Where to Live in Boise – Comparing the Cities and Suburbs
Posted by Lisa Kohl on Wednesday, August 19th, 2020 at 11:11am
For decades, Boise and the surrounding suburbs were the Northwest's best-kept secret, however, with the area's population growth projected to hit one million residents by 2040, it's clear the secret is out. Whether you crave expansive desert solitude, big-city bustle, tranquil farmlands, sleepy suburbs, or rolling foothills, there's a home in Boise, or a nearby suburb, waiting for you.
The Boise metro area, also known as the Treasure Valley, includes small towns and big cities. Each offers unique strengths and vastly different housing options (and prices). Whether you're relocating from another state or considering a local move, the biggest question on your plate is likely, "where is the best place to live in the Boise area for me?"
You're in luck. Below, we break down the Boise area cities and suburbs and describe the strengths of each.
Median sales price: $475,000
Median household income: $63,778
Average commute: 19 min
As the capital of Idaho and third-largest city in the Northwest, Boise is the state’s cultural, intellectual, and commercial hub. Here you’ll find the widest variety of housing, from historic homes, including picturesque Victorian stunners and classic estates, to sleek new construction. Homes generally cost about the same in Boise as the surrounding areas.
But while home prices are among the fastest-growing in the nation, the cost of living is still lower than many other mid-sized cities.
The most coveted neighborhoods in the city are located closer to the Boise River and the Boise Foothills – particularly if they’re between the two. That said, all neighborhoods have very distinct identities, in large part because of their active neighborhood associations. These associations work closely with city officials to highlight their strengths and advocate for neighborhood needs (new parks, well-marked bike lanes and street crossings are popular requests).
The city is a welcoming blend of youthful hipness, innovation, and friendly atmosphere colloquially called “Boise nice.” College students from across the Northwest flock to Boise State University because of its affordability and location near the heart of downtown.
Young and mid-career professionals are attracted to big opportunities at successful international companies like Hewlett Packard, Micron Technology, and J.R. Simplot. Many professionals also relocate here to launch a new tech startup, craft brewery, or other new venture, thanks to the city’s relative inexpensiveness and business-friendly culture.
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As far as entertainment goes, Boise has it all: a beloved college football team (go Broncos!), an outdoor Idaho Shakespeare Festival for warm summer months, a minor-league hockey team (go Steelheads!) for cold winter months, in addition to the traditional cultural anchors you’d expect to find in a city, from ballet and opera companies, to art museums and the philharmonic.
Recreationists love that the city is hugged by the Boise Foothills, offering nearly 200 miles of trails for bikers, hikers, runners, and horseback riders to explore. A little higher in elevation gets you into the Boise National Forest and nearby Bogus Basin Ski resort – all within a 45-minute drive from town.
Median sales price: $455,000
Median household income: $50,185
Average commute: 21 min
If you aren’t local, you could easily overlook this up-and-coming pocket town that takes up about 4 square miles along the south bank of the Boise River. That’s because Garden City is completely enveloped by the city of Boise.
Once named for its beautiful Chinese Gardens, Garden City is undergoing a cultural renaissance. Many small business owners – especially wineries and craft breweries – have opened up shop along the town’s main road, Chinden Boulevard. The city's Live-Work-Create district, located next to the Boise River, is attracting hip young artists and other “makers.”
Most of the city’s new construction is happening within blocks of the Boise River and Greenbelt. Buyers will find thoughtfully designed, but low-maintenance floor plans with smaller footprints. For instance, one-third of Garden City home sales in the last few years have been townhouses.
Median sales price: $525,000
Median household income: $76,403
Average commute: 22 min
If you are looking for a classic suburban lifestyle, look no further. Located roughly 12 miles from Boise, Meridian is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, perhaps because it was ranked one of the top 10 places to live in Idaho and the country in 2019.
While the city does have a small downtown business core, its growth in the Treasure Valley has been characterized by clusters of neighborhoods pocketed among commercial plazas. In fact, this explosive growth and the overall age of its housing has led it to be described as one of the “newest” cities in the U.S., according to realtor.com.
In Meridian, more than 76 percent of residents own their own homes, which makes Meridianites very invested in their neighborhoods and the greater community. These are people who don’t just buy a house, they plant roots and grow their families.
Speaking of which, many residents were drawn to Meridian because of its superior school district, which is the largest in the state and routinely ranks in the top 10 in Idaho. In recent years, this popularity has created some overcrowding.
Entertainment in Meridian skews towards family-friendly options, like miniature golfing at Wahooz Family Fun Zone, splashing around at Roaring Springs Waterpark, or visiting Linder Farms, a fall tradition for many families. (Where else can you pick your own pumpkin and complete a corn maze?) People also enjoy walking the open-air plazas of The Village, an outdoor shopping mall, or spending an evening at the Meridian Speedway racetrack.
And thanks to its short commute to Boise, residents can enjoy all of the cultural and entertainment options of the capital city without too much hassle. For many, Meridian truly offers the best of suburban and urban lifestyles.
Median sales price: $869,000
Median household income: $91,414
Average commute: 23 min
Perhaps one of Boise’s oldest bedroom communities, the city of Eagle, Idaho has a quaint, storybook downtown surrounded by farmland and picturesque subdivisions. Here, you’ll find the largest homes in the Treasure Valley – with prices to match.
While the city has experienced a lot of new growth in the last few years, it still retains its “old town” allure. Just walking through the cozy downtown makes you feel like Eagle is a place where you know everyone’s name. The neighborhoods also retain this intimate character.
The town’s slow pace and cozy small-town vibe are offset with the finer things in life, including five-star restaurants and a plethora of golf courses (two in town and another 24 golf courses within 20 miles). In fact, many of the newer neighborhoods are known for amenities that include everything from executive golf courses to private "beaches" and ponds.
Residents also enjoy the town’s close proximity to foothills trails and Eagle Island State Park.
Eagle’s schools are top-notch. In fact, GreatSchools.org ranks Eagle High School 10 out of 10 for career and college readiness.
If you’ve ever had dreams of becoming a gentleman farmer – or living next to one – Eagle could be the location of your next Treasure Valley home. Given its charming setting, the housing market is competitive and the median home price is higher than in Boise and other neighboring towns.
Median sales price: $417,500
Median household income: $53,205
Average commute: 23 min
In contrast to Meridian, Nampa feels less like a suburb and more like its own city, with nearly all the entertainment and dining necessities a family could ask for. The community pays economic homage to the Treasure Valley’s rich roots with its commercial focus on agriculture, food processing, and manufacturing. While some might describe Nampa residents as “salt of the earth,” given the nearby sugar beet processing plant, “sugar of the earth” might be more appropriate.
Complementing its folksy farm-to-table vibe, Nampa is known for having the second-largest selection of historic homes in the area (after Boise). While there are plenty of turn-of-the-century farmhouses, the city also has a healthy supply of new construction on the market.
Nampa residents know how to enjoy the valley’s treasures, be it fishing the great Snake River or taking a boat out and exploring the wildlife at Lake Lowell. The Ford Idaho Center in Nampa also draws world-class musical acts. It annually hosts Idaho’s celebrated Snake River Stampede and Rodeo, one of the top 10 rodeos in the nation.
With a population that just passed 100,000 residents, the once rural town is growing as fast as its larger neighbors but manages to retain its homey charm. Farmlands are giving way to new construction to keep up with demand. Housing prices in Nampa, while increasing, are still lower than neighboring Meridian and Boise, which is why many locals consider homes here to be the best value in the area.
Median sales price: $394,391
Median household income: $55,069
Average commute: 25 min
The charms of this rural community are almost too numerous to count. While rooted in Treasure Valley agriculture, Caldwell is also a college town. The College of Idaho, a well-respected liberal arts college, adds youthful diversity to the area.
In addition, Caldwell residents here enjoy going out, and support the town’s impressive array of restaurants and coffee shops. Indian Creek Plaza, Caldwell’s “front porch,” is a popular gathering space and hosts popular events year-round – including the Winter Wonderland Festival, a breathtaking light display that draws thousands of visitors from across the Treasure Valley.
The area has also become known for its vineyards. The Sunnyslope Wine Trail wraps itself around Caldwell, giving residents and visitors alike the perfect chance to enjoy gorgeous, sweeping views of the Owyhee Mountains and lush river valley while sampling new wines.
Caldwell is experiencing rapid growth, much like the rest of the Treasure Valley. Farmland is giving way to new subdivisions nestled among mint, hops, and cornfields. While home prices are on the rise, homes in Caldwell are the most inexpensive in the Treasure Valley. They also tend to be on the more modest side of the spectrum. That said, large lots and homes with half-acre yards are common.
Median sales price: $450,000
Median household income: $69,940
Average commute: 26 min
Located 18 miles southwest of Boise, Kuna (pronounced "kyoo-nuh") sits on the edge of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, which is home to the densest population of nesting raptors in North America. Kuna's small-town vibe and location away from the hustle and bustle have been selling points for many buyers.
Which could explain why this once sleepy town has doubled in size in the last decade and now boasts more than 23,000 residents. Newcomers are drawn to its small-town charm, affordable homes, stunning scenery, and convenient access to the Treasure Valley's city centers.
This is one of the few places left in the Treasure Valley where everybody truly knows their neighbors. In fact, up until recently, the town probably had the greatest percentage of long-time residents in the valley.
Kuna's entertainment offerings are modest but very popular. Indian Creek, which runs through town, is a beloved summer swimming spot. Each August, the city hosts Kuna Days, a festival that features a parade, fun run, and many local vendors. The Snake River Birds Raptor Fest is also held every spring, and gives residents and visitors a chance to marvel at the region's raptors up close.
Median sales price: $625,135
Median household income: $71,759
Average commute: 27 min
The Treasure Valley’s newest bedroom community, Star was once seen as an inexpensive alternative to Eagle’s high priced homes – but that is changing as the town comes into its own. Star is conveniently located between Eagle and Caldwell, granting residents access to all of the entertainment and amenities the larger cities have to offer.
Star has a population of roughly 11,000 and is attracting younger families with money to spend. Resale homes are around $100,000 more than neighboring Middleton, and are 15-20% bigger than you’ll find there, although the lots tend to be smaller. With most built in the last 8 years, homes in Star are among the newest construction you’ll find in the Treasure Valley, thanks to the area’s recent growth.
Median sales price: $606,275
Median household income: $56,225
Average commute: 28 min
Buyers looking for a traditional, rustic Idaho lifestyle will find their needs met in Middleton. Middleton homes tend to be among the largest and priciest in Canyon County, but they also come with the biggest lots. The average house sits on 0.70 acres, which is the largest you’ll find (on average) anywhere in the Treasure Valley.
Middleton has just over 8,600 residents, and when country life gets to be too much, residents take advantage of the short 30-minute commute to Boise for a night on the town.
Are You Ready for a Change of Scenery?
As you can see, whether you’re looking for a slower-paced country lifestyle or crave the hustle and bustle of urban living, the Boise area's cities and suburbs likely hold your next dream home. Let us help you find it.
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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