Since the city was founded in 1863, Boise's downtown area has been the hub of both the economic and cultural life of the area. It added the title of governmental headquarters when it became the capital of the Idaho Territory in 1864.
The transfer of the capital from Lewiston in North Idaho was done under the cover of night—when the territorial governor took the official seal, archives and treasury, and fled south. The Capitol reopened in March 2010 after an extensive restoration and expansion.
Downtown has undergone massive changes from the time when orchards lined the river and railroad lines brought freight into the heart of the city. That rail stop is now home to swanky stores and restaurants in Bodo and the 8th Street Marketplace.
The orchards are gone, too, and in their place is Julia Davis Park, the cultural hub of the valley and home to Idaho State Historical Museum (610 Julia Davis Drive), Boise Art Museum (670 Julia Davis Drive), Idaho Black History Museum (508 Julia Davis Drive), Discovery Center of Idaho (131 Myrtle St.) and Zoo Boise (355 Julia Davis Drive).
Just across from the park, Boise Public Main Library (715 S. Capitol Blvd.) and The Cabin (801 S. Capitol Blvd.) keep the populace literate, while the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial (777 S. Eighth St.) serves as a remembrance.
Downtown is bisected by the Boise River, along which the Greenbelt ferries bikers, runners and walkers. Across the river at Boise State, football fans, for whom season tickets are treated like gold, outnumber the students on game days.
The south side of the river is also home to downtown's largest park, Ann Morrison Park, where boaters find dry land after floating the river. Kathryn Albertson Park is nearby, and the pedestrian-only park is local favorite.
Though downtown was a ghost town in the 1980s, it has been rejuvenated, with residential as well as commercial projects moving in. The center of downtown is the Grove Plaza (between Capitol Boulevard and Ninth Street and Front and Main streets), which hosts public celebrations throughout the year, but no more so than in the summer, when Alive After Five puts on a free concert every Wednesday evening. The summer also means the Capital City Public Market every Saturday along Eighth Street, where locals stock up on fresh produce and crafts.
On the First Thursday of each month, art lovers—and free-wine-and-grub lovers—wander between galleries for an evening of local art.
Just west of the downtown core is the Linen District, an up-and-coming area with a smattering of restaurants and shops.
Downtown's historic buildings are also a major draw, especially the landmark art deco Egyptian Theatre (700 W. Main St.). More often than not, those historic buildings are now hip restaurants and bars or boutique shops, making downtown the place to be.
Don't let parking scare you off. Your first hour is free in downtown parking garages. At metered spaces, push the meter's blue button for 20 free minutes. And free spaces can still be found on some side streets.