Whitefish, Montana: the manifestation of offbeat ski town dreams. This year has been Whitefish’s for the taking: well-deserved press, 407 (!!) inches of snow at last count, record-breaking winter visitor numbers. It may be a secret no longer, but even still, falling in love with this little town can’t be helped.
It is, to me, the quintessential American town. Gazing down the main street with the train in the background and the snow capped peak behind it, there’s no mistaking it: You’re in the West. This place has charm. There are shops, restaurants, cafes, breweries, distilleries…all within walking distance of one another. Then there’s the ski resort (with a free snow bus during the season)…and the crystal waters of Whitefish Lake. Are we in Frontierland or the real world?
Despite not being able to ski or swim in the late fall, I’ll tell you Whitefish is the place to visit in the shoulder seasons. While some restaurants were closed (namely Cafe Kandahar where I would have loved to visit), as well as certain hotels, we really weren’t affected. We were, however, treated to empty trails, locals-only events, and only one day of that broody Northwest weather.
Our time here can pretty much be summed up in three words: brews, views and music. I mean what more do you need, really? Here are a few of our favorites plus recommendations from the kind Lisa Jones (LJ Communications/ Visit Whitefish) who sent over so many fabulous recommendations that they warrant a second visit–Okay, fine…let’s go.
I am in love with Montana Coffee Traders. The Columbia Falls location has my heart, as you know, but this one is wonderful, too. < $2 for unlimited coffee, ample seating, strong WiFi, and friendly folks–what’s not to love?
Missed Across the street is the Red Caboose, the sweetest little shop. Our early morning hours meant we kept missing this spot, but I’m giving it a try next time.
Central Avenue, Whitefish, is a gem. Standing where it intersects 3rd Avenue, you’re treating to the view of the town of Whitefish.
City Beach/Whitefish Lake feels like a secret this time of year. It’s located on the other side of the train tracks and is nestled in a residential area. Lucky. In fall the reflection of the turning trees and that big, bright Montana sky is what vacation is about.
On a clear day, the Danny On Trail at Whitefish Resort affords stunning views of Whitefish, Glacier National Park and on to the Canadian Rockies. Hiking the mountain had been one of Luke’s top choices for the trip and the day we set out it looked like rain. But as luck would have it, the skies cleared and we were treated to our views. It was heaven. Snow stopped us from reaching the top but the portion we covered was gift enough. [Newbie tip: Bring water. Bring bear spray. Stay on the trail.]
On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at Whitefish Lodge, there’s live music to be had. We went on a Wednesday and were treated to the Bad Larrys, who were amazing. The drinks were generous and the bartenders the nicest I’ve met ever.
Thursdays are (were…they’re currently in the process of relocating so check out their Facebook page for future events) covered by Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits. When we visited they had the most amazing open mic night on Thursday nights. I was in awe of the talent of the people here and the vibe was so supportive and enthusiastic. Not to mention the cocktails here are beyond incredible and they have a beautiful bar menu labeled with gluten free options.
LJ’s Recommendations (that you need to know about and I need to remember for next time):
Gluten Free Eats in Whitefish:
· Truby’s Fine Food & Spirits (Suggestions: Polenta Lasagna, GF pizza crust)
· Tupelo Grille (Suggestions: GF Mac n’ Cheese, Cauliflower Steak)
· Naked Noodle (Strong supporter of GF)
· Swift Creek Café
· Amazing Crepes Gluten and dairy free options (didn’t figure this out until it was too late.
· Pescado Blanco (Suggestions: Bison short ribs, Elk chorizo tacos)
· The Whitefish Hostel Café (gluten free and vegan options)
· Sweet Peaks Ice Cream (Handmade using local creamery/ingredients; sorbet for dairy free)
· Buffalo Café (Great burgers with GF Bun or lettuce wrap)
· Jersey Boys Pizza and Second Street Pizza (GF crust options)
· Rae Rae’s Bakery (Located in Mountain Mall)
·Firebrand Hotel (excellent tapas and wine choices!)
Things to Do:
· Drive to Glacier National Park for pics of Lake McDonald and short hike to Avalanche Lake Done and done.
· Take a hike or mountain bike ride on the Whitefish Trail .
· Check out downtown for unique shopping, visit the Stumptown Market, Whitefish Museum in the Train Depot, new distilleries Spotted Bear Spirits and Whitefish Handcrafted Spirits. Yes! Note: During the offseason, Stumptown Market had a few closures but was still great to visit.
· Enjoy theatre options at the O’Shaugnessy Cultural Arts Center and Whitefish Performing Arts Center, or plenty of live music options downtown.
· The Lodge at Whitefish Lake spa (you can use their facilities for the whole day if you book a treatment!)
· [Take a class at] Shanti Yoga
· [Take a class at] Exhale Pilates
Me again. There are so many beautiful places to stay in Whitefish. We went with an apartment so we could cook our own meals and were really happy with this one.
Speaking of which, grocery stores:
2330 Us Highway 93 N, Kalispell, Montana 59901
Whitefish Super 1 Foods
6475 Mountain Mall, Whitefish, MT 59937