[ON LOCATION] STEVE GRASSO
Idaho’s capital and most populous city, Boise, is said to have received its unusual name after an expedition by the explorer Benjamin Bonneville in the 1830s. After weeks trekking through the dry desert terrain of the American West, Bonneville’s party reached an overlook with a view of the Boise River Valley, a verdant oasis lined with cottonwood trees. Astonished at the sight, a French-speaking guide shouted “Les bois! Les bois!” (“The woods! The woods!”)—and the rest is history.
My first impression of Boise was how immediately walkable everything is, more like a small European city with dining and entertainment options just steps away. After dropping my suitcase at our host hotel, the stylish Marriott Residence Inn City Center in the heart of Boise’s downtown, I set out for the Brickyard Steakhouse just a block away and joined the rest of the FAM group invited by Visit Boise to experience the city. The Brickyard offers a private dining space for groups that can seat up to 36 and features a dueling pianos show on Fridays and Saturdays.
“MICE planners especially love Boise because they’re booking a walkable, urban experience for their attendees,” says Carrie Westergard, executive director, Visit Boise. “We’re known for our safe, clean downtown where hotels, restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms, shopping and trails are all within easy access. Most groups find they don’t need to coordinate transportation between activities.”
Downtown Boise offers a variety of hotel options that are all within a block or two of the Boise Centre, the city’s 86,000-sf convention center that can accommodate groups of up to 2,000 across its 24,426-sf ballroom and 31 flexible meeting rooms. The Boise Centre has its own in-house catering team, and we had the opportunity to sample its fare during the visit with a 4-course menu that included duck confit and 12-hour braised beef short-rib.
The 185-room Marriott Residence Inn City Center features all-suite accommodations with fully equipped kitchens in each. In addition to 4,486 sf of meeting space, the hotel has a 4,000-sf open-air roof deck with a bar serving craft cocktails and capacity for events up to 150 people.
Other hotel options nearby include the 250-room Grove Hotel with 14,000 sf of event space including a newly remodeled 6,800-sf ballroom. Accommodating up to 350 attendees, the hotel’s terrace roof space features fire pits and its own dining menu. The terrace is available for buyouts and groups can book the adjacent terrace suites that open out onto the space. The hotel is also attached to the adjacent 5,400-seat Idaho Central Arena that can accommodate trade shows and larger events.
Inn at 500 Capitol is a four-diamond boutique hotel with 110 guest rooms, including uniquely decorated themed rooms such as the movie history-inspired Flicks Room and food-themed Farmers Market Room. It offers a 1,764-sf meeting space, a boardroom and a hospitality suite that can allow for a private bar and catering. Hotel 43 is another nearby boutique hotel that offers 112 rooms, as well as Chandlers Steakhouse, Boise’s only Forbes-rated restaurant and one of the top steakhouses in Idaho. Hilton Garden Inn Downtown is within this same walkable area and offers 132 rooms and 4,048 sf of meeting space.
JUMP or Jack’s Urban Meeting Space is an innovative community space that came into being when Idaho entrepreneur J.R. (Jack) Simplot was looking to display his collection of vintage tractors. Instead of housing them in a museum, the tractors are exhibited throughout JUMP. The facility includes a wide range of meeting rooms, including the 8,230-sf JUMP Room and 6,865-sf Pioneer Room. It also has five interactive studios including an industrial-grade kitchen to innovate new recipes, a studio offering state-of-the-art AV equipment, a studio packed with tools including a 3D printer, a space for dance and movement, and a studio to brainstorm ideas. Adventurous attendees may descend from a meeting on the top floor of the building via a 5-story tube slide that winds down the outside of the building to the park below.
“For meeting planners, Boise is a hidden gem that warmly welcomes groups of all sizes with a resounding ‘yes, we can!’ attitude,” says Jeanette Stensgaard, MBA, CMP, HMCC, sr. director, events and education, Kidney Cancer Association, who participated in the FAM visit. “The city’s unique blend of urban sophistication and small-town charm creates an enchanting atmosphere that lingers long after you’ve departed.”
Walkable sights downtown include the Idaho State Capitol, constructed in 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Idaho State Museum and Boise Art Museum. Groups can also tour the Freak Alley Gallery, an outdoor district displaying murals, graffiti and public art. A unique venue for events is The Egyptian Theatre, a stunning 1927 theater and venue elaborately designed in the Egyptian Revival style. The theater is available for buyouts and can seat 1,397.
Treefort Music Hall is a new music and events venue that opened downtown in March 2023 following the success of the Treefort Music Fest, a 5-day, indie rock festival that is held at numerous venues throughout downtown Boise in late March each year. The music hall has capacity for 1,041 and is complemented by the Hap Hap Lounge, a stylish rooftop lounge serving classic and creative cocktails.
Visitors to Boise might be surprised to discover that the city is home to the largest concentration of Basque people outside of Spain. This thriving community and its heritage are represented downtown by the Basque Block, a stretch of road containing traditional Basque boarding houses, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Bar Gernika, Leka Ona restaurant, and the Basque Market. Initially settling in Idaho during the Gold Rush, Basque immigrants later became sheep herders in the region, and then their numbers further grew following the Spanish Civil War. Our group stopped for lunch at Leka Ona, where we sampled Basque-style croquettes and paella.
“Boise is so close to the outdoors,” says Visit Boise’s Westergard. “Our famed Greenbelt, a 25-mile pedestrian and bicycle route, runs through downtown and provides meeting attendees with immediate access to the outdoors. Incorporating wellness activities, like group walks or morning runs, is easy and safe here.”
Situated on the Greenbelt just a few feet from the river, the Telaya Wine Company offers tours and tastings for groups. We stopped here for lunch paired with local wines in a private space that boasts views of the Boise River and can accommodate up to 30 seated. Afterwards we were given a tour of the production space and learned how the wine is created and bottled.
For adventurous groups seeking to explore some of Idaho’s natural landscape, Cascade Raft and Kayak is located an hour’s drive from Boise and offers white-water rafting excursions for all ability levels. The family-owned company has been operating on the Payette River for almost 40 years and can facilitate rafting adventures for groups of 18 to 418. After a day on the waters our group concluded the tour with a meal prepared by Cascade’s catering team, served on a riverside deck overlooking the Payette River.