48 Hours in Boise, Idaho
When you’ve got two days in Boise, here’s where to stay, play and eat
Boise’s riches were discovered in the mid-1800s when miners struck gold in the surrounding mountains of southwest Idaho contributing to the region’s fabled name Treasure Valley. Now history is repeating itself. Boise is a boom town again. Word is spreading fast that Idaho’s capital city is a goldmine for travelers seeking award-winning cuisine, artisan shopping and unspoiled natural beauty.
If you plan to visit—Boise is a gateway city for many Main Salmon River and Middle Fork of the Salmon River rafting adventures—schedule at least two days for exploring. This 48-hour itinerary maps out Boise’s many treasures.
Day 1: Explore the Greenbelt, Float the Boise River & Discover the City’s Booming Gastro Scene
A full day of outdoor activities in downtown Boise begins best with breakfast. Throwback diner Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro and farmhouse-style Big City Coffee & Cafe dish heaping egg, pancake and gravy-doused biscuit platters.
It’s easy to spend hours at the city’s crown jewel, the Boise River Greenbelt stretching 25 scenic miles along the wooded banks of the Boise River. The flat terrain, paved walking and biking trail popular with pedaling commuters and families connects several city parks loaded with attractions. Trail signage marks mileage and riverside historic sites. Rent your two wheels from the city’s bike share program Boise GreenBike or when staying at swank Inn at 500 Capitol close to the Greenbelt hop on a complimentary beach cruiser, one of the 109-room boutique hotel’s many high-touch perks.
The Greenbelt’s Julia Davis Park is leafy grounds for the Idaho State Museum.* Interactive exhibits showcase Idaho’s gold mining, logging and Oregon Trail pioneer history. Learn about the Nez Perce and Shoshone Native American peoples’ important role in guiding the Lewis and Clark Expedition, further explained on the museum’s outdoor Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail.
Also nearby are the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Black History Museum, Zoo Boise and the free Idaho Fish and Game MK Nature Center, which features an interpretive StreamWalk, wildlife talks, and underwater fish and animal viewing areas.
Beat afternoon heat floating down the Boise River on inner tubes from Boise River Raft and Tube Rentals. The outfitter provides trolley service to the put-in point. The two-hour, six-mile leisurely float ends downtown just beyond Baybrook Cook Bridge’s sandy beach, a popular swimming and sunbathing spot.
Close to the river, is Boise’s Basque Block celebrating the city’s vibrant Basque culture and cuisine in a compact downtown district. Boise’s mountainous terrain attracted Basque sheepherding families in the mid-1800s. Today, Boise is home to a thriving Basque community, one of the largest living outside northern Spain’s autonomous Basque Country.
For more local fare Boise’s farm-to-table restaurant Juniper blends Northwest U.S. and global flavors in tempting shared small plates and innovative entrees. Menu standouts are the Idaho trout po’ boy sandwich, beef medallions atop farro risotto, spicy duck ramen and shrimp gnocchi.
When it’s time to unwind, locals favor their many craft breweries including Barbarian Brewing Downtown Tap Room and Payette Brewing Company, which offers a family-friendly beer garden and brewery tours at its riverside location. To sip Idaho wines head to downtown’s Coiled Wine Bar or grab a stool at Handelbar where Boise’s cycling community gathers to tune their wheels at work stations while sipping local wines and beers pulled from 25 rotating taps. For something a bit more intimate, skilled bartenders at the 25-seat speakeasy Press & Pony craft memorable cocktails in the historic 1902 Adelmann Building.
Not quite ready to turn in? Pair your late-night drinks with live music at The Olympic and edgy Neurolux staging indie bands. Or, enjoy a night cap time at the Modern Hotel & Bar retro-cool lounge. Classic cocktails attract locals year-round to this 1950s era, regentrified roadside hotel. With a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant chef and comfortable guestrooms decorated in color-popping mid-century modern décor, you just might decide to stay.
Day 2: Hike the Foothills, Test-run Rapids at the Whitewater Park and Explore Downtown
Wake up and walk for your coffee. On Saturdays hike into Boise’s Foothills to meet Richard the Mule, Boise’s trail roaming coffee house. Check out Richard’s Café Mule website and Instagram page to find out where he’s moseying next packing cold brew coffee and homemade, healthy a.m. snacks. For immediate morning joe there’s downtown’s artisan Guru Donuts and Form & Function Café serving fresh-baked scones and avocado toasts.
Mornings are the best time to hike and mountain bike the scenic Boise Foothills. Boiseans love Camel’s Back Park trails meandering up the hill for tree-filled valley views. Maps and daily trail conditions can be found at The Ridge to Rivers Trails website.
Back downtown, stop into the beautiful Idaho State Capitol Building to gaze up from the marble-ensconced rotunda into the 208-foot tall dome. Stroll surrounding streets past historic Western-style buildings, the exotic 1927 Egyptian Theatre and new glass towers. Smoke & Thyme mobile kitchen’s ever-changing, Idaho-inspired menu and artisan ice creamery STIL are required stops, as are shops Idaho Made and Mixed Greens for local artists’ jewelry, ceramics and clothing.
Now it’s time to chill in the Boise River at awesome Boise Whitewater Park. Rent kayaks and surfboards on-site to ride rapids and swells formed by natural river flow and wave-shaping technology. Adjacent Quinn’s Pond provides 22 acres of calm flatwater for SUPs and kayaks. Constructed of Crayola-colored shipping containers, Yard Arm Brewery beach bar and taco food truck add to the seasonal river park’s funky vibe.
Relaxed and ready to dine in high-style, return to Inn at 500 Capitol for a splurge-worthy dinner in sleek Richard’s Restaurant. James Beard Award-nominated chef Richard Langston, one of Idaho’s leading gourmet restaurateurs, artistically presents contemporary Italian cuisine with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. The extensive global wine list features Idaho wines. Guests can order Richard’s dishes for room service delivery to dine by their blazing in-room fireplaces or on their outdoor terraces as the setting sun bathes Boise in liquid gold.
*Editorial note: The Idaho State Museum, which is currently in a temporary location, is slated to reopen its facility at Julia Davis Park the summer of 2018.
Photos courtesy of Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau, Payette Brewing Company and Inn at 500 Capitol