One of the fastest-growing cities in America rests in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, between the state capital, Boise, and the city of Nampa.
Meridian’s population has skyrocketed in the last 30 years, from 9,500 in 1990 to 114,000 in 2019.
The city lies directly on the Boise Meridian, one of the 35 principal meridians of the Public Land Survey System of the United States, if you’re wondering where the name comes from.
Meridian has a lot of inspiration for families, from the biggest waterpark in the region to activity centers, plush malls, seasonal attractions and great local parks.
Right next door, Boise is brimming with history, and Bogus Basin is a winter sports destination perched in the Boise Range to the northeast.
1. Roaring Springs
The largest waterpark in the Northwest is right here in Meridian, with more than 20 water attractions for all members of the family.
Roaring Springs is open May through September, with a daily schedule throughout the summer break.
For an idea of some of the thrill rides, you’ve got Snake River Run, with a double explosion loop, Corkscrew Cavern, the first 360-degree looping waterslide in the Northwest and the high-speed six-storey drop, Cliffhanger.
Littler visitors can make a splash at Bearfoot Bay, with a wading pool, slides and animal play features, and the Kiddie Kowabunga tube slide.
Four restaurants are dotted around the park, and parents in need of a little luxury can reserve an exclusive cabana with waiter service.
2. Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park
Over 58 acres on the east side of Meridian is a wonderful municipal park, which opened to great fanfare in 2012.
The park is dedicated to Julius M. Kleiner, 1892-1972, a prominent figure in the local dairy and creamery industries who devoted the latter part of his life to philanthropy.
Kleiner Park is mainly dedicated to passive recreation, and is set up for walks and bicycle rides along the Kleiner Park Loop and the Grand Promenade.
Two large ponds make up the heart of the park, and bordering the North Pond is the amphitheatre and bandshell, staging the Kleiner Park Live series of outdoor concerts in summer.
On the west flank is a recreation complex, with a picnic area, children’s playground, splash pad and facilities for basketball, volleyball and bocce ball. There’s a life size statue for Julius M. Kleiner at the Grand Plaza, by the North Pond.
3. The Village at Meridian
As outdoor malls go, the Village at Meridian, on the south and west sides of Kleiner Park, is surprisingly inviting and picturesque.
The bulk of the stores and restaurants are set along an arcing street planted with trees and flowerbeds framed by little hedges.
Flower baskets hang from the streetlights and, as the name suggests, the whole scene resembles a village or small town.
The Village at Meridian is especially quaint in the holidays when the streets are decorated with lights and there’s a skating rink, while the enormous fountain is a focal point year round.
As for shopping, you’ll find factory stores for GAP and Nike, as well as branches of H&M, LOFT, Sephora, LUSH, Marshalls and Urban Outfitters, to name a handful.
For dining there’s a big selection, from Yard House to Blaze Pizza to Chipotle, and most spots have pleasant outdoor seating.
4. Downtown Meridian
A few blocks along and just off North Main Street, Downtown Meridian is a vibrant and endearing part of the city, flush with restaurants, local shops and tree-lined sidewalks.
At the flowery Generations Plaza, you can take timeout for a few minutes in the shade by the fountain.
Packed into a relatively small area is a wide-ranging choice of bars and restaurants, whether you’re in the mood for gastropub fare (Eight Thirty Common), diner classics (Original Sunrise Cafe), Mexican food (El Tenampa), pizza (Slycebox) or even Basque cuisine at Epi’s, which we’ll talk about in more detail later.
5. Meridian Speedway
This welcoming short-track oval has staged high-speed action since 1951. Meridian Speedway belongs to the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series and hosts weekly races throughout the spring and summer.
There are all kinds of special events during the season, like a fireworks show for the Fourth of July races and the mayhem of the Eve of Destruction, which falls at the start of August.
Indulgent food and drink are a big part of the experience, with giant buckets of beer and everything from elotes to chili, tacos, hot dogs, pizza, burgers, philly wraps, fruit cups and cotton candy.
6. Wahooz Family Fun Zone
Linked by a walkway to Roaring Springs is another family attraction with a whole raft of fun things to do, both inside and outside.
At Wahooz Family Fun Zone you’ve got an 84-machine arcade, laser tag, 24 lanes of bowling, amusement rides, a ropes course, a climbing wall and a playground for little ones, all indoors.
And then outside there’s an 18-hole miniature golf course, go-karts for all ages, batting cages and bumper boats.
A few of these activities, like the go-karts are temperature and weather-dependent in winter, while the mini golf is open all year.
7. Settlers Park
Spreading out from the corner of North Meridian and West Ustick Roads, this 57-acre park has a lot going for it and caters to all ages.
Young ones can hit the Adventure Island Playground Area, comprising Idaho’s first universally accessible playground, as well as a splash pad, open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Settlers Park has three shelters of varying capacities, which can all be rented, along with a ton of recreation facilities, including baseball/softball fields, tennis courts, horseshoe courts and a winter disc golf course, open November through February.
There’s also a calendar outdoor movies in the summer on Friday evenings in summer the city screens.
During the Gold Rush, some 50,000 people from Spain’s Basque Country immigrated to Treasure Valley, forming the largest Basque community outside Spain.
To get in touch with this unique piece of Meridian’s past, check out Epi’s, a beloved Basque restaurant.
This spot opened in 1999, founded by the grandchildren of one Epi Inchausti, born in Bizkaia (Biscay) in 1903 and immigrating in 1929.
Epi, just like the region she came from, was renowned for her skill in the kitchen, and many of the menu items at the restaurant are inspired by her dishes.
Epi’s is now in the hands of the great grandson, and has a rustic menu of grilled, roasted and stewed meats, along with Spanish sides like croquetas, calamari, chorizo and garlic mushrooms.
Pair that delicious meat with a glass of bold Rioja wine and you can’t go wrong.
9. Boise River Greenbelt
The Boise River runs north and east of Meridian, and in the namesake city this watercourse become an attraction of its own.
The banks are lined with 25 miles of riverside pedestrian and bicycle paths, threading through 850 acres of parks.
The paths lead you through the heart of Boise, while remaining constantly surrounded by greenery.
There’s wildlife all around, and plenty of opportunities for birding. Great blue herons, a variety of wildfowl and many different passerine birds set the scene in summer, while in winter you stand a good chance of sighting a bald eagle.
The river flows by at a lazy pace, and you’ll be able to rent rafts, stand-up paddleboards around Boise in summer, as well as bicycles for a gentle ride by the water.
10. Idaho State Capitol Building
In about fifteen minutes you can get to the most treasured man-made landmark in the state.
Idaho had been a state for 15 years when, in 1905, work began on this sandstone Classical Revival building, sporting an eye-catching neo-Baroque dome that took inspiration from the likes of St Peter’s Basilica and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The material was quarried close by at Table Rock, in the Boise foothills, while the interior is replete with marble, fine scagliola decoration and all kinds of noteworthy works of art and artefacts.
On a tour you’ll see the marvellous interior of the dome, as a gilded equestrian statue of George Washington and a replica of the Winged Nike of Samothrace.
Take some time to see the grounds too, where you’ll come across statues of Lewis and Clark, among others.
11. Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Twenty minutes from downtown Meridian in the Boise foothills there’s an exciting piece of Idaho history.
Maintained by the Idaho State Historical Society, this former prison operated between 1872 and 1973, incarcerating some of the most desperate and notorious inmates in the West.
The whole complex in a haunting Romanesque Revival style, has been immaculately preserved and you can look around the cell blocks, solitary confinement cells and even the gallows.
There are thirty historic buildings in all, furnished with important collections like the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit, showcasing a variety of historic weaponry spanning several thousand years.
There’s a constant lineup of temporary exhibits to peruse, going into detail on individual inmates, daily life behind bars and some of the riots and disturbances that took place in the penitentiary.
12. Idaho Botanical Garden
Right next door to the penitentiary is a major botanical garden set on the land that previously served as the prison’s farm and nursery.
After a decade of disuse following the penitentiary’s closure, the gardens were laid out in the early-1980s and now have 13 different sub-gardens to wander around.
One of the standouts is the English Garden, planted with 1,300 perennials and centered on the gorgeous Summer House.
The Rose Garden is a riot of color in summer, but also has year-round appeal for its sandstone terraces, evoking the Boise foothills, and perennials that bloom throughout the year.
Kids will have a fine time climbing, crawling and leaping through the Children’s Adventure Garden, while the Herb Garden and Idaho Native Plant Garden, show off the species that thrive in the state’s often harsh environment, as well as the plants cultivated over centuries for cooking, cosmetics, medicine and more.
The Idaho Botanical Garden is a venue for seasonal events at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the whole place is in lights, you can enjoy hot cocoa and cider and kids can meet Santa.
13. Warhawk Air Museum
A few short minutes west on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway and you’ll be at Nampa Municipal Airport, with a high-profile aviation museum attached.
The Warhawk Air Museum does a deep dive on WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the remainder of the Cold War, all from an air combat perspective.
There’s a small but strong collection of preserved aircraft, including a P-51C Mustang, a P-40E Kittyhawk, a Fokker DR-1, an F84G Thunderjet and an F-104 Starfighter.
Perhaps the star of the show is one of the last Curtiss P-40 Warhawks in flying condition, appearing in the 2001 movie, Pearl Harbor.
These machines are accompanied by a wealth of artifacts, memorabilia and interesting anecdotes from volunteer guides, many of whom have an aviation past.
14. Bogus Basin
The second-largest ski area in Idaho, with 2,600 skiable acres, sits within an hour’s drive of Meridian.
Bogus Basin, easily recognized from the valley by the radio towers posted at Deer Point, is pretty much unique as it’s run by a non-profit organisation.
Essentially, 100% of the proceeds each season go back into maintenance, equipment and facilities, but also community outreach.
The winter sports season generally runs from Thanksgiving until mid-April, and there’s no better place for children to make their first turns.
Private ski and snowboard lessons are scheduled daily throughout the season, while experienced skiers and boarders can make the most of 80 runs, served by 10 lifts.
Summer at Bogus Basin means scenic hiking, horseback riding, tubing and mountain biking.
If you’re wondering about the name, “Bogus Basin”, it comes from the Gold Rush days when swindlers would manufacture fake gold dust on these slopes to scam people in Boise City.
15. Linder Farms
This seasonal attraction in Meridian springs to life in September and October, for two months filled with family activities and delicious fall food.
Linder Farms has been welcoming the public at this time of year for more than three decades. Awaiting you will be a petting zoo, corn maze, blow-up slides, hayrides, a pumpkin patch and a lot more.
Sweet and savory treats are naturally a big part of Linder Farms’ appeal, and on the menu are caramel apples, freshly fried mini donuts, apple cider, corn dogs, hot chocolate, kettle corn and cotton candy.