July 4 2009 by Karla Henriquez
Maybe you've already been to all the major U.S. cities or perhaps you're just itching to take advantage of one of those great deals the airlines are offering to small cities all over the country. No matter the reason, you will not be disappointed in a visit to any one of these three cities.
Boise, Idaho - This is one of those great towns big enough to bustle, but small enough to feel quaint and charming. Many people pass by Boise on I-84, which is miles from the town center, and never get to experience what has developed into a vibrant and inviting community. Boise is situated between the mountains that fill the northern part of Idaho, and the high mountain desert and farmlands that make up the southern area. The mountains are probably of more rapport with the locals than the desert, as the gradually sloping foothills are excellent for mountain biking that ranges from easy to highly technical, as well as close-by hiking. Both of these activities, along with their winter counterparts of skiing at Bogus Basin and snow-shoeing become more extreme as you move upwards in elevation to the 7,500 foot summit of Shafer Butte. Locals love the outdoor life-style, as these foothills are a 5 minute drive from downtown, and the ski resort is about a 40 minute drive.
I cannot talk about the outdoor life in and around Boise without mentioning water and parks. Lucky Peak reservoir provides locals with water-skiing only 15 minutes from downtown. Running from this reservoir is the Boise River which rushes its way through the middle of the town center and brings a lush greenness to the whole valley, in addition to providing a fun and relaxing family tubing adventure during the hot summer days. A must do in the Spring and Fall is a walk along the approximately 16 mile long green belt that meanders along the river and through some of Boise's most beautiful, but less known areas, including the beautiful and lush Municipal Park and Nature Center.
Over the last decade or so the downtown section of Boise has become a hot spot for great dining, evening concerts, street fairs and other cultural events. One of my favorite weeks to be in Boise is in mid-July when Boise's Twilight Criterium cycling race speeds its way through the downtown area to roaring crowds. The event begins with novice levels of both genders racing in the afternoon, and ends with a spectacular event where nationally acclaimed cyclists fly around downtown corners in the twilight hours.
Boise's historic city center has become culturally rich over time. It includes a beautiful Basque center, excellent wine bars, great restaurants, artsy districts such as Hyde-park or 8th Street Marketplace, as well as independent movie theaters and plazas where people gather to enjoy open-air concerts and street fairs. The outdoor Shakespeare Festival is always another evening must-do when visiting Boise in the summer. Historic areas such as the North End, Warm Springs, Oregon Trail Heights and Table Rock also provide fun family driving tours. The City of Boise is a hidden gem in what is otherwise known as the "Gem State".
Columbus, Ohio - I love exploring small and quaint towns, places that make you feel that the American Dream is so achievable. I also get excited wandering through big cities where people are busy and there are a great many choices of things to do, see, and eat. Usually, when choosing a destination, you're going to be in one type of place or the other - not so in Columbus. The city's bustling downtown is comprised of interesting neighborhoods with distinct features. My favorite is German Village, an area originally populated by German immigrants and located mostly between Livingston Avenue and Greenlawn Avenue east of S. High Street. It is the largest privately funded historical district in the National Register of Historic Places. This is a neighborhood of cobbled streets and charming homes, gardens, and churches. If you get the chance to visit German Village, be sure to plan on dining at Barcelona Restaurant & Bar 263 East Whittier Street.
On the North end of town, there is quite a modern community in the Arena District. This is a master planned development in the New Urbanism style, meaning that it's diverse, walkable, and its architecture celebrates local history, climate, ecology and building practices. This is the place to go if you're a fan of hockey or arena football since its home to the Blue Jackets and the Columbus Destroyers. Music lovers visiting the city should definitely check out what's playing at the Lifestyles Community Pavilion (the LC) - it'll be hosting The Black Crowes on July 5th and Lynard Skynard on August 18th. Since I'm neither a great sports fan nor a frequent concert attendee, my activity of choice in the Arena District is to eat a path through North Market on 59 Spruce Street - care to join?
Finally, a trip to Ohio would not be complete without a visit to the fabulous and renowned Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where you can interact with wildlife, get some adrenaline going at a water park, or work on your golf game. You might even catch a glimpse of Jungle Jack Hanna while you're there.
Little Rock, Arkansas - It's the birthplace of Socks, former First Feline, who passed away earlier this year. It seems fair to feature this celebrity's fair city, especially since it has a surprisingly graceful and interesting historic district, known as the Quapaw Quarter (go ahead, try saying it aloud - it's more fun).
I would recommend that visitors to the Quarter first check out Central High School, where in 1957 nine African-American teenagers entered the school for the first time and tested the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. Follow this site up with a visit to the Daisy Bates Home at 1207 W. 28th Street. It's where the Little Rock 9 met every morning before being escorted to school.
Quapaw Quarter is graced by gorgeous private homes, some of which pre-date the Civil War. Probably its most famous home is Villa Marre, which was featured on the TV show Designing Women. If you're interested in neo-classical and Georgian architecture, take a peek into the Arkansas State Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. Definitely stop in at the Old State House Museum.
Once you've seen the Quapaw Quarter, feel free to explore the rest of the city - I suggest that visitors take a ride on the Arkansas Queen, an old-fashioned riverboat. Another must-do in Little Rock is to visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. I can't sign off on Little Rock without mentioning The Old Mill - it's the site of the opening shot in the epic movie Gone with the Wind and such a relaxing a beautiful spot where flowers bloom year round.