Surrounded by mountains and without any of the bustle that you’d find in other American state capitals, the city of Boise, Idaho feels like Northern California — sans any of the fuss or expense. It’s even home to an excellent emerging wine region where you can sip local vintages without leaving city limits. Here’s a quick guide to visiting this quirky (and quickly growing) American city.
Where to Stay
Since Boise is an emerging destination, you won’t find trendy boutique hotels by the dozen here, like you would in other, more established American travel destinations. But there are a few gems you should consider, such as Hotel 43. Thanks to the property’s prime downtown location, you’ll be in walking distance to some major sights, including the Idaho State Capitol, the Boise Art Museum, the zoo, and Grove Plaza, (the latter of which acts as a downtown gathering place, and has shops and events in summer). Back at the hotel, rooms are spacious, beds are comfortable, the bar is open late, and the steaks at the onsite restaurant, Chandlers, are cooked to order. Expect to pay between $150 to $250 for a room here, depending on the season and the night of the week.
In the same vicinity, you’ll find The Grove Hotel, Boise’s only AAA Four Diamond property. With a 12,000-foot wellness center that includes a lap pool, a hot tub that overlooks downtown and the Boise foothills, and separate studios for fitness classes, this is the place to stay (or visit) if you’re in search of a downtown spa experience. The hotel is also adjacent to Centurylink Arena, which hosts concerts by national acts, and is also home to the Idaho Steelheads, a minor league hockey team. During colder months, rooms at The Grove Hotel can dip as low as $140 per night — a great deal. However, on summer weekends, the same room rate can jump up to $300 per night.
Still downtown but situated farther from the central action, The Modern is an old Travelodge that’s been given a bright, modern redo. The property recently unveiled apartment-style studios and suites just a block from its central location that have all the comforts of home (kitchens, plush sofas, washers and dryers) with access to hotel perks like the airport shuttle, use of the green-and-serene hotel courtyard, the fitness center, and loaner bikes. Hotel rooms start at around $140 per night, and apartment-style studios are available from $250 per night.
What to Eat, See, and Do
You can spend a full day wandering downtown Boise, darting in and out of boutiques, drinking local beer and wine, and buying souvenirs, but give yourself at least a morning or afternoon to do some wandering.
Start at Big City Coffee, which serves breakfast all day long in fun, farmhouse-chic surroundings. With house-made biscuits; wraps stuffed with eggs, avocado, cheese, potatoes, and a dozen other fillings; six kinds of waffles, and tray after tray of sweets, this place demands that you bring your appetite. However, over the weekends, this place is crowded, so plan ahead. Dishes from $6 to $10.
If you need your morning cup — but not necessarily the heaping plates — join the line of hipsters at Slow By Slow, a handsomely designed coffee shop that almost dares you to come up with an order complicated enough for its knowledgeable staff. There’s also plenty of room in the upstairs seating area to linger over your doppio espresso macchiato with a book or your laptop.
Boise’s Farmer’s Market operates from April through December. It's the perfect spot for mingling with locals, sampling local produce, and even assembling yourself an impromptu lunch on a sunny day. This year, the market will debut in a new location on Shoreline Drive that allows for more parking and more vendor stands. Look out for cooking classes, demonstrations, and live performances throughout the season.
While you’re out and about, stop by Rediscovered Books to browse the latest titles (new and used) to feel like you're part of the local community. Alternatively, head to the cheekily named Taters, a store stocking all manner of potato- and Idaho-themed merchandise, including gift boxes comprised of Idaho-made goods. The store also stocks a selection of fun, undeniably silly souvenirs. Looking for a potato brush in the shape of a potato? This store has it.
In the evenings, stop by Press & Pony (which, although technically a speakeasy, it’s not exactly hidden) for a classic French 75, old fashioned, hot toddy, or Sazerac. Or, try the original cocktails on the menu, which include the denim blazer (bourbon, coffee syrup, flamed orange), or the split personality (gin, cognac, lemon, amaretto, orgeat, candied pear puree). Cocktails will cost you anywhere from $8 to $14.
It’s not widely known that Idaho is an emerging wine destination. It makes perfect sense, though, that a region known for excellent produce (namely, those famous potatoes) naturally lends itself to grape growing. And you don’t have to drive out to the Idaho countryside to taste quality wines. Simply walk along the scenic riverside trail or drive five minutes to the city’s Garden City neighborhood, which is home to two approachable wineries, Telaya Wine Co. and Cinder. For more about drinking wine in Idaho, read our complete guide.
Get Some Culture
The best way to see Boise is, of course, is by foot. For a guided experience, sign up for an excellent walking tour with Preservation Idaho, which will take you to sights that you wouldn’t easily find on your own. You’ll learn about the city’s earliest Native American residents and landmarks that were important to its immigrant Basque and German communities. Tours last a leisurely 90 minutes and take place on Saturdays from May to October. Tickets cost $12.
If you still have some energy after your walking tour, take a seven-minute stroll from the historic Egyptian Theatre, the tour’s end point, over to the Boise Art Museum (BAM). It’s home to 4,000 works that span the globe and go back to antiquity. BAM's collection of American art is especially notable and includes works by Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder, and Roy Lichtenstein. Admission is an affordable $6 for adults and $3 for school-age kids; children under six get in free.
For the perfect summer activity, buy tickets to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which makes its home at a 770-seat open-air theater that has mountain views. From May-September, crowds cheer Shakespeare, as well as more contemporary plays and popular musicals. Arrive early to enjoy the scenery; the theater is set amidst a nature reserve where you can see herons, ducks, and deer. Adult tickets range from $23 to $56, and bundles of discounted tickets can be bought in “boxes,” so parties of four or six can sit together and enjoy a picnic at their own table. Grab a blanket and sit on the general-admission lawn to save. Tickets for kids start are a very affordable $14.