When traveling to the Northwestern United States, there’s a big chance your trip will either begin or end in Boise, Idaho’s capital city. Lucky you, because this modest, green and vibrant metropolis is surprisingly versatile. Can’t decide what daytime activities and attractions to choose from? Let me give you a hand with that.
1. The urban winery experience
I had never heard of an ‘urban winery’ before coming to Boise. It’s a pretty cool concept: an urban winery isn’t attached to a specific vineyard. The winery selects and mixes grapes from several different vineyards in the neighbourhood – or even in the world – and then produces and bottles the finished product in an urban setting. The Cinder urban winery sources grapes from several vineyards in the Snake River Valley and is located just outside downtown Boise, in Garden City. There’s a tasting bar inside, set in a very industrial chic but still charming space with beautiful oak barrels stacked against the walls. Cinder also rents out the tasting room to two other small wineries: Celaya and Coiled. Three birds, one stone!
2. Explore Boise’s greenbelt
This is something I reckon every city should have: a green, scenic, quiet and fun alternative route for bikers and walkers to get to (or away from) the city. Boise’s greenbelt is a 25 mile long pathway, reserved for pedestrians, bikers and joggers. It follows the lushly lined banks of the Boise river and connects several of Boise’s riverside parks. A great place for students to hang out, for nature lovers to enjoy the wildlife (even bald eagles!) and for everyone else who prefers a bike over a car or a taxi to get to downtown. We walked on the greenbelt for about 3 hours and watched surfboarders doing tricks in the rapid water, mountain bikers showing off their skills right next to the path, couples having a romantic moment along the riverbank, children having a blast on their roller blades, people fishing etc. There’s a good chance the hotel you’re staying in rents out free bikes… so get cracking!
3. The World Center for Birds of Prey
At a fifteen minute drive from downtown Boise, neatly nestled on a hilltop, you’ll find the World Center for Birds of Prey. It was built to enhance the health, reproduction and reintroduction efforts of endangered bird species and also to increase the knowledge about all aspects of these birds of prey. At the helm of the center is The Peregrine Fund, an international non-profit organization that conserves endangered raptors around the world. I wasn’t too sure about visiting the center at first because, well, the animals you see here are living in captivity. But on the other hand, these birds weren’t just randomly caught, they were saved from life threatening situations (the main threat being lead poisoning) and they all contribute to the survival of their species in so many ways. The whole center is designed to be instructive and forces genuine respect for these gorgeous creatures. At the adjacent breeding center (closed for public in order to minimize human contact), endangered species are being bred and released to the wild on several occasions.
4. The Old Idaho Penitentiary
If you’re a fan of old buildings and their history, you’re in for a treat here at the Old Pen. It’s one of the few historic territorial prisons in the US that is still standing and open to public. The penitentiary held over 13.000 inmates in 100 years, the youngest being a 10-year-old (was doing time for murder) and the oldest a 81-year-old who served time for cattle rustling. The pen was eventually shut in 1973 after a huge fire. The great thing about it is that you’re free to walk around on your own (there are a lot of information signs), but the most fun way to explore the site is by taking part in a guided tour. In roughly two hours, the guide tells you all these great little anecdotes about what happened behind the prison walls, from the clandestine parties the inmates held to the attempted escapes (there were over 500 attempts, 90 of them were successful) and the story of Dennis, a cat that was secretly cared for by prisoners.
5. The State Capitol building
Here’s one of the things the inmates at the Old Pen were convicted to do around 1905: extracting sandstone blocks and hauling them to downtown Boise for the construction of the Idaho Capitol Building. It’s the inside that is the most impressive though: marble floors, huge four-story high pillars and an equally impressive dome. The legislative chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives are located on the fourth floor – you can gaze into the rooms from behind a glass wall. Fun fact: it’s the only capitol building in the US that is heated with geothermal hot water. Free entrance, self-guided tours!