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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours with a Boise walking tour! Does the smog and filth of urban life ever get you down? Then Boise just might be the perfect vacation destination for you. After all, “Bois” is French for woods, and Boise’s nickname is the City of Trees. So there’s no shortage of parks and nature to explore.
However, Boise is full of many other surprises for discerning tourists. It’s Idaho’s capital, so you can learn more about the history of the state than any reasonable person would want to know. Do you like contemporary art involving donuts? How about Basque cuisine? What’s that? You say you’ve never had Basque cuisine? Then there’s no time to waste. Follow me!
Boise Walking Tour
Where to Stay?
My most recommended hotel in Boise is the charming boutique Grove Hotel. It has a perfect location in Downtown Boise, within walking distance of almost all major attractions. And I did say this was a perfect Boise walking tour, didn’t I? It has all the amenities you would expect from a mid-range hotel, like a coffee maker in the room and fast free Wifi.
But even better than that, I was in Boise on the 4th of July and their restaurant was open! They were basically the only people in Boise willing to feed me. And the flatbread pizza was way tastier than I had any right to expect Boise pizza to be. Thanks Grove Hotel for not letting me starve!
If you’d like to check out a great deal on The Grove Hotel, just click here. And if it’s out of your price range, but you want to explore great deals on over 100 other hotels in Boise, just click here!
Boise Walking Tour
What to Pack?
The weather in Idaho can be…unpredictable. I don’t recommend visiting Boise in the winter, so I’m not going to suggest you need a winter coat. But you will need an umbrella. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Idaho. I hear that if it’s strong enough, potatoes will come raining from the sky.
If the weather is rainy, which definitely happened during my time in Boise, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
Boise Walking Tour
Morning: Crash Course in Boise History!
Internet Stranger, it’s no secret that I’m a former teacher, and I love learning y’all fun facts about history. It’s my firmest belief that history doesn’t have to be dull and dry memorization of dates and wigs. So to that end, I’ve prepared an entertaining history lesson with the bare minimum you need to be Very Informed about Boise.
Here’s the CliffNotes: Boise is the capital of Idaho. Also it’s home to a large Basque population.
But when we go more in-depth, we’re going to have so much more fun. There will be cocktails! There will be sheep! And damn straight, there will be potatoes! Follow me for…
Three Fun Facts: Boise History
1) Idaho Capitol Building
In some states, the biggest city is not the capital, which can be confusing. For example, my hometown NYC is not the capital of New York State. Instead, for some reason, the trash city of Albany was chosen to be the capital. (I’ve never been to Albany. NYC is just always in a fight with them.)
But Idaho gives you no such problems. Boise is both the biggest city and the capital of the state. So we definitely have to go on a self-guided tour of the capitol building while we’re in Boise on a weekday. (Like most capitol buildings, the Boise capitol is closed on weekends. You can check opening hours on their website here.)
If you want to be in the room where it happens, you can walk through the Idaho Senate and House of Representatives chambers, as long as they aren’t in session. (I’m not exactly sure what happens in here as my education was sadly lacking in Idaho’s legislative achievements.)
I knew people in Idaho were supposed to be friendly, but I never expected them to elect a man named Smylie as their governor three times. Also that Smylie button with his name written where the mouth should be is kind of cute and kind of terrifying.
And just in case you were wondering where the whole Idaho potato thing came from, apparently, it was a marketing campaign the Governor of Idaho came up with during the Depression to boost the economy. And makes sense. Who wouldn’t want an adorable potato on their license plate? There’s a reason Mr. Potato Head has been such a popular toy for decades.
2) What’s this Basque Thing You Keep Talking About?
One of Boise’s claims to fame is that it has been a haven for many Basque immigrants. Basque Country is not actually a recognized nation. It’s a region of Europe in the Pyrenees that stretches across both France and Spain. The Basque language is unique and not related to French and Spanish. In fact, it’s not related to any other language. So definitely check out the Basque signs in Boise.
The best place in Boise to learn about Basque Culture is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. You can’t take pictures inside, but the staff is extremely friendly and eager to tell you all about Basque culture, especially where to get great Basque food in Boise.
The reason that there are so many Basques in Boise is that it is Basque tradition to give the entire family property to the oldest child and nothing to the younger children. This left many younger siblings without property or any way to make a living. So some of them immigrated to Boise where they became successful sheep farmers. Gradually other Basques came to join them and voila! A Basque community was born!
3) What Was That About Food?
Simmer down, Internet Stranger! Have I ever failed to feed you? Before you begin this Boise walking tour, stop at the legendary Goldy’s for some breakfast. You might have to wait for a while, but it’s worth it.
I recommend sampling their Basque-style breakfast specials because it will be hard to find these treats outside of Boise. The Andalusian eggs use yummy Basque chorizo for an exciting kick, but a much nicer kick than you’d get from a sheep.
If you’re pumped for even more Basque food for lunch, stop at Bar Gernika, which is named after a Basque city that was bombed by Hitler. Start with a Basque cocktail made with wine and coke. I think they should call it a Basque Libre, but no one listens to me.
For lunch, chow down on their freshly made chorizo sandwiches with a side of salad. It’s incredibly cheap and satisfying. If you sit at the bar, you can even watch them cook your sandwich, which is a treat.
Boise Walking Tour
Afternoon: Boise Art Museum
We’ve explored Boise’s unique history this morning, so let’s spend the afternoon of our Boise walking tour getting to know the fine arts. Boise’s Art Museum, like many art museums in the western United States, doesn’t have access to Old Masters and Impressionists. So most of the collection is dedicated to contemporary art and a banging sculpture garden.
Because the exhibits change often, I can’t guarantee you’ll see any of the things I saw at the Boise Art Museum. But I can guarantee you…
Three Fun Facts: Boise Art Museum
1) What Can I Expect at the Boise Art Museum?
Well, one thing you can expect is that, with one or two exceptions, you won’t be allowed to take pictures inside. That’s often the case with contemporary art museums because of copyright issues.
But the only artist I was allowed to photograph was Jae Yong Kim’s piece Donut Forget About Me. (Not a joke, that’s actually the name.) This exhibit contains 483 hand-sculpted donuts. Some look like Mickey ears, some look like devils, and some look very delicious but you would break a tooth if you ate them. The docent notes said this piece was a commentary on consumerism but mostly it just made me hungry. Maybe that’s the commentary!
2) What’s the Prettiest Place in the Boise Art Museum?
That’s definitely the sculpture garden out back. I loved the whimsical pieces here like this donkey with a Very Fancy Hat riding a cart. I thought the donkey was supposed to pull the cart, not the other way around. Silly donkey! The sculpture garden is an ideal place to take in Boise’s famous trees and its culture at the same time.
My only criticism is whatever is going on with these fish here. That doesn’t look right at all. Fish do not belong in the grass. Somebody needs to help them!
3) Is All the Art in Boise at the Museum?
Absolutely not! Let’s continue our Boise walking tour back in Downtown Boise where you can see Freak Alley! This street is jam-packed with inventive street art in every style from Japanese animation to famous rock album covers.
According to Freak Alley’s website, some say this is the largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest, but I don’t know if that can be trusted. Some say that I’m the most beautiful lady in all the land, and by some, I mean my mother. “Some people” can say anything. But it is undeniable that Freak Alley is a Must See when you’re doing a Boise walking tour.
Boise Walking Tour
Late Afternoon: The Stil
Two of my favorite things in life are craft beer and ice cream, so imagine my excitement when I learned that you can get a craft beer ice cream pairing at The Stil in Boise! (If you only like one or the other, or you don’t have an elastic stomach like I do, you can just get a scoop of ice cream here.
I suggest asking the staff at The Still to suggest the best beer and ice cream pairings for you, especially if you are not a picky eater. The four ice cream flavors I tried were heart of gold (salted caramel), the afterschool special (peanut butter flavor) Phat Mints (mint chocolate), and Idaho Wilderness (lavender and berry). I hadn’t realized that Idaho was famous for its lavender farms. Idaho: It’s like Provence! I give this tourism slogan to you for free, Idaho.
Pairing ice cream and beer is definitely the way to go because craft beers can be very strong. But if you keep eating ice cream while you drink, it helps you stay sober. That’s just science.
Boise Walking Tour
Evening: Dinner at Alavita
It used to be that you need to go to a major American city if you wanted to dine at a top-notch restaurant. Those days are long gone. Now smaller cities like Boise are excellent places to eat fab food at about half of what you’d pay for a similar restaurant in NYC or SF. And Alavita is one of the most highly recommend restaurants in Boise. If you’re looking for a Bella Notte at an Italian restaurant, make a rezzie here when you’re in Idaho’s capital.
I recommend starting with the fresh burrata cheese and jam. Burrata is like mozzarella, only creamier and more decadent. And berry jam is very Idaho, which is famous for its wild berries, especially the huckleberry.
For a main course, I strongly suggest their fresh pastas. My angel hair pasta came with fresh clams and Calabrian chili. I love Calabrian chili because it adds just enough heat to make a dish exciting without actually causing me pain. It’s like an action sequence in a Mission: Impossible movie.
And I’m impressed with how fresh the clams were, considering Idaho is deeply landlocked. But I wouldn’t want to play into harmful Idaho Stereotypes by suggesting that the good people of Boise subsist only on potatoes.
You might not have room for dessert if you already indulged in the beer and ice cream pairings at The Stil. But I always have room for dessert, my fine Internet Strangers! I recommend the vanilla budino with salted caramel and toffee chocolate pretzel bark.
This dish has everything: sweetness, saltiness, creaminess, crunchiness…and the most important ingredient…chocolaty goodness. It’s a total kitchen sink dessert, and I am here for it. You should be too. Come to Boise and eat your face off! Or face the wrath of this guy…
That’s a Perfect Boise Walking Tour!
What would you do on a perfect Boise Walking Tour? Do you think the Basque Libre will ever catch on? And what is the matter with those fish at the Boise Art Museum? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Boise on a Boise walking tour. If you have another 24 hours in Boise, add this itinerary. And if you want to head to nearby Montana, try this itinerary or this itinerary.