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Boise, Idaho, is distinguished by more than 100 public parks, including Ann Morrison Park along the scenic Boise River. Photo: Boise CVB

Wanderings: Boise, Idaho

Blending tradition, nature and the arts, this capitol city charms with its small-town feel and urban amenities

Written by Carrie Scozzaro  
February | March 2017


Boise used to be an outpost on the Oregon Trail, but today Idaho’s capitol is a destination unto itself, consistently snagging headlines for economic growth, innovation, quality of life and the arts.

Named by French explorers in the early 19th century — boisé translates from French to “the woods” — Boise is sited between national forests to the north and east and the Owyhee Mountains to the south.

The history of this 150-year-old commerce hub adds to its charm. Founded by the military in 1863 to protect travelers, emigrants and gold-seeking miners, Boise became the state capitol in 1864. 

The city is a panoply of architectural styles. Lining its roads are examples of Romanesque, Spanish Mission and French Chateau architecture. Many of these early buildings now serve as retail, dining and office spaces. Visit the C.W. Moore Park to see architectural elements saved from buildings demolished during urban renewal efforts in the 1970s. There you can find the remains of an 1882 waterwheel, cast-iron storefront columns and locally quarried sandstone blocks.

Although Forbes listed Boise as the 17th fastest-growing city in the U.S. in 2016, it nonetheless maintains a small-town feel. Blessedly few skyscrapers enable views of surrounding mountains, and Boise is one of four Idaho “Tree Cities,” a national designation achieved by planting and caring for trees. With a high-desert climate with moderate winters and warm, dry summers, outdoor recreation is a mainstay. Visitors and residents alike enjoy floating the Boise River, skiing at Bogus Basin, hiking, biking, golfing and more. 

More than 205,000 people call Boise home, as does Boise State University, a zoo, several museums and more than 100 parks, including the Greenbelt, a 25-mile trail that follows the river through the heart of the city. There are also more than 100 arts, cultural and historical organizations. Take, for example, the Basque Block, located downtown and home to the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. In addition, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival performs the Bard’s works at a spectacular amphitheater each May through September.

As Boise has grown, so has its art presence. In 1937, arts supporters collaborated with the city to form the Boise Art Museum (BAM), located in Julia Davis Park within minutes of the university and downtown. A blend of Egyptian Revival, Art Deco and Neoclassical architecture, BAM is home to 2,350 permanent artworks, with more than a quarter by Northwestern artists. Its juried Triennial runs February 18 through July 16. And this summer, the exhibit When Modern was Contemporary will feature 52 works by the 20th-century’s most influential artists including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and many others.

Public artworks are also seemingly everywhere in Boise: at the airport, in libraries, on buildings, even on utility boxes. At the Grove Hotel, walk through Amy Westover’s Grove Street Illuminated and Boise Canal or gaze at Alison Sky’s shimmering River Sculpture, which climbs the hotel’s wall. Across from the 90-year-old Egyptian Theatre is City Hall, where Mark Baltes’ three-dimensional Penny Postcard resides. While there, you can also arrange a tour with the Department of Arts & History, which manages the city’s 573-piece collection — worth more than $4 million and the largest in Idaho.

Boise galleries run the gamut; Swell Artist Collective is a membership-based artist collective, while Stewart Gallery showcases contemporary art by appointment, including Wesley Anderegg’s ceramics and Karen Woods’ realist paintings. Located downtown, LaBry Fine Art is a popular destination during First Thursday, when many Boise businesses also hold wine tastings and musical events throughout the year. The collaborative Gallery 518, home to two-dozen artists, is run by artist-couple Jerri and Mark Lisk, while Ming Studios showcases mostly international artists in residence.

Visitors to Boise also have several art-centric lodging options. The Modern Hotel, formerly a Travelodge, was redesigned into an eclectic local favorite, with mid-century modern décor, artwork by local artists and independent films offered in the guest rooms. The Modern’s farm-to-table restaurant is run by James Beard-nominee Nate Whitley. The recently completed Inn at 500 Capitol features the contemporary Italian cuisine of James Beard semi-finalist Richard Langston, as well as local artwork by enamelist Delia Dante and glass artist Filip Vogelpohl, who share Fire Fusion Studio and Boise Art Glass. And the Boise Guest House offers three locations that combine the charm of boutique lodging with artwork by such locals as Karen Bubb and Rachel Teannalach. 

To enjoy the culinary arts, start your day exploring downtown Boise with a cuppa joe at Flying M, a hip little coffeehouse with monthly art exhibitions, or seek out Guru Donuts for scratch-made donuts using local and organic ingredients. Stop by Bar Gernika in the Basque Block for traditional tortilla de patatas. Or, located in the 8th Street dining district, Juniper offers seasonally inspired cuisine. Overlooking Parkcenter pond, dinner at Barbacoa is a feast for the senses, from artist Delia Dante’s massive Medusa figures in the bar, to the whimsical décor combining jewel tones with rustic wood and iron accents, to the Latin-inspired menu ranging from Yucatan-style swordfish to Argentinian kabobs and steak with chimichurri.

Wherever your Boise travels take you, expect to experience a charming locale that blends historic tradition with contemporary amenities — all against a backdrop of natural splendor.


IF YOU GO...


EVENTS & ATTRACTIONS

Basque Museum & Cultural Center

611 Grove St; 208.343.2671 | basquemuseum.com

Boise Art Museum

670 S. Julia Davis Dr; 208.345.8330 | boiseartmuseum.org

Boise City Department of Arts & History

150 Capitol Blvd; 208.608.7050 | boiseartsandhistory.org

C.W. Moore Park

150 S. 5th St; 208.608.7644 | parks.cityofboise.org

Egyptian Theatre

700 W. Main St; 208.387.1273 | egyptiantheatre.net

Greenbelt

150 N. Capitol Blvd; 208.384.4422 | parks.cityofboise.org

Idaho Shakespeare Festival

5657 E. Warm Springs Ave; 208.336.9221 | idahoshakespeare.org

LODGING

Boise Guest House (three locations)

614 N. 5th St; 208.761.6798 | boiseguesthouse.com

Grove Hotel

245 S. Capitol Blvd; 208.333.8000 | grovehotelboise.com

Inn at 500 Capitol

500 S. Capitol Blvd; 208.227.0500 | innat500.com

Modern Hotel

1314 W. Grove St; 208. 424.8244 | themodernhotel.com

GALLERIES

Fire Fusion Studios/Boise Art Glass

1124 W. Front St; 208.345.1825 | firefusion-studio.com; boiseartglass.com

Gallery 518

518 S. Americana Blvd; 208.342.3773 | www.galleryfive18.com

LaBry Fine Art Gallery

404 S. 8th St. Ste. 166; 208.985.6337 | labryfineart.com

Ming Studios

420 S. 6th St; 208.972.9028 | mingstudios.org

Stewart Gallery

2230 W. Main St; 208.433.0593 | stewartgallery.com

Swell Artist Collective

404 S. 8th St, L105 | swellboise.com

DINING

Bar Gernika

202 S. Capitol Blvd; 208.344.2175 | bargernika.com

Barbacoa

276 Bobwhite Ct; 208.338.5000 | barbacoa-boise.com

Flying M

500 W. Idaho St; 208.345.4320 | flyingmcoffee.com

Guru Donuts

928 W. Main St; 208.571.7792 | gurudonuts.com

Juniper

211 N. 8th St; 208.342.1142 | juniperon8th.com

Map: Daphne Gilliam

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival brings the Bard to life against a dramatic mountain backdrop. Photo: Andrew Moore

An artist from Fire Fusion Studio, Delia Dante’s "Me Deuce" welcomes diners to Barbacoa Grill.

A sidewalk tile on the Basque Block commemorates a century of Basque families.

Downtown Boise and its historic capitol building at night.

Amy Westover’s "Grove Street Illuminated and Boise Canal" includes historical photographs and newspaper clippings detailing Boise’s rich history. Photos: Boise CVB

Stephanie Wilde’s "Daphne II," created with ink, acrylic and gold leaf.

Stewart Gallery showcases contemporary art, including owner Stephanie Wilde’s "Paramnesia" exhibition shown here.

Find chef Richard Langston’s award-winning food at Boise’s newest hotel, Inn at 500 Capitol.

The 75-year-old Boise Art Museum is a centerpiece of Boise’s thriving arts and culture scene. Photo: Boise CVB

Boise’s Egyptian Theatre exemplifies the city’s unusual architecture.

The 8th Street district is a culinary hotspot in Boise. Photo: Boise CVB

Boise’s public works collection is the largest in Idaho, including "Penny Postcard: A Hometown Greeting" by Mark Baltes. Photo: Courtesy of the Boise City Department of Arts & History

Alison Sky’s "River Sculpture" celebrates the importance of water in Boise’s history. Photos: Courtesy of the Boise City Department of Arts and History

Alison Sky’s "River Sculpture" celebrates the importance of water in Boise’s history. Photos: Courtesy of the Boise City Department of Arts and History

Boise Train Depot. Photo: Charles Knowles