Population. Idaho Falls: 64,818; in the greater metropolitan area: 148,811

Location. The largest city in eastern Idaho, Idaho Falls, Idaho, sits on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. The Idaho Falls Regional Airport, which is 2 miles outside of downtown, offers nonstop flights to 13 destinations, including Boise, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Oakland, and Dallas Fort Worth. 

Vibe. “We’re mostly an agricultural community, but we’re supported by some really high-tech entities,” says Chip Schwarze, CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce. “We have the Idaho National Laboratory, which is the nation’s leading nuclear research facility.... [And] our outdoors lifestyle is drawing a lot of people. We have incredible hiking, river rafting, fly-fishing, and hunting, and we’re 90 minutes from Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. And Idaho Falls is incredibly friendly. Walk into the grocery store and everybody says hello to you.”

Hotels. There are some two dozen hotels in Idaho Falls, with more coming online soon. Brands like Best Western, Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn Express prevail here, with limited meeting space. Residence Inn by Marriott, however, has an on-site conference center that can host groups up to 240. The total guest room count for the city hovers around 3,000. 

Convention Centers. In what’s being lauded as a game changer for Idaho Falls’ ability to host large events, the $62-million Mountain America Center, on the southside of Idaho Falls, will be completed in the fall. The event center will have a 27,000-square-foot arena, dubbed Hero Arena, capable of seating up to 5,500 attendees for professional hockey games, concerts, and other entertainment events. The center will also include 11,500 square feet of meeting space, with the ability to host conventions, expos, trade shows, banquets, and receptions. Other convention centers include The Downtown Event Center, or DEC, which can accommodate up to 350 guests; the 10,000-square-foot Westbank Convention Center; and the Waterfront Event Center (capacity 522).

Restaurants. “For a town our size, we have an abundance of restaurants—everything from sushi, Korean, and Mexican to steak [houses], chophouses, and family diners,” Schwarze says. “Our food scene is large relative to our size because we have about 2 million people a year drive through our town on their way to Yellowstone.”

Standouts include three riverfront restaurants—Smokin Fins, which has a seafood-heavy menu that features sushi, poke bowls, baked lobster mac and cheese, burgers, and tacos (“just a friendly, fun place to be,” Schwarze says); Idaho’s Rib & Chop House; and Snow Eagle Brewing & Grill, a brewery with what Schwarze says has “the best burger in town.”

 

Must-Dos

Stroll the Idaho Falls Greenbelt. Idaho Falls gets its name from the beautiful waterfalls in the heart of the city. The Idaho Falls River Walk, which straddles both banks of the Snake River, provides 10 miles of paved sidewalk, lined with restaurants and with access to multiple parks and picnic areas. “There are lots of places to just sit and relax or fish,” says Schwarze. “The east side of the river borders our downtown, which is very walkable and filled with more dining and shopping.”

Visit the Museum of Idaho. The state’s largest science and history museum features world-class visiting exhibits and permanent displays. Rich in interactive experiences, the museum boasts “Way Out West,” a flagship exhibit that immerses visitors in the human and environmental history of Idaho.

Experience the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park. Dubbed “the best little zoo in the west,” the dynamic 7-acre zoo features more than 300 animals representing 130 species from around the globe. 

Take a Road Trip. The best way to take advantage of Idaho Falls as a meetings destination is to attend your event and then hit the road. “Bring your people out here for a meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and then cut them loose for an extra two or three nights,” Schwarze suggests. “Many people have never been this close to Yellowstone National Park or to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Or consider hiring a river guide. I could put you on six world-class fly-fishing rivers within a 90-minute drive of downtown Idaho Falls.”

How the Chamber of Commerce Helps. “We can put together information, itineraries, guides, and tours that allow your group to experience the full diversity of what Idaho Falls has to offer,” Schwarze says. “We have a small-town feel, but we also have world-class amenities, and if a planner brings a group of 100 or 200 attendees here, you don’t get lost in the crowd. Once the Mountain America Center opens, we’ll be able to easily host groups of 500 or more and still provide that same level of attention.”

In the early 1990s, Washington communities and activists had a vision of maintaining green wilderness and creating space where people could embrace the outdoors near urban cities like Seattle. “We’re all better and healthier when we’re connected to nature,” says Caroline Villanova, community and partnerships manager at Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

 

Visit Seattle, in partnership with the King County government, will host “Cloudbreak: Seattle’s Revive Live Music Fest,” in support of Seattle’s music community. 

 

As the story goes for millions around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic put plans and work on hold for Ray Maestas when it first hit in 2020. Promptly, the restaurant Maestas was working at closed, and he suddenly had extra time on his hands.