The capital of Idaho is a unique city with a buzzing atmosphere that has everything you can expect to see in a state capital, yet the city somehow managed to preserve its small-town vibe. Boise is home to some very interesting museums, beautiful green parks, a charming downtown area, cute suburbs, impressive gastronomy scene, countless shopping opportunities, and much more. After all, Idaho isn’t called “the Gem State” for nothing. It’s a state filled with charming rivers, rolling meadows, a lot of natural beauties, and its capital in midst of everything. In this article, we’ll cover some of the best fun things to do in Boise from a local’s perspective.
Take a Stroll Around Hyde Park
There’s a good reason why Hyde Park is a part of the National Historic Register. Here, you can find some of the oldest buildings in Idaho preserved in their original form and one of the oldest retail areas in this part of the US. Best of all, the area is pedestrian-friendly or if you don’t feel like walking, you can rent a bicycle. Moreover, Hyde Park also has a lot of surrounding park and green areas, making it the perfect place for a relaxing evening stroll
Downtown Boise is the capital’s main business district but also one of the most important historic neighborhoods. In Downtown, you’ll find Albertson Stadium, home of the Broncos, the farmers market, the oldest building in Boise, and many other attractions that we’ll showcase in more detail below. Additionally, this is the most happening part of the city with a lot of different events taking place every day. If you want to check which events are scheduled during your trip, you can check out the official website of Downtown Boise.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a nice tour in the neighborhood, check out this history + food tour of Downtown.
6th and Main
6th and Main is arguably the liveliest intersection in Downtown. Here, you can find everything from small cafes, restaurants, and shops, to cowboy bars and night clubs. This area is a living proof that Boise knows how to party.
Freak Alley is a part of downtown that’s devoted to street art, murals, and graffiti. In the past, this alley was one of the sketchiest parts of Downtown but fortunately, the local authorities decided to turn it into the largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest. More than 200 artists have contributed to the creation of Freak Alley and the street is continuously infused with some fresh murals and graffiti and new artists are invited to showcase their paintings next to or over the existing murals.
Even though technically it’s a part of Downtown Boise, Basque Block deserves a special mention. In case you didn’t know, the city of Boise is home to a large Basque population. In fact, there are only two other countries where you can find more Basque people than Boise; Spain and Argentina. The Basque Block is a great place to visit if your list of things to do in Boise features experiencing different cultures.
In this block, you’ll find a lot of beautiful, preserved Basque buildings, restaurants serving delicious traditional food, and street markets with some amazing street food that’s an inevitable part of Basque culture. While you’re around, you should also visit…
No trip to the Basque Block is complete without visiting the Boise’s Basque Museum. Even though not very old (dating back to 1985) the museum is a great place to learn about Basque culture and heritage. The museum showcases the life of the Basque community that settled in Boise and features a lot of old manuscripts, tapes, records, and photographs and it even has its own library.
And speaking of museums, if you’re looking for some fun things to do in Boise, you should definitely visit…
Idaho State Museum
Opened in 1881, the Idaho State Museum is one of the oldest museums in the entire state. If you want to learn about the history of Boise and Idaho, this is the right place to start. The museum is home to an impressive number of historic and cultural resources, collections, and artifacts that showcase the best and worst of Boise’s history.
If you ever visit Boise, a walk through this museum’s interactive exhibits that share the stories of the Boise, Idaho, and its people is a must. But if you love museums, the fan doesn’t end here. Boise has a lot of interesting museums, such as…
Idaho Black History Museum
Boise Art Museum
If you take a trip to the old St. Paul Baptist Church, you’ll discover Idaho’s Black History Museum. This interesting museum houses numerous exhibits, films, educational workshops, etc. The main goal of the museum is to decrease the gap between cultures and present Idaho’s diversity. This alone is a reason to visit if you ask me.
If you’re a fan of art, a trip to the Art Museum is one of the best things to do in Boise. Formerly known as the Boise Gallery of Art, this museum was opened in 1938 and today, stretches across 35,000 square feet. The museum has a lot of new exhibitions every month and features a myriad of different artistic styles, cultures, and eras. In other words, this museum has something in store for everyone. The admission fee is $6, $3 for students, and free for children and senior citizens.
Idaho Anna Frank Human Rights Memorial
This small park on South 8th Street near the Boise River Greenbelt is devoted to “Anne Frank and her faith in humanity”. The park features a small Anne Frank statue, a 180-feet-tall Quote Wall inscribed with famous quotes, the Bethine and Frank Church Writing Table, a sapling from the original Anne Frank chestnut tree, and a charming small pond where you can have a picnic.
Fun fact: this is actually the only Anne Frank memorial in the United States.
This list of things to do in Boise wouldn’t be complete without one of the city’s most iconic buildings; The Capitol Building. Today, this 100-years-old building is home to the government of Idaho but it’s still open for visitors. The building has an interesting collection of manuscripts and artifacts on display and oftentimes, there are some temporary exhibits.
Some of the most interesting exhibits feature the glided statue of George Washington and the exhibit dedicated to the historic trees that surrounded the area before the building was built. Some of these trees were planted by some very important people including three former presidents; William Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Benjamin Harrison.
Old Idaho Penitentiary
For 101 years, this 1872 building housed some of Idaho’s most notorious criminals. The prison was closed in 1973 because of its outdated conditions. Today, the building is in relatively good condition and is even listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. If you like touring prisons and learning about some of the notorious inmates who stayed in the Old Idaho Penitentiary, you’ll love this place.
Tip: If you choose to visit, watch the short educational video on the prison’s history. If you have a weak stomach, note that some of the graphics about the inmates’ crimes might be too ‘vivid’ for your taste.
St. John’s Cathedral
St John’s Cathedral is one of the most interesting and important cathedrals in Boise. Built in 1876, St. John’s is the oldest surviving church in Boise and the seat of the Diocese of Boise. The cathedral is famous for its apse and impressive glass stained windows decorated with beautiful frescoes.
Located in the heart of Downtown, the Egyptian Theatre is Boise’s premier historical theatre. The theater has been around since 1927 when the first theater play ever in Boise (Don Juan) took place here. Throughout the years, the building was known as “The Fox”, and “The ADA”, but in the 1970s, it got its original name back and in 1999, the building was freshly restored.
Today, the venue has a warm and cozy restored interior with fascinating Egyptian architectural décor. It still houses a lot of theater plays, operas, and concerts and is open for visitors.
The famous Albertson Stadium is home to college football powerhouse Boise State Bronco. The stadium has a capacity of 36,000 people and is famous for its blue turf. The stadium is open for visitors when the college football season isn’t on. You can even take a tour and walk the Bronco Hall of Fame walk.
If you’re looking for some fun things to do in Boise with kids, the Discovery Center of Idaho is a great, interactive way to learn about technology, engineering, and science. The center is home to over 200 exhibits with the most interesting ones being the Turbulent Orb, the Centripetal Wheel, and the Bubble Wall. Additionally, the discovery center has temporary rotating exhibitions and classes for children during school breaks.
Idaho Botanical Garden
This garden was initially a farm and a nursery that was a part of the old penitentiary. However, after the penitentiary was closed, this area remained vacant until 1984 when it was turned into a large botanical garden. Today the garden stretches across 50 acres and features attractions such as the Cactus Garden, The Alpine Garden, The English Garden, and The Winter Garden.
In addition to this, you can also participate in one of the garden’s many workshops and classes, such as “The Nature Detective” or “Garden on the Road” or even see musical shows. It’s one of the best things to do in Boise with kids.
Capital City Public Market
If you’re staying in an Airbnb or other accommodation where you can cook, a visit to the Capital City Public Market is inevitable. Here, you can find some fresh local produce and different food items, but also a lot of charming local artisan shops. The market has more than 150 vendors in total and occupies roughly four city blocks in Downtown. If you would like to visit, note that the market is open only on Saturdays.
Boise Farmers Market
And if you need to buy vegetables any other day except Saturday, don’t worry; Boise still has the local farmers market. Here, you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, different types of local cheese, wine, bakeries, and much more.
If you read some other list of things to do in Boise, you probably heard about Fork. Well, let me tell you, the hype is real. This farm-to-table American upscale restaurant is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in Boise. It’s housed in an old building on 8th Street and it’s famous for sourcing all ingredients from Northwestern farmers, breweries, wineries, and distilleries. They have a variety of simple dishes, such as burgers and tacos but also some real gourmand delicacies, including Italian, Moroccan, and other Mediterranean-style dishes.
When telling people about some of the fine wines I tried in Boise, most of them are surprised to learn that Idaho even has wineries, and not yet a wine country. Even though people don’t usually associate Idaho with wine, this state has the perfect conditions for grapes growing. Idaho has chilly nights and relatively hot days that can help balance out sugars in grapes, something that’s very important in winemaking.
Boise River Greenbelt
We might have covered the best things to do in Boise in terms of historic and cultural landmarks but trust me, we still didn’t even scratch the surface. First of all, no trip to Boise is complete without checking out the River Greenbelt. The greenbelt stretches for more than 25 miles along the Boise River and it’s one of the best places in Boise for outdoor enthusiasts, joggers, and cyclists. The best part about the greenbelt is that it’s technically a part of Downtown.
This 25-miles-long trail also features two of the city’s biggest parks; Kathryn Albertson Park and Julia Davis Park. One of the newest attractions at the river greenbelt is the Scavenger Hunt. I tried it with my friends and I warmly recommend it. If you’re looking for some group/family/teambuilding fun, this is a great choice.
Kathryn Albertson Park
Kathryn Albertson is a charming park filled with cute gazebos, footbaths, and wildlife including salamanders, beavers, rabbits, frogs, and a lot of birds. In fact, this park is one of the best birdwatching spots in town, so if this is your thing, this park is one of the best things to do in Boise. If you’re in Boise during spring, you should definitely visit; the beautiful vibrant colors will sweep you away.
Julia Davis Park
Julia Davis Park is the first in the “String of Pearls”, a reference to the city’s parks sitting along the river. A few of the museums we mentioned above, like the Black History Museum and the Boise Art Museum are technically a part of this park created by Thomas Jefferson Davis in memory of his wife, Julia.
Camel’s Back Park
Camel’s Back Park might not be as big as the previous two parks mentioned above but it’s home to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Boise. Located at the edge of the famous Boise foothills, from here you can get an amazing view of the city’s skyline. In addition to this, the park is connected to the Ridge to Rivers trail system, making it a great starting point for exploring some of the city’s best trails. But more about this below.
Ridge to Rivers
The Ridge to Rivers is an interconnected system of trails and paths that lead from the river through the foothills. The ridge covers close to 200 miles of paths that are perfect for jogging, walking, and cycling. If you’re a nature enthusiast and like clicking pictures in the outdoors, it doesn’t get much better than this. In this area, you can see anything from grasslands to creeks, streams, and foothills and if you really like getting off the beaten track, you can even proceed to the Boise National Forest.
I’ve visited a lot of cities around the world but Boise is one of the cities with the best and most accessible trails through which you can get from downtown to the middle of nowhere in a matter of minutes.
World Center for Birds of Prey
The Peregrine Fund was created in the 1970s to help restore the Peregrine Falcon from the brink of extinction. The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise was built some 14 years later and is today the center’s headquarters. Today, the center sits on a hilltop above Boise and features some very interesting exhibitions and live demonstrations. If you’re a bird lover and like learning about things related to nature, you should definitely check it out.
Morrison Knudsen Nature Center
Another place in Boise that nature lovers will enjoy is the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center. This nature center is basically an interpretive trail where you can learn about nature and Idaho wildlife through a series of interactive, engaging activities, such as horns, pelts, and even animal tracks.
Hulls Gulch Reserve
Named after the charming creek at the foothills near Downtown, the Hulls Gulch Reserve is another beautiful place where nature lovers can come to seek peace away from the city’s busy streets. The reserve consists of two trails known as the Lower Hulls Gulch and The Grove. In total, it covers roughly 150 miles of trails perfect for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders. And speaking of trekking…
See the sunrise at Table Rock
If you don’t mind waking up early in the morning, I strongly recommend you to hike to Table Rock for sunrise. Or if that’s out of the question, at least for sunset. Table rock is only 4 miles away from the city, the trail is relatively easy and offers an amazing view of the city. For some reason, it’s a lot less popular and less crowded than the viewpoint at Camel Back Park but that just makes this place even more appealing if you ask me!
Rafting & Kayaking
If you like whitewater rafting and kayaking, you should definitely check out Cascade Raft & Kayak located on the Payette River approximately 45 minutes away from Boise. Last time I visited Boise, I checked it out and went through more than 20 whitewater rapids. It was the highlight of my trip and the most exciting thing I experienced in Boise!
If this sounds interesting, you can book your tour here.
Bogus Basin Mountain
If you need a great idea for a day trip from Boise, look no more. The Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area boasts some of the best ski and snowboard slopes in the region during winters, and some of the best hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re a seasoned ski enthusiast, Bogus Basin also offers cross-country skiing and 23 miles of Nordic trails.
However, even if you’re not into skiing, don’t worry; the area has a lot of warm-weather activities, such as an alpine coaster, wall climbing, tubing, and scenic chair lift.
Another great idea for a day trip from Boise is visiting Shoshone Falls. The falls are located on the Snake River in Twin Falls, roughly two hours driving away from Boise. Shoshone Falls are 212 feet high and spa across 1,000 feet in width. You think that sounds impressive? Wait until you see them! The two-hour journey is more than worth it.
A large part of Boise’s underground surface is covered in geothermal pools that heat up most of Downtown. And if you know anything about geothermal springs, you know what this means; there are a lot of natural hot springs surrounding Boise where you can go to relax and cure anything that ails you. If you like the outdoors, you can combine this with a camping trip and have an unforgettable trip to one of Idaho’s forests.
The nearest hot springs to Boise are The Springs Resort and the Roy Stone Hot Springs (both roughly 45-50 minutes away from the city) and Little Anderson Hot Spring and The Hotspring Campground (roughly 1.5 hours away from the city).
Boise Treefort Music Fest
What started off as a local celebration of music, art, and technology quickly turned into one oof the most renowned music festivals in Idaho. Today, in addition to popular local music stars, the festival also features a Storyfort (poetry evenings), Kidfort (a lot of interesting activities for kids), Hackfort (related to all things tech), and Yogafort (for people who want to practice yoga). If you’re visiting in September, this is one of the best things to do in Boise.
Idaho Shakespeare Festival
The Shakespeare Festival is the most popular summer festival in Boise. This festival is famous for the thrilling feeling of an open, outdoor theater it offers to visitors. Most of the time, the festival program features newer plays, but you can also catch some cult classics, such as Hamlet, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.
The festival is on from the end of May until the end of September. If you want to attend, you can check out the festival program here.
So, grab a picnic basket, a blanket, and of course bug spray, and enjoy the show!
Where to stay in Boise?
The best place to stay in Boise is probably its downtown area. It’s close to most of the above-mentioned attractions and it’s the liveliest part of town. If you’re looking for a more peaceful place surrounded by greenery, consider staying at North End. Finally, if you’re looking for an even more quiet area near the river, consider one of the many Southeast accommodations.
Budget accommodation options
If you want to stay near the airport, the best budget option is probably the Rodeway Inn. If you want to stay close to downtown, the Budget Inn Boise is a decent option when it comes to money-saving but don’t expect too much from the facilities. But if you add around $10 more, you can stay in the Red Lion. In my opinion, this is the best budget hotel in Boise and I warmly recommend it.
Mid-range accommodation options
The local Holiday Inn is always a safe choice when it comes to mid-range accommodation options. A couple of more great mid-range accommodation options are the Springhill Suites by Marriot if you’re looking for something classic and The Bown Retreat if you’re looking for modern and chic accommodation with a fresh interior.
High-end accommodation options
Finally, if you’re looking for some luxury, seriously consider Inn at 500 or the Hampton Inn. These are two of the most famous Boise luxury hotels and both are located in the heart of Downtown close to all of the main tourist attractions in Boise. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something luxurious but peaceful and secluded consider The Riverside Hotel with a beautiful view of the Boise riverside.
Did you like this list of things to do in Boise? Did you ever visit this city? Is it on your bucket list? If you visited, what are some of your favorite things to do in Boise? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re looking for some more interesting things to do in the Pacific West and Northwest, check out some of our other articles.
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