Boise, Idaho, tucked between mountains in the appropriately named Treasure Valley, is a hidden gem within the Gem State. Its food scene rivals Portland’s Instagram-worthy spreads, and its proximity to the mountains provides endless skiing and hiking opportunities. A craft brewing resurgence has brought dozens of local breweries and cider houses to Boise’s forefront, adding to the existing local wine scene. Ultimately, though, our need to escape Portland’s gloomy spring weather was what brought us to the City of Trees. My friend, Justine, grew up in Boise, so with her as our tour guide, we loaded up the Subaru with our friend Amy, and set out on our weekend trip. After an easy six-hour drive, we crossed into the picturesque view of downtown Boise, set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The sun was shining, the air felt clean and dry, and I was immediately happy with our chosen destination.
We made our way directly to the heart of the city, where Justine insisted the best food was hiding in the local Basque Market. Outside of Spain, Boise has the largest population of Basque people per capita, and that’s best shown within proximity of the market on the Basque Block. Across the street from the Basque History Museum, the Basque Market is a cozy space lined with shelves of groceries, and the huge variety of pintxos (Basque tapas) kept us full and happy. After we’d eaten our fill, we headed to our hotel, complete with a few bottles of Basque wine that never made it to their intended recipients back in Portland.
The Grove Hotel, a short walk from the Basque Block, would be our home for the next two nights. It’s surrounded by a variety of lively bars and restaurants, which was perfect for us. Its restaurant, Trillium, kept us going throughout our trip with decadent, homemade breakfast in the morning, and my life was changed by their smoked trout poutine! After we settled in, we headed out to explore downtown’s bar scene.
Walking around the city without getting rained on was a luxury we’d forgotten in Portland, and we took full advantage of it, meandering around downtown until a bar caught our eye. Press and Pony doesn’t look like much at first glance, but if you push through the heavy drapes covering the doors and windows, you’ll instantly be transported into a 1920s speakeasy. We could tell this was a popular spot among locals since it was so crowded, but despite the groups of people milling about, the bartender still took the time to walk us through the menu. They’d designed unique and delicious cocktails, and that care was evident once we took our first sips. Amy stuck with the classic Old Fashioned, and Justine and I both enjoyed an Açai Dude, made with gin and fresh berries. Impressed by the classic Boise hospitality and the drinks, we went on our way with promise to return.
Our next stop was a self-pour taproom, Brü. A beer lover’s dream come true, Brü gave us the option to help ourselves to a huge variety of beer using a prepaid card. We got to try countless local brews, which is an experience still unmatched by anything we’ve seen in Portland. The vibe was casual and friendly, not at all pretentious, and we had a great time catching up and meeting a few of Justine’s friends from high school who had recently moved back to Boise. I could see why they had.
The next morning, we got a late start and, after a quick breakfast at Goldy’s, we went out in search of a second round of coffee. Amy had heard about a local shop that was internationally sourced and non-profit, so we decided to see if it lived up to the hype. The District did not disappoint—its walls of windows created an inviting space where Boise’s locals chatted, plugged in and listened to some mellow live music. Spring in Boise is Treefort Music Festival season, and the excitement is tangible as local artists prepare to welcome visitors into Boise’s music scene. According to one of the baristas, most of downtown is taken over by Treefort—an outdoor stage takes up one of the main roads and all downtown venues are booked for four days. While we only got to talk with her about it for a moment before our coffee was ready, we were already looking into coming back for the week of the festival.
As we enjoyed the view from the shop’s windows, we downloaded Boise’s Greenbike app and rented some bikes. Boise has been named one of America’s most bike friendly cities, and that was obvious to us as we cruised through the streets towards the Greenbelt. A scenic bike and pedestrian path along the Boise River, the Greenbelt is simultaneously a beautiful and efficient way to travel along the Boise River and through the heart of the city. We saw a sign for Quinn’s Pond, and as we biked past it, accidentally stumbled upon Boise’s Whitewater Park. Only a few brave souls were out that day, practicing surfing and kayaking on an artificial wave. The temperature outside was a perfect 70 degrees, but the water was practically freezing! We watched for a few minutes before turning around and heading back downtown—passing the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and Boise State University on our way. We stopped for lunch at Madre, a small restaurant with giant, handcrafted tacos. We ate quickly since we wanted to fit as much in as possible before we left the next day, and were on our way to our next destination—the Idaho State Museum.
Justine wanted to see this museum in particular because it had been closed for years and just opened again after significant changes. As a result, the exhibits were brand new and stunning—we watched Native American origin stories in their own languages, immersed ourselves in Idaho’s “Big Burn” forest fire progression and took VR bike tours of different Idaho cities. All of the exhibits are super interactive; we were entertained for hours by the beautiful depictions of Idaho scenery and the lively presentations of the state’s history. When five o’clock came around, we left the museum and went back to The Grove for a quick break, before mobilizing for our last night out.
As we searched for a perfect dinner spot, we ended up walking through a huge, collaborative public art installation called Freak Alley. An entire alley had been transformed into a unique gallery for Boise artists, and it was a showstopper. Right across the street was St. Lawrence Gridiron, which drew us in with the delicious smells coming from its meat smoker out front. We enjoyed the modern take on comfort food, with smoked brisket mac and cheese, enormous pulled pork sandwiches, and bourbon bread pudding. When we were too full for our own good, we continued our local beer tour at Barbarian Brewing, a bar with more than 100 options for us to choose from. There couldn’t have been a better way for us to close out our night. As I tried some of the best sour beers I’d ever had, we sampled a flight of local IPAs and enjoyed the casual environment.
Our trip to Boise was over too soon, but we knew we’d be back. We left with some delicious local beer from Hops and Bottles, and planned to check out Telaya Wine Co. in June, when we visit for the Boise X Games. Or maybe we’d have to wait until Goathead Fest in August. Or The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic in September. We had so many reasons to return. Boise was the perfect place for a long weekend away, and the three of us couldn’t wait for next time.