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A Brand-New Boise

A downtown boom brings urban fun to the high desert.

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  • an aerial of downtown Boise, Idaho, picture
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    Photo: Sam Strickler/Shutterstock
    Photo caption
    Downtown Boise.
  • people line up at a food truck outside Boise Brewing, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Glenn Oakley
    Photo caption
    People line up at a food truck outside Boise Brewing.
  • a person gets a beard trim at Peace Valley Dry Goods & Barber Shop, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Glenn Oakley
    Photo caption
    A beard trim at Peace Valley Dry Goods & Barber Shop in Boise.

Boise, Idaho, has long been a magnet for outdoors enthusiasts who hike trails in the foothills at sunrise, then strap their skis to their SUVs and hit the slopes at Bogus Basin before dinner. But a recent surge in downtown development is giving that outdoorsy vibe a distinctly citified edge, luring both locals and visitors who prize their macchiatos as much as their mountain bikes. With construction fences encircling entire blocks and new boutique hotels and luxury lofts rising from within, there’s no mistaking it: The City of Trees is growing up.

A good spot to start exploring this downtown renaissance is at Fifth and Broad Streets in the Central Addition. Once inhabited by the city's social elite, historic homes in the neighborhood are making way for developments like the Fowler, a sleek new mid-rise apartment building slated to open later this year.

You can watch the Fowler fill out from the front patio of Boise Brewing, a community-supported microbrewery that serves frothy pints of crisp Broad Street Blonde and chocolaty Snowboarder Porter to a mixed crowd of nine-to-fivers and bearded cyclists. If the Genki Takoyaki food cart is parked outside, grab a basket of its namesake octopus balls drizzled with Kewpie mayo and dusted with bonito flakes.

Around the corner, Peace Valley Dry Goods & Barber Shop offers beard trims and straight-razor shaves as well as men’s clothing. Nearby, check out the art space Ming Studios; through March, it's showing City Shields, Louise Levergneux's photographs of manhole covers from around the world.

As you continue down Broad Street into the BoDo neighborhood, you can stop to nurse a pour-over at Slow by Slow Coffee Bar, a café with black-and-white tiled floors and a rotating menu of coffees from artisan roasters, including San Francisco's Ritual and Portland's Heart.

For more high-end imbibing, cross the street to Bodovino, where wine machines dispense measured pours from hundreds of bottles at the push of a button. The cheese counter offers St. André triple cream, Humboldt Fog chèvre, and much, much more, all served by the ounce or in flights.

Stepping outside and looking west, you can't help but notice the fantastical new Jack's Urban Meeting Place—funded by the Simplot potato-farming dynasty—swirling skyward at the end of Broad. The fancifully designed six-story building houses studios, event spaces, and part of J.R. Simplot's collection of vintage tractors (tours run Wednesdays at noon).

To further explore Boise's evolution, walk up Eighth Street through the recently revamped Grove Plaza, a popular pedestrian space with a new interactive fountain for kids to splash around in, and past the shiny new City Center Plaza. As you go, you'll hit the city's restaurant corridor, where couples clink glasses on sidewalk patios, throngs of teens snag slices of pizza, and legislators in suits shuffle to and from the Idaho State Capitol building.

At Wild Root Café & Market, an airy counterservice eatery committed to regional sourcing, you can slurp a bowl of pork belly ramen topped with a soft-cooked duck egg, or crunch a vegan falafel served with local greens and a tangy tahini-cumin dressing. For more down-home fare, live it up at low-lit Saint Lawrence Gridiron, known for its shrimp and grits and its smoked brisket platter. Cut the meaty richness with a properly executed old-fashioned.

Wherever you eat, you can walk off your meal with a stroll through Freak Alley Gallery, the open-air mural exhibit on Ninth Street filled with colorful artistic renderings of zombie ghost monsters and a serene businessman careening through space.

Downtown isn't the only Boise neighborhood that's getting a makeover. Hop on a rentable Boise Green Bike from one of the downtown stations and head west on the Greenbelt, the pedestrian and bike thoroughfare that runs along the Boise River. It's a two-mile trip to Garden City, an industrial community best known for its auto dealerships, but which recently has seen an influx of wineries and breweries, along with some unexpected recreational opportunities.

Park your ride at Corridor Paddle Surf Shop, where you can rent a surfboard or stand-up paddleboard before heading over to Boise River Park and its engineered standing wave—ideal for surfing and kayaking.

“We have one of the best water parks in America,” says Guy Midnight, owner of the Yardarm, a new shipping-container bar adjacent to Corridor. “People come from all over.”

After your bike ride (or water adventure), pull up a stool at the Yardarm's reclaimed wood bar and dig your toes into the sandy floors. Order a pint from one of Garden City's numerous nearby breweries and savor a blue-corn taco stuffed with beer-battered mahimahi from the Gem Street Kitchen food truck. (Both bar and food truck reopen April 1.)

It's a surprising, offbeat retreat that combines fresh-air exertion with a healthy dose of urban excitement—a lot like Boise itself.

Related: Treefort Music Fest makes noise in Boise. 

This article was first published in Spring 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.