My hometown—Boise, Idaho—has a lot more going for it than most people assume. I mean, do people even think of Idaho when they think of taking a vacation? If not, they should be. ;) There is so much more to it than potato fields (which truly aren't as common as you may think!). In addition to the absolutely breathtaking mountains in the middle of the state, Boise is an excellent option for a getaway, especially in the summer. It's an incredibly vibrant city with a small-town feel. When I was home recently, I made and completed a mini bucket list of my favorite things to do in the summer, and I decided to write a little guide of sorts to perhaps encourage someone to visit the capital of Idaho!
Hike in the foothills. Boise is bordered to the northeast by foothills filled with trails to explore. My favorite hikes are the hike up to Table Rock and the iconic Table Rock cross and the hike around Camels Back Park in north Boise. (Note that the area around Table Rock burned recently, so it's not as nice as it was—and if you go, don't go off trail—but once the plants start growing back next spring it'll be nice again!) Both trails are fairly easy but good workouts with amazing views of the city. The best time of day to go is either in the morning when it's cool or in the evening if you want to watch the sunset. If hiking isn't your thing, the top of Table Rock is accessible by car. If you're feeling really adventurous, drive the 45 minutes up to Bogus Basin and hike or mountain bike on the dry ski runs and finish the day with some grub from the lodge.
Check out the Old Penitentiary and Idaho Botanical Garden. Both sights are near the Table Rock trailhead off of Warm Springs. The Old Pen is perfect if you like being intrigued or spooked, and the botanical garden is full of beautiful plants. The garden hosts many outdoor concerts during the summer, too.
Explore the parks near downtown. Want to relax in the shade or throw around a disc? There are a ton of parks near downtown that are worth checking out.
Julia Davis Park is off of Myrtle in between Capitol and Broadway across the river from Boise State University. Zoo Boise, the Discovery Center of Idaho, and the Boise Art Museum are all located in the vicinity of the park (the Idaho History Museum is being renovated until late 2017). There's also a beautiful rose garden and a small pond with paddle boats near the Discovery Center that you can take for a spin.
If you follow the greenbelt north (which is a path that follows the Boise River from near Lucky Peak Reservoir to Eagle and is definitely worth strolling), Ann Morrison Park is a short walk away and features more open space. The Anne Frank Memorial is on the way to Ann Morrison and worth a look. If you keep following the greenbelt through Ann Morrison and past Americana Blvd, you'll make it to Kathryn Albertson Park.
A short drive southeast of downtown (yet still along the greenbelt) is Municipal Park and the MK Nature Center.
North of downtown is Camels Back Park, and on the way there you'll likely drive through Hyde Park which runs along 13th Street between Alturas and Brumback. It's two blocks of adorable and fun restaurants and shops and not technically a park. ;) Definitely plan to make a stop at Goody's for some delicious homemade ice cream or other treats.
Float the Boise River. The Boise River runs right though the city and offers a beautiful and somewhat relaxing ride on blistering hot days. Rent tubes, rafts, or inflatable kayaks at Boise River Raft & Tube at Barber Park in southeast Boise and ride down to the takeout at Ann Morrison Park downtown. There are a couple of diversion dams and minor rapids/quick currents you'll have to navigate but nothing is too difficult. It takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Definitely don't do this if the river is not open to floaters because that means the water level is too high to be safe; however, it's usually open by July. (They won't rent any equipment to you if the river isn't open to floaters.)
Paddleboard at Quinn's Pond. Located along the Boise River and just off of the greenbelt in between Garden City and Boise is Quinn's Pond. It is a popular spot for stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), and Idaho River Sports offers SUP lessons and rentals.
Visit the Capital City Public Market. On Saturday mornings downtown, 8th Street between Main and State turns into a farmers market filled with local food vendors (including nuts, donuts, waffles, African sambusas, a variety of lemonades, and more), local farmers, and other local artisans. Stop by to pick up some goodies, and while you're down there (if you don't eat at the market itself), grab a bite to eat at one of the fun restaurants along 8th Street. Go earlier rather than later to avoid the rush.
Chill at Alive After Five. On Wednesdays from 5 pm to 8 pm, the Basque Block in downtown Boise (Grove Street between 6th and Capitol) transforms for the summer concert series. The event is free to attend but plan to buy a beer or two and chill with your friends. (Note that this event is not normally at this location, but it was moved due to construction at the regular site. It's normally at the Grove.)
(There are so many great places to eat that I can't possibly list all of them, so below are some of my very favorites as well as a few I'd like to try next time!)
COFFEE (I don't drink it but I know many people that do!): Flying M Coffee House (5th and Idaho), Big City Coffee (Grove Street between 14th and 15th), The District Coffee House (10th and Bannock), Java (two locations: 6th and Idaho OR Hyde Park; 13th between Eastman and Brumback)
BREAKFAST: Goldy's Breakfast Bistro (Capitol and Main), Wild Root Cafe & Market (8th and Bannock), Moon's Kitchen Cafe (Idaho between Capitol and 8th), Guru Donuts (10th and Main), Locavore (Bown Crossing; also serve other meals)
AMERICAN FARE: Fork (8th and Idaho), Bittercreek Alehouse (8th between Idaho and Bannock), Boise Fry Company (two locations: Capitol between Idaho and Bannock OR at Bown Crossing in southeast Boise), Berryhill (9th and Idaho), Old Chicago (Idaho between Capitol and 8th), Bardenay (Grove between 6th and Capitol), Westside Drive In (two locations: 21st and State OR Parkcenter and Southshore)
BBQ: BBQ4LIFE (Vista Ave near Day Drive; California-style BBQ)
PUB FARE: Prost (8th between Idaho and Bannock), 10 Barrel Brewing (9th and Bannock), Payette Brewing Co. (on River south of 13th), Crooked Fence Barrelhouse (Garden City; Chinden and Glenwood)
MEXICAN FARE: The Matador (8th and Bannock), La Tapatia (Parkcenter and Rossi), Fiesta Guadalajara (off of Findley near Fred Meyer; local chain)
ASIAN FARE: Mai Thai (8th and Idaho), Yen Ching (9th and Bannock), Mongolian BBQ (Broadway and Boise; the *best* location)
SUSHI (also not my thing, but my family loves it): Shige (8th and Idaho), Dharma (Idaho and Capitol), Sakana (Vista and Wymer)
ITALIAN FARE: ALAVITA (8th and Idaho), Asiago's (10th and Main), Papa Joe's (Capitol and Ann Morrison Park Drive)
PIZZA: Pie Hole (two locations: 8th between Idaho and Bannock or Broadway between University and Belmont), Guido's Original New York Style Pizza (5th between Idaho and Bannock), Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria (two locations: 8th and Main OR Bown Crossing), Chicago Connection (4th and Bannock), Idaho Pizza Company (Broadway and Warren), Flying Pie Pizzeria (two locations: Fairview between Liberty and Raymond OR State across from Willow Lane)
DRINKS: Bittercreek Alehouse, Red Feather Lounge (next to Bittercreek), Bardenay, Barbacoa Grill (Parkcenter by the Parkcenter Pond), Tavern at Bown Crossing (delicious but spendy food as well)
I am no expert on places to stay since I'm from Boise and my family still lives there, but I would highly recommend staying in a local hotel downtown to really feel the vibe of the city. Some options include Hotel 43, The Grove Hotel, Safari Inn, and The Modern Hotel and Bar.
THINGS TO NOTE
- Boise in the summer is hot and very dry. It's not uncommon for the temperatures to soar to nearly 100°F during the day. If any storms develop they're usually gone after a short period of time, and you shouldn't have to worry about any severe weather. The weather is fairly boring by meteorologist standards. ;)
- Unfortunately, Boise does not have a good public transportation system, and unless you stay downtown and don't plan to venture far beyond, it's not easily walkable, either. Plan to drive or rent a car if you fly in.
- That said, you will have to pay for parking if you drive downtown, like you would in most cities. Luckily, since Boise is not a big city, parking is affordable; if you park in a garage, the first hour is free ($2.50 per hour after the first hour), and if you park on the street at a meter, you get 20 minutes free.
- Many major streets change names at some point along them. I don't know why, but don't be surprised if you're on Rose Hill and it suddenly turns into Franklin. ;)