Boise, Idaho, has been called the best place for millennials to live in the US. I spent 4 days there, and a walk through downtown makes it clear why it’s so popular.

Boise is having a moment.

caption
Boise is having a moment.
source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Everyone wants to live in Boise, Idaho right now.

The mid-size Pacific Northwest city is experiencing a major growth spurt. Forbes ranked it the fastest-growing city in the US in 2018. Its population grew by 18.2% between 2010 and 2018, and by more than 3% just between 2017 and 2018.

While most people moving to Boise come from smaller towns in Idaho, the foremost place out-of-state transplants are moving from is California, primarily from the Los Angeles metro area.

Almost 80,000 people moved to Idaho in 2018 – more than 21,000 of them from California, according to US Census data.

According to locals, people are finally figuring out how great of a place Boise is to live. In 2019, Boise was ranked the best place to live for millennials as well as the best US city to buy a house.

I recently spent four days in Boise exploring the city and talking to local business owners and residents. As someone who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, I was curious to get a feel for Boise’s downtown and see what kind of lifestyle it offers for big-city transplants. After four days, I can, for starters, say this: Boise does not disappoint.

Keep reading for a look at its vibrant downtown area, which is bustling with breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, coffee shops, and new luxury apartments.


Boise, the capital of Idaho, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Boise saw an 18.2% population jump from 2010 to 2018 – and it was the fastest-growing city in the country between 2017 and 2018, according to Forbes. The Idaho capital has recently been ranked the best place to live for millennials as well as the best US city to buy a house.

Roughly 25% of out-of-state transplants to Boise come from California, followed by Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Texas, according to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership’s marketing manager.

While many welcome Boise’s growth, some locals say the influx of new residents is pricing out longtime locals. Indeed, the average home price in Boise jumped almost 12% between 2017 and 2018, and average rent has increased by roughly 7% in the past year. But wages haven’t kept up, leaving many longtime residents struggling to afford their living costs.

Some also say the growth has brought with it big city-like traffic.


Despite the reported increased traffic, Boise residents’ average commute time to work is just over 18 minutes, as compared to the US average of 26.4 minutes.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

In New York City, the average commute is more than double that of Boise’s at 40.8 minutes. In San Francisco, it’s 32.8 minutes.


Boise may have stayed more or less under the radar until recently, but now it seems the secret is out that the Idaho capital is a desirable place to live.

Boise is having a moment.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

In 2019, Boise was ranked the best place to live for millennials as well as the best US city to buy a house. And it has a burgeoning tech scene.

I recently spent four days in Boise, exploring downtown and other areas, interviewing local business owners, and chatting with locals.


I was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of Boise’s downtown area.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

“In the last 10 years, Idaho’s economy has become more diverse, which can easily be seen in the boom downtown,” Wes Jost, senior vice president and manager of Zions Bank’s Idaho Commercial Real Estate Group, told me. “New people and businesses are continuing to relocate to Boise, placing our area in growth mode for the last six to seven years.”

That boom was clear during my visit.

Boise is a city of just of 229,000 people, but throughout my time there, downtown was bustling with people walking and biking the streets, grabbing a coffee in the plethora of trendy cafés, and even sitting outside in the sun on a brisk November day.


Many parts of downtown Boise have a funky, artsy vibe.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

I spotted several colorful murals in alleyways and on the sides of buildings.


One block, dubbed the Basque Block, includes a Basque museum and cultural center and the Basque Market, which sells Basque foods and Spanish wines.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Boise has a Basque community of about 16,000, one of the largest in the US.

The Basque people come from the western foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France. They have their own distinct Basque language.


The Basque Block is also home to what claims to be the country’s first restaurant-distillery, Bardenay.

source
Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery/Facebook

On my last night in Boise, a Friday night, I stopped into Bardenay for a drink. Inside, I found a boisterous atmosphere, with people of all ages filling up the large space.

I paid $7.50 for a tasty Huckleberry Lemon Drop cocktail, which is made with Bardenay lemon vodka, Triple Sec, fresh-pressed sweet and sour, and handpicked Idaho huckleberry puree. And at $7.50, the price was a welcome relief from New York City, where I live, and where cocktails can easily go for double that price.

The restaurant-distillery serves a variety of dishes, from sandwiches and burgers to tacos and sea bass gnocchi.


In addition to its distillery, downtown Boise is home to at least seven breweries, six tap rooms, five wine bars, and a cider house, according to the Downtown Boise Association.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

10 Barrel Brewing Company originates in Bend, Oregon, and opened its Boise location in 2013.

Boise Brewing Company on Broad Street opened in 2014 and brews at least 14 beers – from blonde ales to stouts to IPAs – and one cider. It hosts trivia nights, live music, fundraisers, and “brewery yoga” on Sundays.

Other local breweries include Barbarian Brewing, Payette Brewing Company, White Dog Brewing Company, and Woodland Empire Craft Ale.


Bittercreek Alehouse is a popular 8th Street beer bar that opened in 1996.

source
Bittercreek Alehouse/Facebook

You can choose from more than 40 beers on tap that start at $2 for a half-pint and $5 for a pint.

Owner Dave Krick said he got lucky that he picked Bittercreek Alehouse’s 8th Street location back in the ’90s. Today, 8th Street is clearly one of the most happening streets in the area.

“I don’t think I could’ve predicted the future of where we landed, but I just loved downtown Boise,” he told me. “I loved 8th Street cause I grew up down here and it’s where I wanted to center my life. And lucky me, so did a lot of other people.”

The premise of his business was simple, he says: “I love beer. I wanted to make a place that people could come and discover good beer … in those days, it was much more of a geek thing than it is today.”

I stopped in for lunch one day and got the Huntsman Burger, which comes with Gloucester cheddar and stilton bleu cheese, pickle, onion, tomato, applewood smoked bacon, a side of housecut organic Idaho potatoes, and a draft cider (I’m not much of a beer person).

The burger was $15.50, which is certainly not the cheapest burger to be found in Boise, but it was perfectly juicy and worth every penny.


One evening as it started to get dark and a bit chilly, I stopped into the Meriwether Cider House just around the corner from Bittercreek.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

It serves 20 ciders on tap, including Meriwether ciders and ciders from all around the world.

I tried their $7 hot mulled cider, which was very effective in warming me up on a brisk November evening.


Boise has a diverse nightlife scene, ranging from lounge-y cocktail bars to quirky arcade bars and classic dives.

source
Spacebar Arcade/Facebook

On my last night in Boise, I went from the Bardenay distillery to Press and Pony, a dimly lit cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe.

My last stop of the night was the Spacebar Arcade, a retro underground bar where you can drink cheap beers while playing Pac-Man and pinball.


And don’t forget the dive bars.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

On the same Main Street block are Cactus Bar, which claims to be the oldest bar in downtown Boise, and Pengilly’s Saloon, which has $2 well drinks on Tuesdays.


But it’s not all breweries, cider houses, and dive bars. Boise’s downtown is integrated with nature, with the foothills visible rising to the north and the Boise River flowing through downtown.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

The river is surrounded by a 25-mile stretch of tree-lined trails called the Greenbelt.

One morning, I spent about half an hour strolling down the Greenbelt from my hotel to the heart of downtown, and I passed several joggers, cyclists, and people walking their dogs.


I heard from several Boise locals that the community is very active and focused on fitness, which rang true from what I saw downtown.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

I passed by an indoor cycling and yoga studio called UpCycle Studio, which has a kombucha and cold brew bar.

Also downtown is a PIVOT Lifestyle + Fitness by KA, a fitness center founded by Kristin Armstrong, a local three-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s cycling.

There’s also a Crunch Fitness west of downtown and a Pure Barre studio near the river.


Many people get around downtown via bicycle.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

The city has a bike rental program, but most people appeared to be riding their own bikes.

Another common mode of transportation was via e-scooter from two of the major companies, Bird and Lime.


When it comes to food shopping, I found two of the mainstays of millennial grocery shopping. Boise’s first Trader Joe’s opened downtown in 2014 …

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

… and there’s also a 42,000-square-foot Whole Foods downtown that opened in 2012.

source
Google Maps

When it opened, the Whole Foods was seen as a competitor to the beloved Boise Co-Op, which is just north of downtown.

But the Co-Op seemed to be thriving when I visited – and in fact, it opened a second location in the Boise suburb of Meridian in 2015.


The flood of newcomers to Boise has prompted the construction of several new apartment buildings downtown, including the luxury Fowler building.

caption
The Fowler in downtown Boise.
source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

The Fowler opened downtown in 2018.

“We get a mix of residents who are new to Boise and those relocating downtown from other parts of the city,” Casey Lynch, the CEO of Roundhouse, the Fowler’s developer, told me. “As a fast-growing city, we see people moving from all over California, Seattle, and other expensive coastal markets.”


New condos and apartments in downtown Boise are “growing up like weeds,” Eric Debord, owner of Red Pheasant Realty in Boise, told me.

caption
The Fowler in downtown Boise.
source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

“The condos are quite expensive and that’s led to a lot of new apartment projects with plenty more in the works,” he said.

In the Fowler, the average rent of a one-bedroom is just under $1,500 per month. That’s about $500 more expensive than the median rent of a one-bedroom in Boise, which is $980, according to Zumper.

More than 1,000 residential units are in the planning stages in downtown Boise, The Idaho Statesman reported in May.


I did see a few single-family homes downtown, but they seemed to be few and far between.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

It was immediately apparent when I started hanging out downtown that Boise has a growing and thriving coffee scene.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

There are more than 20 coffee and tea shops downtown, according to the Downtown Boise Association.

One of the places that epitomizes this scene is Form & Function, a hip, minimalist coffee shop on the ground floor of the Fowler that opened in January 2018.


At about 11:00 a.m. on a Thursday, Form & Function was buzzing with a crowd of stylish young people swathed in cozy sweaters and fleece, beanies, and boots. Even the baristas wore beanies.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of sunshine.


One of my favorite coffee shops I discovered was Flying M, a funky, colorful spot that’s been around since the ’90s.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

A local I met told me Flying M was considered a “safe space” for LBGTQ people.


Inside is a gift shop and a spacious seating area with a mish-mash of colorful chairs and tables.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Some of the customers seemed to be friends meeting to catch up, others appeared to be working on their laptops, and others still were just reading the newspaper over coffee.

My latte and snickerdoodle cookie came out to less than $5 – half the price of most coffee shops in New York City.


One of downtown Boise’s longtime favorite restaurants is Fork, which opened more than 20 years ago in an old bank building.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Eater named it one of the 25 best restaurants in Boise.


Another downtown restaurant that made the best-of list is the Wylder, a relative newcomer to the Boise dining scene.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

It sits in the corner of the ground floor of the Fowler next to the Form & Function coffee shop.

The Wylder was opened by David and Lizzy Rex after they moved from Santa Monica, California, in 2017.

I had dinner there one night and was surprised to find the restaurant was packed on a Wednesday evening. It felt like a cool New York restaurant, except less crowded and also somehow cozier.

I ordered their most popular menu item, according to Yelp: the honey badger pizza, which costs $18 and comes with Italian sausage, ricotta, caramelized onions, and spicy honey. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

David Rex, who used to spend summers in Idaho as a kid, told me the Wylder’s pizza dough takes 48 hours to make and they use the highest quality flour and ingredients they can find.


When it comes to breakfast, one of Boise’s most popular spots is Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro.

caption
The late weekday morning scene at Goldy’s.
source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

At the recommendation of several locals, I had breakfast there one morning. I’d been warned that the lines can be out the door and down the block. Even on a Thursday morning, I had to wait for almost 10 minutes before getting a seat at the end of the bar.

I ordered a drip coffee and Eggs Benedict with a side of home fries. The portion was surprisingly large and the hollandaise sauce was rich and creamy.

My meal would’ve come out to less than $15, but I didn’t even get a chance to see my receipt, because the elderly man next to me – a Korean War veteran – ended up sneakily paying my bill after we chatted throughout the meal.


Boise has a burgeoning tech scene. I stopped in one morning to visit the downtown office of Jelli, a Silicon Valley radio ad-tech now owned by iHeartMedia. It opened an office in downtown Boise in June 2017.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty told me they chose Boise as an alternative to the “high costs and sort of broken nature of some of the economics” in the Bay Area.

“One of the things that we noticed when we were looking at Boise was how we really enjoyed the downtown voices, specifically the culture there,” Dougherty said. “It felt very progressive. There are tons of fun little farm to table restaurants, great coffee shops … it reminded me a little of Austin maybe 10 years ago or Portland or something like that.”

Boise is the longtime home of Hewlett-Packard’s imaging and printing group, which introduced the HP LaserJet printer.

After registered nurses, the most in-demand occupation in Idaho is software engineer.


Downtown Boise also has a varied and quirky shopping scene.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

I saw secondhand book shops, a healthy dog food store, a store that sells artisan roasted nuts, chocolate, clothing boutiques that sell clogs and Free People dresses, and chains like North Face and West Elm.


Despite the fact that Boise’s downtown is relatively compact, even after four days I still wanted to continue exploring everything it had to offer.

source
Katie Warren/Business Insider

Beyond the dynamic restaurants, bars, and shops, the people I encountered downtown were all incredibly friendly – almost “annoyingly friendly,” as Bittercreek owner Dave Krick jokingly put it – and eager to chat.

And it’s worth noting that the mix of entertainment, dining, and wellness options is extremely well-tailored to the millennial lifestyle – especially since downtown is so walkable. Plus, the prices I paid for coffees, meals, and drinks were all a welcome reprieve from NYC prices; the city’s relative affordability is also a good fit, financially, for a generation as cost-conscious as millennials.

Coming from New York City, I can certainly see the appeal of Boise: it’s a manageable size, yet it has everything you need. And I don’t think I’ve ever visited another city where the residents – perhaps partly because many of them came from big cities like Los Angeles and Seattle – are so unabashedly delighted to live there.