Vacationing with an 18-month-old is never an easy feat. It’s hard to find places that will hold my son Everett’s attention as well as that of me and my husband TJ. But Idaho’s capital of Boise managed to do just that for us on a recent getaway. A relaxed city that really feels more like a small town with pedestrian-only streets, it also has a hip urban vibe with its sidewalk cafes and eclectic shops. And it’s also outdoorsy with a river and greenbelt running through the city and plenty of biking and hiking trails in the hills above it that all appealed to me and my husband. But there is also plenty to do with kids of all ages. Here are six recommendations:
1. Boise Zoo
The Boise Zoo was definitely a highlight of this trip. It is located downtown in Julia Davis Park and is home to 300 animals from 100 different species. Besides walking around and seeing the various creatures from penguins to sloths to ring-tailed lemurs and gila monsters, the Boise Zoo also offers a number of worthwhile special attractions. Everett loved the Giraffe Encounter, which takes place between 1:30 pm-2:30 pm daily and lets you feed residents Jabari and Tafari lettuce leaves. Or at least the lettuce is supposed to be for the giraffes. In our case, Everett decided he’d rather take a few bites himself than share his with the giraffe!
Another special attraction we liked was the Zoo Farm where kids can get up close and personal with gentler farm animals like goats, llamas and sheep by feeding them snacks you purchase for a quarter from the zoo. Everett had a great time doing this because it was super interactive and he loves animals, although he hasn’t quite learned how to distinguish between species yet and so he called everyone “og’s,” which is his version of dog (an animal he known since birth).
Other kid-focused zoo amenities include a carousel — Everett had his first ride on an elephant — and playgrounds to unleash a little energy between exhibits.
2. World Center for Birds of Prey
The headquarters for The Peregrine Fund, which is an international non-profit that works to save endangered raptors, is in Boise and another fun family-friendly activity — Everett had such a great time making excited faces and noises while we toured the indoor/outdoor education center. Here you can have one-of-a-kind interactions with hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, and owls from around the world. We started our tour with the Live Bird Presentation where we got to see the raptors in action and then moved on to the Discovery Room, which is designed for little kids with hands-on displays and Everett had fun playing with puzzles. From here we walked a 1/4 mile long trail that winds through the center’s restored bird habitat areas where wild raptors can be seen.
3. Discovery Center of Idaho
We also had a great time at the Discovery Center of Idaho, which is a kid-friendly science museum that uses interactive exhibits to explain complex subjects to children. This year the Discovery Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the current exhibit celebrates STEM learning and does a new take on some of their most popular exhibits from decades past. It was so fun to see Everett in this new environment. He was in awe watching the massive pendulums swing and entranced by the static electricity generating balls. He also had a great time playing with giant bubbles and looking into the funny house mirror where dozens of visions of himself reflected back. I think we could have spent all day there without getting bored, but alas there is so much to do with kids in Boise, so we had to eventually head out.
4. Take a Burley Bike Ride
Boise is a super active city, which we loved coming from Colorado, and felt like we were right at home. So, of course, we had to go for a bike ride. We rented bikes and a Burley for Everett from Idaho Mountain Touring and headed out to the Boise River Greenbelt. It’s a really cool paved path that runs along the Boise River for some 25-miles through landscaped parklands. It is a great way to explore as along the way you’ll find signs like Taste, Play and Create and if you follow them away from the path you’ll discover all sorts of new experiences from swimming holes to restaurants.
5. Freak Alley Gallery
When you’ve about had it of just kid-focused activities then pay a visit to Freak Alley Gallery to see one-of-a-kind murals that are constantly changing in an outdoor setting. Everett enjoyed pointing out the different colors and TJ and I liked just walking down this alley and absorbing all the amazing graffiti art on display. The alley is said to be the largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest and began as a single painting in a doorway back in 2002.
6. Grove Plaza
Finally, check out Grove Plaza in the heart of downtown Boise. The pedestrian-only area is basically a giant plaza surrounded by shops, restaurants, and bars. It is also where the concerts and festivals take place. For kids, it is a fabulous spot to burn off extra energy in the long light of a summer evening without having to worry about cars. The weather, while seemingly perfect for fall, was a little too chilly for Everett to play in the fountains but can imagine how much energy is burned off here on those summer days.
Where to Stay:
When we travel with our little one, we have a few must-haves we always tick off, and the Residence Inn Boise met them all. First, the hotel is downtown, which means it is walking distance to everything, one of my major requirements — I don’t want to have to rent a car to get from where I’m sleeping to the main sightseeing attractions. We also always look for a kitchenette in the room, which comes in handy for bottle washing and being able to buy groceries (and keep them fresh) to make some healthy snacks for our son who is too young to warrant ordering a kids meal. Another perk to staying at this hotel is the Lobby Bar and Grill, which we loved for being able to grab a quick drink in the evening without having to go out and postpone our son’s bedtime. Other perks include a free breakfast, fitness center, pool and an airport shuttle that will take you to and from for no charge.