First thing that pops into your head when you think of Idaho – potatoes? Put the Idaho stereotypes aside and envision an urban, diverse, and hip city. That’s Boise. This cool city has suddenly gotten hot with loads of folks flocking to the capitol of spuds central.
Boise has been on my list to visit so I made it the first night of a Pacific Northwest road trip was in Boise, Idaho. After a 12-hour drive from Denver, my friend Adeina and I rolled into Inn at 500 Capitol. Gotta admit – I wasn’t expecting to find something so modern, artsy, and well, this elegant in Boise. It was a great introduction to a city where old meets new and government city meets college town.
As we checked in, we were offered a complimentary local beer or glass of wine. After a long day of driving, that was an unexpected welcome treat!
After manning the wheel for 12-ish hours from Denver to Boise, I was road weary as I pulled into the Inn at 500 in Boise. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to find such a swanky boutique hotel in Boise with a lobby that blends high polished art of blown glass lights decorating the ceiling with earthy accents like a tree trunk coffee table. A gregarious college student named Dakota met us as we pulled into the boutique hotel. As we checked in, we were offered a glass of local wine or beer. Wait – Idaho has wine??? As I was quickly finding out, there’s a lot more than just potatoes in Idaho. After settling into our room including sleek furnishings, Italian linens, and a spacious bathroom with double vanity, we headed down stairs to meet a friend of mine living in Boise for happy hour at Richard’s Restaurant, curated by James Beard nominated chef Richard Langston. Another surprise – Boise has a bustling culinary scene starting with this Italian-inspired cuisine. After perusing the crafted cocktails, I went with the Grass-Stained Knees cocktail made with Highwater Vodka, Cocchi Americano, cucumber and lemon. We nibbled on Yukon Gold chips sprinkled with truffle salt as we gabbed. After slurping down the summer inspired cocktail, I wanted to try a wine from the Snake River Valley in Idaho. Cinder Dry Viognier, with its peach and citrus aromas and notes, meshed wonderfully with the richness of the Seared Sea Scallops with mashed sweet potatoes kicked up a notch with a spicy cilantro pesto. It was a love affair pairing of wine and sea.
Wanting to explore Boise with the little time we had in the city, Adeina and I moseyed over to City Center Plaza. The fountain was lit up with colors and folks were everywhere. I had no clue Boise was such a bustling town. After people watching and exploring The Grove Plaza area for a bit, we decided to pop into Lucky Fins for a sushi roll. The Mango Tango roll with shrimp and crab gets a sweetness from mango and heat from touch of habanero masago.
The next morning, I got up early and took off walking in BoDo, aka Boise Downtown. First stop was at the capitol building. With it’s dome rising 208 feet into the Boise skyline, it’s pretty had to miss the Idaho State Capitol. On the grounds I found a wonderful statue of the “Hospitality of the New Perce.” It depicts the first encounter of tribal chief Twisted Hair with Meriweather Lewis and William Clark in 1805. At their feet is Twisted Hair’s young son Lawyer enthralled with trade trinkets, fish, and camas root. I also enjoyed the flowers on the grounds of the capitol.
As I wandered around admiring the architecture of the buildings I stumbled upon the Basque Block. Boise has the largest Basque district in the United States. As I read a couple of historical markers, I was wishing the museum was open so I could learn more about Boise’s Basque Community now numbering about 16,000. In the 1800s sheepherders from the Basque region surrounding the Bay of Biscay of southwest France and northern Spain moved into Idaho and Oregon.
Getting a hankering for coffee, Adeina met me at Slow by Slow. I did a little quick research that morning and found it to be a local’s favorite place to grab a cup of Joe. Slow by Slow is in a historic building. With its exposed brick, wood furniture and black and white tile floor, it was a perfect place to slow down for a moment to sip an almond milk latte and devour a moist and yummy gluten free pumpkin streusel muffin.
Wanting to walk off breakfast we headed over the Boise Farmers Market. Wandering through the stalls, I picked up some herbs beautifully wrapped in recycled brown paper at Provisions Farm and Feed and handcrafted gourmet hummus at SEVZ Kitchen to take to my friends we were staying with in Bend, Oregon, next.
Boise actually has two markets in the downtown area on Saturday. So we headed over to the Capitol City Public Market to check out some of the artisan finds there. I was quickly drawn into Classic Lines Pottery because of the French butter dishes and grater plates. Stick kicking myself for not buying one! The plethora of unique signs drew me into Rusty Junquers next. I always game to sample stuff at local markets and Anew Foods got me with their toasted muesli. It’s so good I bought three small bags to take home. Last stop was Good Vibe Kombucha. With the sun blazing I was ready for a cool treat and their strawberry basil kombucha refreshingly hit the spot as it was time to hit the road.
Boise sits in the heart of Treasure Valley. If it’s not on your travel radar, it should be. What I found on my first short visit is a gem of a city blending an outdoor lifestyle with vibrant government and university communities along with an influx of hip cafes, excellent restaurants, cool coffeehouses, and an abundance of friendly folks.
I found the city to be loaded with families, outdoor lovers, college students, and well-dressed Friday night out goers. What I didn’t see – rugged, plaid flannel shirt wearing potato farmers. Guess I’ll go on the hunt for studs…I mean spuds….the next visit!