The West is brimming with all sorts of hidden heavenly nooks and crannies. Sun Valley, Idaho is one of them, with 4 distinctly gorgeous seasons and skies a dozen shades of blue in one day. If you ever have an opportunity to visit, take it. You’ll love it.The resort is sprawling and charming and brimming with traditions and history, while nearby Ketchum is snug and brimming with its own rugged charm and cool vibe. (Most visitors just refer to the entire area as Sun Valley.) There is so much to enjoy in both places, perfect for a long weekend.
First and foremost, Sun Valley is known for incredible skiing in the winter months. If you visit in the winter, be prepared to pay premium rates for just about everything. The closer to the resort, the pricier the digs. Regardless of where you stay, though, there is plenty of great skiing, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, even ice skating to keep you happy all day long, and plenty of toasty fireplaces and great dining options to keep you cozy in the evening. Guests at the resort can even enjoy lovely heated outdoor pools year-round. It’s pretty magical to slip into a steaming circular swimming pool with the stars twinkling above and the moonlight shining on the snowy mountain side. A girl could really get used to it.
Summer is the other peak season for the area. Hiking and biking trails all around the mountainside, golf, swimming, fly fishing, festivals and concerts abound through the warm months. Everyone from the Beach Boys to Garth Brooks to Renee Fleming have performed in the outdoor theater. The Sun Valley Ice Rink (indoor and outdoor) is open year round, even, and presents incredible ice shows during the summertime, featuring the biggest names in the sport–Scott Hamilton, Kristy Yamaguchi and Oksana Baiul have all performed here.
Our most recent visit happened just at the close of ski season, and the beginning of what’s called “slack season” or the slower months between winter and summer. This means better rates on lodging and fewer crowds, but note that many local establishments will operate on limited, or slack schedules. Basically open late and close early. And while winter sports are over, there are jogging, bike and hiking trails accessible, pools and theaters, book shops and cafes and of course the ice skating. There’s even an old school bowling alley at the Sun Valley Lodge, and an Opera House that shows first run movies (about $8 per person) or a daily free showing of the 1950’s flick “Sun Valley Serenade” featuring Sonja Henie, and filmed on property. It’s a good one. A little theater in town does stage productions throughout the year, too.
Just about a mile past the resort, along a paved nature/jogging path, is an Ernest Hemingway memorial. The famed author lived in Sun Valley, and loved it for its bounty of outdoor recreation, and likely its seclusion. He died here in 1961 and is buried in the Ketchum Cemetery on the north side of town, where many leave their tributes. You’ll find lots of Hemingway lore all over town. His home is located nearby, but is not accessible to the public. He even had a favorite room at the Sun Valley Lodge–206–where he would hunker down and write.
There are plenty of great places to eat on Sun Valley property, though they tend to be a bit spendy, as one might expect. One establishment we never fail to enjoy, though, is the Konditorei bakery. Everything is made from scratch in-house, including the chocolate used in their incredible pastries. Chocolate mousse, linzer cookies, eclairs, strudels, cream puffs, butterscotch cookies the size of your face, sacher cakes. All of them are divine. They also serve breakfast (love the quiche) and lunch here, and have a great coffee bar (the hot chocolate is perfection) but I just can never get past the pastries–we love to take them back to our room or bring a box home with us to enjoy later.
It’s always fun to kick around Ketchum and enjoy the darling shops, window shop at the swanky ones, and eat at our favorite places. With so many restaurants with great atmosphere and food, it’s a challenge to narrow it down. The Pioneer Saloon is a must, especially if you love a good steak. Family owned with unassuming rugged ambiance, hearty portions, and friendly service. Really, the filet I ate might have been the most buttery, melty carnivorous morsel I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s casual, like nearly everywhere in these parts, but can get a little spendy. I recommend having a late breakfast, skipping lunch, and heading here for dinner.
Another favorite is Despos for great Mexican food. Their tacos al carbon are absolute perfection. It’s no frills, low key and the food is spot-on delicious. The Kneadery is great for breakfast and lunch, and by no coincidence is owned by the same family that owns the Pioneer. They make their own bread, and sometimes just have a big platter of brownies out for all to enjoy. As in, free brownies on your way out, folks. The Ketchum Grill is another excellent choice for dinner–from appetizers to dessert, they do things right here. Don’t overlook Java on Fourth for great coffee, hot cocoa, treats, and a fun little shop all in one. Iconoclast Book Shop has all the best titles with an outspoken, eager staff, a section devoted to Ernest Hemingway, and also a coffee shop in-house.
Getting around is easy, whether you are staying at Sun Valley or in town, with a free transit system between Sun Valley, the mountains, and main street in Ketchum. The town itself is walk-able, but there are bike rental stations on various corners, and bikes can also be rented at the resort or at outfitters like The Elephant’s Perch. Even bike trailers for your little ones are easy to come by, Any outdoor enthusiast will enjoy browsing here. It’s the kind of place that makes it easy to just hand over all your money. Same goes for the Toy Store–all the coolest things for your kiddos. The Farmer’s Daughter is a lovely spot for gifts and decor, if a tad pricey.In many ways, Sun Valley and Ketchum are like other resort towns, but the tucked-away location the Sawtooth Mountains lends a more rugged and down to earth vibe than you might find in, say, Park City. It’s easy to see why Hollywood has loved it for movie making, and why celebrities love vacationing here–or even living here, like Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. We found locals to be friendly and casual, the staff at both the Inn Lodge accommodating and warm, not at all surly or uppity, despite the swanky surroundings. I spent my last day there roaming the halls of the lodge, admiring the glossy black and white photos of all the famous people who’ve visited–Robert Kennedy, Gregory Peck, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Selleck, Rosa Parks, Renee Fleming, and dozens more. Then I curled up with a book for a couple of hours, between the picture windows overlooking the ice rink and a giant fireplace. Pretty gosh darn blissful.
If Sun Valley beckons, you must go. Go. Love it.
*This post is not sponsored in any way by any entity or affiliate, I’m just happy to share what I love.