Visiting Boise with kids is easy and fun with plenty of things to do. Although vacationing with an 18-month-old is never easy, in Idaho’s capital this writer managed to do just that. Her tips pinpoint the hip urban vibe, outdoorsy activities, cafes, shops and restaurants and the cultural scene.
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip.
Boise with Kids
Finding fun for an 18-month-old that’s also fun for mom and dad definitely works on a getaway to Boise, Idaho.
Downtown Boise is a relaxed place 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.
As the home to more Basque people from northern Spain than any other American city, it also has a unique cultural scene. Pay a visit to the Basque Museum to learn more. There is also the Basque Block to find more Catalan focused shops and restaurants.
Boise is also outdoorsy with a river and greenbelt running through the city and plenty of biking and hiking trails in the area. Look for 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.
Here are six recommendations to see and do in this Idaho destination, whether visiting on a road trip or a weekend getaway by airplane, and you are traveling with the kids.
1. Zoo Boise
Zoo Boise was definitely a highlight of this trip and for young Everett one of the top fun things to do. 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, 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 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 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. 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 Everett 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 that runs along the Boise River for 25 miles through landscaped parklands 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.
A more somber cultural site just off the greenbelt is the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. It’s an educational and reflective outdoor memorial next to the Boise River that memorializes the teen whose diary told the world about her family’s life in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
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. 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.
6. The Grove Plaza
Finally, 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.
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.
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 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 include a free breakfast, fitness center, pool and an airport shuttle that will take you to and from for no charge.