Vibe: Lush green beauty meets smart urban planning
Sunny days per year: 176
Median home price: $145,000
As cities go, Spokane is a consistent award winner, both for its stunning Riverfront Park and its historic downtown. But the surrounding residential areas provide an easygoing livability that is part of the town's character, including wide, tree-shaded streets full of lovely old single-family homes. And because it's a big place — the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis — there are plenty of urban offerings. Over the decades, it's morphed from a logging and mining backwater to a cultural pearl. The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture ($5 for seniors), which includes a tour of the historical Campbell House, is considered to be one of the best museums in the Northwest.
Its bigger appeal is what surrounds it, fueling the town's catchy bumper sticker: "Near nature, near perfect." Just 18 miles from Idaho and 100 miles south of Canada, Spokane is close to world-class skiing in both the Cascades and Rocky Mountains. Some 76 lakes and rivers offer everything from raging whitewater to peaceful paddling to excellent fishing. And like other cities in the Northwest, it earns its fitness stripes, too, hosting the annual Lilac Bloomsday 12K, one of the largest road races in the world.
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