Boise equals “high-desert oasis.”
Translation: it’s a long drive to the next metropolis -- six hours to Salt Lake, nine to Portland. That’s OK with locals. Remoteness breeds a cultural self-sufficiency perfect for urbane outdoorsy types.
Mountain snow irrigates the lush Boise River valley. Beyond the intricate canal system, stark, sage-covered foothills morph into the Rockies northeast of town. A desert sprawls southwest until it meets the Owyhee Mountains. All those peaks catch most storms before they dump on Boise. So the weather’s as mild as the recreation is accessible. Visiting Idaho’s capital can—and should—include a ridge or river.
5…Find your mountaintop experience at Bogus Basin
Just sixteen miles from downtown, Bogus is a four-season resort with a base elevation of 6,000 feet, yielding a convenient high-country fix. The snow typically extends to April and in spring you’ll likely see T-shirt clad boarders and skiers. Mining claims staked on fool’s gold inspired its name, but today, Bogus means a bona fide good time whether you’re a black diamond ace or a first-timer from the flats.
The distance from downtown is short. The drive time? Not so much. Two-lane Bogus Basin Road hairpins sans guardrails. Snow tires are recommended. Even then the going can be snail-like. Allow at least 45-minutes to make the climb. Better to hop the Bogus bus. Its route covers the valley and the last pick-up (and the shortest ride up the mountain) leaves Bannock and 11th streets each morning and afternoon to accommodate full- and half-day skiers. At $13 a round-trip it’s a screaming deal. For a couple of extra bucks, a night ride home means you can linger under starry skies. Bogus is home to one of the country’s longest, lighted ski runs. Full day lift tickets $48. Miles of free, groomed cross-country trails and top-notch rental equipment are bonuses.
4...Tuck into a local hideaway in Hyde Park
The shops and eateries of Hyde Park form the nerve center of Boise’s gentrified North End neighborhood—a mix of 19th century Victorians, Foursquare houses, and Craftsman bungalows that shaped the city’s original residential area. Less than a mile from Idaho’s Statehouse, and just blocks off Bogus Basin Road, Hyde Park -- 13th Street between Front and Hill -- is seldom discovered by out-of-towners. This is Boise at its personal best. No chain restaurants or generic storefronts interrupt the hometown ambience of boutiques chock-a-block with handcrafted items, dusty bookstores and antique shops, and friendly bistros.
Parilla Grille (1512 North 13th Street) is the place to be for Thursdays’ Dollar Taco Nights. North Enders turn out in droves. A buck buys your choice of a freshly made beef, chicken, pork or veggie taco. They’re good bets every other night, too. Afterward amble to Goody’s Soda Fountain and Candy Store (1502 North 13th Street) for more local treats. Then burn off the calories at nearby Camel’s Back Park (13th and Heron streets). Its tennis courts, volleyball pits and playground nestle between hills that live up to their name and beckon mountain bikers and hikers with access to Hulls Gulch Nature Reserve.
3…Take it to the River
Twenty-three miles of paved-riparian Greenbelt energizes Boise. Here, downtown workers fly-fish over the noon-hour or take lunch-break-picnics beside the Boise River. In spring, summer and fall, rafters parade down the stream; kayakers play in eddies and a chain of waterfront parks are crowded with revelers and athletes of every persuasion from Frisbee-golfers to serious soft-ballers. There are more than 800 acres of open space along this urban pathway. Eleven parking lots provide access. Shoreline Park (13th and River streets) and Julia Davis Park (off Capitol Boulevard) offer the most convenient ingress if you’re staying downtown. Between those two vantage points, the $1.5 million Anne Frank Memorial pays homage to the indomitable human spirit and is a must-see. Funded by donations from school children and local philanthropists, it serves as an exceptional spot for contemplation. From the memorial take the Greenbelt tunnel east beneath Capitol Boulevard. You’ll be on the Boise State University campus and can catch a glimpse of the football stadium’s legendary blue turf.
A Greenbelt outing connects you to the soul of the city. Whether you walk, jog or cycle be prepared to encounter wildlife. Otters, deer, fox, heron, geese and osprey all reside here.
2…You gotta have art
Boise’s cultural district crowds the BSU perimeter and presents a buzz that belies the town’s size. Big-name acts bound for Portland or Seattle stop off and pack out the 12,000-seat Taco Bell Arena (1910 University) and clubs like the Knitting Factory (416 South 9th Street). The Best of Broadway series fills the tonier 2,000-seat Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. (2201 Cesar Chavez Lane) The local ballet and philharmonic take to the stage there , too. Whether your taste runs to rock or Ravel, chances are you’ll find something to like on any given Boise weekend.
Same goes for museum fanatics. In Julia Davis Park, a couple hundred yards from the river, The Idaho State Historical Museum (610 Julia Davis Drive, $5) gives a good overview of the region’s history. Nearby, the Boise Art Museum (670 Julia Davis Drive, $5) packs a powerful artistic punch. Maybe that’s why it’s called BAM. The permanent collection emphasizes regional art with a special nod to ceramics thanks to the influence and benevolence of BSU professor John Takehara. National artists exhibit here, too. Massachusetts innovator Stephen Knapp lights up the Sculpture Court through April with an 80-foot, multi-dimensional composition Light Paintings.
Despite 50-miles of east-west sprawl, Downtown Boise is still the place to be. On its south, in BoDo, national retailers and restaurants—the Urban Outfitter, P.F. Chang’s gang—fill up renovated warehouses. To the west, the emerging Linen District makes hip use of mid-century structures. The Modern Hotel (1314 W. Grove) prides itself on its Mad Men vibe while Donny Mac’s Trailer Park Cuisine (1515 W. Grove) offers tribute to the opposite societal element. Both are good kitschy fun. But for a taste of authentic Boise tradition visit the Basque Block.
More than 15,000 Basques make Boise one of the nation’s largest repositories of Pyrenees culture. The preservation of Basque dance, music, language, sport and food means an intriguing encounter with a little known people. Get an overview of the immigrant experience at the Basque Museum (611 Grove Street, $5). See if they’re playing pala or dancing in the Fronton. Poke around the Basque Market (608 W. Grove) and then go eat. Leku Ona (117 S. 6th Street) serves up a mean Txipirioak Bere Tintan (Squid in ink,) and the Mina (braised beef tongue) is to die for! Dinners range from $11.95 for the Albondigak (meatballs) to$23.95 for T-bone steak.