- Boise, the midsize capital of Idaho, is having a moment.
- Its population grew by 18.2% from 2010 to 2018, and Forbes named it the fastest-growing city in the US in 2018.
- Most out-of-state newcomers are coming from California, followed by Washington state and Utah.
- Microbreweries, luxury condos, and Brooklyn-esque coffee shops are popping up in the Pacific Northwest city of 229,000 people.
- I recently spent four days there, and most of my time was spent in Boise’s thriving downtown area, which is full of locally owned bars and restaurants, microbreweries and cider houses, and new luxury apartments.
- A river runs through the heart of the city, along which is a 25-mile stretch of tree-lined trails called the Greenbelt.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Everyone wants to live in Boise, Idaho, right now.
The midsize Pacific Northwest city is experiencing a major growth spurt. Forbes named it the fastest-growing city in the US in 2018. Its population grew by 18.2% from 2010 to 2018, and by more than 3% from 2017 to 2018.
While most people moving to Boise come from smaller towns in Idaho, the foremost place that out-of-state transplants are moving from is California, primarily from the Los Angeles metro area.
Almost 80,000 people moved to Idaho in 2018, and more than 21,000 of them were from California, according to US Census data.
According to locals, people are finally figuring out how great of a place Boise is to live. In 2019, Boise was named the best place to live for millennials, as well as the best US city to buy a house.
I recently spent four days in Boise exploring the city and talking to business owners and residents. As someone who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, I was curious to get a feel for Boise’s downtown and see what kind of lifestyle it offers for big-city transplants. After four days, I can, for starters, say this: Boise does not disappoint.
Keep reading for a look at its vibrant downtown area, which is bustling with breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, coffee shops, and new luxury apartments.
Boise, the capital of Idaho, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US.
Roughly 25% of out-of-state transplants in Boise came from California, followed by Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Texas, according to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership’s marketing manager.
While many welcome Boise’s growth, some say the influx of new residents is pricing out longtime locals. The average home price in Boise jumped almost 12% from 2017 to 2018, and average rent has increased by roughly 7% in the past year. But wages haven’t kept up, leaving many residents struggling to afford their living costs.
Some also say the growth has brought with it big-city-like traffic.
Despite the reported increase in traffic, Boise residents’ average commute to work is just over 18 minutes, compared with the US average of 26.4 minutes.
Boise may have stayed more or less under the radar until recently, but now it seems the secret is out that the Idaho capital is a desirable place to live.
I recently spent four days in Boise exploring downtown and other areas, interviewing business owners, and chatting with locals.
I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of Boise’s downtown area.
“In the last 10 years, Idaho’s economy has become more diverse, which can easily be seen in the boom downtown,” Wes Jost, the senior vice president and manager of Zions Bank’s Idaho commercial-real-estate group, told me. “New people and businesses are continuing to relocate to Boise, placing our area in growth mode for the last six to seven years.”
That boom was clear during my visit.
Boise is a city of just of 229,000 people, but throughout my time there, downtown was bustling with people walking and biking, grabbing a coffee in the plethora of trendy cafés, and even sitting outside in the sun on a brisk November day.
Many parts of downtown Boise have a funky, artsy vibe.
I spotted several colourful murals in alleyways and on the sides of buildings.
One block, dubbed the Basque Block, includes a Basque museum and cultural centre and the Basque Market, which sells Basque foods and Spanish wines.
Boise has a Basque community of about 16,000, one of the largest in the US.
The Basque Block is also home to what claims to be the country’s first restaurant-distillery, Bardenay.
On my last night in Boise, a Friday night, I stopped into Bardenay for a drink. Inside, I found a boisterous atmosphere, with people of all ages filling up the large space.
I paid $US7.50 for a tasty huckleberry lemon drop cocktail, which is made with “Bardenay lemon vodka, triple sec, fresh-pressed sweet & sour and handpicked Idaho huckleberry puree.” And the price was a welcome relief from New York City, where cocktails can easily go for double that price.
The restaurant-distillery serves a variety of dishes, from sandwiches and burgers to tacos and sea-bass gnocchi.
In addition to its distillery, downtown Boise is home to at least seven breweries, six taprooms, five wine bars, and a cider house, according to the Downtown Boise Association.
One of the breweries, 10 Barrel Brewing Company, originates in Bend, Oregon, and opened its Boise location in 2013.
Boise Brewing Company on Broad Street opened in 2014 and brews at least 14 beers – from blonde ales to stouts to IPAs – and one cider. It hosts trivia nights, live music, fundraisers, and “brewery yoga” on Sundays.
Other local breweries include Barbarian Brewing, Payette Brewing Company, White Dog Brewing Company, and Woodland Empire Craft Ale.
Bittercreek Alehouse is a popular Eighth Street beer bar that opened in 1996.
You can choose from more than 40 beers on tap, starting at $US2 for a half-pint and $US5 for a pint.
Dave Krick, the owner, said he got lucky that he picked Bittercreek Alehouse’s Eighth Street location back in the ’90s. Today, Eighth Street is clearly one of the most happening streets in the area.
“I don’t think I could’ve predicted the future of where we landed, but I just loved downtown Boise,” he told me. “I loved Eighth Street ’cause I grew up down here and it’s where I wanted to centre my life. And lucky me, so did a lot of other people.”
The premise of his business was simple, he said: “I love beer. I wanted to make a place that people could come and discover good beer.” He added that “in those days, it was much more of a geek thing than it is today.”
I stopped in for lunch one day and got the Huntsman burger, which comes with Gloucester cheddar and Stilton bleu cheese, pickle, onion, tomato, applewood smoked bacon, a side of house-cut organic Idaho potatoes, and a draft cider. (I’m not much of a beer person.)
The burger was $US15.50, which is certainly not the cheapest burger to be found in Boise, but it was perfectly juicy and worth every penny.
One evening as it started to get dark and a bit chilly, I stopped into the Meriwether Cider House just around the corner from Bittercreek.
It serves 20 ciders on tap, including Meriwether ciders and ciders from all around the world.
I tried the $US7 hot mulled cider, which was very effective in warming me up on a brisk November evening.
Boise has a diverse nightlife scene, ranging from lounge-y cocktail bars to quirky arcade bars and classic dives.
On my last night in Boise, I went from the Bardenay distillery to Press & Pony, a dimly lit cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe.
My last stop of the night was the Spacebar Arcade, a retro underground bar where you can drink cheap beers while playing Pac-Man and pinball.
And don’t forget the dive bars.
But it’s not all breweries, cider houses, and dive bars. Boise’s downtown is integrated with nature, with the foothills rising to the north and the Boise River flowing through.
The river is surrounded by a 25-mile stretch of tree-lined trails called the Greenbelt.
One morning I spent about half an hour strolling down the Greenbelt from my hotel to the heart of downtown, and I passed several joggers, cyclists, and people walking their dogs.
I heard from several Boise locals that the community is very active and focused on fitness, which rang true from what I saw downtown.
I passed by an indoor cycling and yoga studio called UpCycle Studio, which has a kombucha and cold-brew bar.
Also downtown is a Pivot Lifestyle and Fitness by KA, a fitness centre founded by Kristin Armstrong, a local three-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s cycling.
Many people get around downtown via bicycle.
The city has a bike-rental program, but most people appeared to be riding their own bikes.
Another common mode of transportation was electric scooter from two of the major companies, Bird and Lime.
When it comes to food shopping, I found two mainstays of millennial grocery shopping. Boise’s first Trader Joe’s opened downtown in 2014 …
… and there’s a 42,000-square-foot Whole Foods downtown that opened in 2012.
But the co-op seemed to be thriving when I visited – and in fact, it opened a second location in the Boise suburb of Meridian in 2015.
The flood of newcomers to Boise has prompted the construction of several new apartment buildings downtown, including the luxury Fowler building.
The Fowler opened downtown in 2018.
“We get a mix of residents who are new to Boise and those relocating downtown from other parts of the city,” Casey Lynch, the CEO of Roundhouse, the Fowler’s developer, told me. “As a fast-growing city, we see people moving from all over California, Seattle, and other expensive coastal markets.”
New condos and apartments in downtown Boise are “growing up like weeds,” Eric DeBord, the owner of Red Pheasant Realty in Boise, told me.
“The condos are quite expensive, and that’s led to a lot of new apartment projects with plenty more in the works,” he said.
In the Fowler, the average rent for a one-bedroom is just under $US1,500 a month. That’s about $US500 more expensive than the median rent for a one-bedroom in Boise, $US980, according to Zumper.
More than 1,000 residential units are in the planning stages in downtown Boise, The Idaho Statesman reported in May.
I did see a few single-family homes downtown, but they seemed few and far between.
It was immediately apparent when I started hanging out downtown that Boise has a growing and thriving coffee scene.
There are more than 20 coffee and tea shops downtown, according to the Downtown Boise Association.
One of the places that epitomize this scene is Form & Function, a hip, minimalist coffee shop on the ground floor of the Fowler that opened in January 2018.
At about 11 a.m. on a Thursday, Form & Function was buzzing with a crowd of stylish young people swathed in cosy sweaters and fleece, beanies, and boots. Even the baristas wore beanies.
Floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of sunshine.
One of my favourite coffee shops I discovered was Flying M, a funky, colourful spot that’s been around since the ’90s.
A local I met told me Flying M was considered a safe space for LBGTQ people.
Inside is a gift shop and a spacious seating area with a mishmash of colourful chairs and tables.
Some of the customers seemed to be friends meeting to catch up. Others appeared to be working on their laptops, and others still were just reading the newspaper over coffee.
My latte and snickerdoodle cookie came out to less than $US5, half the price of what most coffee shops in New York City would charge.
One of downtown Boise’s longtime favourite restaurants is Fork, which opened more than 20 years ago in an old bank building.
Eater named it one of the 25 essential restaurants in Boise.
Another downtown restaurant that made the best-of list is the Wylder, a relative newcomer to the Boise dining scene.
It sits in the corner of the ground floor of the Fowler next to the Form & Function coffee shop.
David and Lizzy Rex opened the Wylder after moving from Santa Monica, California, in 2017.
I had dinner there one night and was surprised to find that the restaurant was packed on a Wednesday evening. It felt like a cool New York restaurant, except less crowded and also somehow cozier.
I ordered the most popular menu item, according to Yelp: the honey-badger pizza, which costs $US18 and comes with Italian sausage, ricotta, caramelised onions, and spicy honey. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.
David, who used to spend summers in Idaho as a kid, told me the Wylder’s pizza dough takes 48 hours to make and is made from the highest-quality flour and ingredients they can find.
When it comes to breakfast, one of Boise’s most popular spots is Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro.
At the recommendation of several locals, I had breakfast there one morning. I’d been warned that the lines can be out the door and down the block. Even on a Thursday morning, I had to wait for almost 10 minutes before getting a seat at the end of the bar.
I ordered a drip coffee and eggs Benedict with a side of home fries. The portion was surprisingly large, and the hollandaise sauce was rich and creamy.
My meal would have come out to less than $US15, but I didn’t even get a chance to see my receipt, because the elderly man next to me – a Korean War veteran – ended up sneakily paying my bill after we chatted throughout the meal.
Boise has a burgeoning tech scene. I stopped in one morning to visit Jelli, a Silicon Valley radio ad-tech now owned by iHeartMedia. It opened an office in downtown Boise in June 2017.
Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty told me Boise was an alternative to the “high costs and sort of broken nature of some of the economics” in the Bay Area.
“One of the things that we noticed when we were looking at Boise was how we really enjoyed the downtown voices, specifically the culture there,” Dougherty said. “It felt very progressive. There are tons of fun little farm-to-table restaurants, great coffee shops … It reminded me a little of Austin maybe 10 years ago, or Portland, or something like that.”
Boise is the longtime home of Hewlett-Packard’s imaging-and-printing group, which introduced the HP LaserJet printer.
After registered nurse, the most in-demand occupation in Idaho is software engineer.
Downtown Boise also has a varied and quirky shopping scene.
I saw secondhand book shops, a healthy-dog-food store, a store that sells artisan roasted nuts, chocolate shop, clothing boutiques that sell clogs and Free People dresses, and chains like North Face and West Elm.
Though Boise’s downtown is relatively compact, even after four days I still wanted to continue exploring everything it had to offer.
Beyond the dynamic restaurants, bars, and shops, the people I encountered downtown were all incredibly friendly – almost “annoyingly friendly,” as Krick, the Bittercreek owner, jokingly put it – and eager to chat.
And it’s worth noting that the mix of entertainment, dining, and wellness options is extremely well tailored to the millennial lifestyle, especially since downtown is so walkable. Plus, the prices I paid for coffees, meals, and drinks were all a welcome reprieve from NYC prices; the city’s relative affordability is also a good fit, financially, for a generation as cost-conscious as millennials.
Coming from New York City, I can certainly see the appeal of Boise: It’s a manageable size, yet it has everything you need. And I don’t think I’ve ever visited another city where the residents – perhaps partly because many of them came from big cities like Los Angeles and Seattle – are so unabashedly delighted to live there.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.