Idaho has always been a bit of a mystery to me, having grown up in Northeast Ohio. They’re the ones with the potatoes, right? Next to Washington State? Luckily, I was able to make a stop in Coeur d’Alene, in the Northern Idaho panhandle. Suffice it to say, I found there is much more to Idaho than growing Ireland’s favorite famine- fighting food.
I made it to Idaho by way of the day job. When the opportunity to travel there arose, I jumped on it, like a college drunkard on a Taco Bell platter. There’s something appealing about traveling to a land I know literally nothing about. Hell, I had to rely on Google Maps to break the sad news to me that Boise was nearly seven hours away from Coeur d’Alene. But surprisingly enough, perhaps not to the locals or to those wiser than I, the small lake town turned out to be enchanting and incredibly beautiful.
Norman Bates Hotel
My lodgings were the State Motel on Sherman Ave. between 13th and 14th Street. Why did I go with a Norman Bates-esque motel in a tiny town within a state I knew nothing about? Besides a handful of great reviews, I found this chimney stack built into the shape of Idaho using street view in Google Maps.
Such creativity surely negated the possibility of a creepy, cross-dressing motel owner impersonating his dead mother. Sold!
Sure enough, the motel owner was a kind man. His name escapes me, but his smile is memorable, as is as his friendly way of explaining the area to a stranger. But don’t bring your booze here! There’s no alcohol allowed on the premises. It was ultimately not a big deal. Go ahead and get pissed elsewhere and drag your slurring self back to bed. It’s a safe enough area to lose your inhibitions without fear of criminals or getting your ass kicked.
Having arrived at night, I was left without much of an impression of little ole Coeur d’Alene before going to bed. The air smelled like pine, which is something I had damn well expected, being in the Pacific Northwest for the first time. If there weren’t pine in the air, there would be Hell to pay! Luckily, I had scheduled my flight the next day late enough to ensure I’d get to see something. I just hadn’t a freakin’ idea what that something was yet.
I Demand Sustenance
The next morning I awoke with the rising sun to crystal-clear, blue skies. Beautiful. But surprisingly, it was a brisk 40-some degrees outside. Not what I would expect in the middle of a Canadian summer, much less within one of our very own 48 continental states. It didn’t matter, though. I was in Idaho. The northern panhandle of Idaho. A place as recently as a month prior I would’ve never imagined I’d get to travel to without burning a bunch of cash on some grand, middle-of-nowhere expedition. Because truth be told, there isn’t much up there in the way of major cities. I’m personally okay with that, but it doesn’t make for a cheap trip coming from a couple time zones over. But enough contemplating my luck, I had been awake for an entire 10 minutes and hadn’t begun eating my breakfast. I demand sustenance!
Jimmy’s Down The Street
Down the street was the aptly named diner Jimmy’s Down The Street for a filling, delicious breakfast. Jimmy’s is clearly a local’s establishment adhering to the positive stereotype that extreme kindness emanates from small towns. These are the kind of people politicians use when making their “Real America” arguments. But what those assholes don’t realize is these people would never want to be a part of such an asinine argument. They’re too damn nice!
With my stomach happy and full, I then made it my business to figure out where downtown Coeur d’Alene is, if such a place even existed. Don’t get me wrong; I was having a pleasant enough time. But thus far, Coeur d’Alene felt more like a small country town without any walkable center. Unsure as to where to look, I decided to begin my search near Lake Coeur d’Alene, because even if there wasn’t a city center you can’t go wrong with a lake — unless it’s Michigan. After all, I am an Ohioan and we maintain our sibling rivalry with that state, even its co-named bodies of water.
And there it was: Lake Coeur d’Alene surrounded by pine trees, a park, and sizable, historic looking homes. I’m going to get cliché and use the adjective “breathtaking.” If you enjoy an escape from the sweltering summer heat, this is the place for you. Even Cleveland was a solid 10-20 degrees warmer at the time. Needless to say, I welcomed the opportunity to experience a cool breeze and take in the pine-filled air. If only I had more time to go for a bike ride along the nearby North Idaho Centennial Trail, a 24-mile trail extending from the northeast corner of Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Spokane River near the Idaho/Washington border. Although my mind can change more than TV channels when the remote is in the hands of a 5-year old, Coeur d’Alene was quickly working its way up on my list of favorite escapes. Y’know, for when I’m a multimillionaire and can afford to work remotely in a city whose largest nearby airport is in Spokane, WA.
I spent a solid 30-60 minutes walking along the beachfront, admiring the view and melodic sounds of the incoming tide. I even found a pile of rocks that for some reason caught my attention, so much so that I decided to steal one for that rock collection I don’t have. Something about this piece of igneous (I don’t actually know if it was igneous) begged me to take it with me. So apologies to any eco-warrior I may have offended. Hopefully, the Earth’s ecosystem doesn’t suddenly collapse on account of my rock-robbery, like the hijinks that ensue in a cartoon time-travel episode where one of the characters touches something in the past and completely alters the future so dinosaurs or Cher’s popularity still exist.
Before turning back to the car, I noticed something off in the distance. Was that… a resort? No offense to my newfound Idaho friends, but I don’t think anyone in the world thinks of Idaho as having a resort town, much less in the panhandle. Something about panhandles has always screamed, “stay away,” in my opinion. Florida has the MTV clusterfuck of Panama City, Texas has a steady stream of slaughterhouses, but Idaho quickly became the exception to the rule. Now I’m seeing a freakin’ resort hotel!
Perhaps unsurprising to residents of closer states than Ohio, Coeur D’Alene is evidently a fun-filled water getaway. A decent-sized dock hosts plenty of boats and wave racers for customers, presumably regulars, to sail around Lake Coeur D’Alene. But that’s hardly the best part. As I walked closer, something else began to appear off in the distance. Was it the walkable downtown I had been searching for? It damn sure was.
Begging Me To Stay
Just off the Centennial Trail is downtown Coeur d’Alene along Sherman Ave., the very same street my motel is on. What I was looking for was a mere seven blocks away the entire time. (There’s a metaphor here somewhere). Thankfully I had found this gem with enough time to do a quick walk around and snap some pictures. It was love at first sight for this guy. Coffee shops, enticing restaurants, bookstores, and quirky shops — I was ready to stay and spend the next month living and breathing Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. To top things off, I found a newly built high-rise toward the end of downtown, just begging me to stay and write more about this hidden gem of a town.
Sadly, I only had time for one quick walk down and back to my car. I so badly didn’t want to leave. Hell, I even stopped by the local Downtown Coeur d’Alene tourism office and followed their instructions to “like” them on Facebook as some 21st century way of staying connected to a place for 20-something tech dweebs such as myself. But after making my social-media love connection to Coeur d’Alene, it was time to go home.
I’m lucky. I’ve been able to travel to every corner of this country with a bit of international travel in my 25-years of existence. There are only a handful of major U.S. cities and states I’ve yet to explore. But there’s something about Coeur d’Alene that has me continuing to think about it, like some girl you exchange a brief smile with only to never see again, constantly wondering if she was the one.
I’m not saying I want to leave Cleveland anytime soon. I love where I live and don’t envision that changing anytime soon. But if I had the opportunity to spend one to three months living in downtown Coeur d’Alene, writing and experiencing life in this remote portion of the country, I would in a heartbeat. Perhaps I’d find a better way to describe this city and region of the United States. But for now, there’s one phrase that comes to mind. Thanks to its nearby lake, surrounding pine trees, mystical mountains, and the tranquility that swallows you from the moment you first step foot on its shoreline, Coeur d’Alene seems to me to be the Shangri-La of the United States. And I’m sticking with it until I’m proven otherwise.