Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Zoo Boise
- 2. World Center for Birds of Prey
- 3. Discovery Center of Idaho
- 4. Take a Burley Bike Ride
- 5. Idaho Anne Frank Rights Memorial
- 6. MK Nature Center
- 7. Boise Whitewater Park
- 8. Freak Alley Gallery
- 9. The Grove Plaza
- 10. Basque Block
- 11. Experience Boise's Culture
- 12. Idaho State Capitol Building
- 13. Old Idaho State Penitentiary
- 14. Idaho Botanic Gardens
- 15. Ridge-to-River Trail System
- Family-Friendly Boise Hotel
Planning a trip to Idaho? Include a visit to Boise, the state’s capital. Why? There are tons of fun things to do with kids. Get up close and personal with a giraffe. Take a relaxing bike ride along the Boise River. Or sample the tastes of Spain in the Basque Market. Boise’s a walkable city that pairs a hip urban vibe with small town charm.
The writer was hosted for this trip.
Things to do in Boise with Kids
Part of Idaho’s Treasure Valley, Boise is known for its family-friendly city and walkable downtown. Finding family fun for an 18-month-old that’s also fun for mom and dad definitely worked on our getaway to Boise, Idaho.
Downtown Boise is a relaxed destination that really feels more like a small town with pedestrian-only streets. It also featured a hip urban vibe with its sidewalk cafes and eclectic shops.
Boise also offers outdoor activities with a river and greenbelt running through the city and plenty of biking and hiking trails in the area. Look for a state park, white water rafting and hot springs options within a short drive.
Other top attractions in the city of Boise include the Idaho State Capitol, the Old Idaho Penitentiary, the Boise Art Museum and the Idaho Botanical Garden. It is also home to Boise State University.
All of these make Boise the perfect destination for the whole family.
Here are six recommendations to see and do in this Idaho destination, whether visiting on a road trip or a weekend getaway by airplane.
1. Zoo Boise
Zoo Boise was definitely a highlight of this trip and for young Everett one of the top fun things to do in Boise with kids. This living science facility 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 camel to elephant, penguins to sloths, ring-tailed lemurs to Gila monsters, Zoo Boise also offers a number of worthwhile special attractions.
Everett loved the Giraffe Encounter, which takes place between 1:30 pm-2:30 pm daily. That’s when visitors can feed lettuce leaves to residents Jabari and Tafari. 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!
The Zoo Farm is another special attraction. Kids can get up close and personal with gentler farm animals such as goats, llamas and sheep. Spend a quarter to buy snacks and feed them to the animals.
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. He called every animal “ogs,” which is his version of dog (an animal he’s 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 in the United States, is in Boise. It’s also a fun family-friendly activity. Everett had a great time making excited faces and noises while we toured the indoor/outdoor education center.
Here visitors 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 to see the raptors in action and then moved on to the Discovery Room. This is designed for little kids with hands-on displays and Everett had fun playing with puzzles.
From here we walked a quarter-mile trail that winds through the center’s restored bird habitat areas to see the wild raptors.
3. Discovery Center of Idaho
We also had a great time at the Discovery Center of Idaho. It’s a kid-friendly science center museum that uses interactive exhibits to explain complex subjects to children.
Exhibits when we visited celebrated STEM learning and offered a new take on some of the center’s most popular exhibits from decades past.
It was so much 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 to see 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, and there’s no better place to enjoy an outdoor activity than at the Boise River Greenbelt.
We live in Colorado, so we felt right at home. Of course, we had to go for a bike ride to check out the city’s trail system. We rented bikes and a Burley bike trailer for our little guy from Idaho Mountain Touring and headed out to the Boise River Greenbelt.
The greenbelt, one of the fun free things to do in Boise with kids, is a really cool paved path. It runs along the Boise River for 25 miles through landscaped parklands (with plenty of picnic areas) and adjacent municipalities like Garden City and Payette.
It is a great way to explore. Along the way, find signs like Taste, Play and Create. Follow them away from the path to discover all sorts of new experiences from swimming holes to restaurants.
There are more biking options in the Boise foothills just outside town, but these are harder to ride with a Burley. That said if you can get a babysitter for a little while it is worth checking out the more intense bike rides of the Boise foothills.
5. Idaho Anne Frank Rights Memorial
A more somber cultural site just off the greenbelt is the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.
This educational and reflective outdoor memorial next to the Boise River commemorates the teen whose diary told the world about her family’s life in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
6. MK Nature Center
Along the Boise River Greenbelt, take time to enjoy another outdoor activity, the Idaho Fish and Game MK Nature Center (behind the Idaho Fish and Game headquarters).
This 4.6-acre wildlife experience offers a unique wildlife experience and a glimpse of the state’s many landscapes and abundant wildlife.
Stroll the StreamWalk with this MK Nature Center trail map and enjoy a “fish-eye view” with underwater viewing windows along the stream walk.
7. Boise Whitewater Park
For a truly unusual Idaho experience, visit the Boise Whitewater Park, accessible via the Boise Greenbelt.
This public water park offers waves suitable for surfing, offering SUP, kayaks and rafts the opportunity to practice their moves. If kayaking or rafting aren’t your thing, it’s pretty cool to watch others enjoying the waves.
8. Freak Alley Gallery
When you’ve had enough kid-focused activities, visit Freak Alley Gallery in downtown Boise. These one-of-a-kind graffiti murals change constantly. And it’s outdoors, which means it’s an art gallery that still works for little ones. Everett enjoyed pointing out the different colors and TJ and I enjoyed 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. It began as a single painting in a doorway back in 2002.
After checking out the street art, grab a drink at one of the many bars or restaurants in the vicinity. One of our favorites is Fork, which serves farm-to-table fare including fresh veggies like we might find at the Boise Farmers Market. Boise also has a decent nightlife scene with some venues playing live music.
9. The Grove Plaza
Check out The 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 the place to catch live music, especially in the summer, and where festivals take place.
Downtown Boise is also home to numerous events, including Alive After Five, Father’s Day Car Show, Holiday Lights, Dine Out Downtown Boise Restaurant Week and more. (Due to COVID and pandemic restrictions, be sure to check the events calendar for up-to-date information.)
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 I can imagine how much energy is burned off here on those summer days.
10. Basque Block
Home to more Basque people from northern Spain than any other American city, Boise and Treasure Valley Basques offers a unique cultural scene that also includes The Basque Block, home to Catalan-focused shops and restaurants. This area is part of the Old Boise Historic District and is also filled with history and entertainment.
Pay a visit to the Basque Museum and Cultural Museum to learn more about their heritage. Foodies should take some time to explore the Basque Market, with their unique offering of Basque foods and Spanish wines.
11. Experience Boise’s Culture
To learn more about Boise and its history, take time to visit its museums and galleries.
In addition to the above museums, the Basque Block is near several of Boise’s best museums. Located within walking distance, visit Idaho Historic Museum, the Black History Museum and Boise Art Museum in Julia Davis Park to the many galleries.
12. Idaho State Capitol Building
When in downtown Boise, add a quick stop to at least see the Idaho State Capitol Building.
13. Old Idaho State Penitentiary
For another cool look at Boise’s history, take a tour of the Idaho State Penitentiary, opened from 1872 to 1973.
While for younger kids it might be scary, older kids and adults should take the self-guided tour to learn of its more than 100 years of prison history of escapes, scandals and executions. The site features thirty historic buildings and special exhibits, including historic weapons.
The tour includes visits to Solitary Confinement, cell blocks and the Gallows
14. Idaho Botanic Gardens
For a relaxing stroll and another outdoor activity, visit the Idaho Botanic Gardens, located on 50 acres in the Boise Foothills in Treasure Valley. This is the oldest and one of the first botanical gardens in Idaho. Until 1973 the site served as the Old Idaho State Penitentiary’s farm and nursery.
15. Ridge-to-River Trail System
The Boise Foothills provides an interconnected network of roads and trails courses through the hills, linking not only neighborhoods with public lands but also connecting people with the natural environment. With over 190 miles of trails, your family will definitely add this as one of the fun things to do in Boise with kids.
Part of this trail system is the Table Rock area. While you’ll need a car (or be an ambitious bicyclist), it’s only a short ride outside the city and worth the drive. The view from the top is simply amazing! Take a hike, ride your bicycle or just soak in the gorgeous views of Boise.
Family-Friendly Boise Hotel
When we travel with our little one, we have a few must-haves to always tick off, and the Residence Inn Boise Downtown/City Center met them all.
First, the hotel is in downtown Boise, which means it is within walking distance to everything, including the Idaho state capitol building and the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. A convenient location is one of my major requirements when booking a hotel. 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. It comes in handy for bottle washing and being able to buy groceries (and keep them fresh). That means we can make healthy snacks for our son who is too young to warrant ordering a kid’s meal.
Another perk to staying at this hotel is the Lobby Bar and Grill. It was easy to grab a quick drink in the evening without having to go out and postpone our son’s bedtime.
Other perks included a free breakfast, fitness center, pool and an airport shuttle that will take you to and from for no charge.