Boise’s Charms Put Potato Jokes to Rest

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 20, 1994

BOISE — My friends used to snicker when I told them about my yearly trips to Idaho’s capital.  And to tell you the truth, if I didn’t have family out here, I probably wouldn’t have given the city a second thought as a potential vacation spot.

But you know what?  All the potato jokes aside, Boise is a fun place to spend a weekend without having to worry about traffic jams or spending a lot of cash.

I started my weekend with a visit to Bogus Basin Ski Resort (2405 Bogus Basin Rd., 208-332-5100), which is open through April 10. Skiing is not my sport, so even the bunny hill looked imposing to me.  Never mind that 5-year-olds easily navigated their way down the hill.

“We start skiing young here,” said my 19-year-old ski instructor, Nathan (like Madonna, all ski instructors go by their first names). “You get a lot of parents who enroll their kids in lessons as soon as they’re walking.”

Standing upright was my problem, but a one-hour lesson proved quite helpful.  None of this could have been done without Nathan, who not only taught me the rudiments of simple skiing, but served as a human wall between me and the skiers I was about to mow down.

Boiseans are a hearty lot who make Chicagoans look like wimps. You won’t catch any of us running around in 30-degree weather without coats.  But I saw quite a few people skiing down the slopes wearing T-shirts or roaming the streets in cut-offs.

The sight was enough to run a chill through me.  My sister-in-law suggested a coffee break at Soho Caffe (6932 W. State, 208-853-4641), a charming espresso bar that looked out of place in the local strip mall.  Inside, neon lights boasted, “Milan . . . Italy . . . Boise.”  The sight made me giggle, but the cappuccino was out of this world.  Hot and comforting, with just the right amount of frothy milk on top, it was as good as any I’ve had in Seattle.

“The thing that makes Soho so charming is that it’s so unexpected in Idaho,” said Stephanie Milano, a visiting New Yorker. “Actually, that’s a prejudiced thing to say because that’s buying into the whole `this is a little town’ mentality.  But at times, being in Boise does feel like there’s a little bit of a time warp thing happening because things go slowly here.  Being from New York, it makes me feel really at home to be at a nice cafe like this.”

The next day, I decided to try sightseeing.  The Boise Art Museum (670 Julia Davis Dr., 208-345-8330) was quaint but not very interesting.  On the other hand, the Old Idaho Territorial Penitentiary (2445 Old Penitentiary Rd., 208-334-2844) was fascinating.  Built in 1870, the penitentiary served as Idaho’s prison until 1974, when inmates were moved to a new facility.  Now placed on the state’s National Register of Historic Places, the penitentiary is one of Boise’s most popular tourist attraction.

Wear comfy shoes for this visit, because the expansive complex is addictive and you’ll want to check out all the nooks and crannies, such as the punishment block known as Siberia and the gallows area. It’s a creepy, but fascinating, landmark made of hand-cut stone.  And don’t forget to check out the penitentiary museum, which has on display photos of infamous inmates and documents of escapes.

I took a pass on the chance to ski again and tried skating instead. Boise doesn’t have any ice skating rinks, so I settled on a trip to Skateworld (7360 Bethel, 208-378-8300), where both roller skaters and in-line skaters are welcome.  It’s a great place to bring the family.

Idaho Travel Council, J.D. Williams Building, 2nd Floor, 700 W. State St., Boise 83720; (800) 635-7820.

March 20, 1994

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