boise1I didn’t know before we arrived that Boise is a great place for a family vacation: skiing, terrific museums, and outdoor activities.

Boise, Idaho, is our home now. We moved here from southern California for the affordable housing, great schools and easier life. What I didn’t know before we arrived is that Boise also is a great place for a family vacation. We’ve got skiing, terrific museums, and outdoor activities, all at a price that can make a family vacation affordable.

boise2.jpgAffordable Skiing
When most people think about taking a family vacation skiing in Idaho, they think of luxurious Sun Valley. Sure, it’s some of the best skiing in the world, but at $85/day for a lift ticket, it’s an expensive proposition for a family of four.

We live in Boise. And we ski at the local resort: Bogus Basin. It’s a 35-minute drive from downtown Boise and a much more affordable family vacation ski option. On some days, I drop off my kids at school, go skiing and I’m back for lunch, a little work and off to pick them up. Not a bad day. Kids under 6 and folks over 70 ski free and a regular day pass is only $48 ($38 if you’re skiing half-day). There’s even night skiing, which I have not yet tried (I’m waiting for a warmer night — I’m from California, people!), but I hear it is very fun. The slopes are open daily until 10 p.m. So that half-day ticket can get you nine hours of skiing. Even lessons are inexpensive: $30 for a 75-minute group lesson. That’s enough to get your brain thinking about technique. I’ve improved considerably after just ONE lesson!

Idaho Discovery Center
boise3.jpgOn those July days that were unbearably hot and on the cold winter days when we aren’t skiing, we go to the Idaho Discovery Center. It’s a hands-on, interactive science center. My daughter was just 3 the first time we went and she found plenty of things to investigate. The exhibits include pulling yourself up on a pulley-chair, creating a wall of soap bubble that you can blow into and (my kids’ favorite) a mini-supermarket with shopping carts/lists/products including a mini-checkout line.

Zoo Boise
When we lived in Los Angeles, the drive to the LA Zoo was a total crap shoot: if there was traffic, the half-hour drive could double. A very risky proposition. In Boise, the zoo is downtown and a manageable size. Even small children can tour the entire zoo in one day and not have a meltdown. Best part: there are never any crowds.

Boise Art Museum
The children’s space in the museum, called Art Experience Gallery, is geared towards kids 12 and under and gives them an understanding of how art is created — similar to the Discovery Center in that it’s hands on. There are exhibitions of pottery to assemble, colored plastic to arrange into an “objet,” blocks, coloring — lots of activities to keep your kids engaged and creative. I’ve been to MoMa in New York, MoCa in Los Angeles, the Getty — I’ve been to a lot of museums and this is by far, the most engaging room I’ve ever seen for kids.

boise5.jpgThat said, the exhibits at the museum have been thought provoking and nothing short of revelations. They are well organized and user-friendly so that even if you don’t know anything about the artist or the medium, you are drawn in. Case in Point: A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts. Initially, I had no interest. But I was drawn in by a wonderful documentary that was being shown in one of the galleries and was completely surprised by the complexity and history of the art. That’s what makes a great museum.

Rafting Down the Boise River
Last August, we were a little nervous about taking our very young kids down the Boise River in a raft ($40 for a raft that fits eight people!). It’s an almost two-hour jaunt down the lazy Boise River. People: this is a river so clean — in the middle of the City!!! — that you can swim in it. Unusual nowadays, eh? A friend came to visit us and we had a grand time enjoying the fact that we city-folk were on a river raft. All the kids were under 6 and did just fine. The raft came with life jackets and we could stop along the way for a swim (yes, it was cold) or to gaze at the beautiful houses and bridges. We even passed right by the Boise State stadium (with the blue turf – Go Broncos!) You can park your car up river and take the bus back from the city park where you stop. There are tons of people who do this in the summer months and it’s easily accessed.

Where to Stay
When my family comes to visit and my house fills up, we send the overflow crowd to the The Modern Hotel. It’s a refurbished Travel Lodge and has very stylish, contemporary design and breakfast included. And it’s a deal: much less than most of the other hotels in town (don’t know why) and they have a very fun little bar where local musicians perform during the warmer months. Local hipsters come to drink and listen to music, so you’ll definitely have some of the home town feel here. It’s not just for tourists. If you’re looking for something with less character, there’s The Grove Hotel, which is a totally fine high rise, corporate-y hotel.

Where to Eat
boise6.jpgMy kids are picky. We like to go to Lulu’s Pizza ilovelulus.com because they also have good salads and it’s never too crowded. We also go to Guido’s for the same reasons, although sometimes it does get crowded. Big City Diner is a great place for breakfast or lunch with the kids. Keep in mind that the portions are HUGE here. Can’t go wrong with Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro — that place is so good, it’s famous (so I’m told). The best restaurant in town that is not exactly kid friendly is the Red Feather Lounge. It specializes in local products: sturgeon, smoked trout, lamb chops. And they have incredible drinks. My fave: a basil spanked vodka gimlet. Truly delicious.

Airport
Boise Airport (BOI) is ridiculously easy if you’re used to big city airports. United, Delta, Southwest, American, Alaska, Horizon are just a few of the airlines that fly here.

Elizabeth Rodgers writes the TravelingTekTipsMom blog for TravelingMom.com and is the co-owner of Ben’s Ranch, a home and small business IT service company.