby to the Venetian Gothic Hall of Doges room, utterly out of place in this inland city. Which makes it a pure delight.

One might guess that Spokane’s stock has risen as a wave of Seattleites move east in search of affordable real estate. But the city’s cultural treasures have uber local roots, like art collective Terrain, founded in 2008 to bond the city’s creative community—and keep artists from leaving. Terrain occupies an old factory known as the Washington Cracker Building, also home to Hogwash Whiskey Den, a chill cocktail bar, in the basement. Across town, the best vintage shopping east of the Columbia River is at Veda Lux, an explosion of global finds packed into an old post office.

Even what’s brand-new is decidedly homegrown. The Kendall Yards neighborhood, built from the ground up above Spokane’s signature Riverfront Park, is mostly eastern Washington joints: a giant Maryhill Winery tasting room, locavore dining at Wandering Table from a chef born and raised here.

Back at the Davenport, a hotel staffer points out one of the hotel’s secrets, the words “Will You Marry Me?” worked into the grain of the ceiling wood trim. I struggle to center the squiggly words in my cell phone’s camera, since the tradesman who carved the message a hundred years ago never took Instagram frame size into consideration when he snuck it in there. Even without a photo, it’s proof that Spokane’s trove of hidden gems is nothing new.

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