5/24/2023     by Guest Contributor

Welcome to Boise

Bookended by its Basque heritage and rolling foothills, Boise is a mid-sized city of striking art, culture and outdoor living. Read on for our tips to kick-start your three-day weekend in Boise.


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Hot air balloons over Boise


Wander the Capital City Public Market on The Grove. Follow fragrant pathways to fresh-cooked crepes, crispy fried doughnuts and roasting coffee, then pick up a few handcrafted souvenirs before ambling north on 8th Street for brunch or lunch. Restaurants twisting traditional favorites into new forms include Red Feather Lounge, with its menu of locally sourced modern dishes, and Wild Root, which serves up comfort food like banh mi and mac and cheese, as well as a selection of wines, cocktails and kombucha.

After lunch, sneak a quick detour through Freak Alley Gallery. This rotating spectacle of open-air graffiti art between 8th and 9th streets provides the perfect backdrop for that “Greetings from Boise” snapshot. From there, head south toward the Boise River, where whimsical architecture and giant blow-up yard decor warrant a curious pit stop at JUMP on Myrtle Street. In addition to housing the vintage tractor collection of potato entrepreneur and Idaho native J.R. Simplot, this nonprofit community center hosts fun, creative workshops and events.

A few blocks away, Boise’s oldest public green space, Julia Davis Park, abuts the Boise River Greenbelt, Zoo Boise, Boise Art Museum, Idaho Black History Museum and the Idaho State Museum. After a busy afternoon of exploring the city’s museums, head to the Basque Block for dinner at Leku Ona, which prides itself in using Basque ingredients in dishes such as braised lamb shank, petrale sole and bone-in rib-eye. In the mid 1800s, the Basques arrived in Idaho from northern Spain in search of jobs and opportunities. For more experimental flavors, KIN, centrally located on 9th and Main, offers a prix fixe meal served at a communal table. Expect to see dishes like sturgeon with daikon and seaweed, and a sweet ube pie with beet and orange. There’s also an extensive bar menu for those in the mood for a nightcap.


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View over Deadwood Reservoir in the Boise National Forest


Fuel up at Java in Hyde Park by grabbing a “bowl of soul” (the in-house specialty mocha) and something from the plethora of baked and cooked breakfast options. It’s then time to explore Ridge to Rivers — a 190-mile network of roads and trails winding through hills — and connect with the nature on offer in the “City of Trees.” A central artery of trails can be accessed at Camel’s Back Park or 8th Street extension, which loops visitors by the Native Plant Garden at the Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center.

For even greater elevation gains, drive the winding 16 miles north to Bogus Basin Ski Resort. Here, ride the chairlift to access mountain biking, hiking and bird’s-eye views of downtown and the towering pines of the Boise National Forest. Stay for a brew at the lodge where local musicians sometimes drop by for a performance or two.

Back in the city, shift gears into the afternoon with a late lunch on the riverside patio at Cottonwood Grille. Then let the adventure continue on cruiser bikes by pedaling 2 miles west along the Greenbelt to Esther Simplot Park, Boise’s newest, where surfers ride artificial whitewater waves. On the return to downtown, be sure to stop by the ever-evolving wine-tasting rooms, breweries and art studios in Surel Mitchell’s Live-Work-Create District of Garden City (a city within Boise).

For dinner, head to the restaurant at the Modern Bar and Hotel — the wide range of small dishes on offer here are full of color and interesting flavor combinations. A must order is the plate of bread and butter — which is considerably more delicious than it sounds — plus the cocktails are truly exquisite, too.


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Locals and tourists on the Boise River


Snag a bag of freshly made Blue Sky bagels from the shop of the same name, then head east for a stroll by the Historic District of Warm Springs Avenue. This tree-lined avenue features an impressive architectural array of homes built between 1870 and 1940. Next head to the Idaho Botanical Garden, where rabbits skitter across paths and redtailed hawks soar overhead. Soak it all in with a walk through its seven gardens. Adjacent to the Botanical Garden is the next stop: the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Built using quarried sandstone in 1870, the Old Pen now stands as an eerie reminder of Idaho’s notorious pioneers — the alleged members of Butch Cassidy’s gang and hired assassins.

For lunch, make a beeline for Bown Crossing, a neighborhood dubbed as “southeast Boise’s hidden gem.” The variety of eateries here spans from upscale bistro-style dishes at Locavore to fries and self-served dipping sauces at the Boise Fry Company. For dessert, pop into Cravin’s Candy Emporium to pick up a few sweet treats. The MK Nature Center, tucked between Warm Springs and Parkcenter Boulevard, is a quiet, shaded nature preserve that’s perfect for an afternoon visit. It features fish-filled tanks along a looped pathway and a pond that’s home to gigantic sturgeon.

Top off your weekend by buying tickets to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, where the 2023 plays include Little Shop of Horrors, As You Like It and Sense and Sensibility. Get there early to admire the grounds of the outdoor amphitheater and habitat reserve and, for dinner, bring a picnic or dine at the on-site Café Shakespeare. As daylight fades, appreciate how this company literally turns the world (at least this nook of it) into a stage, and revel in the magic of this unique theatrical experience.


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