The Boise River flows right through the heart of town. // © 2016 Resort Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau
Feature image (above): Boise has a booming restaurant scene, among other draws. // © 2016 Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau
Idaho may be known for its famous potatoes, but its capital city of Boise is known more for its high livability, thriving cultural community and wealth of outdoor activities. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow, when visiting the city for a high-profile trial in 1906, dubbed Boise “the Athens of the sagebrush.” That is just as true today.
Also known as the “City of Trees,” Boise is tucked between the serene and clean Boise River and a range of foothills beloved by bikers, skiers and hikers alike. With a population of slightly more than 200,000, Boise maintains a small-town feel while supporting a remarkable number of cultural amenities, including its own Shakespeare festival, philharmonic, ballet and opera.
Boise’s business community is equally vibrant, with a rising wave of high-tech startups growing alongside established companies such as Albertsons supermarkets and microchip manufacturer Micron, both of which have headquarters in Boise.
But if you ask a resident what makes Boise great, they’ll tell you it’s the recreational opportunities. How many places can you fly-fish in the morning, ski in the afternoon and ride a mountain bike at sunset? Not only is this possible in Boise, it’s just the start of what families can enjoy in this Northwestern gem.
Many travelers choose to stay in downtown Boise because of its high walkability and active restaurant scene. A perfect morning usually begins with a trip to Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro, which provides free coffee outside to the hungry visitors who line up each morning for outstanding egg, fruit, pancake and salmon dishes, all made from the freshest Idaho ingredients.
Nearby is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which pays tribute to Boise’s Basque population, one of the largest outside of Spain’s Basque region. The museum is located on Boise’s “Basque Block,” the home to several Basque restaurants and frequent music and dance festivals. Here, visitors can also find freshly cooked paella, which is served during lunchtime every Wednesday and Friday by the local Basque Market.
Active families have many options. The Boise Greenbelt offers 25 miles of bike and pedestrian paths along the Boise River. For those who prefer mountains, the Boise foothills offer a network of mountain biking and hiking trails. Kids will love renting an inner tube and floating the Boise River, which has been a local tradition for decades.
In winter, families can enjoy alpine or Nordic skiing — as well as a tubing hill — at Bogus Basin Ski resort, located just 16 miles from the city.
With two alpine lodges and one for Nordic skiing, multiple high-speed chairlifts and trails suitable for a wide range of skill levels, Bogus Basin is one of the most beloved resorts in the West. In summer, Bogus doubles as a haven for mountain biking and hiking, and it even features a disc-golf course.
One of Boise’s most famous landmarks is “The Blue,” Boise State University’s unique blue turf football field, home to the Boise State Broncos. Visitors can try to catch a game during the season or just check out the turf every weekday by visiting the Allen Noble Hall of Fame at the south end of the field.
Boise’s restaurant scene has boomed in recent years as chefs have discovered the advantages of locally sourced ingredients. Bittercreek Alehouse is one of the shining stars of this movement. Located adjacent to its more upscale partner, Red Feather Lounge, Bittercreek offers creative twists on traditional American cuisine, including freshly made burgers, tacos, inventive salads, Idaho trout and one of the largest beer selections in the city. The nearby Saint Lawrence Gridiron offers pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, with all the meats smoked on-site, plus a variety of other fun and tasty dishes such as quail and waffles and an eggplant Reuben.
Animal lovers will delight at the internationally recognized World Center for Birds of Prey. The facility provides breeding and recovery services for endangered raptors as well as an interpretive center. Kids will love the expert demonstrations of condors, eagles, hawks and other exotic birds from Asia, South America and Europe.
During the summer, families can take in a production at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, an outdoor theater offering Shakespeare classics, musicals and an innovative selection of other dramatic and comedic works. Parents can start the evening with a bottle of wine and dinner from Cafe Shakespeare before the lights go up.
And finally, all Idaho visitors are required to sample some of the state’s quality potatoes, and there’s no place better for families than Boise Fry Company. This fast casual restaurant emphasizes French fries — with burgers on the side. Fries come in a variety of different shapes and sizes and can be made from potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes. The dipping sauces are what make the experience truly special, with flavors that include blueberry ketchup, chipotle mayo and many more. There’s no better way to cap off your Boise getaway.
WHEN TO GO
With mild winters, hot-but-dry summers and spectacular springs and autumns, Boise is truly a four-season destination. Winter activities are best from January through March.
The Boise Airport is a 10-minute drive from downtown Boise. Rental cars and Uber are the easiest modes of transportation, but bus service and Boise Greenbike, a new bike rental service, provide other ways to get around town.