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Stay and Play: Get sidetracked to Sandpoint

Roadside activities on the way to town are numerous, fun

If there’s one problem with Sandpoint, it’s that there is too much to do.

Between Schweitzer Mountain and City Beach, the Festival at Sandpoint and the Panida Theater, there is always something going on somewhere. In other words, if you are just spending one day, plan ahead and choose something for everyone in your family.

A recent visit to the bustling little town on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille was a good reminder of just what a wonderful destination Sandpoint is – actually, the destinations start piling up already on the way to Sandpoint.

When you hit U.S. Highway 95 north, make sure you aren’t in a hurry. Along the road you’ll find many little roadside shops selling everything from elk jerky to fresh fruits and veggies. You’ll also find Wolf People just south of Cocolalla. Wolves are making headlines these days and Wolf People provides an excellent opportunity to get really close to some of them. About 20 wolves live at the educational facility – you can visit for free with a pair right there or take the one-hour tour. The tour is highly recommended, as you’ll see staff interact with the wolves young and old and get a chance to ask questions and see the beautiful animals up close. If you make the early tour at 10 a.m., you still have plenty of time to make it to Sandpoint for lunch.

Speaking of which, you’ll be driving right past the View Cafe on the east shore of Lake Cocolalla. This little gem of a restaurant offers great food at reasonable prices, in case you are too hungry to make it all the way to Sandpoint.

Just before Sandpoint you’ll drive through Sagle, and if you do so on a weekend or a holiday you have to stop at the flea market. It’s hard to miss, just off Highway 95, and it features a little bit of everything from collectibles to car parts and jewelry. It’s a great stop.

Sagle is also where you’ll find the road to the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center. The museum is about 12 miles off Highway 95 east on Sagle Road, and it’s a destination in itself. It features Dr. Forrest Bird’s personal collection of aircraft and as well as various invention displays and flight exhibits. It has been open since 2007.

Bird is the inventor of the modern respirator, and he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 honoring the many ways in which he has served his country, including as a pilot during World War II. If you stop by Bird’s museum, make sure you leave enough time to see all the planes and displays – you don’t want to be in a hurry here.

Once you are through Sagle you’ll hit Long Bridge and, finally, Sandpoint.

There’s a bit of road construction going on right now, so be prepared. A bypass leading cattle trucks and other northbound traffic around downtown is being constructed right now, and that leads to occasional traffic backups.

Now the best way to visit downtown Sandpoint is on foot, so find a parking spot and leave the car behind. There is plenty of street parking, and there’s also parking at City Beach.

Downtown Sandpoint is all about shopping and dining. There are lots of restaurants, big and small, old and new, so take a stroll and find a place that looks appealing. Favorites include Spuds (102 N. First Ave.) which is on the Sand Creek waterfront, and The Dive (209 N. First Ave.), a newer addition to downtown. During the day, The Dive has outdoor seating and a real Western feel – but don’t be fooled: on some late nights the place turns into a dance club featuring trendy tunes right alongside the mechanical bull.

In the food department, don’t miss the Pine Street Bakery (710 Pine St.), which is just a short walk outside downtown and features gorgeous rustic breads and delicious pastries, and they serve great espresso.

After lunch it’s time for shopping. Last week, a few families were spotted arguing about when on earth they’d be done so they could go to the lake. Here’s a suggestion: Let those who want to go shopping hit the stores, and take the rest over to City Beach, which is five minutes away. When the shopaholics are done, everyone can meet up in the shade at the beach and a good time has been had by all.

City Beach is unique with its location almost in the middle of downtown. And it’s more than a beach, featuring tennis courts, volleyball nets, horseshoe pits and playgrounds. This is also where you can catch a cruise on Lake Pend Oreille and walk out the little pier to visit with Sandpoint’s own Statue of Liberty – either way, the views of the lake are stunning, and it’s a perfect way to end the day.

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