Sandpoint, Idaho

The cool northwest's hot property

Sandpoint's Cedar Street Bridge, a solar-heated mall inspired by Florence's Ponte Vecchio     Photo: courtesy, Idaho Travel Council

IT'S EASY TO GET SEDUCED by Sandpoint: You cross the two-mile bridge over Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Pon-der-AY) and drink in the spectacular Selkirks mountainscape looming over downtown. But what really reels you in is Sandpoint's small-town sense of community, with the restored Spanish-mission-style Panida Theater and all manner of city-sanctioned excuses to lollygag (like Winter Carnival or the Lost in the '50s nostalgia fest for muscle-car buffs). And then there's the big-town lineup of restaurants: "The best place to eat in Spokane," goes the joke about the city of 194,000 lying 75 miles southwest, "is in Sandpoint."

OUTDOORS: The twin playgrounds of the lake and 8,000-foot peaks prevent any dead spots on the calendar. Schweitzer, the uncrowded local ski mountain, has 2,400 feet of vertical, 2,500 skiable acres, and a nordic trail network. Summers bring huge-scale paddling, sailing, and fishing around the lake's 111 miles of shoreline, plus mountain biking on stellar singletrack tracing the peaks and creeks.
REAL ESTATE: Following a spate of recent media valentines, demand has spiked to the point that nearly any house priced under $200,000, says Charlie Parrish, of Evergreen Realty, "is getting snapped up almost overnight."
HANGOUTS: The Coit House, a 1907 Victorian with six guest rooms and a wraparound porch, is close to both the lakeshore and the heart of downtown (doubles, $70–$110; 866-265-2648, www.coithouse.com). Check out Eichardt's Pub, Grill & Coffeehouse for elk burgers, seared ahi tuna, and live music.

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