A Travel Guide to Idaho Falls, Idaho

Gems of the Gem State?: Pocatello and Idaho Falls, Idaho

I left home on a whim. I dropped out of college, quit my job, and packed what I could into a green Honda Civic that I was driving when I was twenty years old, and at around three in the morning I got in my car, and I started driving.

            After a few days of driving, I was sitting in a hotel room in an Econo Lodge in Pocatello, Idaho. Not knowing how long I was going to stay I played each day by ear, and every morning for under a week I went down to the front desk of that Econo Lodge in Pocatello, and I paid for another night. I would eventually rent a room in this old hotel/apartment building along the railroad. Every place that I’ve lived before and since then, not a single one has measured up to how much I liked this little room in Pocatello, Idaho.

Walking through the front door, the kitchen was at your immediate left, and it was a good-sized kitchen with 1930’s style ornamentation and appliances, underneath one end of the cabinet was a milk door as tall as, and around two-thirds the width of an oven. I remember the milk door well, because a few weeks after I moved into the apartment the lock broke on my front door, and instead of calling the super or management to fix it, for whatever reason, I kept the front door bolted, and I crawled in and out of my apartment through the milk door. I received some of the most bizarre looks of my life when my neighbors, walking through the hall, caught me pulling myself up from a small hole in the wall under my apartment door.

The apartment was listed as a studio apartment; past the kitchen the apartment opened up into a single large square room. My apartment was a corner apartment and there were windows filtering light along most of my two exterior walls. The bathroom was on the right, about halfway into the large square room, and there was an inverted “L” shaped hallway leading into the bathroom—the bathroom also had 1930’s ornamentation—and a closet built into the short side of the “L.” Besides the historic ornamentation, my favorite thing about the apartment was that there was a small room built into the rear wall, big enough only for a queen sized bed, and separating the larger and the smaller rooms was a set of French doors. This small room had three large bay windows built into the three walls, and the French doors made up the fourth. It was a beautiful little apartment, and I was on the third floor so my view, although it being of Pocatello’s railway, was pretty nice.

            My experience in Pocatello was wasted on my youth. At twenty I couldn’t yet appreciate a town like Pocatello: the history, the historic downtown, the food, the distinction that someone can only find in Pocatello, Idaho. In part my experience was wasted because I was sleeping through much of my days. Although my experience with Pocatello wasn’t a total waste. I discovered that you wouldn’t be disappointed after stopping by any one or all of these restaurants and coffeehouses: Butterburr’s Restaurant, The Yellowstone, the Fifth Street Bagelry, Gate City Coffee, and the Bru House Galilei. I didn’t have much time to explore and familiarize myself with too many cool eateries, although at the top of Yelp’s list of great restaurants in Pocatello are Sizzler’s and Jakers, so I didn’t feel like I was missing much. I slept through a good bit of my days because I took a job maintaining a packaging machine for a potato processing plant’s graveyard shift, and I basically lived there. The graveyard shift was from 8:00PM to 8:00AM, and seven days a week. It wouldn’t even be true to say that during the few months that I worked at the processing plant I had only three days off because after those three consecutive days off over Easter weekend, when the plant was closed, I never went back.

            The processing plant gave everyone a three-day weekend for Easter, and that first day off I spent sleeping; I slept for thirty-six hours straight. Never before or since have I slept for that long continuously. I woke up feeling pretty f$&king rejuvenated. And then I drove fifty-two miles from Pocatello to Idaho Falls, Idaho and I visited Idaho Falls for the first time. I parked in a lot adjacent to the Idaho Falls Greenbelt Trail, and I wandered the historic downtown streets. I was taking my time walking to the Museum of Idaho where an exhibit called Ink & Blood was on display, the exhibit was about the history of writing. Because I was a young and eager writer looking forward to making waves in the literary world, I couldn’t be more excited to get lost in the exhibit. There are two museums within walking distance of historic downtown, and I think they are both worth a look, although I didn't get the opportunity to visit the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho.

Afterward I wandered back toward historic downtown and stopped inside The Villa Coffeehouse on Park Avenue. I loved the Villa immediately. I imagined myself sitting in this coffeehouse every morning writing. The walls of the Villa are an art gallery, showcasing paintings, drawings, and photographs of local artists, and all for sale. There’s a small fireplace in the rear corner bordered by couches and armchairs, and I could picture myself sitting in an armchair with a Chai, as a fire crackled, my laptop resting on my knees, while snow fell furiously outside the Villa’s green decorous façade. That first afternoon, I sat at the counter, ordered a turkey croissant sandwich and a Chai. Melanie and I made conversation (I’m pretty sure her name is Melanie), she was one of the two owners at the time. I ate and then sat at the counter scribbling on a napkin about my experiences that day, and about the Villa. I left Idaho Falls and drove back to Pocatello.

The following day I did very little, it was the last day of a three-day weekend, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Besides thinking about how little I wanted to go back to my present routine. I woke up the next morning, and I drove past the processing plant and back to Idaho Falls. Again, I found a seat at the counter of the Villa. Melanie recognized me, she told me that she found the napkin I was scribbling on, and she kept it. She asked if I would submit it for publication to Idaho Falls Magazine. Writing for a magazine or newspaper was almost exactly the type of opportunity I was looking for at the time, although I didn’t know how to make anything stable out of it. Writing for Idaho Falls Magazine could have been a greater opportunity for me, and I wish that I had taken the time to develop myself as a real writer. The opportunity did, however, inspire me to leave Pocatello and to find a small duplex in a neighborhood just east of historic downtown Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Lee street.

            Idaho Falls would be a great community for a small business owner and townie, someone who operates a well-liked restaurant, café, coffeehouse, or bookstore, in one of the few enviable parts of town. For everyone else Idaho Falls is a small town, with a growing number of people, and most of which haven’t got a clue what to do with themselves. If you’re visiting, keep in mind that Idaho Falls is a traveler’s town. Idaho Falls is not a vacationers’ town. Your best opportunity to make the most of visiting Idaho Falls will manifest if you stay at, either, Destination Inn on Broadway Street, downtown, or find a motel or a hotel overlooking the Snake River (most of which are along the west end, and most are not the nicest hotels, but at least they’re on the river. The Snake River RV Park is a decent place to camp in town). In the morning, you’ll want to walk along River Parkway around the Snake River and take your time as you walk to enjoy the falls, and then cross the bridge to historic downtown. You will, of course, stop in at the Villa for your coffee, and then sit by the Snake River and watch the town wake up. Afterward you’ll want to walk across Broadway, there’s a path next to the KeyBank parking lot, follow that across a footbridge into the Japanese Friendship Garden and walk the length of the small island. There is too, the Museum of Idaho and the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho within walking distance. The only thing that's worth moving your vehicle for is the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park (it's a surprisingly enjoyable experience). 

There are an interesting fusion of food choices in the historic downtown area, but you shouldn’t leave Idaho Falls without trying, SnakeBite Restaurant at the corner of Park Ave and A Street, and the famous Bee’s Knees Pub in the FairBridge Inn & Suites Parking lot (a friend of mine saw Henry Winkler eating there), the sushi at Blue Hashi is surprisingly good, and not just for Idaho, and the Teton House in Menan, a short twenty five minute drive on I-15 and N3400, is worth the drive.

            I want to end this post with an anecdote. To set the scene, I lived in Idaho Falls for a little more than a year, back around 2007, and I was in my very early twenties. I met and married a young woman after only five or six months of knowing her. We lived together in Idaho Falls, and we moved together to Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time, I was still getting to know myself and because of that I’m sure I wasn’t the best spouse. Our marriage ended amicably, for the most part. In the summer of 2021 I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and decided to take a week and half long National Park’s road trip. I started with Mesa Verde National Park, outside of Durango, Colorado, and then drove to Natural Bridges National Monument, Arches National Park, and then I continued north through Salt Lake City. I wanted to avoid going to Idaho Falls, but Idaho Falls is at the dead center of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Teton National Park. So, I went to Idaho Falls; it was my first time back since my ex-wife and I moved to Utah in 2008. She was living in Idaho Falls again, and she was remarried, and starting a family. I didn’t tell her that I was going to be in the city. I really wanted to eat at the Snakebite Restaurant, and over the course of the three days that I was camping in IF, every time that I stopped by the restaurant it was closed. This was during COVID, so although frustrating, it wasn’t surprising. On my third, and final day in Idaho I stopped by the SnakeBite Restaurant one last time, and with fingers crossed, and to my everlasting surprise, it was open. And, of course, my ex-wife, her husband, and her grandmother were sitting right outside the front doors.

            A lot of people talk about Idaho, and Idaho Falls, as one of the most appealing places to live, and although there is something to be said about the beauty of northern Idaho, Idaho Falls is not northern Idaho. Idaho Falls is centrally located to a number of places—which is to say that between an hour and a four hour drive you could be in Jackson, Wyoming, Teton National Park, Island Park, Idaho, Salt lake City, Utah, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Bozeman, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park—for some there might be a certain appeal to settle somewhere so you can go elsewhere. In reality, the trips that most of us take are few and far between. You’ll realize, pretty quickly, that Idaho Falls isn’t everything your overstimulated brain promised you it would be. The most promising thing that many say about Idaho Falls is that the city “has potential,” and that’s an “outsiders” perspective. My recommendation is to enjoy your two or three days in Idaho Falls, in the downtown area, check out the small handful of restaurants, avoid 17th street at all costs, and then head to Jackson, Wyoming. “You are now leaving, Idaho Falls, Idaho—and, we get it.”

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