Let’s get this out of the way first: Coeur d’Alene’s name doesn’t make much sense. It’s French for “heart of the awl”—the tool—referencing how eighteenth-century fur-trading French were impressed by local tribesmen’s “sharp” trading skills. It…doesn’t really translate.
But Coeur d’Alene, the small city curled against a lake 25 miles long in the evergreen mountains of North Idaho, has plenty of heart. Lake Coeur d’Alene and its hundreds of pleasure boats so dwarf everything else in town that it can’t help but feel like year-round vacation; pity the poor college students who study just feet from lakeshore picnic tables and rope swings.
Coeur d’Alene Resort's 18-story hotel is dedicated to having fun (and sure, conventions), with marinas and a golf course with a floating green. Built in the 1960s, the hotel nevertheless has a charming ’80s vibe, as if the office bees of Working Girl might take a well-earned respite here among the boxy balconies and lobby koi tank.
But while the design is dated, the interiors are spotless and the spa earns its reputation as one of the Northwest’s best—our Swedish massage was performed with such deft skill that after the appointment we pleaded with the therapist to move to Seattle.
When winter weather drives water skiers off the lake, a boat tour still does daily rounds, and the floating Cedars restaurant provides water views while bobbing atop 600,000 pounds of concrete and Styrofoam. Coeur d’Alene’s Sherman Avenue is dotted with cute shops—try escaping funky jewelry boutique Lucky Monkey without some form of statement jewelry—and Crafted, a gastropub that hosts turtle races on Friday night; pick the winner to score a dollar beer.
Coeur d’Alene moves somewhere near the pace of the racing turtles—speedy for a town tucked into the mountains, but overall a languid escape from big city frenzy.