With its beautiful setting in the Rocky Mountains, fine-dining scene, bohemian communities, and numerous family attractions, Boise competes with any city in the American West.
From touring eerie penitentiaries and visiting the State Capitol to meeting the locals at Boise Zoo or wandering around the Botanical Gardens, visitors are never short of places to visit.
Mix in a little gourmet food from Basque and French-inspired bistros, green space around every corner, and the chance to hike, climb or ski a few miles away, and it's easy to see why Boise is such an appealing destination.
Boise is a wonderful place for families with children. There's Boise Zoo, with its Amur tigers, sloths and Komodo dragons, the Discovery Center of Idaho, which teaches young ones about science, and the Wahooz Family Fun Zone in Meridian, with mini-golf, go karts, and much more.
Boise is a major political center, and nobody who visits should miss a tour of the State Capitol. Other historical highlights include the Old Penitentiary and the historic Boise Depot train station, while the unique Basque Museum showcases the city's strong links with the Basque region in Spain and France.
Modern Boise is also an artistic hub for the northwest. You can tour the excellent Boise Art Museum (and be there for the Idaho Triennial when the festival rolls into town). Alternatively, head to smaller galleries like the Stewart Gallery to find out what cutting-edge contemporary artists are doing.
The Rocky Mountains are sublime, especially around Boise, and getting out to explore is easy when you base yourself in the city. Strap on your skis and try out the slopes at Bogus Basin, hike the Red Mountain Trail in Boise National Forest, or hire some tackle and try trout fishing on the Snake River.
There are authentic Basque dishes on offer at the Basque Market and Bar Gernika, the chance to sample locally produced (and beautifully fried) potatoes at the Boise Fry Company, gourmet European style food at Fork, and craft cocktails at Bardenay. In fact, there's something for everyone.
The United States is infamous for their prison system, and this intriguing Boise attraction provides insight into the complex saga of incarceration in America. The exterior seems gloomy and punishing at once. Inside, however, the grounds become a fascinating venue for historical exploration, dotted with museum exhibitions. You will find military memorabilia and impressive bronze collections, and outdoors a lovely arboretum balances out the grim atmosphere.
Idaho's State Capitol is found at the heart of Boise. completed in 1912 in the iconic domed style of Washington D.C.'s United States Capitol Building. Inside, tours take visitors through the history of the state, covering twenty paintings that depict and honor every past Governor. An impressive replica of the Winged Victory statue from the Louvre is also a highlight. Outside, another world-famous replica draws the attention of passers-by: the Liberty Bell which can be rung by all visitors.
A 25-mile long trail crosses the entirety of Boise as it runs along the river, providing visitors and locals with beautiful walking and running trails. Without ever leaving the city, the atmospheric paths immerse you right in nature, something for which the state of Idaho is most appreciated. The trail connects every neighborhood of interest on your explorations far and wide.
Birds of prey remain highly misunderstood creatures, and this unique center offers a place for their appreciation, conservation, and study. Eagles, owls, falcons, ospreys, hawks..... You name it, this is the place to come eye to eye with these incredible, winged descendants of dinosaurs. There is programming year round for visitors of all ages, from museum exhibitions to live bird demonstrations.
Though Idaho may seem an unlikely place for a memorial to Anne Frank, the inspirational Dutch girl murdered for her Jewish identity during World War Two, the city and community of Boise was touched by the message of hope she conveyed in her diary. This park is an urban expression of the ideal of human equality. The landscape design leads visitors from one sculptural element engraved with quotes or poems to the next, creating an immersive, reflective, and natural experience.
There really isn't a bad time to head to Boise. Alpine sports fans should head there between December and March when the ski season is in full swing. Sightseers will find cheaper accommodation in May and June and from late September onwards, while families will prefer summer, when the temperatures are always warm and the attractions are at their best.
The best way to reach Boise is by flying into Boise Airport (BOI), which is a couple of miles south of the city center. The cheapest route into town is via the Number 3 Valley Ride bus, which costs $1, and taxis and rental cars are available at the terminal as well.
There is no Amtrak service to Boise any more, but the city is on the Thruway bus network. If you'd like to travel part of the journey by train, you can alight at Salt Lake City, then take the bus to Boise.
If you are driving to Boise from the east, take Route 80 to Salt Lake City, then switch to Route 84 into Boise. Route 84 also runs from Seattle in the northwest, while Route 80 connects Boise with San Francisco and the rest of California.
Boise is served by both Greyhound and Northwestern Trailways routes, both of which stop at 1212 W Bannock Street near the center of town.
Boise has a wide range of accommodation providers, from standard family hotels to boutique options. If you just need a dependable no-frills hotel, try the Holiday Inn near the University or Hilton's Homewood Suites. For something more luxurious, give the Grove Hotel or Hotel 43 a try. Both offer intimate, boutique-style accommodation and excellent service. Budget travelers could also try A Country Place in western Boise, which offers cheap beds in a friendly neighborhood.
Downtown Boise (BoDo) - the center of Idaho's government and a major business hub, BoDo has its share of office blocks and traffic, but it has plenty of highlights too. Attractions include the family-friendly Discovery Center and Boise Zoo, as well as the elegant State Capitol, and the recently redeveloped Boise River waterfront.
Southeast Boise - Downtown is great, but many of the most interesting attractions are actually in Southeast Boise, where you can tour the spooky Old Idaho Penitentiary (including the site of the gallows) and relax in the surroundings of the Botanical Gardens. With a large student community, it's also a great place to drink and dine.
Garden City - possessing its own municipal government, Garden City is just north of Downtown Boise. Clustered around Chinden Boulevard, it's a bohemian community characterized by small art galleries like Surel's Place and lovely green spaces like Bernardine Quinn Riverside Park.
Valley Ride provides a local bus service to most parts of Boise, but services can be infrequent and unreliable at times. However, at $1 single fares are affordable, so check the schedules to see whether your favorite routes are covered. If not, renting a car is a much better option for getting around.
Taxis are a handy way to get around Boise which, though it's not a large city in terms of population, is fairly spread out. Expect to pay a meter drop of around $2.40, then an extra $2.40 per mile, with a waiting charge of $0.40 per minute. Uber is slightly cheaper, at $2 for the meter drop, then $1 per mile.
Having your own car is a huge benefit in Boise. The city is easy to drive around with plenty of city center parking. The suburbs sprawl a little, so taxis can be expensive, and the countryside is best seen with a rental car as well. There are branches of Thrifty, Avis, and Enterprise in the city, and rates can be as low as $25 a day, so it's an economic option as well.
Boise isn't famous as a shopping destination, but it does have some excellent places to buy clothes (and potato-themed souvenirs). Boise Towne Square is the best of them, featuring stores like Aldo, Banana Republic, and Forever 21. Broad Street in BoDo and Eighth Street Marketplace are other great places to shop.
Supermarkets in Boise include familiar names like Walgreen's, Walmart, and Whole Foods as well as local companies like the employee-owned WinCo. There's also a farmers market on 8th and Fulton every Saturday. Expect to pay around $2.30 for a gallon of milk or $1.60 for a pound of oranges.
If you love Basque or Spanish food, Leku Ona, Bar Gernika, and Epi's are great places to eat. Gourmet bistros include Bleubird and Bardenay, Matador is an excellent Mexican restaurant, while the Boise Fry Company cooks locally sourced fries and delicious organic burgers. Expect meals to cost between $10 and $15 for burgers and upwards of $20 for sit-down meals.