Are you looking for a great place to visit while traversing the Pacific Northwest?
The city of Sandpoint in Northern Idaho is nestled at the foot of the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot mountain ranges.
It sits on spectacular Lake Pend Oreille, the most expansive lake in Idaho.
Sandpoint is the county seat of Bonner County, Idaho, and the largest city in it.
It is the location of Idaho’s biggest ski resort, the Schweitzer Mountain Resort, and is situated on two National Scenic Byways and the International Selkirk Loop.
National media has awarded it many distinctions in the past few years, including Most Beautiful Small Town by USA Today and Rand McNally.
Sandpoint was the historic home of the Kalispell Native American tribe and underwent white settlement as fur trappers built a trading post on the Hope peninsula in 1809.
In 1809, agent and surveyor David Thompson would describe the peninsula on which Sandpoint was located as a “pointe of sand.”
This served as a fitting name for the place that would eventually evolve here.
The next few eras in the 1880s would bring steamboats, mining, and railroad construction to Sandpoint, and in 1901, Sandpoint was incorporated and became a logging town.
In the 1940s, a trophy trout fishery on the lake brought acclaim to Sandpoint; in 1963, the newly founded Schweitzer ski area made it a prime seasonal destination.
Today, Sandpoint’s motto is “what a beautiful pace,” and one can see the emphasis it places on the city’s pace with its genuine small-town vibe and host of outdoor activities.
Sandpoint’s thriving arts community—a host of excellent restaurants, arts and entertainment events, acclaimed culinary scene, uncommon shopping sprees, abundant recreation, and fine lodgings—offer a wonderful change of pace for any visitor.
If you’re eager to dive into Sandpoint, here is a handy list of the best things you can do in the city:
Hang Out at Sandpoint City Beach
This city beach is set on a scenic peninsula close to where Lake Pend Oreille nourishes Pend Oreille River, a popular spot to enjoy the Northern Idaho summer.
The views here are amazing, from the vast expanse of wide blue water to the snow-capped mountains beyond.
It is a 22-acre park fringed with sandy shores and large sectioned-off swimming areas that contain lifeguard stations and floating boating docks.
You can bring tubes, a paddleboard, and a kayak and enjoy swimming in the refreshingly cool lake during hot weather.
There are plenty of chances for outdoor recreation in the abundant lawn space.
Here, find tennis courts, basketball courts, pickleball courts, volleyball nets, horseshoe pits, a walking and biking path, and a giant playground for your kids.
Two marinas, the Windbag and the Sandpoint Marina, also straddle the public docks and have boat slip moorings for sailboats and powerboats.
Get Out on the Water with Lake Pend Oreille Cruises
Indulge in lovely Lake Pend Oreille as you come aboard a guided ride by Lake Pend Oreille Cruises.
Sandpoint citizens guide these cruises with a vast array of knowledge about the lake’s history and wildlife.
Ride aboard the Shawnodese, built in 1966 in San Diego as a Coronado Island ferry, and formerly a tour and fishing boat on Lake Mead.
View spectacular cliffs and resident wildlife on the Clark Fork Delta Cruise, savor a twilight and moonlit boat ride on the Full Moon Dessert Cruise, and view incredible pyrotechnics on the 4th of July Fireworks Cruise.
Explore private coves, birdlife, and towering cliffs on the 3G cruise, or have a tour around the 4 Islands of Hope on the Eagle and Island Cruise.
Or see different bird species on the Birds of Prey Cruise, and learn the lake’s storied past on the Lake History Cruise.
Watch a Show at the Panida Theater
The Panida Theater has been a vital Sandpoint landmark for many generations since its opening as a movie house and vaudeville stage in 1927.
“Panida” is a combination of the words “Panhandle” and “Idaho.”
Its mission then and now is to showcase amazing performances for the audience at the Panhandle of Idaho.
The theater thrived until it fell into disrepair in the 1980s, and the residents got together in 1985 to rescue their beloved landmark.
Today, the place features regional and touring artists, informative and educational speakers and presentations, professional dance performances, and local dance recitals,
Other features are live theater, workshops, comedy, movies, local and global film festivals, and more.
Patrons of the theater admire the characteristic architecture and rich furnishings and its attractive Spanish mission stylings that are unlike any other building in Sandpoint.
The Panida is the heart of Sandpoint’s downtown and the jewel of north Idaho.
Taste Wine at the Pend d’Oreille Winery
This winery has been part of the Sandpoint community since 1995 and has a legacy of award-winning wine production.
It uses traditional French winemaking techniques and utilizes grapes from top-tier vineyards around the Northwest.
Co-owner Kylie Presta has a passion for viticulture and winemaking, and co-owner Jim Bopp dedicates himself to creating balanced and outstanding wines.
Pend d’Oreille Winery has produced award-winning wines including Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sample their floral and pear Albariño, multi-flavored and savory Chardonnay, peach blossom and spice Rosette, honeysuckle and orange Pinot Gris, and fruity-fresh Bistro Blanc.
Taste their lilac and chocolate Cabernet Sauvignon, rich savory Cabernet Franc, red apple aromatic Merlot, rhubarb and black plum Syrah, and claret blend Bistro Rouge.
Sip their clove and vanilla L’Oeuvre, dark and inky Petite Sirah, pie cherries and caramel Sangiovese, and sandalwood Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Shop at Cedar Street Bridge Public Market
The Cedar Street Bridge Public Market is an excellent fixture of downtown Sandpoint with its diverse selection of local food and crafts.
It is the country’s only marketplace to be raised on a bridge, echoing the shop-strewn bridges of Medieval Europe.
The bridge was first built in 1923 to connect downtown Sandpoint to the railroad depot across Sand Creek.
As it became obsolete with the decline of railroad traffic, citizens transformed it into a public marketplace in the 1970s.
Dine on stuffed olives at The Pickled Kitchen, indulge in roasted nuts at the Panhandle Nut House, have great-tasting food and wine at Taysty’s Eatery Wine Bar, and pick up huckleberry treats at Huckleberry Depot.
Find a twirling array of accessories and antiques at Carousel Emporium, attend fun and exciting classes at Creation, buy bath salts and bombs at Naked is Responsible, and take gorgeous portraits at Marsha Lutz Photography.
Soak in History at Bonner County Historical Society and Museum
Bonner County Historical Museum is on the south side of Sandpoint, surrounded by Lakeview Park.
This small museum dedicates itself to the finding and preservation of the history and heritage of Bonner County residents for future generations.
This museum has collected over a million artifacts, many on rotational display, that describe this section of the Idaho Panhandle.
You can walk through the museum and uncover the stories of the Native Kootenai and Kalispell people, the white settlers, the burgeoning timber and logging history, and more.
Learn about Sandpoint’s early residents and their relationships with the landscapes as they carved out livings in mining, logging, and farming.
View the permanent exhibits that center on topics like the railroad, the 19th-century fur trade, and the region’s natural history.
Other topics are Sandpoint’s archeological past, logging and agriculture in northern Idaho, and the tales of the Forest Service in the state.
Stroll into Downtown Sandpoint
A quintessential Sandpoint experience is strolling its charming downtown district.
It holds a unique collection of art studios, eateries, galleries, boutiques, gift shops, and entertainment venues, employing over 1000 residents in its thriving heart.
It’s also lovely and photograph-worthy, holding new facades, renovated sidewalks, and brick and stone heritage buildings that have been here for a while.
Explore unique products at La Chic Boutique, find perfect jackets at Campfire Couture, or browse quality clothes at Larson’s Department Store.
Discover feminine fashion at Eve’s Leaves and Bella Terra Boutique, seek handcrafted clothes at Grace & Joy, or look for gifts at Azalea Handpicked Style.
Experience body sugaring at Sugared Organic, try fresh beauty products at Papillion Beauty Boutique, and try relaxed healing at Wildflower Spa at Seasons.
And when you’re hungry from all the shopping, places like Di Luna’s and Baxters on Cedar will cater to your needs.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Panhandle Cone and Coffee
In 2015, after years of backyard ice cream creation, the Dillon family of southern Oregon moved to Sandpoint and established their love for creative and quality ice cream.
They set out to create a space where visitors can slow down for a breather and treat themselves to something sweet.
Panhandle Cone and Coffee now offers the finest ice cream in Idaho with flavors guaranteed to thrill sweets enthusiasts.
They locally source their ingredients to create tastes you won’t soon forget.
You can’t go wrong with these delicious flavors: plain Vanilla and Coffee, Buttermilk Huckleberry, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Lemongrass and Blueberry Swirl, Salted Caramel and Brown Butter Cookie, and others!
They take pride in concocting their unsurpassable velvety Panhandle texture, bold and enticing flavor selections, and top-notch espressos.
Their friendly and personable staff make every visit worthwhile and are the heartbeat of their fine establishment.
Hike around Sandpoint
Sandpoint is an excellent gateway for hikers of all kinds, with thousands of miles for trekking.
It is a fantastic way to hike outdoor trails and immerse yourself in the thick green forest.
Try the Gold Hill Trail with its 5.6 miles, moderate 1500 elevation gain, and wonderful views of Sandpoint, the long bridge, and Lake Pend Oreille.
The Mickinnick Trail is a bit trickier with 7 miles, switchbacks, an elevation gain of 2100 feet; it’s good for hikers who want a strenuous challenge.
The Mineral Point Trail is 4.3 miles and moderately easy, with an elevation gain of 692 feet, gorgeous lake views, a pebble beach for swimming, and lovely cedar groves.
The Pend Oreille Bay Trail is a 3.3-mile trail frequented by dog walkers, joggers, and families, great for anyone who wants a casual walk to gaze on Lake Pend Oreille.
Pursue Athletics at Schweitzer Mountain Resort
Find some of the best Pacific Northwest skiing at this independently owned mountain resort.
It sits across two natural bowls and has 92 runs in 2900 acres, a total vertical drop of 2400 feet, and 300 annual inches of snowfall.
The diverse terrain at the resort welcomes skiers from different tiers of ability, making it a popular group destination.
In winter, Schweitzer offers bowls and tree runs for skiers and snowboarders and has a network of 10 lifts that can carry 16000 passengers per hour.
It offers Nordic skiing with 32 kilometers of groomed paths and has the Hermit’s Hollow Tubing Center with two tubing lanes over 300 feet long.
Throughout the summer, one can enjoy hiking trails, amazing mountain biking, scenic chairlift rides, disc golf, and entertaining events.
People know the resort for its community: the dining and shopping opportunities on the mountain and village at its base.
Go Horseback Riding at Mountain Horse Adventures
Mountain Horse Adventures is based in Schweitzer Village and is active from June to September, organizing two rides per day.
Sandpoint’s hinterlands are a perfect setting for a horseback riding adventure, with their sprawling old-growth forest, fields of alpine flowers, teeming wildlife, vast lakes, and hilly surroundings.
Your knowledgeable guides will have comprehensive knowledge of the mountainside and regale you with stories, riding tips, valuable advice, and country songs.
Newcomers can go on the popular 2.5-hour ride, while seasoned horseback riders can go on the 3-hour custom ride.
Wear long pants and boots suitable for rugged outdoor activity, and bring water, a light jacket, rain gear, snacks, and cameras as well.
The horses are extremely kind, friendly, and well-mannered and are used to all rider types, from greenhorns to experienced horse people.
The guides welcome tips of any kind, and the horses welcome hugs too!
Celebrate the Festival at Sandpoint
One of the greatest events to attend in Sandpoint is The Festival at Sandpoint, summer’s biggest event that has hosted its multi-day summer concert at Memorial Field since 1983.
The seating capacity is limited to 4000, making for a more intimate setting than the usual festival.
The festival aims for a rich music experience in an eclectic range of concerts, in an outdoor setting accessible to local and regional folks.
It strives to provide cultural and ethnic diversity, strengthen the love of music through youth programs, and encourage economic growth in the community.
It dedicates the festival to inspiration and enlightenment of the public.
It has some of the finest performing arts and music in old-to-new forms, and fresh and familiar artists.
It presents a good range of jazz, folk, blues, world, family, classical symphonic, and popular music at prices available for all audiences.
Other Things to Do Nearby:
Enjoy the Outdoors at Farragut State Park
Located 32 minutes from Sandpoint, this vast state park covers 4000 acres with 223 camping sites, 10 camping cabins, and 7 group camps.
There are plenty of activities in store for campers, including boating, swimming, hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, fishing, archery, water sports, horseback riding, and more.
It is well-known for its collection of disc-golf courses with four 18-hole courses and an 18-hole chip and putt course.
It has a rich past as a World War II naval training station, with the Farragut Naval Training Center built in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Over 160000 million dollars was spent on its construction, and in the four years it operated, 293381 recruits went through basic training.
Don’t miss the Museum at the Brig, which holds boot camp, war, and naval memorabilia dedicated to the naval recruits who went through training here.
Have a Brew at Laughing Dog Brewing
Laughing Dog Brewing is a 7-minute drive from Sandpoint, sitting close by in Ponderay.
Founded in 2005, it keeps a close watch on quality with a wonderful collection of brews produced by various techniques and styles.
Their taproom is a warm, friendly place to gather with peers, neighbors, and family.
Sit by the fire on a chilly day, listen to live tunes in the summer, watch a game together, or indulge in a tasting tray.
Every year they hold a special release series where brewers show off their wares.
They have brewed award-winning beers like their best-selling Huckleberry Cream Ale, Pacific Northwest India Pale Ale, and Imperial India Pale Ale Alpha Dog.
Their best-seller Huckleberry Cream Ale has a distinct Pacific Northwest flavor blended with Cream Ale, forming a brew with tart huckleberries.
Also try their citrusy Rocket Dog, their easy-drinking Dogs of Helles, their bittersweet Alpha Dog, and their complex-flavored Dogfather.
Take a Ride at Silverwood Theme Park
A 37-minute drive south of Sandpoint will bring you to the largest theme and water park of the American Northwest.
It has over 70 rides, slides, shows, and attractions, four roller coasters, live shows, a water park, and a steam engine train.
It originally just included a scattering of carnival rides, the steam engine, and the main street filled with eateries and shops.
It has since grown in popularity and size, transforming from a small amusement park to a regional destination, the largest theme park in North Idaho, covering 413 acres.
Try its low-intensity attractions: fly among the clouds on the Barnstormer, take a giant swing on the Butterflyer, or ride the classic Ferris Wheel.
For more medium intensity, splash your way down Avalanche Mountain, cascade down Ricochet Rapids, or gleefully spin on the Scrambler.
And for an exciting high intensity, defy gravity on the Round-Up, experience thrills on the Timber Terror, and slide down Velocity Peak.
For sheer exhilaration and all-around family fun, you can’t go wrong with Silverwood Theme Park!
For such a small city, Sandpoint is packed with many adventures and fun pursuits.
If you’re seeking Idaho good times, scan this list for the best things to do at Sandpoint.
Anyone searching for a small-town haven also embraced by nature will feel welcome in this city.