Big Surprises in Idaho’s Little Capitol

After a visit to the Tsar Nicoulai caviar farm in Idaho’s Magic Valley, “Two Guys in a Minivan” headed north, en route to Boise. Here’s the next installment of reporter Adam Mankoski’s roadtrip adventure.

Regardless of your belief in god and el diablo, you will find yourself praying, and possibly selling your soul, to be relieved of the monotony of a northbound drive from Twin Falls in southern Idaho to Idaho’s capitol city.


Alas, there’s no need for such soul-selling extremes. Just when you think you will never see city again, the infinite barren plains, followed by corn-laden, outskirts-cum-suburbs and cookie-cutter subdivisions eventually end and you drive right into the middle of a sweet little surprise: downtown Boise.


First things first on our 11-year-old’s Boise itinerary: Zoo Boise. This small, intimate, park-like zoo with its surprising number of interactive exhibits could easily be mistaken for its big-city cousins. The zoo farm, giraffe encounter, conservation cruise and wallaby walkabout all offer an opportunity for zoo-goers to come face to face and feed the animals.


Don’t miss the penguins, an easy 45 minutes of pure entertainment and a full camera memory card, and be sure you visit the Amur tigers. They pass breathtakingly close enough to make you forget the glass partition that separates man from beast. Exotic animals get all the attention, so don’t leave the zoo without giving equal time to a population of interesting indigenous animals.


Zoo Boise is just a slice of the 87-acre Julia Davis Park, also home to the Boise Art Museum, Idaho State Historical Museum, the Black History Museum and the science-focused Discovery Center.


The park was deeded to the city in 1907 by Tom Davis, an early pioneer and Boise city planner who owned and developed thousands of acres of agricultural property. The parcel, donated in memory of his wife, is the epicenter of downtown Boise and an enviable public space.


To get from one incredible museum complex to the next, visitors are forced (oh, the sacrifices) to traverse the Julia Davis Park rose garden. The garden’s first phase was planned and planted with 2,800 bushes in 1939 by Tom McLeod, the park superintendant and a member of the “Cut Worms,” a men-only garden club. The garden was awarded Public Rose Garden accreditation in 1992 and receives ten All American-winning rose bushes each year.


Post-zoo and rose garden, we successfully negotiated our way out of an afternoon at the Discovery Center (we’ll save it for another trip) and into a few hours at the Capitol building, by appealing to our 11-year old’s history buff side.


Visitors to the newly-renovated state building are greeted by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the oldest monument in the western United States celebrating our nation’s 16th President, and father of the Idaho Territory. Inside, we were awe-struck by polished marble floors, scagliola columns and a renovated dome.


We could have spent the day browsing expertly-curated exhibits and collections that include a basement museum, wood pieces crafted by Idaho artists from trees felled during the building’s recent renovation, and a collection of statuary.


A replica of “Nike of Samothrace,” discovered by a French vice-consul on the island of Samothrace, Greece in 1863, was a gift to Idaho from France after World War II. After the war, each state received a train-box car full of gifts to thank the United States for its help in liberating France from Nazi Germany. “Winged Victory” was one of the gifts in Idaho’s box car and has been on display in the capital building since it arrived on France’s “Merci Train” in 1949.


Our minds brimming with Idaho history, we stepped out of the capital, onto downtown Boise’s immaculate avenues for some serious urban eye candy. Boise boasts a progressive public art program, administered by two full-time, dedicated staff in its Department of Arts and History.


Boise’s public art has been a component of the city’s downtown revitalization since the early 80s and now has been expanded city-wide, with the “Percent for Art” program, mandating that a percentage of the cost of each city capital project is allotted for art. Bragging rights are also allowed for the city’s artist in residence program, the Downtown Boise Association’s First Thursday Art Walk and a partnership for public improvements with the Capitol City Development Corporation.


Downtown, we couldn’t turn a corner without coming head-on into a sculpture, decorated façade, mosaic tile alley, vinyl-wrapped traffic box, sculptural street lamp, or strip of sidewalk embedded with images and shapes. Works like Amy Westover’s 1993 “Grove Street Illuminated and Boise Canal” (above) may help define Boise’s strong civic pride and identity, but it made us want to explore.


Explore, we did. Revitalized downtown Boise has the requisite PF Chang’s, Urban Outfitters and sparkling movie complex, but also boasts block after block of independent restaurants, wine bars and boutiques. Inviting public spaces, cooled by the mist and calmed by the sounds of fountains are connected by bicycle-friendly, brick-lined thoroughfares where visitors are encouraged to walk with easy-to-read maps and free brochures.


We took a reprieve from our explorations at Cazba, a Mediterranean restaurant separated from the downtown bustle by a cool, fenced patio. Our window seat offered an endless, diverse stream of urbanites and we regained our strength with homemade hummus, juicy lamb gyros, curry chicken and shrimp wraps.


After our protein recharge, we fueled up with Cazba’s signature Turkish coffee. This unbelievable, amped-up chocolate-cinnamon-espresso concoction with a side of honey glazed almonds, is, according to Cazba’s staff, coveted by Starbuck’s executives who return regularly and try, unsuccessfully, to purchase the recipe.


Thankfully, we didn’t sell our souls on the drive from Twin Falls. We could have spent our whole vacation exploring Boise, its public art, its complex of museums, its urban garden oasis and downtown’s rows of restored historic buildings, happily occupied by restaurants and shops.

All that, plus the Cazba coffee, made downtown Boise a sweet little surprise.

Stay tuned for the next edition of “Two Guys in a Minivan,” by Adam Mankoski: “Experience Portland, Bite by Bite.”

Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to

This portrait of Adam Mankoski was created by Shasta High School students Chance Norman and Kenzi Bell.

is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner are the owners of HawkMan Studios and the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Troy Hawkins says:

    I loved reading and reliving this trip. Boise is an awesome little town. It's downtown area is stunning and very easy to get around. I LOVED LOVED LOVED all of the art, everywhere. Thanks Boise for a great time!

  2. Avatar Laurie McConnell says:

    Great article! You did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of Boise. Thank you!

  3. Avatar Joye Lisk says:

    And…..Saturday morning's Capitol City Market is the best!

  4. Avatar Gary Dudley says:

    Very well written. I enjoyed your impressions of our lovely city. I fell in love with Boise some twenty-five years ago, and wouldn't leave for any amount of money.

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Gary – Glad you liked it. Keep reading the site. With correspondents in Paris, the Czech Republic, Oregon …, we have a lot to offer folks outside of Northern CA. See you online.

  5. Avatar Laurie Barrera says:

    Ah, well said, well written. I absolutely LOVE living in Boise, Idaho. You captured a great slice of what we all appreciate. Thank you!

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Laurie – There is so much I missed. We were only there for 4 days. Plan to make a longer visit again soon. I understand there is a large Basque community, so I'm looking forward to more great food on my next visit. Many thanks.

  6. Avatar Pam Howard says:

    Very well written! Enjoyed it all except the part in the beginning about the "monotony of a northbound drive" and "the infinite barren plains". I live within that zone! 🙂

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Pam – Sorry! I am sure your part of the country has it's charms. I should have slowed down and looked. If you want to give readers some tips about your neck of the woods, go for it.

  7. Avatar Sue says:

    Adam, thanks for a great write-up of your trip. I never thought I'd want to visit Boise, but this makes the city really come alive. Well done!

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Sue – Visit as oon as you get a chance. Boise is an amazing place. Some good lessons in urban planning for Redding's City Council!

  8. Avatar will says:

    One of the great things about Boise is all of the cool places that seem to be hidden here in the middle of the desert. We have also started a blog with many of the same areas in it. If you are curious I encourage you to check it out and follow us as we explore some of the interesting places in Boise and the surrounding areas.

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Will – Thanks for the link to this blog. Another great example of how progressive the city is. We absolutely loved Boise. I'm looking forward to another visit – soon.

  9. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    Adam, you and Troy would find extraordinary views and art where-ever you go. Life and art are happening everywhere; I love seeing and reading about what you discovered on your journey. Thank you for sharing your journey through Idaho.

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Joanne – Thanks for the great comment. Admittedly, it was easy to find good stuff in Boise, but it's my life philosophy that even in the most unlikely spots, you'll find cool things, interesting people – and great food! You just have to keep your eyes and mind wide open! Thanks for reading. Stay tuned next week for more adventures of "Two Guys in a Minivan."

  10. Avatar Steve Fischer says:

    We spent a few days in Boise this last May – very nice little city. We enjoyed the zoo, gardens, and several fine restaurants. But you give too little love to the "getting there." We went out 299 through Burney, took 395 through Alturas into Oregon, and then 20 into Idaho. It's not a city drive, but there's quite a lot to see in the nine hours to Boise from Redding.
    For just one, check out Abert Lake and the amazing Abert Rim, probably the largest sheer upthrust escarpment you're likely to see, an amazing 2000 foot cliff along and beyond the alkali Abert Lake.
    Check it out.

    • Avatar Adam Mankoski says:

      Steve – Thanks for the travel tips. We made the journey from Redding to Idaho in the middle of the night. We dodged jackrabbits and mice and plowed through walls of tumbleweed.

      The drive from Twin Falls to Boise does offer some interesting scenery. The plateaus and buttes are incredible. Probably green in the spring.

      I should have given more credit where it was do. I love scenery, but exciting cities are more my speed.

      Thanks for reading.

  11. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Wow! Never thought of Boise as a destination city. You really brought it to life. I know if you love it I will too.

    Thank you Adam, as always your words are so palpable we hardly need photos.