Boise, Idaho, may be one of the most delightfully surprising destinations you’ll ever visit. It’s got the charm of a small town while still having everything that a city has to offer. Boise is the capital of Idaho and has a ton of history behind it, as well as providing many unique cultural attractions that everyone is sure to enjoy. There’s plenty to see, do, and taste for lovers of food, art, history, nature, culture, and more.
If your mind immediately goes to potatoes when you think of “Idaho,” this list will quickly change that! Known as the City of Trees, Boise is full of hidden gems that not even all the locals know about. We’ve put together a list of the top 15 things to do in Boise for you so that next time you’re in the area, you won’t be wondering what there is to do and can start crossing all of these great places to visit off of your bucket list!
1. Go for a walk on the Boise Greenbelt
The Boise Greenbelt is a paved path that runs along the Boise River for miles, along both the Boise side and Garden City side. It also runs through the Boise State University campus and downtown, making it great for any students who want to commute by bicycle or on foot.
The Boise Greenbelt is a great place to visit in Boise to see nature, to enjoy the Boise River, or to get some exercise. Any time of year you will see plenty of walkers, joggers, and bicyclists along the greenbelt.
2. Watch a Boise State Football Game
Boise State University is the pride of the city, and going to a game is one of the most Boise things you can do. Since Boise State became competitive on a national level in the mid-2000s, the games are sometimes packed — but you can generally get good tickets any time during the season. Each game is filled with die-hard Bronco fans ready to cheer on Boise’s favorite sports team.
The Broncos play at the Albertsons Stadium known as “The Blue” or the “smurf turf”. It holds 36,000 fans and is quite often sold out or near capacity. If you can’t find tickets to the game, not to worry, as there are usually an abundance of bars and restaurants that are hosting watch parties during the game, so you can still catch some of the action while enjoying drinks and food among other fans.
Make sure if you go to the stadium to also check out the Allen Noble Hall of Fame, which holds an impressive collection of Boise State sports memorabilia!
3. Indulge in some Boise food and beer
Beer has become an important part of the Boise landscape in the last decade or so, and you will find plenty of breweries all around Boise. No matter what kind of beer you like, most restaurants will carry some kind of Boise beer, and there are nearly a dozen breweries just in the downtown Boise area. You will also find plenty of Boise wineries and a few cider houses as well, if that is what you prefer.
While you are experiencing Boise beer, don’t forget about food in Boise too — the food scene in the area has become increasingly diverse and delicious. Whether you are downtown or in other areas of Boise, you will find plenty of great options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
4. Visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Idaho Penitentiary is one of the coolest places to visit in Boise. Located just a few minutes outside of downtown Boise, the penitentiary has been closed for decades — but you can take a tour and walk through the grounds.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary opened in 1872 and housed hundreds of convicts until it closed more than 100 years later. The penitentiary is managed by the Idaho State Historical Society, which means it’s not only a museum but also has exhibits that change every few months or years.
5. Stop by the Basque Block
The Basque population in Boise is a significant piece of culture in Boise. Home to the largest Basque population outside the Basque country (located in both France and Spain), the Boise Basque Block is home to the Basque Museum, Basque House (a former boarding house), the Basque Center, a Basque market, a handball court still in use, and a few different Basque restaurants. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying Basque cuisine, this is definitely something you will want to try when you’re in Boise!
Although the Basque Block is an amazing piece of culture to visit any time of year, visiting during one of the Basque festivals would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for anyone. The San Inazio Festival happens each year in July, and includes the Oinkari Basque Dancers, food, and other entertainment.
6. Go for a hike at Bogus Basin
Bogus Basin is a great year-round spot to go for recreational activities that the whole family can enjoy. In the summer, you can rent mountain bikes and explore over 20 miles of trails, with options for all skill levels.
You will also find The Glade Runner here, Idaho's only mountain coaster with 4,330 feet of high-speed twists and turns. You can tube down the mountain (with or without snow) down one of two 300 foot lanes. If you’re looking for a more relaxed method of sight-seeing, you can also hop on a scenic chair lift for a ride to the top.
At the Shafer Butte Mining Company, you can go mining for gems, gold, fossils, and arrowheads. Kids and adults alike will love the chance to go sifting through to find treasure, and it only costs $10!
In the winter, there are also a ton of activities to do, including alpine skiing, winter tubing, snowshoeing, and even riding the mountain coaster!
7. Learn about wildlife at the World Center for Birds of Prey
Anyone with an interest in wildlife will love going to the World Center for Birds of Prey. This is a place that is dedicated to the preservation and care of all sorts of birds of prey, enabling visitors to come face to face with creatures such as owls, eagles, falcons, hawks, and vultures. You can enjoy a variety of shows such as the Live Raptor Presentations, as well as indoor exhibits and educational programs.
Kids and adults alike will love coming here to interact with nature in a close-up and personal format, so be sure not to overlook this awesome wildlife center!
8. Take a stroll through the Idaho Botanical Garden
There are many attractions in Boise for those who love natural beauty and one of the most popular options is the Idaho Botanical Garden. This is a place where you will be able to experience wonderful fragrances from the flowers, colorful displays, and natural beauty.
There are also many different events that are held here at certain times of the year such as live music concerts. This garden is a great place to not only indulge in the pleasures of natural beauty but you can also learn a lot about one of the first and oldest botanical gardens in Idaho.
9. Educate yourself at the Discovery Center of Idaho
The Discovery Center of Idaho is a fabulous, fascinating, and fun interactive science center in Boise for people of all ages to enjoy. This is a place that inspires, educates and provides a unique experience for those who have an interest in science. You can enjoy interactive exhibitions and displays, take time to explore, make the most of the educational programs and facilities, and spend a great day out with the family.
The center also runs camps and offers outreach programs to aid others in terms of learning more about science, as well as hosting birthday parties, the Science with Style Gala, adults only nights for people aged 21 and over, and the Young Discoverers Program, which is a science-themed story and activity time for children aged 2 - 5 years.
10. Check out the animals at the Boise Zoo
The Boise Zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon in the heart of downtown. It houses over 300 animals from 100 various species. It takes about 3-4 hours to see all of the animals at this Boise attraction, so make sure to set aside enough time in the day so you don’t miss out on seeing anything!
There are numerous special attractions ranging from a seasonal butterfly exhibit to a zoo farm where you can feed the animals. Make sure to bring some cash to ride the carousel and to purchase food to feed the animals at the petting zoo. This is a perfect way to spend an afternoon with kids, but it’s also a great place for adults who love animals as well.
11. See all types of marine life at the Aquarium of Boise
This is another great spot for animal lovers to check out, and is a favorite spot to visit with the kids. The Aquarium of Boise is home to over 250 species of animals and marine life and there are nine different exhibits ranging from a shark and ray pool to an Amazon Exhibit showcasing cichlids, peacock bass and red-tailed catfish. They also have a bird aviary with yellow breasted lory and rainbow lory, to name a couple.
Other exciting exhibits include the Tide Pool exhibit where you can search for sea urchins, sea stars, and small fish. Don’t forget to stop by the Shark and Puffer exhibit to see the largest species of shark in the aquarium!
12. Experience history at The Boise Depot
The Boise Depot is a place filled with history. It was designed by New York architects and opened in 1925 as a Union Pacific passenger depot. The Boise Depot served as a train station until Amtrak opened in May 1971. Today, the Boise Depot serves as a community center for tours and special events and is free to anyone who wishes to go there.
The grounds have beautiful views of the downtown area, a beautiful park, a gazebo, and a koi pond. Also, at the back of the building you can find Engine 2295, also known as Big Mike. Big Mike was used as a freight engine along the Union Pacific’s mainline until he was retired and donated to the city in 1956.
You can go inside The Boise Depot from 11 AM until 5 PM on Sundays and Mondays, but if you can’t make it during these times, you can still stop by to see the park and Big Mike at any time!
13. Float down the Boise River at Barber Park
Residents of Boise love lounging back on a raft on hot days in the summer down the Boise River. In fact, every year over 125,000 people enjoy going for a leisurely float down the river!
Barber Park is the most common launch area for floating the Boise River. In addition to the launch there are picnic shelters, a playground, nature trails and a basketball court.
If you are interested in floating the river, you can rent tubes, rafts, and kayaks from Boise River Raft and Tube at Barber Park. There is a shuttle running from Ann Morris back up to Barber Park. The shuttle runs from 10 am to 6 pm.
14. See native wildlife at the Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center
The Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center is a great stop to see the wildlife that is native to the Boise area. It is a fun stop along the Greenbelt if you are biking as well!
There is a small Visitor Center with displays about the animals in the area and then several trails that branch out from there. Along the trails you will see lots of wildlife and there are underwater viewing windows for a better look.
The trails are open from sunrise to sunset but are closed on Mondays.
15. Take a trip to Idaho City
While it’s not technically in Boise, Idaho City is definitely a place you will want to check out while in the area! This small town is about an hour north in the Boise Basin, and was once the biggest mining town in the Pacific Northwest due to the gold in the area. Today, you can see remnants of the old town as well as beautiful mountains that are in the area.
The historic district is in the heart of Idaho City along with a number of restaurants, hotels and shops. If you want to do some hiking, Charcoal Gulch Hike and the Buena Vista Loop are two popular trails.
If you do make the drive up to Idaho City, be sure to visit The Springs. It is a natural hot springs pool and a perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon or evening. They also have private pools and massages.
If you’re looking to spend some time in a fast-growing city with a small city vibe, then Boise, Idaho is one of the best places to travel. The City of Trees has so many great experiences for everyone who comes here, both indoors and outdoors. So next time you’re in Boise, make sure to check out at least one of the places on this list!