Five Big Reasons Why I Love Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - Hometown Gushing
What’s Up with Idaho?
Most people have never heard of Coeur d’Alene. Idaho is an often forgotten, sometimes scorned state. When people find out I grew up here (well, at least the sarcastic folks), they immediately comment, “Oh, you grew up on a potato farm?” Shut it - the reason those fries on your plate taste so damn good is because those potatoes had Idahoan soil in which to flourish. You’re welcome.
I’m quick to respond with the explanation that the southern part of this beautiful state is where the majority of those farms lie, and the panhandle up north where you’ll find Coeur d’Alene, my hometown, is covered with beautiful forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes. And in between, there’s plenty of stunning river canyons, jagged mountain peaks, and stunning vistas of pine trees as far as the eye can see. It’s a true gem for the outdoor lover (is that why it’s called the Gem State? Heh heh), with rivers ripe for white water rafting or kayaking, plentiful canyons for climbing, mountains for scaling up or tearing down on skis, lakes for swimming or ice skating on, and forests to both lose yourself and find your (inner) self.
Not to mention this place boasts a simply perfect combination of the four seasons! You’ll experience a bright, crisp winter, cold but not that cold (I’m looking at you, Indiana), with a perfect blanket of snow for several months. Just enough to make the avid skiier go googly-eyed and weak at the knees. Then you’ll step into a mellow spring with a smattering of rain and cloud cover along with beautiful bright days that eventually give way to the stunning wildflowers of May and June. Then…summer! A dream, with no humidity, long days to fill with whatever activities your heart desires, and a perfect temperature in the evening for outdoor BBQ’s or whatever else you feel like imbibing in. Summer lingers into a quiet, warm September…and then comes the colorful fall, with the luminous deciduous trees seemingly trying to outcompete one another with their dashing displays. It’s the perfect climate, all year round. It makes you appreciate the passing of time. It is very different from my experience living in beautiful Hawai’i, where every day is more or less the same but you lack that “structure” of the year that I grew up with.
Now, let’s bring our attention way up the panhandle to the town of Coeur d’Alene (affectionally called CDA). A perfectly peaceful place to raise a family, spend your youth, or simply be a mountain junkie, Coeur d’Alene is beloved by many. Tourist flock to the “town by the lake” in the summer to enjoy their time lounging at lake cabins, buzzing around on boats and jet skis, or simply meandering through the adorable downtown area. We have our fair share of artisan bakery and coffee shops, craft breweries, and quirky farm-to-table type cafes. You’re just as likely to see a hardcore mountain biker with a man bun shopping at the local farmer’s market as an uppity young mom fresh out of her hot yoga class or a gram and gramp strolling arm in arm looking for their weekly produce stash. There’s plenty of variety here, and a wonderful sense of community. Everyone is proud to call Coeur d'Alene home.
There’s so much to do here! I definitely take it for granted every time I come home; I tend to immerse myself in the comforting oasis of familiarity, tucking into homecooked food and cuddling my cat at my family home near Lake Coeur d’Alene. To be fair, I’m usually only home once or twice a year so I mash in as much family time as possible. But when I do step out that door, I’m usually hitting the trail for a nice run or hike, settling into a booth at my favorite local coffee shop (see below for my recommendations), or visiting with grade school friends who still call this beautiful town their year-round home.
My family has lived here since 1995, and it’s changed a lot since then, with population numbers skyrocketing as more people uncover it’s natural beauty and safe community. Half of me wants to keep it secret, keep it safe…just like Gandalf told Frodo long ago when trusting him with the Ring. I don’t want it to be too busy! But some things are too precious, beautiful, and remarkable not to share, so I’m going to list five of the reasons I adore Coeur d’Alene. Trust me, there’s plenty more, but I don’t want to write a novel yet. For now, just soak up these tips and then come and say hello on your next cross-country road trip.
Five Reasons I Love Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
1) Nature is At Your Doorstep
The outdoor beauty of Northern Idaho is unrivaled. Whether you feel like biking through the mountains on an old train track on the Hiawatha Trail, water skiing across the many beautiful bays of Lake CDA, or simply strolling along the lakeside, riverside, or forest paths in and around town, you’re spoilt for choice. It’s hard not to become a fitness enthusiast here, and it definitely doesn’t require a gym membership. My preferred activities are simple - trail running, lakeside yoga, and maybe a kayak or SUP session if the weather is balmy.
One other bit I love about Coeur d’Alene that you won’t find in the more populated areas of the Northwest: when you’re out hiking or exploring, you’ll see some people (which makes me feel safe and reminds me of that nice sense of community and outdoor camaraderie) but not too many (so you can still enjoy your peace and quiet). I love that there isn’t overcrowding going on yet.
2) Four Beautiful Seasons Give You a Variety of Activities Year-round
Yes, I’ve gushed about the beautiful seasons here in Coeur d’Alene. Spring, summer, winter, fall…there’s something so special about each and every one of them. I’d have to say personally, summer and fall have tied for my favorites. Summer gifts us with long days, an abundance of local (wild) fruits and veggies ripe for the picking, and the heat needed for a lot of water-based activities. Fall, however, brings with it the most delightful array of colors, a crisp bite in the air that I adore, and the intrigue of snow-to-come. It also quiets down in town, as the summertime crowds have dispersed to their respective homelands.
You’ll find so many reasons to visit Coeur d’Alene, any time of the year. You really can’t go wrong! If you like snow sports, definitely visit us in winter, as there are an abundance of local ski resorts to enjoy.
3) The Artisan Coffee (and Local Beer, Wine, etc.) Scene is Damn Good
I’ve been a foodie ever since I went to college, but what that means to me has changed quite a bit every time I come home. A dedicated locavore, I love that Coeur d’Alene brings locally-roasted coffee, locally-made beer and wine, and other locally-sourced favorites (like fresh baked bread and CSA boxes) to the table. It’s really easy to enjoy a good cup of java here (check out Evans Brothers or Coeur d’Alene Coffee Company downtown, or if you find yourself on the north side of town, Anchored Coffee is a good bet).
It’s also just as easy to get an epic meal here, whatever your dietary preferences. It’s been a bit more challenging being a vegan in Coeur d’Alene, but watch for a blog post to come - I’m going to shed some light on the vegan scene in this lakeside town. Luckily I’ve found ways to tweak my favorite dishes at my go-to spots. You have to check out Fire Pizza downtown and order the Gordy Pizza. Just trust me. Don’t eat too much because the next morning you better get yourself over to Garnet Cafe for the most delicious locally-sourced breakfast you’ll find in town. Ask for a side of nutritional yeast and you’re taste buds will be singing. If you’re not vegan, try their amazing homemade lemon curd.
The locavore within also loves the summer Farmer’s Market that runs from May until September. You’ll find the Saturday market in Hayden and the Wednesday evening market downtown, and both offer an impressive amount of local vendors selling their goods. Try the kombucha and the aebelskivers!
I could gush on and on about my favorite spots, but I’ll list a few more here and then move on…
Dining with a View: Beverley’s, Anthony’s, Dockside, Le Peep
Amazing Food: Syringa, 10-6, Wellness Bar, Moontime
4) The Wildlife is Diverse and Plentiful
Now, humans certainly were not the first to discover the beauty of this area. The wildlife in Coeur d’Alene is breathtaking. My parents have turned into birdwatchers since moving here, and I’m ready to join them. We constantly ogle over bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, loons, hummingbirds, geese, swans, hawks, sandpipers, mallards, robins, swallows, and a variety of other birds on the regular. It’s become a fun game to try and identify all of the different lake birds that pay us a visit. And aside from our winged friends, we have moose, elk, and deer that often wander dramatically across our lawn. If you haven’t seen a moose, MY GOSH, they’re huge and you should keep your distance - but they are breathtaking. We do have black bears and a few mountain lion sightings every year, so it isn’t recommended to go hiking alone. But generally, these large mountain critters keep to themselves.
It’s fun to explore the natural areas around Coeur d’Alene with a camera if you’re a wildlife enthusiast. If you think Pacific Northwest, you’re talking about elk and bears and moose - and we’ve got it! Right now (November and through winter) is the perfect time to spot bald eagles. I’m headed out this afternoon with a camera to try my luck.
5) The Rest of the Northwest is Not Far!
I love that Coeur d’Alene is a bit tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Spokane and the farther hubs of Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, etc…but if you want to go and explore any of those places, it’s only a half day drive away (or a 45 minute plane ride). It’s very convenient having the Spokane Airport so close, and there’s also a train station in town or, of course, the good ole Greyhound. Your opportunities for adventure are endless if you decide you want to leave Coeur d’Alene (but why would you?). My favorite weekend getaways are Sandpoint, Idaho and Whitefish, Montana, both cute towns with a lot of character and epic mountain/lake scenery. I recommend you go check those places out as well.
I sure hope I’ve convinced you to at least acknowledge Coeur d’Alene the next time you hear someone mention this weird-sounding place. I’m proud of my hometown and I hope you enjoyed reading about it!
Curious where the name comes from? The city is named after a tribe of Native Americans, called the Schitsu'umsh or “those who were found here,” who lived along the rivers and lakes of the region. The local people were encountered by French fur trappers in the late 18th and early 19th century, who gave them their French name. Coeur d’Alene means “heart of the awl,” possibly referring to the tough business practices of the Schitsu'umsh tribe (they were considered sharp-hearted and shrewd). Find out more here.
Now, I do have to mention I get frustrated with the lack of environmentalism in my hometown. It can be a bit conservative. But it is changing, especially thanks to foreward-thinking young business owners who proudly push environmental initiatives. But there is also an older generation here who seems…a bit behind the times. I don’t blame them, but I do want to bring awareness to the same conservation movements I fight for when I’m away working near the ocean.
As I mentioned, stay tuned for a post on vegan dining options in Coeur d’Alene. I love my hometown, and it will always be the best place to come home to.