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My first visit to Boise, Idaho was a wet one. It was the middle of March and I had just landed in town with a grumbling stomach and a hankering for a strong beer after a long day of travel. But the beauty of a small “big” city like Boise is that the downtown area is not only walkable, but should be explored by foot. So I threw on a rain jacket and ventured out into a downpour in search of a place to fuel up. It was during that evening rain storm that I first fell in love with the City of Trees. While I stood in the pouring rain, waiting for the go-ahead to cross through intersection, a happy stranger ran toward me through the red light and yelled “don’t let signs rule your life!” As my trip continued, it was clear that the enthusiastic stranger embodied the spirit of Boise. The capital city of Idaho seamlessly blends a vibrant youthful spirit with its carefully preserved historic roots. It’s a hub for the outdoorsy and adventurous, and is home to a treasure trove of bustling brewery taprooms serving tasty craft beer that the city has become known for. No matter the season, add Boise to your list of travel destinations this year.
The Odometer: 815 miles, or about a 12-hour drive, from Denver
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When visiting downtown Boise, you’ll have an abundance of outdoor activities at your fingertips. The most accessible of which is the Boise River Greenbelt—a 25-mile-long riverfront pathway that hugs the Boise River as it meanders through the city. Year-round, the Greenbelt is a great place to stretch your legs, explore from the seat of a bicycle, or throw a few fly fishing casts. Anglers of all levels can book a half-day ($275) or full-day ($495) guided Walk and Wade with Idaho Anglers and try their hands at reeling in one of the rainbow or brown trout that swim the waters of the scenic river. Guided excursions are available year-round, but the best fishing can be found from mid-summer to late fall.
If you’re headed to Boise in the wintertime, be sure to check out the local ski hill. The Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is located just 16.5 miles north of the city in the Boise National Forest. The ski area boasts 2,600 acres of skiable terrain, plus 37 kilometers of groomed Nordic ski trails, a tubing hill, and a mountain coaster. Full-day adult lift tickets can be purchased for $64 per person, and half-day tickets are $54 per person. In the summertime, Bogus Basin is a playground for kids and adults alike. Activities like hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, disc golf, a bungee trampoline, and scenic chairlift rides draw in visitors during the warm weather months. Outdoor enthusiasts traveling to Boise can also take advantage of the city’s convenient location at the base of the foothills of the Boise National Forest. The Ridge to Rivers trail network consists of over 190 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that link the city of Boise with public lands. Visit ridgetorivers.org for a detailed map of trails, trailheads and hikes/rides.
Eat & Drink
The people of Idaho take their potatoes very seriously (the state produces over one third of the country’s potato crop), and Boise is no exception. When visiting the state, it’s customary to indulge in some famous Idaho spuds, and the best place to do that in Boise is at the Boise Fry Company. At this burger and fry joint, you can choose from six different types of potatoes and a variety of cuts to pair with your juicy burger and draft beer. If you’d prefer your plate to be piled high with bacon instead of potatoes, then a visit to BACON is an absolute must. This restaurant serves a bacon-forward breakfast and brunch menu and it’s everything you need to fuel up for your outdoor adventures.
For any craft beer lover, a visit to Boise wouldn’t be complete without spending some time exploring the city’s booming craft beer scene. For a beer and and a bite, head to the Bittercreek Alehouse located along the charming 8th Street dining district. An institution in the local dining community, Bittercreek is an excellent place to post up for a hearty meal and to sample beers from local and national craft breweries via a rotating line-up of 44 taps. To grab a pint at one of the city’s pioneering craft breweries, head to Payette Brewing, with a spacious location along the Boise River. Craft beer aficionados would be remiss not to order a pint at Barbarian Brewing’s downtown taproom. Though small, Barbarian is one of the most talked about breweries in the city, thanks to their affinity for experimentation and funky, sour-style brews and barrel-aged creations.
For a convenient, cozy place to rest your head, book a stay at Hotel 43. The boutique hotel is centrally located, and within walking distance of many of the city’s popular attractions, shopping, and dining districts. Another great lodging option is the the Grove Hotel, a luxury hotel in the heart of downtown. In addition to amenities like a full-service spa, and complimentary mountain and cruiser bike rentals for guests, the Grove is a stone’s throw from the CenturyLink Arena, which hosts Idaho Steelheads hockey games as well as big name musical acts throughout the year.
A vibrant, welcoming, and outdoorsy city, Boise is home to a lot of young families, which means there’s plenty to do with little ones. Take the kids out for an afternoon at the Boise Zoo, which offers an interactive Zoo Farm where visitors can feed goats, sheep, and llamas. Adult entry pricing is $10 per person and $7 for kids ages 3 to 11. For a truly interactive experience, don’t miss the Discovery Center of Idaho. This hands-on science center is located in the heart of Boise and is a great place for kids to explore. Admission is $10 for ages 2 to 17 and $12 for adults.
Agriculture is one of the top industries in Idaho, which means the farmers’ markets in are exceptional. Boise’s farmers’ market—the Capital City Public Market —features 130 vendors and is open every Saturday from the beginning of April to mid-December. It’s the largest outdoor farmers’ market in the state and the place to find unique, locally crafted art and gifts, fresh produce and flowers. Boise is also home to one of the largest Basque communities in the U.S. Basque Americans are a culture of people whose rich heritage lies in between north-central Spain and southwestern France. In Boise, the Basque American population is upwards of 15,000 people, and is centralized in a downtown neighborhood known as the Basque Block, which is home to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center as well as a handful of businesses celebrating the Basque culture—like the Basque Market. Here you can purchase bottles of Basque and Spanish wines, along with speciality food items and enjoy deliciously well-prepared paella and Spanish-style pintxos (tapas).
If You Do One Thing:
Take a stroll down Freak Alley. Whether you pay a visit in broad daylight, or under the guise of night, Boise’s notorious outdoor art gallery is worth a visit regardless of the season. Since 2002, this alleyway between 8th and 9th streets and Bannock and Idahos streets has been a canvas for artists. Today, it’s a rotating showcase of graffiti and colorful art murals.