This Western city is not what you’d expect 

Mar 23, 2023

This Western capital city has beautiful mountain views, hundreds of miles of trails to explore and has over 200 days of sunshine per year. Its trendy downtown hosts a hub of craft breweries and restaurants run by James Beard-nominated chefs. You can hit the slopes in wintertime and go surfing in the middle of town in summer. 

Bogus Basin, less than 20 miles from downtown Boise 
We’re talking about Boise. (And yes, really, you can surf here—but more on that later.) The Idaho capital will surprise you with its unique city to-dos, nature activities and downtown nightlife.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the unexpected activities you can experience during a vacation to Boise.  

Traverse the trails  

The Boise River Greenbelt is one of the city’s crown jewels, with 25 miles of tree-lined pathways along the banks of the river that provide access points to the heart of the city. Hit the trail for a scenic walk, or you can rent a bike nearby and cycle the path. George's Cycles in downtown Boise has city and mountain bikes available for rent. 

Boise River Greenbelt

If you'd like to branch further outside the city, the area boasts over 200 miles of options, including accessible trails. You can check out their steeper hikes like Table Rock Trail, a popular option with a nearly thousand-foot elevation gain, but a view that's worth it at the top. A gentler option is the Cottonwood Creek Trail, which is great for joggers and hikers alike.

Hang ten a half-mile above sea level 

Situated on the Boise River near the middle of town is the Boise Whitewater Park with adjustable waves. It was originally built for kayakers but has evolved into a spot for surfing as well. Even if catching (man-made) waves isn't your thing, watching people surf in a land-locked state is quite a sight. Stop by the park between March to October to see the spectacle, then head to one of the nearby cafes and open-air bars for a drink. 

Boise Whitewater Park

Another option to beat the heat and enjoy the Boise River is to float down it. You'll start at Barber Park, where rafts are available to rent. The leisurely journey takes a few hours, and you'll end at Ann Morrison Park, where shuttles are available to bring you back to your car at the starting point. 

For another relaxing aquatic experience, hop in the car for a short drive to one of Idaho's 130 hot springs. Your closest bet is The Springs in Idaho City, only 40 miles away. You can soak in the large communal pool, or opt for a private one (but be sure to make reservations ahead of time). 

Wahooz Family Fun

If you're planning a warm weather trip with the family, the Roaring Springs Water Park is just west of town in Meridian. With water slides, a wave pool and an "Endless River" for lazy rafting, this will be a trip highlight for the kids in your life. For year-round fun, find the Wahooz Family Fun Zone next door with kid classics like an arcade, laser tag and mini golf.

Bask in the culture of the Basque Block 

In the 1800s, many people from Basque Country, an area between Spain and France, immigrated to Idaho. Today, the city is home to one of the largest Basque communities in the United States, and the rich Basque culture is evident in Boise.

Basque Block

Located in central downtown, Basque Block honors that heritage. Stop into the Basque Museum and Cultural Center to learn more about this history, then head next door to the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House, a cornerstone for Basque immigrants. 

Taste traditional Basque dishes at Bar Gernika, a cozy pub where an order of croquetas is a must. You'll find pintxos (small plates meant to share) and paella at The Basque Market across the street. This restaurant and market combo also offers cooking classes with wine tastings every month, so you can learn the skills to bring the flavors of the Basque region home with you. 

Find your way to “Freak Alley” and festivals

As a college town and the largest city in a 300-mile radius, Boise is a hot spot for creative energy. The affectionately-named "Freak Alley" is a huge open-air mural gallery that's been around for over 20 years. The ever-changing gallery goes through a makeover every summer, when the city hosts a painting event for artists to come together and bring new visions to life. 

Freak Alley

Every March, the Treefort Music Festival spreads itself across Boise. The five-day event hosts hundreds of artists. While music is the main event, the festival also has mini festivals within the event, like Alefort, Comedyfort and Filmfort. 

Idaho Shakespeare Festival 

If the performing arts are more your thing, check out the Idaho Shakespeare Festival between May to October. This Boise summer staple takes place in an outdoor amphitheater where you can bring a picnic to enjoy as you watch plays like Shakespeare's "As You Like It."

Patio sipping and local fare feasting

One thing is for sure, you won't go thirsty in Boise. Their thriving craft brewery scene means you'll have many breweries to enjoy. Boise Brewing has a wide range of beer to choose from like a Snowboarder Porter after a day on the slopes; Payette Brewing Company is situated near the Greenbelt and offers a large outdoor seating area with a fire pit and yard games; and Sockeye Brewing serves up fishing inspired brews, including their Angel's Perch Amber. 

Payette Brewing Company

Sample the flavors of Idaho's wine country at one of 20 wineries in the Boise area. Telaya Wine Co. has a tasting room right along the Greenbelt. Cider connoisseurs can rejoice in a rare cidery at the Meriwether Cider House, just a short walk from Freak Alley. When you're ready for dinner, you'll be just steps away from downtown dining, like Modern Bar, which features seasonal menus with locally-sourced ingredients. 

Modern Bar

Indulge in a night out at Chandlers, an upscale, local steakhouse featuring almost any cut of steak you can imagine plus seafood options ranging from Hawaiian sashimi-grade ahi tuna to Maine lobster tail. Leave room for desert to try their specialty, a chocolate soufflé, or one of their unique options like a fromage blanc cheesecake made with goat cheese, vanilla, graham cracker crust and wild honey. 

You can also experience dining at restaurants with James Beard Award semifinalist chefs like Ansots Basque Chorizos; KIN, known for fine dining and cocktails; and Kibrom's Ethiopian & Eritrean Restaurant’s featuring authentic East African cuisine.

Ready to go? Start planning your Boise getaway with these hotels.

Paid for in part by a grant from Idaho Tourism.

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