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Six Things You Probably Don’t Know About Boise

Dining out downtown BoiseWhether you are staying in Boise or flying in and the heading elsewhere in Idaho, plan a few days to explore some of the area’s lesser known highlights. Here’s a list you might investigate in this vibrant city.

GOLD RUSH – People know about the California gold rush of 1849 and the Klondike gold rush of 1898, but few folks realize there was a huge rush in Idaho, probably because the U.S. was in the middle of the Civil War at the same time.

Boise downtown

Boise’s downtown is filled with historic buildings.

In the beginning, you could pick up nuggets from the Boise Basin rivers. And eventually, the rush produced 3 million ounces of gold. It is estimated that more than $250,000,000 was taken from this area in the two decades following gold’s discovery here… greater than the gold rushes in California and the Klondike in Alaska. It is reported that gold from the Boise Basin strengthened the Union Treasury during the most crucial days of the Civil War, perhaps helping preserve the United States.

grapevines Boise

Who knew that the Boise boasts more than 50 wineries.

WINE INDUSTRY – Yes, Idaho has a burgeoning wine industry. The region sits on the 43rd parallel with hot, dry summers, dependable frost to set the fruit, controlled irrigation and no problems with mold. In other words, one local said, “Perfect grape growing conditions.”

But it’s all new. The Snake River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) was only created a handful of years ago. Chalk it up to changing climate and an influx of wealthy corporate types retiring to the area with a desire to start their own vineyards. The 11 Idaho wineries of 2002 are now more than 50, with more than 1,200 acres of grapes planted. So make sure to try some local wine.

BASQUE BLOCK – Great conditions for sheep led to an influx of Basque sheep herders in the 1800s, peaking around 1900 with about 50,000 Basques. And today, though the sheep industry is smaller than it once was, the Basque population lives on. Numbering about 16,000, Boise’s Basque community is one of the largest in the United States. Like all other Basque communities, Boise area Basques are very proud of their unique heritage, but the local Basques also have a unique area to call their own – The Basque Block, with a museum, market, restaurants and regular festivals.

Basque dancers

The Basque culture adds color to the Boise scene.

ANNE FRANK MEMORIAL – This is a touching memorial to Anne Frank, the girl who hid from Nazis during WWII and is remembered through the diary she kept during those years before ultimately being found and dying in a concentration camp. In 1995, a traveling exhibit on Anne Frank drew tens of thousands of visitors from across Idaho. This overwhelming interest sparked the idea for a more permanent tribute which today is the only Anne Frank memorial in the US. And though the memorial doesn’t specifically mention it, locals say part of the reason this park exists was to celebrate the fact that the white supremacist Aryan Nation was kicked out of northern Idaho in the late 1990s.

Boise street scene

Outdoor dining is a favorite summer past time in Boise.

FREAK ALLEY – Begun in 2002 with a painting of a single alley doorway, Freak Alley now extends a full block between 8th and 9th Streets and Bannock and Idaho Streets and contains solid walls of truly beautiful paintings. Artists have painted realistic murals, cartoons and straight-on graffiti across the alley’s aging brick walls. At any time you might come upon artists on ladders creating new images. The eye-popping colored walls change constantly.

GROVE PLAZA– In the center of town, a huge farmer’s market, known as Capital City Public Market, happens every Saturday from mid-April through mid-December at Grove Plaza. Locals load up on dinner. Visitors can find portable goodies … nuts, dried fruit, jams, honey. There’s crafts and often, entertainment. The Market currently sits along 8th Street between Main and State Streets. It’s grown steadily with 150+ vendors a day in the peak of the season, and now consumes 4 blocks of downtown Boise.

Freak Alley Boise

Freak Alley is covered with street art by talented artists. Photo Yvette Cardozo.

Meanwhile, every Wednesday afternoon in summer, the plaza is filled with live entertainment. It’s called Alive After Five and features live bands, vendor booths, food and drink.—by Yvette Cardozo, RFT Ski & Dive Editor

If You Go

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Yvette Cardozo, RFT Ski & Dive Editor

Yvette Cardozo from the Seattle, Washington area, likes to visit interesting places and learn about interesting cultures and, if a tasty local dish is involved, so much the better. She’s eaten everything from gourmet food at the world’s finest restaurants to native food in Asia, the arctic, and all kinds of places in between.Yvette recalls being in Antarctica and going out on the land with Inuit elders in arctic Canada , then bagging a caribou. They dragged it back to camp and ate it on the spot raw. She quips, “Hey, if you like steak tartare….”Yvette, who is a veteran skier and diver, is RFT’s Ski & Dive Editor.