Lively and Thriving, Boise Idaho Draws Foodies and Outdoor Enthusiasts

A growing tech industry attracting young professionals is turning Idaho’s state capital into something of a Portland on the Prairie. The city has transformed miles of riverbank into a dreamy park dubbed the Greenbelt and converted the river itself into a surfing and kayaking oasis. Boise also boasts a sophisticated restaurant scene, its chefs capitalizing on their proximity to prolific farms and ranches.

The Boise River serves as a playground for many water sports enthusiasts. Photo by Carson Elison

From the Inn at 500 Capitol downtown, it’s easy to walk to the city’s best restaurants and attractions. Opened in early 2017, the hotel has a boutique charm enhanced by the use of light woods accented with colorful textiles ($195 and up). At one corner of the building is The Flicks, a movie theater that shows art and foreign films.

John Berryhill got the idea to season a favorite American comfort food—bacon—with chile‑sugar, one of five flavor varieties (don’t miss the Kurobuta spiced with thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavender) that draw large crowds to the all-day brunch at his airy bistro, Bacon. The namesake meat is incorporated into everything from lasagna to paninis, the coffee is from the local Dawson Taylor Roasting Co., and all manner of alcoholic libations are served at the busy bar.

Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey is about a 20-minute drive from Boise. Admission includes live raptor presentations that will wow children, plus access to the more adult-oriented art and ephemera in the falconry archives. Exhibits chronicle threats to hawks and owls around the globe and the Peregrine Fund’s breeding operations, including the critically endangered California condor. A surprising fact: Dozens of Idaho-bred condors are released yearly near Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

Payette Brewing Co. is one of many outstanding breweries in Boise. Photo by Ampersand Studios

Six types of potato are cut into one of five ways (shoestring to curly) at the Boise Fry Co., which celebrates the Idaho staple and offers top-notch local grass-fed beef burgers. The space is also home to Waffle Me Up, where gourmet waffles, made with sugar pearls that give the pastries a crunch, are served in sweet or savory variations.

If the stone walls at the Old Idaho Penitentiary could speak, they’d tell the hard-time stories of the thousands of inmates who lived and died here. Next door sits the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, whose old-style exhibits have their own charm and where you’ll learn about the differences between lode and placer mining and how various minerals are used.

Idaho River Sports is adjacent to the Boise River, the Boise Whitewater Park, and Esther and Quinn’s Pond, which variously offer kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoe trips, rafting, and surfing. Rentals for most activities run about $20 per hour, including surfboards for days when part of the river is manipulated into generating fast-breaking waves.

Like its Oregon counterpart, Boise is devoted to craft beers, and some of the standout producers include Payette Brewing Co., along the Greenbelt, and Boise Brewing, a community-owned operation whose prices are hard to beat: $8 for a flight of six tastings, $10 if the Meriwether cider is in the mix. The Snake River Valley outside Boise is also home to a number of wineries whose wares can be tasted at stops along the city’s urban trail of more than 50 brewpubs, wine bars, and distilleries.

Brunch is served all day at Bacon. Photo by Tana Rudd

Charming paper coasters with anime-like art list the prix-fixe menu each night at State & Lemp, where James Beard Award-nominated chef Kris Komori works magic with local ingredients, in dishes such as beef zabuton with pumpkin, delicata squash, maitake mushrooms, and bourbon. Reservations are a must for the weekend nights’ two seatings at communal tables. For such a rarefied experience, expect a surprising absence of pretense.

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