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Sandpoint, Idaho: Lakeside Heaven

Sandpoint artfully blends indoor appeal and outdoor fun in Idaho’s panhandle.

  • the Fresh Sunshine flower truck, image
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    Whimsy is in full bloom at the Fresh Sunshine flower truck.
  • downtown Sandpoint Idaho, image
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    Downtown Sandpoint's strollable streets invite exploration.
  • city beach on Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, image
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    Stroll along the city beach on Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint.
  • a list of beers on tap at Idaho Pour Authority, image
    Photo caption
    The Idaho Pour Authority offers a dizzying array of beers.

Crossing the Long Bridge in Sandpoint, Idaho, is an arresting experience. The peaks of the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot mountain ranges surge up on all sides, and glittering Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pon-der-RAY) seems to envelop you. Joggers stride along a walkway that stretches the length of the two-mile span. A cargo train flashes by on an adjacent track, its reflection shimmering on the massive lake, the fifth deepest in the United States. Surrounded by this stunning panorama, you’ll find it easy to see why in 2011 USA Today crowned Sandpoint the Most Beautiful Small Town in America.

Sandpoint’s unique natural setting attracts outdoor enthusiasts of every ilk. The town’s population—7,800 permanent residents—balloons throughout the year as tourists arrive to ski the slopes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, hike hundreds of miles of maintained trails, lounge on City Beach, or set sail on the lake. Some swimmers even strap on caps and paddle the length of the Long Bridge in August.

Beneath its sporty exterior, Sandpoint maintains a creative core that rivals those of more metropolitan spots. In the parking lot outside Evans Brothers Coffee—a roaster that serves sustainably sourced brew in a warehouse flooded with natural light—the Fresh Sunshine flower truck sells seasonal blooms. Snipping a stem from a snapdragon, owner Jennifer Pratt muses, “The people who have chosen to make Sandpoint their home, they’re crafty, they’re creative.”

Just across the street from the historic Panida Theater—a restored 1920s movie house that hosts films, operas, and concerts—the Sandpoint Art Works Gallery showcases its 30 member artists’ creations, everything from landscape photography to watercolors to stained glass. Though the medium varies, the muse is constant. “Who couldn’t be inspired with the lake and the mountains?” says jewelry maker Lynn Gardner. “All you have to do is walk outside your door and look around.”

To soak in the scenery with ease, take a winding drive down the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway, a 33-mile stretch of Highway 200 that swoops past tall pines, then breaks into the open for a sweeping lake vista.

If you prefer to drink your dose of culture, park the car and pull up a wooden chair at Idaho Pour Authority, where taps spout Northwest brews into shapely tulip glasses and more than 300 craft beers line the shelves. If wine is more your style, stroll down the street and snag a seat at the revamped Pend d’Oreille Winery, where you can sip locally made cabernet franc and snack on charcuterie under the dangling Edison lightbulbs.

During lunch, crowds swarm Joel’s Mexican Restaurant for chile relleno burritos and swai tacos with salsa verde. From there it’s only a couple blocks to City Beach, where you can work off your midday meal with a walk along the sandy shore.

If you’re seeking an even more scenic dining experience, head back across the Long Bridge to Forty-One South, a shoreside retreat where you’ll have to choose between crispy duck confit and Idaho potato–crusted ruby trout. The patio offers an ideal perch for watching the sunset scatter the day’s last light on lovely Lake Pend Oreille.

Photography by Woods Wheatcroft (4); courtesy of Epdp/Wikimedia (Sandpoint City Beach)

This article was first published in March 2015. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.