White water rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter, Idaho could be a great adventure destination for our Best in Travel list. And if adventure is what brings you to Boise, we won’t fault you.
But it’s this mid-sized city’s year-round natural beauty, combined with terroir and culinary scene, that landed it on our 2023 list for best places to connect.
Lonely Planet asked local writer Lex Nelson to recommend how you should map out your perfect day in her hometown.
I’m not quite a Boise native – but I’ve called the city home since 2004, and have been writing about the local food, art and sustainability scenes since 2016. I’m at my happiest under the Idaho sun, either exploring in the foothills, foraging for treats at the Boise Farmers Market or sipping a cabernet along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail.
Why I think you should visit Boise:
Boise is a mid-sized city in Idaho that has managed to hang on to the safety, charm and local pride of a small agricultural town – even after a decade of explosive population growth.
Here, you can enjoy a hike and bowl of lamb stew one day, opera and urban winery hopping the next. Whether you visit with plans to take your mountain bike to the foothills, ski fresh powder or attend Jaialdi (one of the world’s largest Basque festivals), learning a bit about the city’s history as you go will deepen your appreciation of its appeal.
Start your morning around 8am
Hop in your car and start your day with a drive to the Camels Back trailhead, located where 9th St dead-ends into the foothills. Admire streets filled with a mishmash of historic homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s in the North End until you arrive at the dusty, informal parking lot. Then, shake your body awake with a hike up Florence’s Trail (#43). When you reach the top of the short but steep ridge, stop to take in the view of the bungalows and Queen Anne–style houses spread out below.
From this vantage point, Boise truly lives up to its nickname as the “City of Trees.” In the fall, the valley becomes a sea of red and gold punctuated by downtown office buildings and the Idaho State Capitol Building dome. Follow the Camels Back Trail (#40) across the ridge for the best views, then either head back the way you came or descend the steps into the park and circle the hill back to your car.
8:45am — Head downtown
Follow 9th St downtown and park at the ParkBOI 9th & Front Garage ($3 per hour or $15 per day) to avoid the hassle of feeding the meter, then stroll a short block up 8th St to Slow by Slow Coffee. Take a deep breath of the caffeine-laced air and appreciate the mellow tunes coming from the record player: you’re about to experience Boise’s best pour-over. Don’t forget to order a locally baked Gaston’s Bakery croissant from the case (I’m a sucker for the almond one). Grab a chair on the sidewalk to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and watch a mix of kitchen workers, cyclists and dog-walking locals stroll by on downtown’s aptly nicknamed “restaurant row.”
10am — Explore shops in Boise
Wander through Boise as it wakes up, popping into favorite local shops. At Idaho Made and Mixed Greens, you’ll find handmade souvenirs ranging from jewelry and leather goods to art prints and beard-care products. BANANA Ink sells clothes and accessories decorated with Idaho iconography, while The Record Exchange is a great spot to browse secondhand records (look for Boise’s favorite sons, Built to Spill) and snag merch from Treefort Music Fest.
Be sure your path takes you through the campus of Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP), an office and community space that looks like a discarded set of glass children’s blocks. Meander through the on-site tractor collection and let your inner kid loose on the oversized playground, which includes a three-story climbing structure and five-story slide (the slide opens at 10am on Saturday, and at noon Tuesday to Friday).
12pm — Head to lunch at Warehouse Food Hall
From JUMP, use Broad St to cross 9th St, then hang a left on 8th St and stop at the Warehouse Food Hall for lunch. This bustling spot doubles as a local restaurant incubator, with stands hawking everything from Korean pork belly tacos (Wok N’ Roll) to Texas-style meats (Neighbor Tim’s BBQ) and Thai pizza (Anzalone Pizza). Sit at a communal table and strike up a conversation with a Boise local.
1pm — Explore Boise by Bike
After lunch, download the Vall-eBike bike-share app and grab a cycle from a nearby rack, or grab a Lime, Bird or Spin e-scooter from just about any street corner and zoom south. At the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial you’ll learn about Idaho human rights activists like Senator Frank Church, before you join the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile-long riverside biking and walking path that links Boise with the rapidly gentrifying suburb of Garden City and the upscale bedroom community of Eagle. Ride west along the Boise River for 2.5 miles until you reach Esther Simplot Park, then take the bridge at left and across to Garden City.
1:20pm — Check out Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District
Continue on the Greenbelt for 1.5 more miles, then leave the path at 43rd St and ride through the quirky art studios and auto-repair shops of the Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District until you arrive at West Chinden Blvd, the heart of Garden City’s urban winery and brewery scene. Enjoy a wine tasting at Par Terre Winery or Cinder Wines, or zip a few blocks back toward Boise for an afternoon of axe throwing at Section 37 Axe Room ($25 per person, per hour).
3pm – Take your Vall-eBike or e-scooter back downtown. Follow 8th St to River St, then hang a right and speed down South Capitol Blvd, admiring the Boise Art Museum (BAM) and Idaho State Museum on your right, until you arrive at the Basque Block. Here, end your bike or e-scooter ride for the day. (Pro tip: if you’re a fan of the visual arts, squeeze an hour-long visit to BAM into another day of your stay. The nonprofit museum hosts traveling exhibitions in a range of media and boasts a permanent collection of 4000 works. Don’t miss the open-air sculpture garden out back.)
3:15pm — Boise evening to Basque in
Boise is home to a Basque community of nearly 16,000, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center and the Basque Market keep their roots alive. In the museum, you’ll find photographs, artifacts like authentic sheep wagons; oral histories; and rotating, often-interactive exhibits like “Estereoskopiko,” a photo collection that requires visitors to slip on 3D glasses. After immersing yourself in Basque history, cross the street to split three-for-$5 pintxos (small plates) at the market. You’ll savor the chance to try specialties like Basque meatballs or sobrasada (Balearic island sausage) with honey.
5:30pm – Bar Gernika for dinner
To keep your Basque experience going, duck into Bar Gernika for a dinner of affordable Basque pub grub such as chorizo, croquetas and lamb stew, plus a locally brewed beer from Mad Swede Brewing. On your way out, stop to admire the Basque Mural painted on the neighboring building. Thanks to the Basque Museum, you should recognize many of the details depicted in it, including the Tree of Gernika, the Uberuaga/Aguirre Boarding House preserved on the Basque Block and the Oinkari Basque Dancers in action.
6:30pm – Take in a show at Boise Contemporary Theater
After dinner, walk six blocks southwest to the nonprofit Boise Contemporary Theater to catch an evening performance. If you’re still peckish beforehand and have time to spare, pop into The STIL for a scoop of ice cream.
8pm – A nightcap at Modern Hotel & Bar
Reclaim your car and drive a few blocks to the Modern Hotel & Bar for a nightcap. Nab a table in the courtyard and sip your Highfalutin’ Home Talk whiskey cocktail under the romantic glow of string lights as the sun goes down. To make your life easy, book a room at the minimalist Travelodge–turned–boutique hotel just off to the bar.
Advice from a local: don’t stay at an Airbnb if you can help it, out of respect for the city’s housing crisis. Home prices in Boise are soaring (the median house price in the surrounding county rose 21.5% between Feb 2021 and Feb 2022 alone), with new construction struggling to keep up with demand. Investor conversions of single-family homes into Airbnbs are making options for residents even slimmer.
10pm – Late-night piece of pie
Boise goes to bed early, but if you’re still up and not too sore-footed, venture out for a middle-of-the-night slice from Pie Hole (open until 3am most nights, and 4am on weekends).