Admittedly, Idaho was never on our radar. Ignorantly, we thought it was just a place where potatoes grow on never-ending farmland and as a result, we just never had it on our list as a travel destination. If it weren't for this road trip we would have missed this place entirely. During winter, Coeur d'Alene is a winter wonderland. The scenery is striking with snow-kissed trees reflecting on Lake Coeur d'Alene and a town center that is festively lit up for the holidays. If you're looking for a place with lots of shopping, a solid culinary scene, and ample outdoor adventures, then Coeur d'Alene is a perfect destination for you!
On another note, coming here from our last road trip stop in Seattle, where composting is strongly encouraged, we were sad to see that there are not even basic recycling laws in Coeur d'Alene. This was the first town we have visited where our rental home did not offer a separate trash can for recyclable items nor was an outdoor bin for garbage removal designated for recycling. Implementing recycling into trash removal is such a simple way to help our earth and I find it to be pretty irresponsible of the city's leadership to not take on this initiative.
I must also point out that if we didn't contract Covid-19 in Idaho, I don't think we ever will catch the crazy little critter. Idaho is a special place in our country that blatantly denies, or resists, the fact that there is an extremely contagious virus floating around. By far, this sweet lake town, along with some other nearby cities in Idaho that I note below, is the biggest culprit of ignoring Covid safety guidelines. Throughout our road trip, even in the laxest cities, we have yet to encounter a city where the employees are unmasked along with the customers. We were shocked to walk into so many places to find an entire society of unmasked people openly denouncing the current state of affairs in our country. In fact, one of the locals told me that most places in Idaho will not let folks in until they remove their masks. Can you imagine? As our kids said, "this doesn't make any sense!!"We often felt uncomfortable in our surroundings and found ourselves canceling plans and reservations that we made because we just didn't want to risk catching anything. Look, we're not scared of dying from the virus per se. Statistically, it just doesn't make sense to walk around fearing death by Coronavirus but who wants to get sick while they're traveling? I don't want any of us dealing with even a slight fever while we are trying to enjoy our road trip and so, therefore, I just won't put my family at risk by placing them around a bunch of people who deny the contagiousness of this nasty little virus.
All this aside, Coeur d'Alene beautifully captures a small American town feel while boasting a gorgeous lake and snow-capped mountain peaks. Idahoans are warm, friendly, bubbly people; probably one of the friendliest folks we have encountered throughout the country. If we enjoyed it this much in the winter, I can only imagine how fun it is over the summer when the lake opens up to water sports, swimming, and even more visitors. Don't underestimate Idaho, we haven't seen one potato in our two weeks here.
Below are the eight top places to visit while in the area:
1- Downtown Coeur d'Alene
2- The Coeur d'Alene Resort
4- Leavenworth, WA
5- Schweitzer Mountain
7- Spokane, WA
8- Tubbs Hill Trail
Downtown Coeur d'Alene
This vibrant downtown, festively lit for the holiday season and bustling with folks strolling its sidewalks, lures visitors with its charming stores and dozens of restaurants. Murals and sculptures are woven into the streets along with five sculptures along the Mudgy Moose Trail celebrating the "Mudgy & Millie" children's book written by a local. Along with the thoughtfully curated shops, cafes, and artistic flare, there is an inviting boardwalk along the water. At night downtown lights up and creates an entirely different, but equally attractive, atmosphere. Day or night, this is a wonderfully clean and well-preserved downtown with lots to see, eat and enjoy!
Surprisingly, Coeur D'Alene has a pretty fantastic food scene. The town center and surrounding areas have many well-reviewed restaurants to choose from. The problem we faced was finding the food establishments where the service staff wore masks and health safety measures were implemented.
Crafted Tap House & Kitchen (I do not recommend dining here during the pandemic)
For $80 diners can rent a private, outdoor, heated igloo to enjoy their dinner in. I thought this would be a fun dining experience while ensuring we were in our own space to eat worry-free. We were undeterred when the hostess who escorted us to our igloo was not wearing her mask as we were distracted by our cute igloo which was set up with a little fireplace, Christmas tree, and festive lights. After admiring our environment, and wiping down the table/menus/silverware, we started reviewing the menu which offers plenty of creative vegan options in addition to dozens of meat-based items with catchy titles like "hey, lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?". Yup, this is the name for their impossible burger dish, which two in my party ordered except they just said "I'll have an impossible burger". We were enjoying reading through the many enticing options when our waiter came into our enclosed, circulation-free igloo unmasked! Robotically, all five of us pulled out our masks and put them on as fast as we could. It has been months since we have been in such close, unmasked proximity with someone outside our crew of five. We were really appalled by the restaurant's lack of concern to keep its patrons safe and just could not believe what we were experiencing. To make matters worse, as if being exposed to two maskless people in our enclosed space wasn't enough, we had two other serves come in, also mask-free, to help deliver our food. For the first time during our travels, I felt unsafe, and like I placed my family in a dangerous situation. Finally, I couldn't bite my tongue any longer and asked the server not to come in again until we are all done eating so that we can eat peacefully without having to put on our masks continuously due to the non-stop foot traffic. He was understanding and for the rest of his interactions he kept a far distance from us but he never put his mask on. Such a shame we could not fully enjoy our dinner because the food was actually really delicious and the igloo was adorable. It's just hard to enjoy yourself when you realize you are directly exposing yourself and your family to a virus that you have so carefully been keeping away from. In retrospect, we should have just left once we realized what was going on. Although we did not walk out, moving forward I called each restaurant that I made reservations at to find out what safety measures they implement. Doing so ensured that we would not be thrown off guard again and would allow us to cancel reservations at any establishment that is living in a Covid-free la la land in their mind.
Bardenay (I do not recommend dining here during the pandemic)
Bardenay is the nation's first restaurant distillery. Their distillery equipment is proudly encased in a glass viewing area as guests enter the restaurant. The staff was attentive and friendly and the food was really good. My sweet potato and black bean chimichanga was actually delicious and inspired me to play with this combination of ingredients in my own kitchen. The restaurant was very lively during lunch and the tables were well distanced. My only qualm was that our waiter wore his mask half-ass with his nose fully exposed the entire time. Overall, this is a solid lunch option while scoping out the area but check it out once we all move past this virus or when the restaurant better trains their staff on proper safety guidelines.
The Coeur D'Alene Resort
This upscale hotel overlooking the town's alpine lake is an extremely popular lodging choice for those visiting the area who want dazzling views, an easy walk to downtown Coeur D'Alene and a full-service hotel. When we visited, the resort was elegantly decorated for the holiday season. The hotel is well-known for its annual holiday light show ceremony which was canceled this year due to the rampant virus. Despite not having a large ceremony this year, the spectacular lights continued to light up the grounds of the property drawing in many visitors. The lobby is modern and quite striking with ample seating areas, many by a roaring fire. It was crowded when we arrived. Most visitors were dutifully wearing their masks, but not all. There is a thermal scanner station that checks the temperature of all those who enter the hotel which we noted and appreciated. The check-in desks were pretty hopping proving once more that many are opting to continue traveling despite the health crisis. They have an extremely attractive outdoor area with plastic igloos for those who would like to dine privately overlooking the lit-up lake. Really, the hotel is simply put a great option for lodging, dining, or sipping cocktails during happy hour in one of their many bars.
On the seventh floor of the hotel awaits an elegant, fine dining restaurant with great fare, service, and views. We were seated at a spacious booth overlooking the lake. On the pricey side, the restaurant draws many who come to celebrate a milestone. There were three parties celebrating a birthday during our visit. The restaurant helps celebrate by bringing out a huge, roll of blue cotton candy topped with a sparkling candle. Underneath the sugar ball is a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. I kinda wished it was my birthday too! The large dining room was pretty packed on an early Thursday evening making me sad for my fellow New Yorkers who own restaurants that were never given a chance to survive with all the restrictions imposed on them during 2020. People are clearly out, looking for ways to enjoy their lives, and are willing to spend some cash in the process. It makes me happy to see that businesses are able to continue to thrive in certain parts of the country. In terms of safety measures, the staff at Beverly's were all masked, hand sanitizers were available at each table, and there was naturally enough distancing between each table. We all thoroughly enjoyed the ahi poke, fried calamari, Caesar salad, truffle fries, mushroom risotto, and burgers that we ordered. Definitely add this to your list of restaurants to dine in while in the area.
If you suddenly get the itch for a Bavarian village with alpine-style architecture, great beer, and Cascade Mountain vistas, head to Leavenworth. Less than an hour's drive from Coeur d'Alene will transport you to as authentic of a Germanic town as you could ever dream of while neighboring Idaho. Apparently, many others in the vicinity longed for a taste of Germany too as the town was packed the day we visited. People were jamming the closed-off streets waiting in lines for bear claws and schnitzels. The Bavarian village was a great escape from the crazy politics that have been dominating American lives and championed a distraction from this raucous with a lively atmosphere, great food options, street-lined markets, and outdoor music. You really will feel a world away here.
This endearing mountain resort is just a ninety-minute drive from Coeur D'Alene and what a stunning drive up the mountain it is! Since the snowy scene by the lake was washed away by recent rain we were thrilled to visit a mountain blanketed in snow that presented a magnificent winter wonderland. Although we didn't ski, we definitely enjoyed the views and a delicious hot chocolate at Gourmandie, an adorable gourmet coffee and wine shop with great service in the village. The village is quite small compared to other resorts and lacks the restaurants, bars, and fun shops you would normally find at other ski towns but regardless, the views and energy of the eager skiers were worthy of a visit. We noted that the mountain had large signs stating that masks and social distancing were required upon entering yet once again, in true Idaho fashion, people were cramped in a long line waiting for the ski lifts. Staff members, like the parking attendants, didn't wear their masks either. I sure hope that the ski destinations we are soon visiting will prove to be more responsible and aware than the ones in the state of Idaho.
Just one hour away from Coeur D'Alene lies a town that is known as "the most beautiful small town in America". Just steps from Lake Pend Oreille, which in the summer is known as Sandpoint City Beach Park, and with mountain views throughout, this town offers dozens of locally owned artisan shops with alluringly decorated storefronts. Cedar Street Bridge Public Market is one example of the town's willingness to embrace and support artists by showcasing many of their creations in an enclosed market. We didn't enter because as I've already mentioned, the majority of folks in Idaho insist on leaving their masks at home. However, we were able to enjoy some great art at the outdoor Galaxy Gallery, an entire alleyway decorated with striking murals drawn by local high school students.
Since the town is rather large we still found it enjoyable to stroll its sidewalks and admire the festive decorations even if we couldn't actually enter the stores to admire the goods firsthand. For lunch, we made a reservation at Trinity at City Beach. We were hesitant to book a table at a restaurant in a Best Western Hotel as they aren't exactly known for their food scenes. The reviews were the best in the area and we were quite pleased with the service, exquisite views, and surprisingly delicious food! In all, for those who love to shop and get lost in a leisurely wander, Sandpoint will surely have their expectations met. In fact, we could have easily spent a few hours in this town if it weren't for all the folks refusing to don their masks which kept us out of the many enticing shops that make up the unique character and charm of this place.
Only thirty minutes away, Spokane is a must-visit while in Coeur D'Alene. Although its downtown shopping area is nothing to write home about, its waterfront park and uber food scene make this a wonderful city for a day trip. In 2019 Spokane was ranked as the top ten new foodie cities and has attracted many creative chefs to boost its culinary scene. There are also plentiful hiking trails just outside of downtown for those choosing to bond with nature. Don't get deterred by the commercialized overload on Main Street in downtown. Instead, just drive right past it and enjoy the other wonderful offerings the city has to share!
Huntington Park is a delightful waterfront park in the heart of downtown with wonderful views of the Spokane Falls running through the Monroe Street Bridge as gondolas scurry in and out of the bridge's arches.
A five-minute walk from Huntington Park is Riverfront Park which is probably one of the nicer parks we have yet to see in a large city. The park has a large ice skating rink, lots of art sculptures, fantastic views of the Spokane River and the city's many bridges, free horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday festive décor, and many well-kept paths to wander and explore.
Most of the restaurants in town were closed as we visited on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Luckily, we found Yards open and eager to serve their all-day brunch menu which was incredibly delicious. My huevos rancheros were so scrumptious that my son and husband couldn't keep their forks off it despite the fact that they gobbled up their chicken po boy and fried chicken waffle entrees. I definitely recommend a meal here while in town.
Across the street from Yards is a family-operated winery with a classy interior that offers outdoor seating along the Spokane River. Maryhill Winery grows its grapes in the Willamette Valley (see my Portland, OR post for more on this region) and brings a tasting room to the heart of Spokane. We purchased two of their award-winning bottles: a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2017 Maker's Red (a blend of Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc). The striking notes in each were easily noted and truly appreciated, especially while we sipped them by a blaring fire at home.
Nine miles outside of the downtown area makes for an easy escape from city life and into instant serenity mode on the trails of River Side Park. We opted for the two-mile loop on the Bowl & Pitcher Trail which I momentarily second-guessed when we learned that the only way to get to it is by crossing a wooden suspension bridge. Quickly shedding my normal fears of wobbly bridges at tall heights, I made my way across and even stopped to admire the breathtaking views of the Spokane River flowing below me as it fiercely crashed into the rocks that were in its way. The trail is easy, well-marked, and truly offers stunning views, mainly on the loop back as it hugs the river along the way.
7- Tubbs Hill Trail
We had the best time hiking the Tubbs Hill Trail just outside downtown. The two-mile hike loop, although moderate with a 400-foot incline that is extra difficult to drudge through in snow, was breathtaking from start to finish. Along the way, we shared the trail with a chicken, a turkey, and pretty epic views of Lake Coeur d'Alene. It's easy to imagine that this hike is stunning in every season.
We spent a lot of time in this house listed on Airbnb as "Safe Private waterfront! Close to 4 ski stations" (gosh I wish Airbnb just had property ID numbers for reference sake!). After lots of running around, we needed a place where we could rejuvenate and relax during the holiday season and this was the perfect choice as the house was packed with charm, attention to detail, and gorgeous lake views. As an added bonus the home was festively decorated adding to its coziness. The hostess, Katherine, is a wonderful woman who left a delicious welcome spread by a lit fire to greet us as we checked in. She and I quickly connected at the time of booking, months before we even arrived. We chatted via text often and fortunately had the opportunity to meet in person as well. I can now say that I have a friend in Idaho - one that made our stay extra special and one I hope to keep in touch with. Meeting kindred spirits along our road trip journey has been a gift I cherish deeply; a gift that truly adds to the beautiful memories we make along the way.
I included more pictures than usual of this home because we spent an unusual amount of time being home. This lakehouse served us well and met all our needs as a restful, relaxing retreat to reenergize. Unexpectedly, this may be one of our favorite road trip home rentals since we unwound, sipped on hot chocolates by the fire, played family games, and engaged in a ton of cooking and baking like nowhere else on this trip.
Oh how much cooking and baking took place in this Idaho kitchen! With two fireplaces going, and panoramic snowy white landscapes, all we could think about is food. Since cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, I enjoyed more than ever preparing countless meals in our gorgeous surroundings. Most cities we have visited offered Instacart delivery making grocery shopping super convenient. There were only a couple of places we visited, like St. George and Gold Beach, that did not provide this service. I was surprised that a small town like Coeur D'Alene would have grocery delivery. With the snowy and rainy weather, the delivery service made our culinary lives that much easier. It's so true that winter naturally packs on the pounds. For the first time, I have welcomed them on my body knowing they are not just a result of sustenance, they are now here to keep my body warm and my palate pleased while also preparing my body for the colder temperatures that lie ahead as we sfurther venture into winter destinations.
One of the many aspects I am most grateful for during our road trip is the opportunity to share hundreds of meals with my family over the past several months. Never would it have been an option in our lives to sit at a table together to share multiple meals a day. I cherish all the moments we shared huddled around a table, chewing, conversating, and just spending as much time together as possible.
Some of our favorite memories in Idaho were comprised of the unpredictable times Nikko would show up at our door. As soon as we heard his bark declaring that he has arrived we all ran to the door welcoming him in to shower him with love and snacks. We have no idea who this collared dog belongs to or where he came from but we have made so many wonderful memories around his visits. Each day we awaited his arrival with much anticipation and were disappointed when he did not make an appearance. We found ourselves wondering a lot about the life of this sweet dog but mostly we found ourselves wondering if he would show up on our door on a given day. When he did come by we were all just smitten by his presence.
It's funny how when you're on the road for months on end moving around at a swift pace that staying put for just sixteen days feels like an eternity. I appreciated the needed downtime but I admit, I am itching to get back on the road to continue our explorations of this magical country. If it were up to me, I would move through cities at a quicker pace or if we hunker down for longer, I need warmer weather and more sun. Although I enjoyed the cooking, baking, reading, and captivating landscapes out our windows, I am clearly not a homebody. Through this road trip, I have discovered how adventurous I really am and how much I truly crave discovering new places and connecting with nature; all new realizations I would have never learned about myself had we just stayed back in New York City. I mean, really, who would have ever, ever thought we'd end up in Idaho for two weeks? Once you get a taste of what is available, it is hard to pass on the opportunities to devour more experiences. There is no way to know what is available though without getting out there.
Thank you, Idaho for teaching us how much more you have to offer than just potatoes.