SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane is Washington's second-largest city, with its 210,000 residents living about 270 miles (435 kilometers) east of bigger, richer and better-known Seattle.
The Lilac City is the largest community between Seattle and Minneapolis across the northern tier of the United States.
Located in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains, it has interesting architecture, leafy neighborhoods filled with Victorian homes, and an extensive parks system that was partially designed by the Olmsted brothers. It's also an outdoor paradise, surrounded by ski areas, dozens of lakes, rivers, bike trails, and mountains, and a river with roaring waterfalls raging through the middle of town.
These days the city is best-known for the stellar Gonzaga University basketball team. Gonzaga tickets are expensive, but here are five free things a person can enjoy in the greater Spokane region.
BLOOMSDAY AND HOOPFEST
Spokane has a couple of big public events where you pay to participate, but attending as a spectator is free. Every May about 50,000 people run a 12-kilometer course through the streets of downtown Spokane in one of the largest timed road races in the nation. Spectators who line the course are treated to runners in colorful costumes, free concerts and the chance to pick through clothing that runners discard as the temperature rises. The Bloomsday race is named in honor of author James Joyce, whose novel "Ulysses" depicts a day in the life of Leopold Bloom. The next Bloomsday race is May 3, 2015.
Each June, the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the nation draws about 28,000 players and more than 200,000 spectators to the downtown streets for a weekend of hoops heaven. Teams play on more than 450 temporary courts. The next Hoopfest is June 27-28, 2015.
The crown jewel of Spokane's extensive parks system was the site of the 1974 World's Fair, which focused on the theme of saving the environment. Now it is a heavily-used urban park that is bisected by the Spokane River and the waterfalls that first drew white settlers to the region. The park features walking trails, footbridges and cable car rides over the falls. There is a historic carousel, an ice-skating rink and many other attractions.
THE CENTENNIAL TRAIL
The Centennial Trail is a 60-mile (97-kilometer) paved biking and hiking trail that connects Spokane with Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and Lake Coeur d'Alene. Much of the trail is built along the Spokane River, and users are able to enjoy nature without having to worry about getting hit by cars. Trail lovers can also try out the nearby Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a spectacular 77-mile (124-kilometer) paved railroad bed that runs from Mullan, Idaho, to Plummer, Idaho.
HOME OF FATHER'S DAY
Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane conceived the idea of Father's Day in 1909, and the first celebration of the holiday occurred in the city in 1910. Dodd's home on Spokane's lower South Hill remains, and there is a big stone in front telling the story of the so-called "Mother of Father's Day." The Craftsman-style house at 603 S. Arthur St. is privately owned and occupied, but the stone can be seen in the front yard.
Crooner and actor Bing Crosby was raised in Spokane and attended Gonzaga University, which serves as a repository of things associated with Der Bingle. The university owns Crosby's childhood home, which has some memorabilia and Crosby artifacts, including his Oscar for "Going My Way." The Craftsman-style home at 508 E. Sharp Ave. is free to visit and open to the public weekdays 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Saturdays 1 p.m.-4 p.m. There is also a larger-than-life statue of Crosby outside the Crosby Student Center.