Boise with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
A metropolitan city with a small town feel, Boise easily offers enough activities to fill a month-long family vacation. With only a day, though, start off with a quick, early and (hopefully) complimentary breakfast at your hotel, and then head to Zoo Boise (355 Julia Davis Drive, Boise, ID 83702; 208-384-4260), the most charming zoo I've ever visited -- and one of the least expensive. Special summer hours start at 9AM and admission prices range from free (for those 3 and under), to $6.50 (for those 12 and older). Wheelchairs are free and strollers are available at nominal fee at Zootique.
wallabies in the new Wallaby Walkabout, as well as more regional species like bighorn sheep and moose. But the zoo is also manageable for the younger members of your family, and offers a hands-on, interactive children's area that includes a prairie dog exhibit where kids (or even petite 40-year olds) can crawl through tunnels and "pop up" in Plexiglas bubbles in the middle of the exhibit face-to-face with the adorable little critters that populate the West.
After an affordable lunch at Zoo Boise's Critter Cafe, take advantage of the rest of the 89.4-acre Julia Davis Park (700 S. Capital Blvd., Boise, ID 83702). From the educational options of the Idaho State Historical Museum, the Idaho Black History Museum -- the oldest black history museum in the Pacific Northwest -- and the Boise Art Museum, to the extraordinary beauty of the multitude of roses in the Rose Garden of the Idaho Rose Society, Julia Davis Park offers much to explore.
If the family is tired after its trek through Zoo Boise, a narrated Boise Trolley Tour (602 Julia Davis Drive, Boise, ID 83702; 208-433-0849) through historic downtown Boise might be in order. With prices ranging from $4.00 to $16.00, depending on age, the 60-minute, open-air tour takes you through some of Boise's favorite tourist spots, such as the old territorial Penitentiary, the Basque Block and the Idaho State Capitol. The trolley tour is a great way to see Boise with tweens while everyone catches their breath from the morning's fun.
If the weather is warm, and the tweens still have plenty of energy, floating the Boise River in an inner tube or raft is a summer- time tradition. Epley's, also a local tradition, has contracted with the Ada County Recreation and Event Services to manage raft rentals on the river. They also provide air stations for those bringing their own equipment. Rafters "put in" at Barber Park (4049 S. Eckert Road, Boise, ID 83716; 208-577-4575) and "take out" at Ann Morrison Park, six miles downriver. A shuttle runs between the two parks. Some rafters like to park at Ann Morrison for a $5 or $6 fee per vehicle (depending whether you go during the week or on the weekend), ride the shuttle to Barber Park for a fee of $3 per person, and then float back to Ann Morrison. Along the way, floaters take in the sights of that part of the Boise River Green Belt, a 25-mile-long walking and biking path along both sides of the Boise River.
If you are ready to put your feet on solid ground but not quite ready to leave behind the water, then make the short drive back down to the 4.6 acre Morrison Knudsen Nature Center (600 S. Walnut, Boise, ID 83712; 208-334-2225). The MK Nature Center features walking paths through a mountain stream, waterfalls and wetlands, with multiple viewing windows where you and your kids can watch the cycle of life that follows tiny fish eggs to maturity. Along the way, you find native plants and may see nesting birds, turtles, wild ducks or any other animal who finds the peace, beauty and solitude of the center a comforting home. The center also boasts a large education building where kids and families can learn about native species, touch various animal pelts and view animal skeletons. Self-guided tours are free, as is parking in the large adjacent lot.
If you're in Boise with tweens during the weekend, there is a downtown market during the summer with vendors offering everything from huckleberry pies (YUM!) and even bison jerky and bison sausage (another YUM!), all grown locally. If not, the Boise Co-op (888 West Fort St., Boise, ID 83702; 208-472-4500) offers a host of regional products and freshly made delicacies, including the ever-present huckleberry products, which are a MUST TRY while in Boise.
If you still haven't worn the kids out, there's always the Discovery Center of Idaho (131 W. Myrtle St., Boise, ID 83702; 208-343-9895) an interactive science center that aspires to instill in children a lifelong love of, and appreciation for, science, technology, engineering and math. With admission fee ranging from free for the little ones to $6.50, it won't break the bank, and might change your child's life path. If you'd rather learn about a child whose life path was changed dramatically -- and left a substantial legacy -- the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial (777 S. 8th St., Boise, ID 83702; 208-345-0304) might be one more destination to include on your itinerary. The memorial is an open-air sculpture, exhibit and classroom and, alone, could take up much of your day if your children are in the upper range of "tweens."
As your day winds down, I recommend a drive up to Table Rock, a flat rock. It's a short but rather steep journey from downtown Boise. Table Rock is marked with a large cross, as well as the letter "B," for Boise, both of which can be seen at night, from the valley below. If you get up there before dark, though, the sunsets on Table Rock are spectacular, as are the views of the valley, and even those of the Boise Airport because from Table Rock, you actually look down on the planes landing at the airport.
- Overview: Boise Travel Guide