Independent coffee houses, a new gourmet oyster bar, alleyways lined with street art. If this sounds like Austin…or maybe Portland, it’s not…It’s Boise, Idaho.
Many first-time visitors to Boise have no idea what to expect. Start with the local vibe. In an era of homogeneity, this is a city that strives to attract locally owned, independent businesses rather than chains. You won’t find a Starbucks on any corner, and the landlords—who would typically be the first to welcome them—are the ones keeping it that way. Many of the downtown hotels feature hallways lined with paintings (all for sale) by local artists—mini galleries at every turn. Farm-to-table produce, local meats and fresh-caught fish are on the menu. And there are dozens of wineries in the region, many offering tastings and tours for groups.
Then there’s the friendliness factor. The locals have a term for it: “Boise Nice.” But this generally pleasant way of being also seems to apply to the many transplants who are moving here in droves and so happy to have found their own private nirvana. Californians make up half of the new residents, and Millennials are another big group, drawn by the more affordable cost of living, better work-life balance and access to nature.
The central location of Boise Center, the main convention facility, is a plus for meeting groups. With 86,000 square feet of meeting space in the East and West Wings, along with an adjacent arena, it can accommodate groups of up to 2,000. Its central courtyard is a gathering space for residents as well as groups. The “spokes,” or alleys, off that hub lead to a variety of walkable hotels, from the business-oriented 250-room Grove Hotel (with 14,000 square feet of meeting space including a newly remodeled ballroom) to several fresh, new chain properties, including a 150-room Hyatt Place and 186-room Hampton Inn. A pleasant surprise was the Inn at 500 Capitol, a bright and contemporary independent boutique property with rich furnishings, artisan details and mountain views from many of its 110 rooms and suites.
In fact, it’s hard not to have a view, with the entire city framed by soaring 10,000-foot mountains, part of the Boise and Sawtooth ranges. Less than an hour’s drive and the scenery grows desert-like, with plentiful stands of Ponderosa pines, and many choices for outdoor adventures. Cascade Raft & Kayak specializes in group rafting trips down the Main Payette River, where Class II and III rapids promise excitement without the risk. The outfit has been operated by the Long family since 1985 and is truly a family affair, with the founders and their adult children cooking up a homestyle post-rafting barbeque for groups on a terrace overlooking the river, and the grandkids doing the serving.