Best Small Town Vacation Spot: Sandpoint, Idaho
Lake Pend Oreille
Hovering around 6,000 residents, Sandpoint, Idaho's population could be classified as miniscule. However, a population of this size has its advantages, the classic small town feel is authentic and offers a real escape from city life. Named "Most Beautiful Small Town" by USA Today in 2011, there is no debating it, Sandpoint is both scenic and friendly.
History of the Area
The Salish tribes originally occupied the Sandpoint area, taking advantage of the lush environment and all of the fishing that the nearby lake and river could provide, these villages disappeared around 1930, however, lasting much longer than the majority of Native American traditional encampments.
Around 1807 the area began to be explored by David Thompson, followed by others, and around 1880 the town began to be established due to the railroad being built running through the area. Theodore Roosevelt visited the area on a caribou hunting trip, and his documentation of his experience there became one of Sandpoint's small town claim to fame.
The town was officially incorporated in 1898, with a booming timber industry, the town quickly grew. Although the mill was put out of business due to the Great Depression, logging continued to be the main industry in Sandpoint until 1963 when Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort was established, and immediately grew tourism off the charts.
Claims to Fame
- Birthplace of Sarah Palin - Governor of Alaska and 2012 Vice Presidential Candidate
- Home of Ben Stein - Nixon Speech Writer and TV Personality
- Hometown of Nate Holland - Two time Olympic Snowboarder
- Hometown of Tinker Hatfield - Designer of Nike Air Jordan
How to Get There
Getting to this hidden gem is a bit of a journey, but well worth it. The closest major airport is Spokane International, it is a 40 minute flight from the national airport hub: Seattle. From there you can either rent a car or arrange a pickup. The drive is around 90 minutes, and never more than two hours. Then that's it! The majority of attractions in Sandpoint are withing walking distance from each other, and the ones that aren't, such as the top of Schweitzer Ski Resort, have shuttle services that are convenient to take advantage of. Take advantage of the links I post below for schedules and to make arrangements.
Where to Stay
Located at 651 Lakeshore Avenue, Dover, ID 83825, Dover Bay Resort is my #1 recommendation for summertime accommodations. Starting at around $220 a night, the bungalows far surpass any hotel room. Each is private and free standing, some offering fireplaces, and all equipped with a kitchen or kitchenette. Where else can you stay on the water for a price like that? The resort has a swimming pool, walking trails, gym, beach area, and restaraunt. The two drawbacks are the ten minute drive into town, compared to most hotels that are in the thick of it, and the decor is outdated. Luckily the exterior and appliances and chic, and some people would probably describe the interior as homey. So to each his own.
Definitely take advantage of City Beach, located across a walking bridge from the downtown area, the beach consists of peninsula of beach. While not quite the ocean, during the summer the beach is the place to be. The temperature stays comfortable for most of the summer, although there definately are some scorching days. Frequent the snack bar when you got bored (or burned) or walk up the bridge for some boutique shopping. There is also paddle boards and various other water toys, to rent at the marina.
If you need to pick up the pace a bit, travel a half hour back towards Spokane and you will come upon the largest water and theme park in the Inland Northwest, Boulder Beach and Silverwood. With a huge collection of wooden roller coasters, and two huge wave pools to boot. It is worth the trek if you want to pick up the pace.
Schweitzer is good for more than skiing. During the summer this ski resort transforms into the locals favorite place to hike and pick huckleberries. ***Huckelberries are one of the best things about Idaho, stock up on jams, taffy, and syrup cause you and your friends at home will be sure to love the tart version of a blueberry*** Schweitzer's chair lift runs during the summer as well, a local's favorite workout, hike up, and take the life down to see a breathtaking view of the lake and mountains. There is also activities like a climbing wall, large scale chess, and paintball.
If taking it down a notch is what you need, stop by The Spa at Seasons. this resort is also on the lake and is the picture of tranquility. With a wide range of treatments, and a zen environment, you will be sure to emerge rested and ready for another day of hiking. An 80 minute massage starts at $110 for reference
Dubs is the local favorite for ice cream. Although it doesn't have the large selection of hard ice cream that some of the downtown places do, it has soft serve that is dairy free, and the cones go on for mile. I order a half small, and it is the size of a McDonald's large for reference. It is ridiculously cheap and of course, family owned. Although the food is sub par, go for the ice cream anyway.
Spuds is my pick for lunch. When you walk into the restaraunt you see the menu on a large chalkboard immediately. The cuisine consists of soups, salads, chicken, sandwiches, and potatoes. There are also different desserts every day, and a large selection of beer and specialty sodas. The decor is trendy and nautical, and situated on the lake it fits. It is a very reasonable choice for lunch with a half chicken for about $8 and a potato for $5, all of which come with the best roles in existence.You order in line, pay, then are seated, which is an awesome and unique process.
Joel's is everyone's favorite Mexican restaurant. It is authentic Mexican food, with a fish taco that people swear by. So cheap that high school student's go there almost every day for lunch, its hard to come up with a reason not to go here.
Where to Stay
The Schweitzer Mountain Resort of course! You want to be as close to the slopes as possible, and what is closer than stepping out from your cabin onto a freshly groomed run. This option can be a little spendy, but come at the right time and rates start at around $120. There are options within the two hotels, along with cabins of various sizes You have access to a hot tub and pool, the hot tub is quite fun in the snow. There is a mini movie theater, shopping right on the slope, tubing, and a considerable amount of dining options. The decor is rustic, but a little more polished than my summertime pick. The customer service in phenomenal, and the staff do their best to accommodate all requests.
Of course, winter in Sandpoint is all about the skiing. Known for its tree skiing, you have miles and miles of runs to explore. A local favorite is "Cathy's Yard Sale" named after a community figure who died of cancer. Explore the backside to get away from other tourists. There is a bunny hill for beginners and lessons for the little ones. A one day adult pass runs around $70, there are discounts for kids, teenagers, seniors, and of course if you buy multiple days. If you are a boarder looking for the park, we have that too! Just take the Quad up and the signs will lead you straight there. Rental equipment is available. Make sure to check out the tubing too! It is a fun group activity, and the run is faster and more fun than any other sledding hill.
There are still tons of other things to do, even in the snow. Head down the mountain, about a 30 minute drive from Schweitzer's village. Enjoy the multiple wine bars, the seasonal shopping downtown, along with cultural shows and films shown at the historic Panida Theater. If a feature film is more up your alley, heads to the Bonnor County Mall, about a 15 minute drive from town, and catch a blockbuster out there. The bowling alley offers deals as low as $5 per person, with fun theme nights. All of which are great activities after a long day shredding it on the slopes.
Forty One South is a quality restaurant across the lake from town. One of the few fine dining experiences in Sandpoint, it is worth every penny. Although the views of the lake are amazing on the patio during the summer, especially with a sunset in the background, but the lake looks just as vivid frozen over, especially next to a warm fire. The cuisine is French with a twist. The stuffed chicken and duck are personal favorite, along with the peanut butter mouse cake, but honestly it is hard for anyone to choose a favorite.
Shoga is right next to the above restaurant, but has a totally different vibe. IT is the most trendy restaurant in town, serving gourmet sushi at a reasonable price. Bring picky eaters as well, they offer a Teriyaki bowl and burger in case raw fish isn't your thing. They offer the same mouth watering brownie as their counterpart to satisfy a sweet tooth after you've had your fill.
The Festival Tent
Standout Event - The Festival at Sandpoint
This is the can't miss event it might be necessary to plan your trip around. Every summer, usually in August, residents and tourists flood Memorial Field for the annual Festival at Sandpoint. This yearly event is eight nights of concerts, two weekends in a row starting on a Thursday.
The lineups are amazing for a festival in a town this size, with past performers including "The Head and The Heart," "Bare Naked Ladies," "Pink Martini," and "Counting Crows." Every season there is something for everyone, including a kids concert with a carnival, and goody bags. The other concerts have wine tastings, and samplings of all the local cuisine.
Season passes start at around $200, with single night passes from around $40 to $65 other than the kids concert which is usually about $5.
You have to make sure to get in line early if you want a place to lay your blanket down. Unless that is, its more of a dancing type concert. In that case get there early too, standing room only after all.
Where is it?
For More Info...
- The official travel site of Sandpoint, Idaho
A more complete look at everything this town has to offer for a small town vacation.