The Treefort Music Festival returns to Boise March 21-25, 2018. (Courtesy of @treefortfest)

Modern Guide to Boise: The hip Northwest destination is giving Portland a run for its money

By

Oakland is often dubbed "the Brooklyn of the Bay Area" by national press and Portland has a TV show dedicated to its quirkiness, but an unexpected Northwest destination is giving its West Coast neighbors a run for their suspenders and expertly coiffed mustaches.

With an abundance of microbreweries, affordable craft cocktails, and farm-to-fork dining (not to mention a growing population of young folks fleeing the high-priced rents in San Francisco and Seattle), Boise, Idaho—also called the City of Trees—is poised to take away Portland's crown as the city with the highest hipster-to-third-wave-coffee-shop ratio.


And with the annual Treefort Music Festival—Idaho's iteration of SXSW that often attracts traveling musicians alighting from Austin—set to hit town March 21–25, there's never been a better time to book a trip to Boise. You'll quickly realize that this state capital is no small fry when it comes to cool cities worthy of an extended stay.

Boise's Most Stylish Stays

Take a rundown Travelodge, revamp it with new architecture and midcentury modern decor, throw in a top-notch restaurant and bar, and add fun touches like free beach cruisers and an in-room channel streaming film festival favorites, and you have Boise's The Modern Hotel & Bar (1314 W. Grove St.). Thirty-nine rooms come outfitted with vintage photos, tufted headboards and chairs, and walk-in rain showers; in the summer, the outdoor fire pits play host to monthly "campfire stories." Year-round, head to the bar for The Mad Prophet cocktail (bourbon tinged with macadamia essence, Scotch, and chocolate bitters), or grab a seasonal dinner that can include everything from Merguez sausage and curds to tender beet gnocchi prepped by the hotel's James Beard–nominated chef. The same owners recently opened extended-stay apartment-style suites a block north of the hotel, and also plan to debut Txikiteo—a Basque-inspired restaurant featuring tapas, wine, and coffee—this month.

As the first AAA Four Diamond–rated hotel in Boise, The Grove Hotel (245 S. Capitol Blvd.) mixes a heavy dose of luxury into the boutique-style property, conveniently attached to CenturyLink Arena in the heart of downtown. Craving a little old-school swank? Head to the bar to enjoy live piano music from plush sofas near the fire, or order a steak sourced from an Idaho ranch at on-site restaurant Emilio's. Ready to relax? Retreat to the rooms, which often overlook the neighboring Basque block or capitol building and feature the work of local art nouveau artist Ward Hooper, who created Idaho-themed works highlighting the area's landmarks that punctuate the guest rooms, elevators, and lobby.

Boise's Best Eats

Boise's Best Restaurants

Boise isn't just a steak and potatoes town, and this is especially apparent at State and Lemp (2870 W. State St.), Boise's hottest reservation, with only one 25-person seating for the eclectic prix-fixe dinner. The evening begins with a sparkling wine greeting and chance to mingle and eye local art, followed by a multi-course dinner than can include anything from a yellow curry and coconut laksa to a huckleberry- and spirulina-spiked flank steak, prepared and plated with artistic flair alongside generous pours of paired wine. If you want the experience without shelling out the entire $110, book a reservation for the weekly 9pm Saturday supper club, when both meal and wine pairings ring in at $70 and the atmosphere is a little more raucous. // Not to be outdone, Juniper (211 N. Eighth St.) combines an inviting brick-walled atmosphere with seasonal dishes like pork belly fries and Idaho trout, but ups the ante with craft cocktails that use house-made mixers. If you're really looking to splurge, reserve the chef's table for a five-course menu personally prepared and presented by the chef. // Boise has one of the biggest Basque populations outside of Spain, and you can sample a little of this culture at The Basque Market (608 W. Grove St.), which does a gigantic paella on the patio Wednesdays and Fridays at noon, offering up a plate for $9. If your visit doesn't coincide with the paella party, pick up a few pintxos like croquetas, chorizo, and assorted sandwiches, and pay by the toothpick. Don't miss the slushy sangria with a red-wine float. // Bacon (121 N. Ninth St.) doesn't mess around with its namesake meat, offering up all-day brunch with dishes such as bacon lasagna, bacon burgers, and bacon shots—a sampler of the restaurant's five bacon varieties—to pair with a bacon bloody Mary. If you're still craving bacon once you get back to your hotel, order a delivery from the downtown "bacon bike." // You know a restaurant is serious about its fries when the burgers are an afterthought, and Boise Fry Company (204 N. Capitol Blvd.) makes its priorities clear with the slogan "burgers on the side." Choose from seven different fry options (plus Brussels sprouts) made with Idaho potatoes in five different "cuts" (think shoestring or curly) to dunk in the house-made seasonings and dipping sauces, and pair it with a grass-fed bison burger and glass of local wine. // Expect to wait for brunch at longtime neighborhood standby Goldy's (108 S. Capitol Blvd.), and for good reason: You'll find no-fuss but perfectly executed staples such as chicken-fried steak, eggs Benedict, and pancakes in a historic building adjacent to City Hall. // Make sure to order the asparagus fries to start your meal and the butter cake to end it at Fork (199 N. 8th St.), where other seasonal dishes like tomato-basil fondue, daily street tacos, and local ale–braised short ribs are bolstered by ingredients sourced from Boise and Northwest farmers and producers as part of owners Cameron and Amanda Lumsden's "loyal to local" pledge. The restaurant also does a bustling brunch on weekends, including a build-your-own bloody Mary bar. // The Lumsdens also run Alavita (807 W. Idaho St.), a chandelier-lit Italian joint known for freshly made pastas highlighting hyperlocal seasonal ingredients and a from-scratch approach. This local-first ethos extends to the design, with touches by a local artist. // Relative newcomer to the Boise dining scene Camel's Crossing (1304 W. Alturas St.) is a funky little place in Boise's Hyde Park with both inventive small plates (think beef heart tartare and five-spice pork belly) and heartier fare that might include a porcini wagyu or halibut (in addition to a five-course prix fixe option). All dishes are designed to pair with wine from a list that celebrates sustainable, organic, and female-owned wineries. // Opened in the fall of 2017, The Wylder (501 W. Broad St.) is also fresh on the dining scene, with unexpected pizza combinations and craft cocktails. If your visit falls on a Tuesday, head in for $30 pizza and a bottle of wine—we suggest the Honey Badger, which features spicy honey and Italian sausage. // Daytime destination Wild Root Café and Market (276 N. Eighth St.) serves as a haven for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone looking to incorporate high-quality superfoods into their diet. Try the indian "nachos" flatbread or the egg-topped avocado toast: They're the kind of dishes you'd find in the Bay Area but for decidedly Boisean prices.

Coffee and Sweet Treats

You won't suffer for a caffeine boost in Boise, where coffee shops flourish and beans reign supreme. Just pick your poison: At Slow by Slow Coffee (405 S. Eighth St.), espresso can be sipped straight or punched up in offbeat drinks like the spiced honey and pistachio latte, or in mochas boosted by house-made syrups such as the old fashioned or grapefruit and spruce. // The District Coffee House (219 N. 10th St.) satiates any sweet tooth with Nutella or cardamom lattes; Mexican mochas; or an Irish tea version of the London Fog called the Dublin Fog—all made with freshly roasted beans. Even better? The coffeeshop is nonprofit, created to support an orphanage network in India. // Two-story coffeeshop Form & Function (511 W. Broad St.) pulls a mean espresso, and favorites include the pour-overs, cappuccinos, and anything crafted with the house-made cashew milk. Look for the hip coffee cart at the Boise farmers market. // Longtime Boise standby Java (223 N. Sixth St.) has been keeping the city caffeinated for more than two decades, and is probably best known for its "bowl of soulful," a specialty mocha. If you're in need of a bigger boost, go for the Keith Richards, with four shots of espresso in a mocha. // Need something to go with all that coffee? Swing by Guru Donuts (928 W. Main St. #100), where the made-from-scratch donuts feature flavors ranging from classic (a four-hour yeasted maple bar, an old fashioned cake donut) to creative (the must-order "hipsterberry," the lucky charmer made with marshmallow cereal and topped with a rainbow belt). Vegans will find a handful of options, and you can score buy one, get one free donuts during the daily donut happy hour from 3–4pm. // As if ice cream couldn't get any sweeter, ice cream shop The STIL (786 W. Broad St.) makes good on its acronym for "The Sweetest Things in Life" by pairing your choice of four scoops with a flight of local wine or beer. Or get the booze in the ice cream with 21+ flavors like the Purple Rain (raspberry cabernet sorbet) or honey bourbon.

Where to Drink in Boise

Cocktails and Wine

While you'll find plenty to nosh on at Red Feather Lounge (246 N. Eighth St.), the hip hangout really shines through its cocktail list, which features lesser-utilized spirits such as chartreuse and punt e mes and fun twists like hibiscus rosehip syrup, smoked cinnamon, and truffle garnishes. If you can, time your visit for the "low power happy hour" every weekday from 3 to 5:30pm, when Red Feather turns down the lights to reduce its energy footprint and you drink $3 local beer and $5 local wine by candlelight. // You'll also find the lights dimmed for the same deal next door at Bittercreek Ale House (246 N. Eighth St.), run by the same owners and with similar swanky decor but more focused on craft beer. // Sharing owners with Boise Fry Co. means you can get your fry fix at tiny mixology haven Press & Pony (622 W. Idaho St.), and vice versa. Go right when Press & Pony opens for the best chance at grabbing one of the coveted seats without a wait, and sip a precisely made classic cocktail (two for one during all-day Monday happy hour or Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 7pm) or a drink from the monthly-changing menu, which often makes good use of the house-made mixers, tinctures, and tonics. // The Gas Lantern Drinking Company (701 Fulton) opened in October of 2017, and the old-school vibe extends to the newspaper-style menu. Get the signature Smoke and Thyme cocktail—made with actual oak smoke—or an apple spice-dusted Manzana al Día. Or you can let the bartenders know what you like and they'll deftly whip something up. // The downtown tasting room Coiled Wine Bar (813 W. Bannock St.) makes sampling the nearby Garden City–produced vino even easier: Look for the dry reisling and petite verdot. // There's no better place to experience the breadth of Idaho wine than at Bodovino (404 S. Eighth St.), a downtown Boise bar where you can try 144 wines by the glass—serve yourself using fancy dispensers that track your pours.

Beer

You can't go wrong with any of the 30-plus craft breweries in Boise, but the simplest way to sip the City of Trees' suds is by exploring downtown's beer destinations. Barbarian Brewing (5270 Chinden Blvd., Garden City) specializes in barrel-aged and sour beers, and its 23-draft downtown taproom (1022 W. Main St.) highlights the husband-and-wife-run brewery's Old World–style varieties matured in wine, whiskey, and bourbon barrels. // Over at Woodland Empire Ale Craft (1114 W. Front St.), sip a pint of Electric Warrior stout or City of Trees IPA, hit the flippers of one of the pinball machines, and order food next door to enjoy while you imbibe. If you can find a bottle from the brewery's Foothills Experimental Series, grab it: The rare brews often involve collaborations with local chefs. // Community-supported brewing is the idea behind Boise Brewing (521 W. Broad St.), where people can by a "share" of the brewery and get fresh beer monthly. But if you're just visiting, that community feel extends to its downtown brewing and tasting space, where bartenders are happy to give recommendations for other nearby hoppy haunts while you sip a Hip Check IPA or popular Snowboarder Porter. // A little further off the beaten path nearer the river, Payette Brewing Company (733 S. Pioneer St.) combines production facility and taproom so you can take a free tour of the working brewery before grabbing a taster of pours from the 20 taps and befriending some other beer fiends at one of the communal tables. When the weather cooperates, you'll find a food truck out front, and the tap room is all-ages and dog-friendly year-round. // Serious hop-heads may not get their expected IPA fix at most of the local breweries—West Coast IPAs differ from their Northwest counterparts—but PreFunk Beer Bar (1100 W. Front St.) highlights both local brews as well as stellar imports (including West Coast or hazy/New England–style IPAs) from surrounding states. You can also pre-order beer online, and they'll have it ready for in-store pickup. // While not strictly Boise-bred, two taprooms from nearby breweries are worth a visit. Bend-based brewery 10 Barrel Brewing (830 W. Bannock St.) serves up supremely affordable 10-taster flights for a mere $10 at its Boise outpost alongside a menu of pub grub such as a peanut butter bacon burger and fried cheeseballs. See if your visit times with special events such as a monthly charity night or Bloody Mary weekends, when the brewery whips up five small-batch varieties that you can also taste in a mini flight. At the Boise location of Montana brewery White Dog Brewing (705 W. Fulton St.), a dinosaur figurine–dotted bar keeps things chill, and each beer's label is inspired by "a real badass human and dog." Beer flights are pay by the taster; and don't sleep on the food from a local truck, with beer-soaking favorites such as poutine.

Inside Boise's Music, Arts and Nightlife Scenes


Boise Arts and Culture

The five-day annual Treefort Music Fest (Mar. 21-25, 2018; various locations) descends on Boise each spring, often coinciding with the end of SXSW to capitalize on the touring musicians fleeing Austin. This year, the genre-spanning lineup includes George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Andrew W.K., Cults, and Zola Jesus, to name a few of the 460 bands playing in nine forts across the city. In addition to the music lineup, the festival doubles down on the "fort" theme with Alefort (highlighting local breweries and cideries), Foodfort (seasonal bites for $3-6, in addition to talks, cooking demos, and a "meat up"), Strengthfort (showing off odd feats of strength), and Skatefort (a live music and skateboarding celebration at the local skate park). // Boise's equivalent to Clarion Alley, the free and open to the public Freak Alley (210 N. 9th St.) originated in 2002, when artist Colby Akers was asked to sign his work on an alley access door, and has since become the largest outdoor gallery in the northwest. Street artists continue to showcase their mural skills on buildings all tagged with permission of local business owners, and the ever-changing artwork includes favorite such as the "Life is Beautiful" skulls that feature on many a Boise Instagram account. // If fine art is more your jam, Boise Art Museum (670 Julia Davis Dr.) often spotlights individual artists in exhibitions—current on-view artists include Davis Fletcher, Jo Hamilton, and Heather Carson—and hosts weekly events such as a 30-minute Art Break tour and Ask a Docent opportunities. The weekend after Labor Day, BAM also holds Art in the Park, an open-air festival showcasing more than 200 artists alongside live entertainment, food and drink, and family-friendly activities. // You won't mind ending up in jail at Boise's Old Idaho Penitentiary (2445 Old Penitentiary Rd.), a functional prison from 1872 to 1973 that you can now visit and tour. Look for fun events such as monthly paranormal investigations using ghost-hunting equipment and the yearly Gingerfest that celebrates all things redhead. // Get your indie film fix at The Flicks (646 W. Fulton St.), a four-screen movie theater that's been operating in downtown Boise since 1984. You can grab food and wine or microbrews from the on-site cafe before your film, or plan for a night in at your hotel or Airbnb by renting a movie from The Flicks' DVD and VHS rental section for less than $3. // Ready for laughs? Head to downtown Boise comedy club Liquid Lounge (405 S. 8th St.), which welcomes traveling comedians ranging from Jay Mohr to Hannibal Burress, but also hosts karaoke and open mic nights, as well as touring bands. // Knitting Factory, Boise (416 S. 9th St.) is the de facto destination to see big-name bands as they come through town, and the on-site restaurant sates your pub-grub needs with nachos, mozzarella sticks, pizza, and other alcohol-friendly fare. // Trendy Neurolux (111 N. 11th St.) is good for an anytime visit for a bloody Mary in the red-hued interior, but best for its almost nightly live indie music so you can discover new bands and tell all of your friends you knew about them before they were cool. Come early for happy hour, which extends from noon until 8pm, when you can score a pitcher of PBR for $7.

Where to Play Outside in Boise

Outdoor Activities in Boise

The relatively small size of the city makes Boise the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the outdoors. Warm up with a hike on the nearly four-mile round-trip Table Rock Trail (2421 E. Old Penitentiary), a popular route 10 minutes from downtown. Best explored in spring or fall to avoid the harsh summer sun or winter snowfall, the well-trafficked route affords a view of the valley from its leveled peak, which features a glowing cross viewable from the southeast side of the city. // Grab a cruiser from your hotel or rent a bike to explore the 25-mile-long bicycle and pedestrian path of the Boise Greenbelt. The tree-lined path links more than 850 acres, and serves as an ideal route for exploring the area's craft breweries and wineries, with plenty of stops for food and drink not far from the trail. If you're up for a challenge, try the city's self-guided 10-mike historic cycling scavenger hunt, complete with clues and a map. During the summer, you'll often spy people on stand-up paddleboards at Boise Whitewater Park. // While you could make the almost three-hour drive to popular Sun Valley Resort, Bogus Basin (2600 N. Bogus Basin Rd.) sits just 45 minutes outside the city, with buses and shuttles connecting the ski and snowboard mountain to downtown Boise. Bogus Basin has 2,600 acres of terrain and 360-degree mountain access for alpine skiing and snowboarding, but there's also plenty of opportunity to play in the powder without strapping into gear. The 800-foot, ground lift–serviced tubing hill is so popular it requires advance reservations, and alpine mountain coaster The Glade Runner lets you control your own speed as you zip through the snow-dusted trees.

DON'T MISS A BAY AREA BEAT! SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER.