Sun Valley may be a celebrity hot spot, but its relaxed vibe makes it a great escape for all who visit.
You’re sitting at a café, and outside, a Jeep Wagoneer the slowly drives by. Is that…Clint Eastwood? He lifts his finger from the wheel, acknowledging a local passing by on the sidewalk. No one raises their phone to take a photo. Life goes on as usual.
Celebrity sightings are common in Sun Valley, but they’re like this, on the down low. Celebs, VIPs, and business titans come here for the same reason that everyone else does—to escape from their hectic lives, and to get away for skiing or just relaxing. It’s a place where they can go and just be, without having to be seen. It’s the same for us non-celebs, who simply need a break from it all.
Here’s why they like Sun Valley—and places to go so you’ll like it, too.
The Laid-Back Celebrity Magnet
Celebrities have flocked to Sun Valley since it opened in 1936, when owner Averell Harriman would comp ski trips to movie stars, the biggest influencers at the time. Soon, Hollywood A-listers Clark Gable and Errol Flynn were regulars, along with Gary Cooper and Marilyn Monroe, and Sun Valley’s star power was established. Some even stayed on to live there. One of the area’s most famous residents was Ernest Hemingway, who holed up in the Sun Valley Lodge to finish his famous novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” He took breaks from writing to duck hunt with locals like rancher Bud Purdy, who became a close friend.
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Sun Valley is still like that today—a place where everyone, marquee name or not, can fly under the radar. You may run into Clint Eastwood or Tom Hanks, who have homes here, or one of dozens of Olympic skiers and boarders. Plus, there are frequent big-name visitors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey. You just never know who you’ll be sitting next to on the chair lift or barstool.
The reason why celebrities come here is still the same, and it’s why us non-celebs like it here, too. Sun Valley isn’t glitzy or glamourous. It doesn’t try to be. And the locals here treat everyone the same, no matter how famous (or not) you are.
In fact, one of the most laidback gatherings of who’s who in filmmaking takes place here every March. The Sun Valley Film Festival attracts industry icons like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jodie Foster, Geena Davis, and Oliver Stone. But it’s a relaxed celebration for avant-garde writers and first-time filmmakers along with the well-known artists, who gather and share honest feedback with each other.
Sun Valley’s also where the world’s leading media and tech moguls and execs gather each year in the summertime, swapping out their requisite black turtlenecks for even more casual polo shirts. The closed-door Allen & Company Convention, aka “summer camp for billionaires,” is known as a deal-making mecca for the industry, drawing the celebs of the industry. Attendees have included Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg, plus Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, who have homes here.
Here’s Where to Go
Sun Valley has a vibrant but relaxed restaurant and bar scene that’s perfect for anyone. You can start off at the old-timey diner, The Kneadery, featuring organic, locally made breads, or get breakfast with a mountain view at Bigwood Bread Bakery and Café.
Later in the day, you’ll learn that small town doesn’t mean limited choices: From Mediterranean to Southeast Asian, global cuisine is well represented. For lunch, everyone from local shopkeepers to A-listers heads to Cristina’s, a small Italian restaurant in a salmon wood frame house, for thin-crust pizzas, pastas like cacio et pepe, and more. And for classic French dishes, Michel’s Christiania or “The Christy,” as it’s known by locals, has been the place to go since 1959. The Sun Valley landmark was so loved by Hemingway that he had his own table.
When the sun goes down, Sun Valley’s nightlife is as casual as it gets, and there’s a place for every mood. Ketchum’s original watering hole is Whiskey Jacques', which has special events practically every night, from karaoke to dollar nights with DJs. For handcrafted beers—more than 25 on tap—head to Sawtooth Brewery and Public House, where you can get a “taster tray” of their flagship beers with mountain-centric names like Free Solo Single Hop Pale Ale and False Summit Amber Ale.
Where to Stay
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Staying true to its flannel-and-boots roots, Sun Valley’s not a place where you’re going to find white-gloved butlers, but there are some luxurious properties. The resort’s original 1936 lodging option, the landmark Sun Valley Lodge, has recently been renovated and offers more than 100 new guest rooms, along with a destination spa. Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Clint Eastwood all stayed here, and now there are Celebrity Suites named in their honor. For a modern vibe, check into the Limelight Hotel in downtown Ketchum, where minimalist and clean décor rules. Committed to sustainability, the hotel itself is LEED certified: The building features recycled content throughout, including its roof, carpeting, ceramic tiles, and reclaimed wood.
Explore more about what makes this area a magnet for celebs and non-celebs alike at Visit Sun Valley.
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