Today’s Boulder, CO City Guide comes to us from Heather Hansman, a magazine editor and freelance writer who recently moved to southern California from Boulder. She misses trail running at Marshall Mesa and happy hour at The Med, but today she’s sharing some of the best spots in this college town. Thanks, Heather, for showing us around Boulder! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump . . .
For a long time, Boulder got a bad rap as the patchouli-scented free-love enclave that spawned Crocs, but it’s much more than that. The college town, endorphin mecca and tech hotbed is the kind of place where it’s impossible to get bored, sit still or go hungry. It was ranked the foodiest city in the country by Bon Appetit in 2010; is home to scores of creative thinkers, thanks to the University of Colorado; and is situated at the base of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Boulder has grown up and gotten classier, and its hippie roots have shaped it into one of the most progressive, sustainable and fun places in the country.
You can check out all the listings below on this Google Map.
The most beautiful building in town, the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House was built by hand in Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as a gift and reconstructed in downtown Boulder. Each panel of the wall and ceiling is unique and elaborately carved. Go for brunch to get a mix of Indian and American food, along with the best chai you’ll ever have. It’s also a great pre- or post-farmer’s market option, because it’s right next door.
Boulder has long been a hotbed of locally sourced, sustainable food, and the Kitchen is the pinnacle of that. The restaurant focuses on community, both by sourcing its ingredients locally and by hosting family-style dinners. They recently opened The Kitchen [Next Door], a more budget-friendly casual restaurant with a smaller menu, in the next store front over. Both places have excellent wine lists, and the beet burger at [Next Door] is a must.
Go to Spruce Confections, Boulder’s local bakery, for Denver-roasted Kaladi Coffee and chocolate croissants. And cupcakes. They have two locations, one right downtown and one in North Boulder, and they’re responsible for Two Spoons, a gelato shop on Pearl Street, too.
Show up at Lucille’s for breakfast and expect not to be hungry for the rest of the day. The Creole restaurant is tucked into an old yellow Victorian on 14th street, and tables are packed into the rooms. Fill up on beignets, chicory coffee and shrimp and grits.
The high-end Black Cat Bistro gets much of its food from its own farm just outside of Boulder. The menu changes constantly to reflect what’s in season, but it’s always good. They also have a standout wine and cocktail list.
There’s a lot of good Mexican food in Colorado, but in Boulder Efrain’s is the place to go for blue corn enchiladas and almost-too-hot-to-handle green chile. It’s a bit out of downtown, but while you’re on the east side of town, you can visit the Avery Brewery, too.
Boulder’s unofficial best restaurant, Frasca, serves award-winning northern Italian food in a beautiful but unfussy space on Pearl. Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson often nabs accolades of his own, and the team behind Frasca has recently opened Frasca Caffe, a more casual pizza joint.
Bacon might be reaching the end of its trendiness as a dessert ingredient, but the maple bacon cupcakes at Upslope Brewing is mastering the canned beer game. Their tiny tap room serves up beers that you can’t get anywhere else, so it’s worth the venture north. If you’re still craving beer, check out Boulder Brewery and Twisted Pine, or Oskar Blues in nearby Lyons.
Hidden in a strip mall off the bike path in east Boulder, Boulder Distillery makes small-batch 303 vodka and whiskey. They pour strong drinks in the tasting room, but it’s worth going for the space itself. It’s an eclectic mix of thrift store treasures, family heirlooms and delicate model airplanes made by the owner. You could find things to look at for days.
The best place to get cocktails downtown, The Bitter Bar fancies itself a speakeasy, but it’s really just a bar that serves darn good, creative drinks. The cocktail menu changes seasonally, but they often have local booze in rotation, so look for CapRock Gin or Stranahan’s Whiskey.
Part bookstore, part cozy coffee shop filled with professors, independently owned Trident is what every college town (and really every town) needs. Now if they would just start serving beer at night . . .
Two Sole Sisters is just what it sounds like: a boutique-y shoe store owned by sisters Laurel and Lindsey Tate, who moved to Boulder from Texas. Their selection is small but dialed, and they also have bags and jewelry.
Boulder is the land of physical freaks and adrenaline junkies (I often get passed by 80-year-olds when I’m jogging), and if you want to fit in or if you need new running shows, climbing pants or ski gear, Outdoor Divas is the place. A women-specific gear store with an all-star staff of ladies, they’ll set you up for whatever sport you’re looking to do, and they’ve got a selection of cute clothes, too.
If I were to imagine my dream kitchen, it might look something like Peppercorn, which has everything you could possibly want or need for cooking. Stop in to check out kitchen gadgets, knives and a huge selection of cookbooks.
Savvy skews a little toward the college crowd — there will be Uggs — but it also has a good selection of post-college-appropriate clothes and shoes.
Crafting in the plans for your trip? Stop by Gypsy Wools for supplies and inspiration.
If you haven’t already made yourself sick eating your way through Boulder, head to Cured, a new meat and cheese shop on east Pearl. The local cheese selection is mind blowing, as are the wine offerings.
For journals and thank you notes, go to Two Hands Paperie. They letterpress in-house, and they also offer classes in letterpress and bookbinding.
Right on the corner of Pearl and Broadway, Weekends has everything from Fryes to party dresses. They have a really good selection of jeans, and it’s probably the best place in town to get clothes for guys.
The only American outpost of the Japanese outdoor company, the MontBell store is the place for everything down, including really cute jackets. Because it gets cold in Colorado.
Boulder has managed to turn its hippie roots into an understated eco-friendly culture that pervades the whole town. Nowhere is that more obvious than Twig Salon. No one has to tell you that the products are paraben-free and that the wine they give you during your haircut is organic; it’s just implied.
Every college town has a few good thrift stores, and Boulder’s best is Goldmine Vintage. It’s carefully curated, so it can sometimes be picked over and pricey, but the scores are usually worth it.
Violette is the place to go for pretty dresses and accompanying earrings. I’ve scored more outfits for weddings and events here than anywhere else in town.
Boulder is surrounded by a ring of open space, so the best thing to do in town is get outside. Rent a bike and go spin up the canyons to the west, or pedal the Boulder Creek Path. Hike up to Mallory Cave in the Mountain Parks, or go for a swim in the Boulder Reservoir.
The innocuous Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is tucked into a narrow building on 13th street, but it has interesting and frequently rotating exhibits and a big focus on local art.
Boulder is a yoga town, so there are tons of options for classes, from CorePower to mediation centers, all across town. It’s hard to go wrong, but the Eldorado Mountain Ashram in a yurt just south of town is pretty special. They offer drop-in classes every day.
Chautauqua Park, which rises up into the Flatirons on the western side of town, serves two functions: It’s Boulder’s most accessible hiking and climbing (hit Royal Arch if you only have time for one hike), but it’s also home to the Colorado Chautauqua Association, which brings speakers, musicians and other cultural events to the area. Check the schedule to see who they’re bringing in; the summer is busiest. You can also stay in the cottages and eat in the dining hall.
There are a bunch of small music venues in Boulder, but the two big ones are the Fox, on the hill, and the Boulder Theater, on Pearl. Between the two, there’s usually a good show to see almost every night.
The eTown radio show, a weekly concert where the hosts talk to the artists about sustainability, is a Boulder standby. It leans folky, but they get bands like Mumford & Sons and The Head and the Heart. It’s taped in Boulder, at the eTown Hall or the Boulder Theater, and you can go. Tickets can be hard to get, especially for bigger-name bands, so check the schedule ahead of time.
The Boulder Farmer’s Market is great for people watching and produce gathering. It’s open Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights. Go for dinner on Wednesday; there’s always live music, and a few of the local restaurants set up food carts.
Boulder is known for its startup culture, and that tech world spawned Ignite Boulder, a PechaKucha-style presentation series that happens every few months. Topics range from backyard chickens and graphs to freestyle rapping. The next one is February 21, and if you’re in town, it’s worth catching. It’s a microcosm of Boulder’s nerdiness and creativity.
Those ubiquitous Sleepytime Tea boxes that are in every grocery store come from Boulder, and they actually have an interesting story behind them. You can visit the Celestial Seasonings factory, just outside of town. It’s worth it for the smell of the mint room alone.
The historic (and haunted) Hotel Boulderado is the classic place to stay in Boulder. The 100-year-old hotel is a national historic landmark. It’s been updated, and it’s super nice, but it still has some old quirks and charms.
The St Julien downtown is about as good as it gets. Everything is beautiful, but the spa and the Sunday brunch are particularly good. They also have free bike rentals, so you can explore town.
If you want to be a bit closer to the mountains in the summer, you can stay in one of the Chautauqua cabins, which can be rented by the day during the summer. Many of them are privately owned, so they’re all a little different and funky.
- Jessica Biel
- Kristen Schaal
- Matt Hasselbeck
- Townes Van Zandt
- Robert Redford (attended the University of Colorado)
- Astronaut Scott Carpenter
- Cyclist Tyler Hamilton
- Jesse Carmichael from Maroon 5
- Kristin Davis