A Cheap Traveler’s Guide on Visiting Boise, the City Everyone’s Suddenly Talking About

Stereotypes suggest that bearded, beanie-donned coffee aficionados crave the cozy corner coastal city of Seattle, tattoed activists adore Portland’s funky, farm-to-table food scene and rock-climbing, weed-smoking, rugged dudes desire Denver. But what about Boise?

Sure, we know it’s close to Oregon, so there’s got to be some trees, and Sun Valley is known for skiing, but ask someone to name something specific about Idaho and they’ll probably just say potatoes. In fact, the Boise tourism office has specifically requested we do not use the headline, “Boise: It’s More Than Just Potatoes.”

According to Forbes, Boise was named the #1 fastest growing city in 2018 and it’s only gotten crazier. Today, Boise’s a booming city with influence from the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain range. It’s situated in a high desert with nearby mountains to climb, but also takes pride in offering gorgeous green spaces that help it earn the nickname “City of Trees.” And don’t forget the river. It’s the city’s soul and seems to be where locals spend 90% of their time after indulging in farm-to-table fare, fishing or drinking beer at a festival.

Boise seems to have a little bit of everything, which makes it just right.

The good news for us Denverites is that Boise is a short, cheap flight away from the Mile High, so you can experience it for yourself. We took a trip to learn more about the city everyone’s suddenly talking about.

Airfare and Transportation

Photo courtesy of Boise River Greenbelt on Facebook.

We knew flights to Boise were cheap but in all seriousness, round-trip Frontier Airlines flight prices to Boise are unbelievably low. Listed on Kayak, a current fare we found was only $73 round-trip this month (that’s only $36.50 each way). As for public transportation, you really don’t need any. A bike will do just fine. In Boise, everything is walking or biking distance. Boise GreenBike, a city bike transit system, costs only $5 an hour and is easy to use through a mobile app. You might not even have to pay for a bike. Many hotels in the area offer complimentary bike rentals for their guests in addition to shuttle services to and from the airport, so you don’t have to spend money on that either. Boise really is a green city.

Accommodations

The Grove Hotel

Photo courtesy of The Grove on Facebook.

Where: 245 South Capitol Blvd., Boise
Cost: Starting at $126 per night ($63 per person)

The Lowdown: Located in the heart of downtown, The Grove Hotel is ready to make your stay in Boise as laidback as possible. Complimentary bike rentals are available and you easily access bike from here across town and back again, while a pool, hot tub and sauna are great after a long day of watersports. Modern furnishings mixed with Idaho-inspired décor are scattered throughout this sophisticated hotel, plus the pricing per night is fairly reasonable.

The Riverside Hotel

Photo courtesy of The Riverside Hotel on Facebook.

Where: 2900 West Chinden Blvd., Boise
Cost: Starting at $114 per night ($57 per person)

The Lowdown: If you’d rather be near nature instead of downtown, The Riverside Hotel is ideal for travelers on a budget. You won’t find a more prime location than this if you prefer a folksy atmosphere down by the river. The Riverside is an older model built in 1969 but hasn’t lost its charm. Guests can take a dip in the pool or the river when it’s warm out or enjoy live music at the Sandbar Patio & Grill on the property. The restaurant offers a rotating lineup of live musicians every weekend except for in the winter.

Sightseeing

The Greenbelt

Photo courtesy of Boise River Greenbelt on Facebook.

Where: See map here.
Cost: Free

The Lowdown: The best part of Boise is the Boise River Greenbelt, a recreational trail that runs mostly adjacent to the Boise River through the heart of the city. At over 20 miles long, the Greenbelt starts at Lucky Peak Dam and ends in Eagle, Idaho. It’s mostly paved and is an easy way to spend your day since the stunning scenery never gets boring and it’s a fast way to get to most of the city’s attractions. With bridges, tunnels, and turns through wooded parks and around riverbanks, the Greenbelt is the best excuse to avoid an Uber altogether and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Urban Wine Trail

Photo courtesy of Telaya Wine Co.

Where: Select wineries in Garden City
Cost: Under $15

The Lowdown: It’s not always cheap to get to Napa, but Boise’s making its move as the “it” destination for winos in search of affordable reds and whites. Garden City, Idaho is slightly northwest of downtown Boise but is accessible off the north end of the Greenbelt ⁠— making it the perfect place to stop for a mid-day drink. A slew of wineries surround the city and use grapes grown in the Snake River Valley, but three of our favorites are all within a couple of blocks of each other in Garden City. Telaya Wine Co. was named the 2016 winery of the year by Wine Press Northwest and features a sunny, dog-friendly patio right off the Greenbelt. COILED Wines offers a cozier ambiance and was serving up frozen wine slushies when we stopped in. Lastly, Split Rail Winery emphasized its unconventional wine menu with a funky industrial atmosphere to match. They even make wine produced in concrete.

Whitewater Park

Photo courtesy of Boise Whitewater Park on Facebook.

Where: 3400 West Pleasanton Ave., Boise
Cost: Free (not including equipment rentals)

The Lowdown: For a city centered around its river, it makes sense that here you’ll find two state-of-the-art wave shapers on the Boise River specifically designed to create 20 and 25-foot wide waves for kayaking and surfing. The park is completely free to the public, but if you didn’t pack your kayak or surfboard with you, you can find rentals nearby at Idaho River Sports for $25 an hour.

Quinn’s Pond

Photo courtesy of Idaho River Sports on Facebook.

Where: 3150 West Pleasanton Ave., Boise
Cost: Free (not including equipment rentals)

The Lowdown: If surfing a giant river wave is intimidating to you, Idaho River Sports also offers paddleboard rentals for $25 an hour that you can use on nearby Quinn’s Pond. Paddle around this peaceful body of water and spot wildlife and fishermen. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon.

Idaho Botanical Garden

Photo courtesy of Idaho Botanical Garden on Facebook.

Where: 2355 North Old Penitentiary Rd., Boise
Cost: $8 adult admission

The Lowdown: As one of the oldest botanical gardens in the state, the Idaho Botanical Garden is a longer bike ride off the Greenbelt, but is worth it once you stumble upon the 15 acres of native Idaho wildflowers and brambled English rose gardens. Nestled in the Boise Foothills, this stunning garden is next to the Old Penitentiary, which makes for a startling contrast. The whole thing is quite quiet and eery, but the flowers sure do smell good.

Boise Art Museum

Photo courtesy of Boise Art Museum on Facebook.

Where: 670 Julia Davis Dr., Boise
Cost: $6 adult admission

The Lowdown: Also known as “BAM,” the Boise Art Museum is a fairly inexpensive attraction off the Greenbelt and offers some unique exhibits that rotate frequently. Throughout the years, the museum has hosted collections to include Guatemalan, Latin American, Chinese and Native American art. A recent exhibit called “Donut Ever Forget Me” included detailed ceramic donuts created by South Korean artist Jae Yong Kim. You get the idea.  

Two-Headed Calf

Photo courtesy of Idaho State Museum on Facebook.

Where: Idaho State Museum, 610 Julia Davis Dr., Boise
Cost: $10 adult admission

The Lowdown: Nicknamed “Deja Moo,” the two-headed calf is a little tricky to find inside the Idaho State Museum, but once you do, you’ll be completely caught off guard. Aside from this bizarre taxidermied creature beloved by Boise, the museum itself hosts some neat exhibits on the history and geography of Idaho and interactive displays.

Basque Block

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: West Grove St., Boise
Cost: Free

The Lowdown: Most people are unaware that Boise has a prominent Basque culture that’s noticeable around the city. The Basque Block is the best place in town to experience some shepherding fare centered around cured meats and heartwarming soups. Recipes from generations are served up locally at Bar Gernika, a restaurant and bar located at the street square and you can even learn more about Basque history at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. You also often find Basque festivals and markets that the locals love to attend again and again.

Freak Alley Gallery

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: 210 North 9th St., Boise
Cost: Free

The Lowdown: Denver’s growing street art scene in RiNo is pretty epic, but Freak Alley Gallery in Boise is definitely a little funkier. Originating at a single alley doorway in 2002, this public art venue is the largest mural gallery in the Northwest and today, hosts some bizarre creature art that gives the alley its namesake.

Shopping

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: Downtown Boise
Cost: Free

The Lowdown: Don’t forget to shop downtown. Boise has a good number of storefronts and here you’ll find everything from indie records and vintage cassette tapes at Record Exchange to beautiful handcrafted gifts and artwork made by local artisans at Idaho Made. The thrift shop scene is great too. Ward Hooper’s Vintage PIX sells historic signs, knick-knacks and other collectibles from generations past.

Food and Drinks

Push & Pour (Coffee)

Photo courtesy of Push & Pour on Facebook.

Where: 214 East 34th St., Garden City
Cost: $10 and under

The Lowdown: Instagrammers have reportedly flocked here for the avocado toast and it’s not hard to realize why. The bread is extra fluffy and quite memorable if you’re fond of Texas toast. Close to Whitewater Park and Quinn’s Pond, Push & Pour is the perfect place to drop in for a cappuccino after a dip in the river or a bike ride. The edgy coffee shop is also designed to be a creative space in Garden City for artists, musicians and skateboarders, so you’re bound to come across some interesting locals.

ā café (Breakfast)

Photo courtesy of Ā Café on Facebook.

Where: 111 South 10th St., Boise
Cost: $10 and under

The Lowdown: This farmhouse-inspired brunch spot opened this past summer, but ā café offers a menu that’s going to make your morning. Colorful toasts topped with locally sourced ingredients among lighter salads and sandwiches promise a balanced meal before exploring Boise. The scrumptious rotating desserts are worth sampling too.

BACON (Brunch)

Where: 121 North 9th St., Boise
Cost: $15 and under

The Lowdown: Boise loves its burgers and barbeque so we weren’t surprised to find a bacon-themed brunch spot with a long ass line running through town. BACON‘s offerings consist of well — bacon — in all its sweet, crunchy, spiced forms. If you’re missing Snooze while you’re away, the bacon “shots” or bacon-topped Bloody Mary might snap you out of it.

Tasso (Lunch)

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: 401 South 8th St., Boise
Cost: $15 and under

The Lowdown: This tasty eatery opened just last year, but is already making a big impression on Boise’s food scene. With a relatively inexpensive menu given the house-made ingredients, Tasso offers the best sandwich you’ve had in a long time. With cured fresh meat cuts, fermented toppings like kimchi, and from-scratch mustard and mayonnaise, this lunch spot makes for a healthy spot to sample some innovative lunch offerings. The rotating popcorn flavors are also a plus. 

Boise Fry Company (Lunch)

Photo courtesy of Boise Fry Company on Facebook.

Where: 204 North Capitol Blvd., Boise (multiple locations across town)
Cost: $15 and under

The Lowdown: Well, it’s Boise, so you don’t think we’d let you leave without trying some french fries. Choose from varying potatoes, cuts, seasonings and dipping sauces to create fries customized to your flavor preferences at the Boise Fry Company, and pair them with a grass-fed beef, bison, vegan quinoa and black bean or “fun guy” (beef and mushroom) burger on the side. A Boise recommended favorite is purple potato homestyle fries with sriracha salt and spicy fry sauce.

Fork (Dinner)

Photo courtesy of Fork on Facebook.

Where: 199 North 8th St., Boise
Cost: $30 and under

The Lowdown: Fine dining is somewhat affordable in the City of Trees, and your first stop for a nice dinner should be Fork. This creative, farm-to-table restaurant offers delicious Northwestern cuisine like fire-grilled artichokes you can peel yourself and dip in lemon-tarragon sauce, Idaho rainbow trout served atop buttery farro and heavenly butter cake with fresh berries for dessert. 

Juniper (Dinner)

Photo courtesy of Juniper on Facebook.

Where: 211 North 8th St., Boise
Cost: $25 and under

The Lowdown: Rivaling Fork, Juniper is also a great restaurant to experience the true taste of Boise. An upscale brick-walled atmosphere makes you feel right at home and the handcrafted cocktails are worth coming for. However, we recommend you don’t miss dinner. Truffled mac and cheese, Idaho trout and cozy chicken corn chowder are why the locals keep coming back.

Westside Drive-In (Dessert)

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: 1929 West State St. #3958, Boise
Cost: $6 and under

The Lowdown: While the rest of the country craves tater-tots from Sonic, Boise has another special secret up its sleeve. The Westside Drive-In is your average malt-filled, ’50s-themed, pink, mint-green and checkered date night site, but they’ve got oh so much more. A picture of the place is cute enough, but if you’re brave order the ice cream potato. No really. It’s an ice cream potato. Sound gross? It’s really just two loaves of vanilla ice cream sprinkled in chocolate powder to look like a baked potato. Topped with whipped cream and nuts, this is Boise’s favorite dessert. Just kidding, it’s probably something Idahoans avoid at all costs, but we had to try it anyway.

The STIL (Dessert)

Photo courtesy of The STIL on Facebook.

Where: 786 West Broad St., Boise
Cost: $10 and under

The Lowdown: STIL stands for the “sweetest things in life,” but be warned. Prepare to leave lactose-intolerant from the dreamy dairy and sugar rush. This handcrafted, artisanal ice cream parlor is dangerous. The STIL offers two kinds of flights where you can choose to sample 10 ice cream flavors or five ice cream flavors alongside five craft beers or wines (or some kind of combination of them all). They even offer boozy ice cream with flavors like margarita and they serve up beer or wine floats. The whole thing is just plain crazy, but we can’t stop thinking about it.

Bittercreek Alehouse (Drinks)

Photo courtesy of Bittercreek Alehouse on Facebook.

Where: 246 North 8th St., Boise
Cost: $10 and under

The Lowdown: This eco-friendly alehouse features a wide range of microbrews if that’s your thing, and since it’s right downtown, Bittercreek Alehouse is an obvious place to check out before really breaking ground on the Boise beer scene. Order a local draft at the end of your day and it’s the perfect Boise evening. The alehouse itself is worth exploring too. Sometimes Bittercreek will let you see the urban worm farm in the basement where they naturally compost kitchen scraps.

Press & Pony (Drinks)

Photo courtesy of Press & Pony on Facebook.

Where: 622 West Idaho St., Boise
Cost: $15 and under

The Lowdown: Speakeasy-themed Press & Pony is at the top of our list to find the best craft cocktail in Boise. With a tiny vertical space that only fits over 20 people, this jazzy bar hidden behind red drapes is worth venturing to for the ambiance alone. House-made tonics, shots and beers and champagne cocktails should be ordered promptly, however, if you ask a bartender to design a personalized drink and tell him or her what you’re in the mood for (a couple of flavors or adjectives will do), he or she will concoct it right on the spot.

Meriwether Cider (Drinks)

Photo courtesy of Meriwether Cider on Facebook.

Where: 224 North 9th St., Boise
Cost: $8 and under

The Lowdown: Don’t like cider? Meriwether Cider will change your mind. It’s some of the best damn cider we’ve ever had. This cidery downtown brews cider from apples and other fruits grown in the Northwest and skips on artificial flavoring for an all-natural, fresh flavor that you might just come back to Boise for. Literally nothing on the menu is bad. We even thinking about shipping some cans to Colorado. 

Hops & Bottles (Drinks)

Photo by Marissa Kozma.

Where: 1420 West Grove St., Boise
Cost: $9 and under

The Lowdown: With 300+ local and imported cans and bottles alongside 20 beer and local wine taps, you might be a little intimidated if you stop by this bottle shop. Featuring an airy outdoor patio, Hops & Bottles is the perfect place to take a craft beer break.

For more information about Boise, maps and activity recommendations, visit the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau official website here

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