Depending on who you talk to, the Northwest’s third largest city is a well-kept secret. Those who have discovered it tend to come back again and again, and some have even made the big move to call Boise home. The city has burgeoned over the last decade with a swelling population of transplants, among them entrepreneurs, artists and craftspeople, winemakers and culinary creatives. It’s a city that has come of age and can hold its own against Seattle and Portland, its two big sisters to the west. Here’s a winter-season itinerary that takes in the best of Boise and surrounds. To make your Boise travel plans, visit boise.org.
One of the joys of Idaho’s capital city is that it has all the cosmopolitan sophistication of larger urban centers, but on a delightfully less frenetic scale. For the uninitiated, a perfect way to experience the wonderfully diverse community that is Boise is to make it your next long weekend getaway destination.
Know before you go
Boise is a short, convenient flight from Seattle and Portland. It is possible to take in the best of Boise without renting a car, but renting a car at the airport does provide more options and flexibility.
To be close to dining and entertainment, choose a downtown hotel. Downtown Boise has several excellent hotel options, from large, mainstream properties, such as The Grove, to more intimate accommodations, such as The Modern Hotel and Bar, and everything in between. The Inn at 500 is a new, mid-sized hotel downtown with impeccable guest services and contemporary interiors (it’s my choice when I visit Boise). They offer complimentary airport and downtown shuttle service for those who didn’t rent a car or don’t feel like walking to dinner. Another make-you-feel-at-home feature of Inn at 500 is the complimentary daily glass of wine and help-yourself snack and beverage bar. For skiers, Inn at 500 offers a ski and stay package with Bogus Basin ski area, just outside the city.
Day 1: Get settled
Make your first day in Boise one of relaxation and getting acquainted with the downtown core at a leisurely pace. South Capitol Boulevard is the main downtown thoroughfare, with the capitol dome rising above the city at the end of the street. One block off Capitol is South 8th Street, an inviting pedestrian thoroughfare with plazas, fountains, shops, galleries, restaurants and bars.
Did you know Idaho has an emerging wine industry with more than 50 wineries? Learn all about it at your first stop on your downtown walkabout: Bodovino (404 S. 8th Street). Here you’ll find a dizzying wine list. Ask your server for a recommendation on an Idaho wine that would suit your palate and pair well with the cheese plate or tapas that you order. Be careful not to fill up at your first stop. Downtown Boise is a gastronome’s paradise, and you’ll want to save room for your next stop.
With so many dining choices, deciding on a restaurant might be the toughest job on your getaway. On your first night, go for elevated Italian comfort food at Alavita (807 W. Idaho St., just off 8th St.). Excellent craft cocktails and homemade pasta to write home to Rome about put this stylish, casual eatery on the city’s culinary map.
Back at your hotel, get a good night’s sleep and dream of snow.
Day 2: Bogus Basin
Attention skiers and non-skiers alike! Today, head to 75-year-old Bogus Basin, about a half hour outside the city. Whether you’re getting there on the Bogus Basin shuttle or driving, the roads are regularly plowed, so the trip should be drama-free.
But first things first. Head to Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro (108 S. Capitol Blvd.); if it’s a weekend, allow time to wait for a table. It’s that good.
Now, on to Bogus Basin. For skiers and boarders, Bogus Basin is an underrated, full-service ski hill with rentals, lifts and everything you need to enjoy winter tubing, cross-country skiing and a diverse 2,600 square acres of downhill, skiable terrain. For everyone else, the resort has a brand-new, elevated mountain coaster this winter season, with bobsled-like cars racing down the mountain on a track. Whatever your snowy desire, enjoy a full day exploring the options at Bogus Basin; come lunchtime, food is available at the lodge. (Read
more about Bogus Basin on page 17.)
As daylight dims, head down the mountain to enjoy another evening in the city. One of the joys of travel is experiencing the foods indigenous to a place at the hands of chefs who are masters at their craft. This is what you’ll experience at your choice of two downtown restaurants: Red Feather (246 N. 8th Street) and FORK (199 N. 8th Street). Both offer farm-to-table meals in a slightly different setting. Begin with craft cocktails and appetizers in Red Feather Lounge’s retro-swank-inspired space. A good time to go is between 3:00 and 5:30 for their “low-power happy hour,” when they dim the lights, light the candles and help save the planet. For your main course, walk the short distance to FORK Restaurant (they also own Alavita, around the corner). Tip: You’re in Idaho, go for FORK’s fresh rainbow trout.
Back at your hotel, dream of art.
Day 3: Culture, beer and more food
Today is all about discovering Boise’s diversity, history and culture. Get ready to be pleasantly surprised. After breakfast, walk to Julia Davis Park on the edge of downtown and duck into the Boise Art Museum. The permanent collection and whatever visiting exhibition is on hand will be worth touring.
Also in Julia Davis Park, you can visit the Idaho Black History Museum, housed in the historic St. Paul Baptist Church (open Tuesday through Thursday), the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, the Idaho State Historical Museum and the Discovery Center of Idaho, a welldesigned center where kids can explore the worlds of nature and science (adults are allowed, too).
After a morning exploring your choice of attractions in the park, walk the few blocks to the Basque Block. Idaho was one of the U.S. states that attracted thousands of immigrants from Europe’s Basque region. Boise became a locus of Basque culture, and it thrives today among the members of a tightly knit Basque community. Start your exploration of this fascinating and welcoming community at The Basque Market, and bring your appetite. You’ll find a buffet of pintxos (Basque tapas-like snacks); grab a plate, choose what you wish and pay by the toothpick when you’ve eaten your fill. They also have a selection of wines and ciders and usually have a delicious sangria of the day. The shopkeepers will love to tell you about their culture and history, so strike up a conversation.
Once you are fully refreshed, head across the street to the Basque Museum. Here, browse the exhibits to learn about Europe’s oldest language and the history of the Basque people in Europe and the U.S. A new exhibit about the bombing of Guernica, Spain, is a sobering tribute to those who lost their lives in a brutal, genocidal attack against the Basques during the Spanish Civil War. You’ll come away feeling as though you’ve discovered a hidden world.
Time for a beer. Discover the brews at Boise’s two-year-old Barbarian Brewing’s downtown taproom (1022 W. Main St.). The brewmaster specializes in creating barrel-aged and sour beers, a refreshing departure from the Northwest’s typical IPA obsession (although they make an IPA, too).
For dinner, so many choices. You won’t go wrong at either Juniper (200 N. 8th St.) or Capitol Cellars (110 S. 5th St.), both outstanding locavore restaurants downtown, where you’ll enjoy more flavors of Idaho and fine Idaho wines.
Duck into the alley next to Juniper and take in Freak Alley, an acclaimed and constantly morphing street-art exhibition covering the back surfaces of the buildings. The subjects are diverse and the quality astounding.
Back at your hotel, dream of donuts.
Day 4: Homeward bound
Unless you have an early flight, don’t leave town without indulging in Idaho’s best donuts: Guru Donuts (928 W. Main St.). Donut houses like Guru make sure donuts never fall out of fashion. Regular crowd pleasers and monthly flavors vie for attention here. They even have vegan donut options. Grab a cup of joe and a plate of donut temptations and have a seat. (I’ll have the Maple Bacon Bar, please—Idaho Falls brand bacon, crisped with brown sugar, chili flakes and black pepper, sprinkled over maple glaze.) You might be tempted to buy a box to take with you on the flight.
Off to the airport. On the flight, get out your calendar and pencil in your next Boise getaway—there’s much more to see and do come summertime. Think Idaho Shakespeare Festival, visiting beaucoup wineries and paddling the Boise River through the heart of the city.
EAT & DRINK