Driving the American West: To Boise, At Last

The Idaho State Capitol Building in downtown Boise

Several years back, I read an article in National Geographic Traveler on the merits of relocating to Boise, Idaho, and remarked aloud to myself:

“Wow, that sounds like a great little city.” 

Having finally visited it for myself this past March, I can confirm that yes, Boise is a great little city — and a cool big town. Residents are focused on preserving local architecture and conserving their environment, nurturing a thriving arts community, and supporting their homegrown food and beverage scene. 

It’s got all the makings of a lovely weekend away.

One of the North End’s fine Victorian mansions

After dragging myself  across the largely beige expanse of Southern Idaho (best known for Twin Falls, the Thousand Springs Scenic Byway, and slowly boring drivers to death), I approached Boise via the I-84 on a damp and chilly weekday — tired, gray and suffering from the mother of all sinus infections. I was instantly cheered by the snow-capped foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the Victorian mansions of the North End, and a sidewalk-based forest of maples, elms, sycamores and more. Turns out Boise is often referred to, quite aptly, as “The City of Trees.” 

It didn’t take me long to find the Boise Guest House, where I was welcomed with a smile from proprietor Eve-Marie Bergren, a ceramic artist who has adorned her renovated Craftsman bed & breakfast with her own work and that of other local artists. The six suites here feature kitchens and different themes, each decorated like an Anthropologie homewares showroom.

An easy walk from downtown, this sweet and funky little place provided me with convenient and quiet refuge, free parking, a shower with kick-ass water pressure, and a door-delivered breakfast from Le Café De Paris (which, if you’re inclined to venture out in the a.m., is nearby and all kinds of adorable).

The lovely Boise Guest House, with a peek inside the Story Suite

I arrived  at the Guest House before my room was ready, so I took off for a wander. Boise’s downtown is a wonderland of Art Deco and Greek Revival architecture, all arranged around easily walkable streets with short blocks. One of these, the Basque Block, is a collection of businesses (and a small museum) which celebrate Boise’s Basque community, one of the largest found outside of northern Spain. Who knew?

Images from Boise’s historic downtown

Here’s what I loved the most in my meanderings about Boise’s downtown:

Gawking at the Idaho State Capitol Building. (In a light misting of rain, no less.) Turns out it’s the only capitol building in the U.S. heated by geothermal water.

Poking around the Basque Market on the Basque Block. It’s like wine and tapas heaven in there, and they make paella on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Reveling in the hipster/academic/artist scene at the friendly Flying M Coffee House, which makes a great croissant sandwich and an even better cappuccino.

Sipping a fancy/spicy tequila cocktail in the Modern Lounge at the Modern Hotel, all of which are…modern. It’s a good-looking crowd in here, largely composed of locals.

Strolling along the Boise River Greenbelt. It runs 22 miles alongside the Boise River, but a portion of its paved delight runs right past downtown. There are ducks and trees aplenty, and people of all ages wearing micro-fleece. 

Contemplating a plethora of shiny purchases at Boise Art Glass. Boise is home to a small passel of accomplished glass artists, and just about all of them display their work here. 

Learning about wines from Idaho’s Snake River Valley at the Boise Co-op Wine Shop. My favorite tipple? A rich cab from Fraser Vineyard.

Munching a sublime sweet-potato-and-black-bean burger at the dim and cozy Bittercreek Alehousetapping my toes to Billy Bragg’s “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward.” (Gotta say, I don’t often hear a Socialist anthem in a brewpub. Thanks, Boise.)

The Bittercreek Alehouse in downtown Boise

And here’s what I’d like to do when I go back to Boise — because oh yeah, I’m going back:

Delight in the Idaho Botanical Garden. From mid-May to mid-June, their many varieties of peonies are in bloom. 

Soak up some visual culture at the Boise Art Museum, which owns some of the country’s finest works of American Realism.

Gape at elk and bald eagles in Barber Park. If it’s warm enough, I’ll take off from here on an inner-tube float on the Boise River.

See an indie band or comedian perform at The Egyptian Theatre, a 1927 Art Deco landmark in the heart o’ downtown.

Visit Cinder Wines (where the winemaker is named Melanie) in nearby Sandpoint, ID. 

Wind my way up to Table Rock for a sweeping view of the city.


My stay at the Boise Guest House was inspired by its proprietor
reaching out to me on Twitter and kindly offering me a discount on my stay.
Happily, it’s just the kind of place I seek out when I’m on the road,
and my assessment of it is heartfelt and unfettered by favoritism.

When I someday return to Boise, I look forward to staying here again.


Ever been to Boise?

What did you love doing while you were there? Please share!






  1. Never been to Boise before but it sounds like a great place. I’m from a town that is our state’s capital and similar to Boise, the capital building’s unique architecture with the large dome at the top is always cool to see!

Speak Your Mind