Boise Like a Local: Boise’s Hidden (and Not So Hidden) Gems
Posted by Lisa Kohl on Friday, November 6th, 2020 at 12:10pm
A guide to the places and activities that make Boise one-of-a-kind
When you think about what makes Boise unique, what springs to mind? Every Boisean has a beloved checklist of unique, only-found-in-Boise things that they treasure. Call them the greats or call them the classics, we’re talking about the places and activities that you’re eager to introduce out-of-town visitors to, or that convinced newcomers to make Boise their new home – the things that speak to the heart of Boise and give our city its soul.
In the interest of celebrating these classics – and maybe reminding you of a few you haven’t hit in awhile – we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. In order to narrow down our list (it turns out we have a lot of favorites!), we set a few criteria: they had to have a Boise address; they have to have been in business at least 10 years; and they have to be utterly, uniquely Boise (in other words, no franchises or experiences you can find in another city).
You won’t find these classic experiences on national lists written by people who’ve never even been here. This is real, unfiltered, classic Boise, as compiled by long-time locals. How does our list of classics compare to yours?
Sip a latte at Flying M Coffeehouse
If Boise had a public living room, it would be Flying M. This coffee shop goes out of its way to make everyone feel welcome and at home. The pastries are fresh and feature vegan and gluten-free options, their nitro cold-brew coffee and mochas are insanely popular, and they often have local art for sale adorning the walls.
Get your morning fix at Goldy's Breakfast Bistro
Since its inception, Goldy’s has been the go-to place for people to take out-of-town guests to impress them – and it never fails. For picky eaters, Goldy’s “create your own breakfast combo” is fine dining diner food, while its frittatas and hollandaise specialties are such popular classics that the menu has hardly changed in over 20 years.
Toast your carnivore with a burger and a pint (or two) at Bittercreek Alehouse
According to everyone with taste buds, Bittercreek has the best burgers in Boise, and while their fries are to die for, their poutine is worth killing for. But that’s not the only reason locals love it. Bittercreek has been subscribing to the “eat local” farm-to-table movement since before it was a movement. The alehouse takes pride in partnering and showcasing local farms in the Treasure Valley, and their tap list is also subtly genius – each carefully selected microbrew is arranged in order of the brewery’s distance from 8th Street. For many Boiseans, a classic date night includes grabbing dinner at Bittercreek and then hitting downtown’s First Thursday circuit to peruse local art (and maybe work off a few of those fries).
Nosh on pintxos at The Basque Market
There are few summer rituals that beat meeting a friend for happy hour pintxos at The Basque Market. It feels both European and Boisean to sit outside with small plates piled with Basque meatballs, croquetas, chilled pil pil shrimp and cheese, and maybe a traditional Kalimotxo (chilled red wine and Coke). If you plan your date for a Wednesday, it’s easy to then wander one short block over to The Grove’s summer Alive After Five concert series for a beer, some tunes and great people watching – another Boise classic that’s been going strong for 34 years.
Grab a "Boston" milkshake at Fanci Freez
What’s better than a milkshake? A Boston milkshake – in other words, a shake topped with a sundae! Generations of Boiseans have been raised on this treat, which isn’t complete with an extra large order of gems on the side.
Chow down on an ice cream potato at Westside Drive In
Everything about Westside appeals to classic ‘50s drive-up nostalgia, and the fast food overall is terrific, thanks to Chef Lou Aaron (especially the prime rib dinners, which are an unusual but very popular weekly special). But nothing embodies Idaho pride – or originality – quite like the russet sculpt of that ice cream, its cocoa-powder “skin,” and “butter” and “sour cream” toppings. This ingenious dessert looks good enough for the silver screen and tastes like a dream.
Get your heart pumping with a hike to Table Rock
The 3.7-mile hike to the sandstone plateau known as Table Rock is steep, but that’s not enough to diminish its popularity. The payoff – incredible views of the Treasure Valley, all the way to the Owyhee Mountains – is worth the sweat. If you’re observant, from the trail you can spot dug-out areas where inmates of the Old Idaho Penitentiary once quarried sandstone. In fact, it’s fun to double up a hike with a family tour of the Old Pen, which is whispered to be one of the most haunted places in Idaho.
Unleash your inner Bronco on the Blue turf
The Boise State Broncos are beloved – there’s nothing quite like tailgating in the parking lot on a crisp autumn day with family and friends, and then screaming your head off as our once-scrappy team battles for a chance at another championship on their iconic Blue Turf. During the off season, it’s fun to visit the Blue Turf at the Allen Noble Hall of Fame, just outside of Albertsons Stadium.
Catch a show at the Egyptian Theater
Boise isn’t the only city with an Egyptian Theater – the style was incredibly popular in the 20s – but no theater in the northwest takes your breath away like our Egyptian Theater. With a backdrop of ornate gilded detailing and incredible acoustics, the historic space makes every movie feel like a cultural experience worth savoring.
Get your cultural fix at The Flicks
It's obvious why The Flicks has been an anchor for the city’s cultural and arts scene for more than 30 years: it’s the only place in town where locals can un-ironically don their favorite beret and gather to watch foreign flicks, underground arthouse creations, and other independent movies – all while enjoying a glass of wine, brie, and a decadent chocolate chip cookie.
Buy vinyl at the Record Exchange
A visit to Idaho's largest independent music store not only makes you feel like you’re recapturing your “cool,” it’s a great place to get lost in rows of unfamiliar artists and find the next best soundtrack to your life.
Make picture-perfect memories at the Boise Depot
There’s a reason nearly every local has their senior photo taken at the Boise Depot: the historic, Spanish-style train depot is picture perfect, as are the depot’s views of downtown. But nerdy teens don’t have a monopoly on Boise’s best views, and there’s never a bad time to remind yourself of how breathtakingly beautiful Boise is.
Hit the pavement on the Boise Greenbelt
The beauty of the 25-mile Greenbelt is that it offers something for everyone: you can rollerblade past million-dollar homes on it, train for your first marathon, teach your kids to ride their first bikes, or even fish in relative solitude. Nearly everyone has fond memories forged on the Greenbelt, and they’re all unique.
Catch a set at the Neurolux
Many Boiseans remember watching their first – or favorite – live show at the Neurolux, which used to be the only small music venue in town. It’s dim interior, deep and slouchy booths, and cheap drinks haven’t changed over the years, but it’s reputation as a concert powerhouse has grown. Now the Neurolux is one of the anchor stages of Treefort, Boise’s annual music festival – which means thousands of people annually create great musical memories within its walls.
Discover your new favorite piece of public art in Freak Alley
A work of artistic genius transformed a drab downtown Boise alley into a public place locals and tourists alike flock to. While Freak Alley still functions as an alley, the colorful, diverse artworks have turned commercial buildings dotted with dumpsters into a funky outdoor gallery and source of pride for many locals. And despite being around for almost two decades, there’s always something new to discover in this alley-turned-artwalk, as each year artists are commissioned to create fresh murals on its walls.
Watch the balloons take flight at the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic
There’s something awe inspiring about watching more than 40 hot air balloons of all shapes take off and float gently above our beloved city. A cherished family tradition for many locals remains gathering together in Ann Morrison Park to watch the annual Nite Glow Spectacular.
Get into the act at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival
Many kids – and adults – will roll their eyes at reading a Shakespeare play, but take them to the Shakespeare Festival and you’ll see their eyes widen in wonder as they sit in the summer grass, totally engrossed in these century-old stories. (For staunch Shakespeare-phobics, the festival always throws in a mystery or family musical.) Summer truly isn’t summer without the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Splash on the patchouli oil at the Hyde Park Street Fair
Launched by Boise’s first neighborhood association, the Hyde Park Street Fair was the kind of hippie art, crafts and music celebration that you would expect from the 70's. Not much has changed since then – you can still find hula-hoopers, tie-dye merchants, great street food, drum circles, beer gardens, gangs of children and artisanal crafts handmade with love. It’s no wonder this is many people’s favorite fair of the year.
Put some “wow” in winter at Winter Garden Aglow
The Idaho Botanical Garden is stunning in summer, sure, but it's winter look has become the real show stopper. Each year, the garden is swathed in more than a half-million lights, turning its 15 acres into a true winter wonderland that thousands of people eagerly visit, year after year.
Lisa is a top Idaho Realtor and creator of WeKnowBoise.com. From Southeast Boise to the North End, up to Eagle and west to Meridian, or right in the middle of the Boise Bench and downtown - We Know Boise. Whether buying or selling a home, we provide full-service real estate solutions dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals.
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