For Sunset's fourth biennial salute to the West's best communities, we turned to the ultimate experts: our readers.

Sunset

Ask Sue Haynes what you call a Sandpoint resident, and sheanswers, "Lucky!" A town-council member, Haynes's roots go backthree generations in this Idaho Panhandle town set on the shores ofLake Pend Oreille.

"This was a wonderful place to grow up," she says. "Asteenagers, our big rebellion was to sneak out of the house at nightand watch the sun come up over the lake."

The town's character hasn't really changed. Lumber wasSandpoint's mainstay until the 1980s, and as that industry waned,the town turned to other types of manufacturing, plus tourism andthe arts. Today art galleries and studios dot downtown. Anotherlandmark is the 1906 Cedar Street Bridge, now a two-level shoppingpromenade. And the Panida Theater, a 1927 Mission revival-style gemrescued and restored by the community, is thronged most weekendevenings.

The Panida is still a beloved spot for Haynes. "Saving thattheater was a big job for a small community, but we really pulledtogether," she says. As if Sandpoint residents aren't alreadyfortunate, they also make their own luck. ― Lora J. Finnegan

SANDPOINT ESSENTIALS]

FOUNDED: 1901

POPULATION: About 7,500

ELEVATION: 2,100 feet

AVERAGE COST OF 3-BEDROOM, 2-BATH HOME: $125,000-$132,000

AVERAGE JANUARY TEMPERATURES: High 34°, low 26°

LOCAL PLEASURE: Panida Theater

INFORMATION: Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, www.sandpointchamber.comor (208) 263-0887

MORE GREAT SMALL TOWNS

Port Townsend, Washington.This historic seaport of 8,500 holds numerous galleries and muchsplendidly restored Victorian architecture. (360) 385-2722.

Sutter Creek, California.A hamlet of 2,375, Sutter Creek is one of the best-preserved townsin California's Gold Country. (209) 267-1344.

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