Monday, November 7, 2011

The coolest place you've never thought of as cool: Boise, Idaho

A stop along the Boise River bike trail
There is a place where you can throw on a floppy sun hat, go for a bike ride along the river, hit up a bustling farmers’ market and have a leisurely lunch featuring fresh-caught fish, locally brewed beer and local wine.

And it’s not California. It’s Boise - as in Idaho.

Let’s compare this small western outdoor mecca to its more well-known and oft-touted like-minded cities across the country.

Boise is like Boulder, Colorado, but less expensive. It’s like Asheville, North Carolina, but more sunny. It’s like Bend, Oregon, but less touristy.

I recently visited Boise with my husband as a launching-off point to explore the beautiful, wild Sawtooth mountains, and we were won over by the city’s charms. Here are a few of my favorite things about Boise:

Bicycles parked in downtown Boise
  1. Breakfast at Goldy’s – It’s yum times six – six for the number of potato selections you have to accommodate your fresh omelet. The red flannel hash is a mish-mash of beets, bacon and potatoes. It’s a fantastic and hearty breakfast to kick off a day of outdoor exploring. One mimosa on the side never hurt anyone.
  2. Bikes galore! – This is one bicycle-friendly town. Families, teenagers, seniors, kids: Cycling around town is not a hip or earth-conscious thing to do. It’s just a way of life. Bike lanes abound and drivers are accustomed to sharing the road. We rented bikes at Idaho Mountain Touring, which is also where I got my flowery floppy sunhat for frolicking around town.
  3. Outside dining – I love sitting outside under the sun eating food from local farms and rivers and people watching. Boise has an abundance of restaurants with outdoor seating all lining pedestrian-friendly streets bustling with perfect people-watching characters,
    People watching score: roller derby team in Boise
    especially on a Boise State football game day. At Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge, you get a taste of the local cuisine and your pick of local craft beers and wines from Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I found some eateries in Boise to be a little behind the times on my dining handicap – gluten free – but it seems to be trending in the right direction. One good option is new restaurant Fork, as in farm to fork dining. Gluten free beer on the menu and tasty food.
  4. Boise Co-op – Scrap the above-mentioned gluten awareness problem, because it does not apply here. This adorable green grocer is teeming with organic, sustainable, local foods and it has one of the best selections of gluten-free beer I’ve ever seen. I finally got to try the pale ale from Boulder-based New Planet Beer.
  5. Foothills – Imagine cool rolling foothills with colorful wildflowers and far-reaching views of western terrain. Perfect for trail running or mountain biking in the morning and hiking with dogs and kids in the afternoon. And it’s right in Boise’s backyard.
Miles and miles of hiking trails start from this Boise park.
Bottom line, Boise is an awesome, affordable trip and a perfect base camp for exploring the Sawtooth mountains or launching a road trip adventure to unbeatable destinations like Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons in neighboring Wyoming.
One warning: Be prepared for seriously friendly people in Idaho. Like airport security officers striking up conversations about football (with my husband who knows nothing about football) and skateboarding teenagers stopping in a parking lot to ask how your trip was and where you are from – without a hint of irony or sarcasm.
Like I said, a charming place.

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