No small potatoes: Boise isn’t what you expect.
As a mountain snob of the worst kind, I’ve blown by Boise, Idaho, on the interstate for years. I judged it by the “anywhere USA” commercialism of the exit ramps, and dismissed the foothills behind town as Rocky Mountain wannabes. Then, my cousin began dropping hints about the epic mountain biking near his house. After confirming we were talking about the same Boise, I gave the city a skeptical chance – and the city casually blew me away.
It started with the cramped but sociable Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro. There I valiantly tried to sample every “create your own breakfast combo” as a line of exceedingly polite Boiseans snaked around the corner, merging with lines for other artisan cafés named things like Bacon, Fork and Waffle Me Up. Boise’s foodie scene starts early and starts strong. More than 100 restaurants tempt downtown taste buds, and the cutting-edge fare – surprisingly little of which is potato-based, in a state perhaps known best for its spuds – inspires whispers among gourmets from coast to coast.
Around the corner I lingered on the sunny front porch of restaurant and distillery Bardenay, sampling a few home-brewed bloody marys as I let my gluttony settle. The distillery occupies the center of Basque Block, where members of the 15,000-strong Basque diaspora occasionally rally for family celebrations, teleporting this corner of Boise to the Spanish highlands. Lingering is recommended.
Sufficiently fueled, I rented one of the ubiquitous GreenBikes, pedaling the city’s tree-lined multiuse paths that connect the endless parks and excellent museums along the Boise River. I could have better explored the waterway as the captain of my own inner tube – tubing is an insanely popular summer activity – but I ran out of time after eddying out at The Modern Hotel, the hipster hotel/restaurant/bar masquerading as graffiti-laced 1970s motor lodge.
The cognitive dissonance of The Modern sums up Boise perfectly. Boise is a lively urban destination pretending to be a nondescript rest stop. It’s an outdoor-lover’s city. It’s a city-dweller’s country escape. It’s one of the best places to be, largely because so many people overlook it entirely.
It’s also the kind of place where a mountain snob will be humbled by the locals on the indeed epic single-track crossing the foothills behind town. And there, heavy with the day’s excess, gasping for breath but grinning broadly, I thanked my cousin for opening my eyes, and I knew Boise’s secret wouldn’t stay secret for long.
Home to a spirited arts community, an explosion of award-winning wineries and craft breweries, and a socially responsible shopping district, Boise is what cool looks like before the rest of the world
has heard the news.