The name of Idaho’s largest city and state capital derives from a phrase that French fur trappers who followed a tree-lined river used to describe the waterway: la riviere bois, or wooded river. Today, the city of Boise, located at the base of the Rocky Mountains and straddling the Boise River, is nicknamed the City of Trees. Yet as the cultural, financial, political, business, transportation and recreation hub of the Gem State, Boise could easily acquire countless other appropriate nicknames. When you visit this beautiful, attraction-rich city, you may apply another nickname or two.
Boise, for example, could be called the City of Parks, since within its boundaries five distinctive city parks will entertain and enchant visitors for days. In the heart of the city, along the Boise River, sits Julia Davis Park; if you only have time to see one park, this is the one. This 90-acre swath of relaxation features tennis courts, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, boat rentals and picnic areas. As alluring as these attractions may be to some guests, though, everyone will likely find something to appreciate in the park’s other attractions: the Idaho Historical Museum, the Boise Art Museum, the Memorial Rose Garden, Zoo Boise and the Idaho Black History Museum.
Exhibits in the Idaho Historical Museum include an Old West saloon, a blacksmith’s forge, a Chinese apothecary shop and a turn-of-the-century kitchen, all helping to explain the state’s colorful past, from prehistoric times through the fur trade, the gold rush and the settling of the pioneers. In addition to showcasing a diverse range of art, from historical to cutting edge, the Boise Museum of Art also hosts a very popular arts-and-crafts festival called Art in the Park, an event held annually on the weekend after Labor Day. More than 200 animals from 83 species, including the Northwest’s largest display of birds of prey, are housed within Zoo Boise. Visitors who enjoy a fragrant stroll should stretch their legs in the Memorial Rose Garden, which displays more than 1,600 rose bushes and more than 300 varieties. The Idaho Black Museum, also in Julia Davis Park, is housed in a renovated church building and relates, through historical photos and artifacts, the influence of African Americans on the state’s diverse heritage.
On the edge of the park sits the Discovery Center of Idaho, where inquisitive learners can participate in hands-on scientific and industrial experiences that are sure to delight. Not far from the park, down Capitol Boulevard, the Idaho State Capitol awaits exploration. Modeled after the nation’s Capitol, only smaller, the Idaho version was created with native sandstone and was completed in 1920. It is the only statehouse in the country that is heated with geothermal water. The impressive Victorian mansions that line Warm Springs Avenue are also heated by this same natural source.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary sits near the end of Warm Springs. Built in 1870 and holding prisoners until 1973, the Old Pen contained many a Wild West desperado, and today their tales are told in a slide show and a self-guided tour. Located on the grounds of the Old Pen sits the Idaho Botanical Gardens, and next door is the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology.
Save time for a visit to 611 Grove Street, where the Basque Museum and Cultural Center displays the heritage that the Basque community has contributed to Boise. The museum depicts the life of the industrious and hardy Basque shepherds, and includes a library, records/tapes collection, artifacts and photographs. Check with the museum for information on the annual Basque Festival.
No trip to Boise would be complete without a stop at the state capitol, a magnificent building begun in 1905 and completed in 1920. With a total floor area of more than 200,000 square feet and a cost of more than $2 million dollars, the building, with its bronzed copper eagle on top, stands 208 feet high. The building and its surrounding grounds are part of the Capitol Mall and well worth at least a half-day’s exploration.