I spent a long weekend in Boise, Idaho, earlier this year and learned why people are moving there en masse right now
Boise is so hot right now.
The Idaho capital was the fastest-growing city in the US in 2018, according to Forbes, and was ranked as the best place to live for millennials in 2019. But even during a global pandemic, Idaho’s popularity hasn’t waned: Moving marketplace HireAHelper reports that 194% more people moved into Idaho than left it since March.
The state is attracting throngs of millennials primarily from California, Washington state, and Utah. And with these transplants come trendy new breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn or Los Angeles. However, its explosive growth has also brought with it some growing pains.
Back in February, I spent five days in Boise to see why it’s become such a hot spot. Here’s what surprised me the most about the booming city.
Editor’s note: Our travel correspondent visited Boise in February. Some places mentioned in this article may no longer be open or open with limited capacity, so it’s best to check before you visit.
Its downtown area is super lively.
Eighth Street in Downtown Boise is the city’s hip epicenter. On and around it, you’ll find craft breweries, swanky bars, funky restaurants, trendy cafés, colorful murals, and quirky shops.
I was surprised to find just how many cool spots it was home to — Downtown Boise alone boasts seven breweries, 21 cafés, six wine bars, and a distillery. But what struck me the most, besides the sheer number of stylish eateries, was the variety: everything from dive bars with $2 well drinks to fancy cocktail bars with mixologists, and all within easy walking distance.
Between the bars, healthy cafés, and boutique gyms, I can see why so many millennials are relocating: Downtown is tailored to their wants and needs.
Its coffee scene rivals that of a much bigger city.
New York City is such a hyper-caffeinated place that there’s probably two cafés per block. Consequently, as someone with a hefty caffeine addiction herself, coffee shops — or a lack thereof — are usually one of the first things I notice when traveling. In Boise, there are not only plenty of cafés, but they are also all incredibly stylish. Downtown Boise alone boasts 21 cafés, according to the Downtown Boise Association.
I spent a Monday morning working at Neckar Coffee sipping on a delicious $3.50 cappuccino alongside fashionable people in peacoats and beanies hacking away at their laptops, feeling as though I was right at home in Brooklyn. However, when I had a delicious BLT with a giant side salad at the bright and airy A Café, the illusion of Brooklyn was shattered when the bill came out to a mere $9.
Everything is reasonably priced.
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to money, I’m a jaded New Yorker. After 14 years of living in New York, I barely bat an eyelid at a $16 cocktail or $6 iced coffee. So an eyelid I did bat when I ordered a fancy cocktail at The Atlas Bar for $9, or a half-pint of beer at Bittercreek Alehouse for $2, or a cold brew at Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters for $2.85. Not only was everything cheap, but it was also very good.
The food was great.
I had the best cinnamon roll of my life at Goldy’s, a delicious rib eye that rivaled anything I’ve had in a New York steakhouse at Chandler’s, and incredible tacos at The Funky Taco.
As a New Yorker, I’m used to eating well, and nothing I had during my stay in Boise disappointed.
In Downtown at least, chains were few and far between.
A surprising number of shops and restaurants in Downtown Boise were hyper-local. Besides a West Elm and a North Face store, I couldn’t spot a familiar chain to save my life.
The shopping in Downtown was quirky and unique, and many stores proudly featured signs like “handmade and local” and “we heart Boy-see.” (I learned that this is the correct pronunciation for Boise.)
It’s only once you leave the immediate Downtown area that you begin to see familiar national chains, such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, PF Changs, and Chick-Fil-A.
The people are eager to chat.
Boise felt like a small town when it came to its residents, who were incredibly friendly and talkative. At first, I wondered if something gave me away as a tourist, but then came to find that people were simply chatty and genuinely seemed curious about each other’s lives.
In New York City, most cab rides are conducted in complete silence — in Boise, every driver knew my life’s story by the time they dropped me off, and vice versa.
It’s both urban and suburban.
A walk around the North End, which TripAdvisor named a top US hipster neighborhood, really cemented to me why people are moving to Boise en masse. The neighborhood is walking distance from the many bars and cafés of Downtown Boise, but super residential, with gorgeous single-family homes.
Turns out, Boise has also been named the best US city to buy a house, with a median home price of $221,475, which is below the national average.
It’s very outdoorsy.
Nestled between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin Desert, as well as where three rivers meet, Boise has plenty of hiking, skiing, rafting, and biking.
Further, the Boise River dissects the city and is surrounded by a lush 25-mile trail called the Greenbelt that has tree-lined paths for runners and cyclists, as well as a wildlife habitat, picnic tables, access to 850 acres of parks, and even a golf course.
According to Lonely Planet, Idaho has 114 mountain ranges and “some of the most rugged mountains in the Lower 48. With 3.9 million acres of Wilderness, it’s the third-wildest state in the union.” Ski resort Bogus Basin is only about 40 minutes from Boise, while the famous Sun Valley is about 2.5 hours away.
The weather was milder than I expected.
I felt pretty silly in my winter boots and down jacket when, in February, the temperature in Boise was a balmy 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently, winter in Boise sees moderate snowfall and average temperatures of around 24 to 45 degrees.
There’s a thriving wine region nearby.
Idaho just might be home to the next Napa Valley. Only about 40 minutes from Boise lies Snake River Valley, an award-winning wine region with almost 40 wineries, most of them family-owned. According to Snake River Wine Tours guide Samantha Maxey, Idaho is said to be the fastest-growing wine industry in the US.
I spent a day touring a few of the wineries, and was pleasantly surprised by how good the wine was.
Everyone seemed young and hip… and yes, from California.
Anecdotally speaking, it really felt like everyone I encountered was young, hip, and outdoorsy. I also met a disproportionate amount of California transplants.
It makes sense when you look at the statistics: In 2018, 26.3% of transplants to the city — or 21,018 people — moved from California, and almost 30% of locals are under the age of 20 (it’s a college town), with another 14% aged between 25 and 34.
Boise is home to a huge Basque population. Basque Country is in the north of Spain and shares a border with France.
Boise has one of the largest and most concentrated Basque communities in the US with around 15,000 people of Basque heritage — it’s even home to something called the “Basque Block,” which features a Basque museum, cultural center, market, and various restaurants.
It’s super bike-friendly.
There were bike lanes filled with bikers everywhere, and Boise even has a bike-rental program, though I didn’t see many rental stations when I was there.
Apparently, the average commute in Boise is only 22 minutes — another reason why people love it there.
That said, if you don’t have a car, you really need a bike: Boise barely has any public transportation to speak of.
I spent so much money on cabs it’s ridiculous (even though the fares were inexpensive).
Most of the time when I Googled how to get somewhere, I was told to Lyft to a bus stop, and then Lyft from the bus stop to my destination. In these cases, the trip would have also taken over an hour, versus a 10-minute drive. And even when there was a bus, they seemed to come sporadically at best. After walking three miles to the famous Old Idaho Penitentiary (it was a nice day out so I didn’t mind) I checked the bus schedule to find that the next bus was… the next day.
Business Insider’s Katie Warren faced the same problem on a trip to Boise and previously reported: “The Boise metro area has 25 bus routes but most buses come just every 30 minutes, at best, and stop running after about 7 p.m.” There’s also no light rail or metro system.
It can be eerily empty.
Since I didn’t have a car, I walked a lot. And as I walked everywhere, I often found myself the only person for ages. Even on a sunny Sunday afternoon, in the heart of Downtown, among shops and restaurants, I encountered only a handful of people on the streets.
Coming from New York City, where empty streets are a rare sight, this disconcerted me a little bit. Since I didn’t know the area well, it made me question whether I was somewhere I shouldn’t be.
The “hip” areas are quite small.
As cool as 8th Street/Downtown was, the many shops and bars were clustered around a maybe six-block radius. Beyond that, I saw mostly office buildings and strip malls. The same goes for the cool North End neighborhood: Besides around three café and shop-filled blocks in the Hyde Park district, it mostly consisted of private homes.
Locals are bemoaning the growth.
As I chatted with locals, one thing came up again and again: Boise’s newfound popularity was causing prices to rise, they said, and was beginning to price them out. As Katie Warren reported, “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.”
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