If you’ve visited Sandpoint only during the summer, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. There’s a reason this town of nearly 7,000 souls on Lake Pend Oreille has received a swarm of national notice. Sunset magazine labeled it the number eight “dream town” in the west, calling it “a four season outdoorsy resort that’s also a real town.” Outside magazine lauded Sandpoint for fulfilling cravings for the comfort of community and access to wilderness. A New York Times headline hailed Sandpoint’s “old west atmosphere in a sporting paradise.”

Just 75 miles from downtown Spokane, Sandpoint’s visitors can experience its “real town” feel during the off-season. Much of this feel comes from Sandpoint’s emphasis on being a walking town. One way to take advantage of this pedestrian friendliness and see the city is an art walk. Start at the Pend Oreille Arts Council gallery in the Powerhouse Grill and stroll to the displays at Bonner General Hospital, the Commissioner’s Office, University of Idaho Extension, and other locations around town. See the POAC website at www.artinsandpoint.org for information.

Most walking routes will pass Sandpoint’s several art galleries. One is ArtWorks Gallery, Sandpoint’s “co-operative gallery of local and regional artists and craft artisans.” Another, though seemingly not an artist’s gallery, is Northwest Handmade Furniture which features Maria Larson’s paintings of wildlife scenes overlain marine and topographical maps of Lake Pend O’reille and its surroundings. Yet another is The Hen’s Tooth which offers wildlife themed art, some being the fishing themed work of gallery owner Ward Tollbom. Visitors can also make an artists’ studio tour, but a bike or car is required. Information can be found at www.arttourdrive.org.

A gallery walk can be broken up with shopping. While some Sandpoint merchants offer the typical touristy tripe, many offer uniquely Sandpoint merchandise. A must visit for many is Sandpoint based Coldwater Creek’s store. For the walking weary, or those uninterested in women’s fall fashion, the Coldwater Creek wine bar offers rest and refuge, plus food, drink and a ski-lodge atmosphere complete with a roaring fire. Other “must shops” include Finan McDonald for casual outdoor clothing, Cabin Fever for household furnishings and funky women’s clothing, boots in particular, and Pedro’s on the Bridge for natural fiber clothing and exotic yarns among other wares.

Much of Sandpoint’s thriving cultural community is centered around the Panida Theater, a member of the League of Historic American Theaters. In addition to films, November’s events include the “Stolen Sweets” Jazz Concert on the 7th, the “Hot Club of Cow Town” as part of the Think SWING! Jazz & Blues Festival on the 8th, classical pianist Xiayin Wang on the 11th plus the Eugene Ballet’s Nutcracker on December 3rd. Other music spots include the Pend O’reille Winery which hosts jazz on Saturdays from 5 to 7 pm. Di Luna’s, Roxy’s and Downtown Crossing often feature live music.

There are plenty of ways to work up an appetite in Sandpoint. Long Bridge provides a scenic four-mile roundtrip across the lake for walkers, runners, and bikers. On a clear day the bridge offers views of the Cabinet Mountains to the east and the Selkirks to the west where Schweitzer Mountain’s runs can be seen among the trees. In the fall, the lake’s surface is generally free of all but ripples or waves from the wind while waterfowl bob on the water and catch their breath during their migration south.

Along with walking the bridge or the town, one can bike. From the west end of Long Bridge to the bike path terminus at Dover Bay, there are seven miles of flat, scenic and largely traffic-free biking. Among the longer rides, Lake Shore Drive follows the west side of the river to Priest River. If the roads are clear and you are feeling strong, the climb to Schweitzer Village is nine miles of up, up and more up. If you make it to the top, you’ll know you are fit for the ski season. Plus, you can warm up with an espresso before the descent which will be brief compared to the climb.

When it comes time to eat, there are plenty of satisfying options. Among the best for dinner include the Sand Creek Grill which features artisanal cheeses, seasonal seafoods and more exotic choices such as wild boar baby back ribs. Café Trinity’s “modern American cuisine” features a somewhat more traditional menu featuring rack of lamb, chilean sea bass and New York Strips. Ivano’s and Arlo’s are two choices for Italian. For lunch, there’s the Powerhouse Grill and Cedar Street Bridge Café with indoor sidewalk seating. Breakfasts unique to Sandpoint can be found at the Blue Moon Café or Connie’s Café.

When you’ve walked enough, the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway and the Lake Pend Oreille and Kootenay River Loop offer scenic driving. The Byway runs east from Sandpoint along the Clark Fork River and into Montana, looping back to Sandpoint after 143 miles. Along the way is the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, near Bonner’s Ferry.

Visitors can drive through the refuge or walk among the grasslands, marshes and canals while observing resident and migratory waterfowl. One might also spy moose, deer, beaver, otter or muskrat. Some trails are closed to walkers during waterfowl hunting season. Duck migration peaks early in November and is closely followed by Bald Eagles who come to feed on the straggling ducks.

Those looking to be pampered might stay at Seasons at Sandpoint which provides a full service spa, fitness center, pool and concierge. Rooms start at $300 nightly with a three-night minimum. Dover Bay, three miles west on Highway 2, has condominiums and waterfront bungalows with a restaurant, health club and pool. Either can be booked through Sandpoint Vacation Getaways (888.896.0007) or Sandpoint Vacation Rentals (866.263.7570). In Sandpoint proper is the Inn at Sandcreek, home of the Sandcreek Grill.

Something cozier can be found among a number of B&Bs, such as the Church Street House (401 Church Street; 208.255.7094), an Arts and Crafts bungalow within walking distance of downtown. The Coit House (502 N. 4th; 208.265.2648) and the Waterhouse are also a short walk from downtown. Monarch Mountain Lodge (363 Bonner Mall Way; 208.263.1222) is just north of downtown. Double rooms start at $72 and breakfast includes sourdough Belgian waffles.

Sandpoint in November provides the opportunity to enjoy a day-trip, a weekend, or something longer without the crowds of summer or deep chill of winter. Whether it’s your first visit or your first off-season visit, you owe it to yourself to see the real Sandpoint, the one that’s earning all the accolades.