THERE’S A LOT TO LOVE in Sun Valley — just ask around and you’ll pretty quickly encounter folks who left behind their lives and high-powered careers in big cities like New York and Los Angeles for a chance at the good life in this one-of-a-kind mountain town. If you’ve never been to Idaho’s Wood River Valley, here are a handful of experiences to expect…and which may just turn you into Sun Valley’s newest year-round resident. It’s happened plenty of times before!
1. Get out of your comfort zone.
If you’ve always wanted to try extreme sports but are yet to pull the trigger on sweet activities like dirt biking, snowboarding, and paragliding, Sun Valley’s the place to try something new. With plenty of patient local experts to guide you, an endless natural playground to explore, and the general attitude that everyone’s a beginner at some point, there’s no excuse not to get after it.
2. Put on your walking shoes.
Pretty much everything you need in Sun Valley is within walking distance — for everything else, there’s a network of free buses, a user-friendly bike path that runs right through town, and cheap bike rentals. You can easily get around without a car and get some fresh air while being kind to the environment. It’s a win win!
3. Rock out.
Sun Valley may be off the beaten path for some, but it sure isn’t off the touring circuit. At this year’s Summer Concert Series, big names who’ll be helping us party under the stars include Wilco and the John Butler Trio, and in the past we’ve seen everyone from James Taylor to Willie Nelson tear up the stage.
4. Be wooed.
It’s hard to go a day in Sun Valley without encountering something (or someone) doing it’s damnedest to woo you. Whether it’s the late-evening alpenglow splashing the surrounding peaks, or the cutie down the bar at the Cellar Pub, the heady love buzz is hard to resist so you might as well embrace it!
And if you’re in town with your significant other, there are plenty of ways to up the romance: Camp at Redfish Lake and split a bottle of wine by the campfire. Load up with treats from a local bakery and have a picnic for two among the wildflowers beneath the Sawtooths. Or stay closer to town and enjoy a cozy night with a hot drink at Sun Valley Lodge. It’s impossible not to feel the love.
5. Decompress and find your inner Zen.
The sun doesn’t set till well after 9pm during the summer months, so there’s plenty of time to do anything and everything. To balance out all the running, biking, and bar hopping that happens between sunup and long after sundown, Sun Valley has several luxury spas and yoga studios where you can mellow out, including the brand spanking new 20,000-square-foot facility that opened as part of this summer’s Sun Valley lodge renovations.
If spa treatments at the Zenergy Health Club and down dogs at GATHER Yoga Studio aren’t your thing, snuggle up in Iconoclast — a rad local bookstore and cafe packed with great books (and, some say, the best organic cappuccino in town).
6. Change your perspective — smaller is better.
When a trip to the Atkinsons’ (the local grocery store) triggers the Cheers theme song, you know you live in a small town. Truly, Sun Valley’s a place where (almost) everybody knows your name, friendly waves are commonplace, and courtesy standoffs at the four-way stop sign (you go, no you go…I insist, you go…) are far more regular than honking horns.
And just because you can walk from one end of town to the other in around 15 minutes doesn’t mean there’s nothing doing. Restaurants, shops, cafes, and parks are all easy to get to, and most people prefer to walk around town rather than drive. Urban refugees beware; you might struggle with the realization that for Sun Valley locals, life is always this good.
7. Act like a kid, with (or without) the kids.
Be it the skate park, pump track, bike trail, or ski slopes, it doesn’t matter to kids raised in Sun Valley — they can do laps around their parents whatever the venue. Needless to say, bonding time is not a passive activity here. The putt-putt golf course next to the Sun Valley Clubhouse or a casual ride down the bike path are good options to slow kids down just enough to “catch up.”
But the great thing about Sun Valley is that, whether you’re traveling with the kids or not, there are countless opportunities to rediscover that spark of youth, from a whitewater rafting trip with White Otter Adventures, to a round of sporting clays at the Sun Valley Gun Club, to a game of pickup ice hockey at Sun Valley’s indoor ice rink. Just don’t be surprised if you’re left in the dust by the little ones.
8. Hit big-city events, without the big-city dress code.
Who says you can’t listen to a symphony while drinking beer in flipflops? No one who’s ever been to the free Sun Valley Symphony concerts that happen here all summer long. Music, lectures, monthly gallery walks, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts Wine Auction, the acclaimed Sun Valley Writers’ Conference…the list of cultural goings-on in this mountain town is endless. The dress code, not.
9. Become a lover…an animal lover.
Maybe it’ll be the lovable Sun Valley dogs, mellow as holy cows, instant best friends in exchange for a biscuit (local stores and restaurants keep them in a bowl next to the register specifically for this purpose). Maybe it’ll be the hundreds of sheep crowding Main Street as they’re brought down from their summer pastures each fall during the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. Or maybe it’ll be an early-morning sighting of a bull elk standing high on a mountain ridge, or a black bear sauntering into the forest. However it happens, it’s hard to leave Sun Valley without a deeper connection to the animal world.
10. Expand your horizons.
True, the closest university is hours away, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be at a loss for higher-learning opportunities. Sun Valley has an incredibly strong arts community, and authors like Gloria Steinem, David Sedaris, and Anthony Doerr are no strangers to town. You can also find many other big-name writers, scientists, and thinkers leading lectures and workshops throughout the year.
Apply for a spot in the Silver Creek Writers Residency. Get on the ice with the Summer Skating School. Or check out the classes and workshops offered at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. Loosen up in a dance workshop, spin and mix beats like a real DJ, or get messy in an encaustic painting class — it’s up to you!
11. Get high. Naturally.
With dozens of world-class hikes minutes from town, Sun Valley is the best place to get high. Be it a quick climb up Proctor Mountain (home of one of the world’s first chairlifts) for amazing views of Ketchum, riding the lift up Baldy for lunch on the deck at the stunning Roundhouse Restaurant, or a long hike up to Pioneer Cabin (built in 1937), any trail you choose guarantees epic scenery and a massive rush of endorphins.
That’s just Sun Valley life. You wouldn’t be the first to fall in love.