USA/West: Boise, ID
Unlike many big cities, there really is no need to escape from Boise to get away from the hubbub. The Idaho city has a small, vibrant downtown area that lacks traffic congestion most of the day and a 25-mile greenbelt for outdoors enthusiasts.
The Boise River Greenbelt is a local treasure—a tree-lined, paved riverside pathway ideal for bicycling, walking or running for leisure travelers or group events. There are scenic views and a wildlife habitat, and the greenbelt offers access to about a dozen city parks. When the leaves are changing color in the fall, it’s quite a special place to see.
Bicycling is most recommended for viewing the greenbelt sights. It is also a great way to detour to an adjacent restaurant or microbrewery. The patio of the Ram Restaurant & Brewery, for example, almost sits on the greenbelt, and other breweries and brew pubs are just minutes away.
Boise Green Bike, which is operated by the regional public transportation authority, rents bikes at various stands throughout the city. To orient yourself, take a look at this useful map with lots of information about the greenbelt. Another map shows walking trails that connect to it.
Visiting the parks adjacent to the greenbelt can be as rewarding as the greenbelt itself.
Julia Davis Park is the historic and cultural heart of Boise. Within its 89 acres are Zoo Boise, the Idaho State Historical Museum(closed for renovation), the Boise Art Museum, the Idaho Black History Museum and a science center, the Discovery Center of Idaho.
The park also includes a large rose garden, four tennis courts, horseshoe pits, bocce courts, reservable pavilions and a playground. A boathouse rents paddle boats April-October for traveling on a pond and canals.
Kathryn Albertson Park is a 41-acre urban wildlife habitat with wide, paved walking paths, gazebos and educational signs about the habitat. The park is often home to ducks, song and game birds, owls, herons, painted and box turtles, red foxes, beavers, rabbits and raccoons. Wildlife viewing is best in the early morning or evening.
Veterans Memorial State Park contains a Memorial Plaza with monuments and memorials honoring America’s war veterans. They include a Combat Wounded Veterans Memorial, a Korean War Memorial and a POW/MIA Memorial. The park has walking paths, a lake with docks for fishing, playgrounds for young children and a reservable picnic site and shelter.
On the banks of the Boise River is the 18-hole Warm Springs Golf Course, which offers great views of the foothills and the river. A 40-seat cafe is convenient for a quick breakfast or lunch—or a lunch barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Of course, there’s more to Boise than its greenbelt. The eastern end of the city’s downtown commercial district is called Old Boise, which dates back to the city’s founding in 1863 and is filled with two-story brick buildings with stone trim. In the 1980s, Old Boise was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Mayor Cyrus Jacob’s 1864 home still sits on Grove Street. Other structures to look for are the 1879 Perrault-Fritchman Building, the 1892 Masonic Temple and the 1892 Spiegel Building (now Pengilly's Saloon).
Part of Old Boise’s charm hails from Europe.The city is home to one of the largest Basque communities outside northern Spain. About 15,000 people of Basque descent live in Boise, and visitors on this Short Escape should reserve some time to soak up some of their culture.
Basque Block in Old Boise is on Grove Street between Sixth Street and Capitol Boulevard. Grove Street is painted in traditional green and red Basque colors and marked by a large Basque cross called a “Laubduru.” A local dance troupe, the Oinkari Dancers, performs in Boise and worldwide, preserving and educating others about Basque customs and traditions.
There are several annual Basque festivals, including the Sheepherder’s Ball, the St. Ignatius Basque Festival and the Wine Fest. Every five years, thousands of Basques worldwide come to Boise for Jaialdi, the Basque word for “festival.” Jerald features music, dance, food and sports event, including strength and wood-chopping competitions.
The campus of Boise State University has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in recent years because of its blue turf football field in 36,000-seat Albertsons Stadium. It’s the home of the Broncos, a team that often finishes high in the national rankings. Besides checking the football schedule, it may be wise to see what concerts or other activities are happening on campus.
In recent years, Boise has become a craft beer haven with an ever-growing number of breweries and brew pubs opening for business. Much of the nightlife revolves around them. The suds craze has gone way beyond the beer establishments: It seems like every pizza place, deli and burger shop offers a multitude of craft beers.
Recommended breweries or brew pubs include 10 Barrel, which was bought by Budweiser in 2014 but still brews highly rated craft beers; the Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge; Woodland Empire Ale Craft and Boise Brewing. The River Room at the Whole Foods Market is a popular upstairs hangout with 16 craft beers and three local wines on tap.
For an upscale dinner or a power lunch or dinner, Chandlers, located at Hotel 43, delivers corn-fed steaks, Kobe-style beef, Hawaiian ahi tuna and Alaskan halibut. The restaurant’s martini bar opens at 4 p.m., and live entertainment and jazz music is presented every night.
A great, casual place for lunch is Bleubird, which bills itself as “Boise-based sandwich love.” It serves scrumptious inexpensive sandwiches such as turkey and brie and tuna Nicoise. The bacon-bleu potato salad is an excellent side dish. Order one of the unique sodas—maybe pomegranate sage or grapefruit rosemary—or a highly rated craft beer.
A sensational breakfast spot is Goldy’s where the menu may look routine but the meals are done to perfection. The Eggs Benedict is world-class, the omelets are spot-on and the sides, such as red flannel hash—potatoes, beets and bacon—are not to be missed.
Unique local shops include Boise Art Glass, which sells jewelry, sculptures, vases, bowls and other glassware. Stop at indie MADE for gifts, jewelry, infant clothing and other items made by local artisans. The Capital City Public Market, which is open on Saturday mornings from mid-April to mid-December, is the city’s original farmers’ market.
For meetings and conventions, the Boise Centre offers the largest meeting space with 50,000 square feet of flexible space and is adding 36,000 additional square feet of space by summer 2016. Boise State University’s Student Union conference facilities offer about 47,000 square feet of space. The hotel with the most meeting space is the Grove Hotel, which has a 5,000-seat arena, a 6,000-foot ballroom and 20 modern breakout rooms.