Boise is one of those places that’s off the radar for many people on the East Coast. That is, of course, until you visit and are instantly drawn to the “The Gem State” like I was since the first time visiting my college roommate 14 years ago. Each time I’m there, I love seeing how much Boise is growing, while still maintaining the scenic landscape that it’s known for. The outdoors, laid-back vibe and family-friendly feel make Boise a great place to visit with kids or without.
While I’ve been to Boise a few times before, I love getting the chance to see any city with fresh eyes through my son. Boise was no exception. On our most recent trip, we were visiting a lifelong friend from college who had her first baby. Not only did our boys get to meet for the first time, but we had the best time exploring with the baby and toddler duo.
Our guide to Boise covers getting to and around the city, things to do with kids in Boise and great places to eat. Keep reading for more!
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Getting to and Around Boise
Boise’s airport is relatively small, making it easy to get around. While it’s well positioned from the West Coast and Midwest, getting there from the East Coast usually means at least one connection. From Pittsburgh, it was about 7 hours of travel time each way and we connected in Denver. It was the longest flight I had alone with my son to date, and despite a few rough patches, we survived! (Be sure to read my tips for flying with a toddler if you have a flight with little kids coming up yourself.)
Boise offers public transportation via a the Valley Regional Transit bus system as well as Boise GreenBike, which is a bike sharing system with locations throughout the city. The easiest way to get around Boise is with a car, especially if you’re going to be getting outdoors and/or exploring outside of downtown.
Where to Stay in Boise
Our friends live in the North End in Boise, and it’s one of the best places for families living in and visiting Boise. From this area you can easily access Camel Back Park as well as several restaurants and shops in Hyde Park. Plus downtown Boise is also easily accessible from here via car or bus. (And how adorable is this alley pictured below??) AirBnB has several home rentals available in North Boise. If it’s your first time renting through AirBnB, you can sign up through our referral here to be eligible for a credit toward your next stay.
In the past I also stayed at The Riverside hotel in Boise. It’s a recently updated, resort-style hotel. It has an outdoor pool and direct access to Boise’s Greenbelt for walking and biking. While it’s not located right in downtown Boise, it’s in a good location for easy access to all that Boise has to offer.
Downtown Boise continues to grow and has added several hotels since the last time I was there. Head to Visit Boise’s website here for additional ideas on where to stay for your visit to Boise.
Things to Do with Kids in Boise
There are so many great things to do with toddlers in Boise and kids of any age. In addition to some of the attractions mentioned below, there are so many more family-friendly things to do in Boise. With anything from museums to hiking to water sports, you’re sure to find something!
Discovery Center of Idaho
The Discovery Center of Idaho is a STEM-based learning center that’s great for kids of all ages. It’s all one floor with a number of different permanent and rotating exhibits. Some of my son’s favorite displays include the harmonograph, the paper airplane blaster and the light up display made of colored bottles.
If you’re visiting with kids under 4, be sure to check out the area for little discoverers in the back of the Discovery Center. It has a train table, kitchen set, soft blocks and a slide for the littlest kids to learn through play. If you’re planning to visit without kids, DC of Idaho also offer a 21+ adult night.
Know Before You Go: The Discovery Center of Idaho is located at 131 Myrtle Street, Boise, ID. DC Idaho participates in the ASTC Passport Program, which offers free admission for reciprocal members.
I visited Zoo Boise years ago and it was so fun to go back with my son. His favorite animals are giraffes and lions, and we were excited to see both at the Boise Zoo. Be sure to go into the schoolhouse for a chance to see the lions up close from the observation window. We also loved the penguins, lemurs and leopards. Plus, there’s a wide variety of other animals available throughout the zoo.
In addition to the amazing selection of animals, Boise’s Zoo has so many great features for kids. This includes a giraffe slide and play area, prairie dog tunnels, carousel, petting zoo and jungle gym. There are also several interactive tree trunks located throughout the Zoo with information and fun facts on the animals. During the warmer months, the Zoo also offers a “Conservation Cruise.” It takes you around the Zoo’s lagoon for a chance to see more animals up close.
Know Before You Go: Zoo Boise is located in the Julia Davis Park at 355 Julia Davis Dr, Boise, ID. Zoo Boise is a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. That means you can receive either 50% off or free admission if you belong to a participating zoo. Every Thursday, the Zoo also has family days with an additional discount offered. For more on visiting Boise’s Zoo see here.
Children’s Museum of Idaho
The Children’s Museum of Idaho is a new and awesome addition to Boise. It’s located in Meridian, just outside of the city. This interactive museum was jam packed with various displays sponsored by different companies local to Idaho.
Some of the highlights at the Children’s Museum of Idaho include:
- A huge train table with the biggest display of fisher price trains I’ve ever seen, plus a model train set that replicates Boise
- A pizza making section sponsored by Idaho Pizza Company that allows kids to add toppings to their pizza and put it through the oven
- A Trader Joe’s setup complete with our favorite TJ’s items, shopping carts and registers to check out
- A farm area for kids to pick fruits and vegetables and try out milking a life-sized cow
- A veterinary clinic for kids to take care of various dogs and cats
- Two outdoor areas, including a farm-themed section with animals and tractors to ride and a fossil digging area with a dinosaur yard
Know Before You Go: The Children’s Museum of Idaho is located at 790 S Progress Avenue, Meridian, ID. At the time this post was published, it was not yet part of the American Children’s Museum (ACM) network. For more information on visiting the Children’s Museum of Idaho, see here.
Camel’s Back Park
This park and hiking area set in the foothills was only 2 blocks from our friends’ house in North Boise. There’s a great area for hiking with different levels of steepness depending on which way you go. There’s also a huge playground at Camel’s Back Park and swings for younger kids. Plus, there’s tennis and an outdoor gym. You’ll also find tons of dogs there at any time, which was a favorite for my dog-loving toddler.
Know Before You Go: Camel’s Back Park is located at 1200 W. Heron Street, Boise. For more on visiting Camel’s Back Park, see here.
JUMP Boise (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place)
This fun and unique space in downtown Boise was originally created as a meeting place for the community. JUMP Boise was named after J.R. (Jack) Simplot, an entrepreneur who made Idaho famous for potatoes and who’s legacy made the space possible. There are several different areas both indoors and outdoors with activities for kid and adults of all ages. Although it was raining during our visit, we explored the main floor of JUMP. I loved that it was full of bright, colorful flower displays and activities throughout.
Just a few of the things you can do at JUMP Boise include:
- Play games or create works of art by the main lobby fireplace
- Walk around the outside of the building and the garage for the collection of antique tractors throughout (JUMP also offers tractor tours)
- Play in the “Climber,” a 3-story netted play structure
- Slide down one of two slides, including a team slide and a 5-story tunnel slide (Note: the slides are closed during the winter and open again in May)
- Take one of many classes, including dancing, crafting and cooking
Know Before You Go: JUMP Boise is located at 1000 W Myrtle St
Boise, ID. The spaces are often rented for events, so some areas may be closed to the public at the time of your visit.
If you’re visiting during the winter months and like to ski, be sure to check out Bogus Basin. The mountains are beautiful and it’s a smaller ski mountain with that’s great for families. Bogus’ manageable size makes it easy to navigate with kids, and they also offer lessons for school-aged children. During the summer months, Bogus also offers a mountain coaster, climbing wall, “summer tubing,” a trampoline and chairlift rides. I’ve been skiing in Boise Basin in the past and would love to check it out in the summer.
Know Before You Go: Bogus Basin is located at 2600 N Bogus Basin Road
Boise, ID. Bogus also offers daycare services for children 4 months up to 6 years old. See here for more information.
Where to Eat in Boise
Since we were walking distance to Hyde Park in Boise’s North End, we did much of our dining in that area. Boise has so much to offer food-wise, from new and innovative restaurants to classic home-style meals. And while you’re there, be sure to try the french fries with fry sauce- a mayonnaise and ketchup combo that can be found pretty much anywhere you go in Idaho.
Hyde Perk Coffee House
This adorable coffee shop in Hyde Park was a life saver during those early mornings when my son was having trouble adjusting to the time change. Hyde Perk is family owned, and it’s clear the second you walk in that they’re an integral part of the community. The coffee is amazing and they offer a selection of locally made food like freshly made Guru’s donuts. One of the best things about this place is the amazing kids section in the back of the cafe. It had a pint-sized table, 3 chalk boards with unlimited chalk and blocks. They also offer live music periodically and had a children’s book reading from a local offer when we were there.
Flying Pie Pizzeria
This locally owned pizza place in Boise was a favorite of our friends. We tried it out for lunch one day after visiting the Children’s Museum of Idaho. They offer a number of speciality pizzas that are available along with a salad bar for lunch. Not only can you get unlimited pizza, breadsticks, salad and drinks, but kids under 5 are also free. And if you like spicy foods, there’s a habanero pizza featured on Man vs. Food that’s also offered seasonally. There are multiple locations throughout the Boise area. (And if I wasn’t so busy devouring my food while trying to wrangle a toddler, I would have thought to take a picture!)
Sun Ray Cafe
Sun Ray Cafe is a fast-casual restaurant in Hyde Park that you order out the counter and they bring your food out to you. They have a great menu for families that includes a number of options for kids, plus a great draft beer list for the parents. During the warmer months, there’s a huge patio for outdoor seating where dogs are allowed.
I ate at Casa Mexico on a prior trip and was excited to try it out again with the little guy. It’s great for authentic Mexican food, and if you read our recent post on places to eat in Siesta Key, you know that our son loves quesadillas and guacamole. The menu is huge and everything I’ve tried there, including the margaritas, is yummy and fresh. There are a few locations throughout the Boise area.
Payette Brewing Company
If you’re looking for a great, local brewery in Boise, Payette Brewing Company should definitely be on your list. Not only is the beer great, but it’s also super kid-friendly. They have games located throughout, and dogs are allowed both inside and outside of the building. My dog-obsessed son was in heaven with all the friendly pups he could get his hands on.
Payette doesn’t have a kitchen, but you can bring your own food or have it delivered. They also regularly have food trucks parked outside. When we were there, Urban Smoke Boise was serving amazing bbq, along with quesadillas for the little guy.
Black Bear Diner
While Black Bear Diner isn’t necessarily local to Boise, its restaurants are concentrated in the Midwest and West. Black Bear focuses on home-style cooking in a relaxed environment, making it the perfect family-frineldy spot. The menu is huge (along with the portions) and includes a combination of healthy and hearty items. I had the chicken and waffles and highly recommend it. There’s also a sizeable kids menu along with a “newsletter” to color and crayons to keep kids entertained. Plus the entire place is adorned with bears, which my son loved.
Goody’s Soda Fountain
Goody’s is a sweet tooth’s dream come true and should be a stop on any trip to Boise. Along with a huge selection of hard candies, they offer handmade chocolate and ice cream with freshly made waffle cones. We had the yummy Oreo ice cream in a waffle bowl, and it was jam packed with huge chunks of cookies.
Have you been to Boise? Please share in the comments if you have any favorite things to do or eat there!
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