This week’s Fort Collins, CO City Guide comes from Tracy Marcello, a born-and-raised South Floridian who moved to Colorado in search of adventure. She and her husband found it in Fort Collins, which has outdoor activities for any season (there’s even a beach!). The former magazine writer currently teaches high school journalism and advises her school’s news publication. She loves taking out-of-state friends and family on dining and drinking tours (by bike, of course) in her favorite Colorado town. Today she shares with us some of the wonderful gems this mountain city has to offer. Thanks, Tracy, for such a wonderful guide! —Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump…
Home to Rocky Mountain National Park, Red Rocks Amphitheater, world-class ski resorts and boasting more than 300 days of sunshine annually, Colorado is tough to beat. In fact, I am proof that people come for the winters and stay for the summers. After spending one ski season attending University of Colorado in Boulder, I vowed to return to the Centennial State before I was too old to appreciate its breweries, music venues and dozens of “fourteeners” open to anyone willing to hike above 14,000 feet. My husband and I settled on Fort Collins, a college town that’s, well, more than just a college town (let’s just say New Belgium Brewery and OtterBox didn’t lay their bricks here for nothing). I encourage you to tour this city by bicycle, as each place listed is within reasonable distance for any skill level. Visiting from out of town? The FC Bike Library will loan you one of their sweet rides for a week, free of charge. Welcome to FoCo – you just might be here longer than you think.
Be sure to check out the Google Map with all of the below listings!
Built in 1923, the family-owned Armstrong Hotel is the last operating historic hotel in Fort Collins. And quite a history it has. The hotel—perfectly nestled in the middle of Old Town and used as barracks for the U.S. Army during WWII—fell into near disrepair by the 1990s and closed in 2000. The space was beautifully renovated and reopened four years later, with 45 unique rooms and Ace Gillett’s Lounge downstairs. Gillett’s hosts an incredible jazz band five nights and week and cocktails that will make you feel like you’re out on the town way back when.
The Edwards House Bed & Breakfast sits on my favorite street in Fort Collins—Mountain Avenue—and encompasses the historic beauty that Fort Collins is well known for. The house was built in 1904 for Colorado pioneer Alfred Augustus Edwards and now offers eight guest rooms and a beautiful main house, as well as a property fit for a wedding. The gourmet breakfasts served are just an extra treat. Take a trolley tour of Mountain Avenue on Birney Car 21 along the Fort Collins Municipal Railway, which will pick you up in City Park (another must-see while you’re in the area) and drop you off minutes from the B&B.
Not only does The Little Bird Bake Shop have the most beautiful Elektra Crema Caffe espresso machine behind the counter, but that baby can pump out a mean beverage. Keep your order classic—a macchiato or press pot coffee pairs nicely with biscotti, or one of the other dozen or so made-from-scratch snacks baked by pastry chef and owner Amy Wyatt.
The sandwich menu at Restaurant 415 doesn’t disappoint—and neither does the back porch you can dine on. The Provincial, made with brie, caramelized onions, organic arugula and blueberry jam, is the perfect combination of sweet and savory.
Originating in Boulder, Lucile’s Creole Cafe has quite the following among the breakfast crowd. Get there before opening for your best chance at sitting down without waiting in line, but don’t let a late arrival keep you from the restaurant’s New Orleans-style fare. Favorites include Hank’s Eggs (the half order is still huge, and it’s served with a biscuit and a variety of homemade jams), and Pain Perdu—french toast served with cinnamon syrup that, unfortunately, isn’t sold at the counter. Start with beignets to really feel the N’awlins vibes; they’re free on your birthday.
No place does pancakes better than Snooze (just ask Bon Appetit Magazine). Pineapple upside down pancakes are my go-to order, but friends swear by the sweet potato pancakes, served with homemade caramel, pecans and ginger butter. Also ask about the coveted s’mores pancake, or give the server a recipe of your own. The restaurant can be quite crowded on weekends, so look for a spot at the bar and order the Orange Snoozius while you wait.
Canyon Chop House is Fort Collins’ unpretentious take on fine dining. It’s located in a renovated bank, and diners can reserve the vault room for large parties. Some menu items change seasonally to allow for local ingredients, but the double cut pork chop is (thankfully) here to stay. The homemade sorbets between courses (or ordered as a dessert trio) are pretty stellar, too.
Boulder staple The Kitchen is launching its newest location in Old Town Fort Collins this spring, and I swear my name will be on the waitlist come opening night. The community bistro focuses on environmentally-friendly practices and works directly with farmers to create localized menus. Oh, and their food is ah-mazing.
The Welsh Rabbit Cheese Shop is as cute as the name suggests. Artisan and farmstead cheeses abound in this tiny space, so much so that the owners opened Welsh Rabbit Bistro earlier this year. The bistro offers small plates and roughly 25 rotating cheeses, including a fresh Canadian chevre and a Challerhocker—a dense, silky Swiss cow’s-milk cheese with a brown butter cream.
Fort Collins is quickly making a name for itself amongst the food truck scene, thanks in large part to The Waffle Lab. Specializing in Belgian-style Liege waffles that are made with dough instead of batter, The Waffle Lab is the perfect place to stop for a one-of-a-kind lunch or snack (seriously, I’ve tried 20 different ways to recreate these waffles, and it just isn’t possible). Though it takes a little digging on their Facebook page to find out where the truck will be parked on any given day, their take on chicken and waffles is worth the effort.
As a Florida native, one of my first goals after moving was to find a restaurant that would remind me of home. Fish Restaurant and Market has an amazing selection of fresh, non-threatened seafood, like PEI mussels and yellowtail snapper. Call the market ahead to order fish to go, or ask the server to help you create a dish of your own. The best part: one bite of their Key lime pie makes me feel like I’m dining at the best local spot in Key West.
Just on the outskirts of Fort Collins in LaPorte is Vern’s Place, home to every local’s favorite cinnamon roll. It’s worth the 10-minute drive from Old Town, especially if you stop by the banks of the Cache La Poudre River in Lions Open Space to eat it.
Also in LaPorte is Me Oh My Pie, one of the cutest bakeries I’ve been to. The owner will gladly put a bowl of water out for your dog while you try a slice of whatever pie she’s baking that day (typically cherry, apple or chocolate). Call ahead to order a whole pie, as they go quickly. Quiches, sandwiches and coffee drinks are also available, and there’s a small farmers’ market next door in the summer months.
If any place encompasses the mantra of Fort Collins (bikes, beer and coffee beans), it is Cranknstein. Visitors can literally bike into the shop and grab a coffee or craft brew while waiting for their bicycle to be serviced (there is a garage in the back where visitors can leave their ride with a mechanic). Spend a Saturday morning at one of their “cupping” events, where you can sample a variety of craft coffees in similar fashion to a wine tasting.
Don’t let the alley it’s located in deter you from The Forge Publick House, a small bar that sets itself apart from other larger establishments. The building was once used as horse stables for the first firehouse in Fort Collins, and visitors can pick up bits of trivia about the space from the bartenders (who also know quite a bit about beer). Beers are the only beverages offered at The Forge, so ask about hard-to-find varieties (there is almost always an interesting cider or two on tap). If you’re not into beer, try your hand at the old school Pac-Man arcade machine tucked in the corner.
When it comes to the part-coffee-house-part-something-else trend, The Bean Cycle does it best. There is a cozy space for enjoying an organic, fair-trade craft coffee in the front, and a bookstore in the back. Take a stroll to Wolverine Farm to peruse hundreds of vintage books donated by community members (the book store relies on donations and volunteers to operate). This duo gets the award for coziest place to spend a winter afternoon.
With more than a dozen microbreweries in Fort Collins, it might be difficult to decide which ones to hit. Equinox Brewing is one of the few centrally located in Old Town, so it’s a good idea to stop by for the location alone. But then there’s the beer. Equinox is constantly rotating different recipes (ask about the bourbon barrel), but the sure thing is their weekly firkin: a 10-gallon vessel of beer that has been naturally carbonated. The firkin beer is gravity-fed into a glass without the use of C02, and is usually tapped on Thursdays.
Odell Brewing Company is sometimes overshadowed by larger-than-life New Belgium, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. The brewery (which was the second to be built in Fort Collins) also offers tours, hosts food trucks, and has outdoor space. In fact, recent renovations included adding a fire pit to the back patio, so patrons can enjoy their Cutthroat Porter (my favorite Fort Collins craft brew) in lower temps.
Though the beverage options are similar to other organic, fair-trade and local coffee menus around FoCo, I set Cafe Ardour apart because of its space. Cozy tables and lamps make it a great place to study or read a book while enjoying a Bhakti Chai latte or local grilled cheese with rosemary ham. It’s like spending an afternoon in your favorite friend’s kitchen nook.
Simply called “The Mayor” by locals, The Mayor of Old Town is great for larger groups that just want to enjoy a local beer while watching the game. The menu is extensive, however, so take advantage of the knowledgeable staff.
The space is teeny tiny, so consider yourself lucky if you can find a seat in The Town Pump. The oldest bar in Fort Collins (it will celebrate its 104th anniversary this year) has a reputation for serving the first Fat Tire beer, but patrons keep coming for so much more than that. The bar evokes nostalgia through tons of memorabilia displayed on each wall, just as any local watering hole should.
Wool Hat could possibly be my favorite shop in Fort Collins. It’s the place for repurposed furniture and industrial designs, as well as funky home goods. Colorful and hand-sewn pillows, old street signs and retro sofas round out the inventory, but new items are always arriving.
Mama Said Sew has the best selection of fabric in town, from designers like Amy Butler, Kaffe Fassett, Etsuko Furuya’s Echino, and Whitney Crutchfield’s locally-made line. The shop usually hosts a fabric swap party on the first Friday of every month, and also offers sewing classes for a variety of skill levels (you can even use one of the store’s sewing machines). The new location also features sewing artwork by local photographer Danielle DeFiore.
There are plenty of thrift shops in Fort Collins, but Repeat Boutique is prime for vintage women’s clothing and estate jewelry. It takes some searching, so give yourself plenty of time to peruse the two locations.
When I’m feeling girlie, I head straight to White Balcony for a fix. The boutique is a great place to shop for women’s clothing and jewelry, vintage-inspired home goods and other funky gifts (I love the chandeliers on display). My favorite part: the shop is organized by color palettes or other creative methods—there was even a gnome section during the holidays! The owners opened Killer Rabbit in 2010, the male version of White Balcony located just a few doors down.
Rain Boutique is one of the only shops in Fort Collins to carry designer jeans and other celeb favorites, like Olivia Wilde designer handbags and soy candles. It’s located in a super cute former stage theater space, too.
I had to include a bicycle shop in my list, and Lee’s Cyclery is the best. Mountain bikes, road bikes and beach cruisers are available, among others, so choose a hobby before asking the experienced staff which one would work best for it. If you’re ready to go pro, head to Lee’s for a bicycle fitting and custom frame.
I love Kansas City Kitty for its collection of locally-made clothing and accessories. Silkscreened tees and handbags are wonderful mementos for FoCo passers through. Need a trim? SPOT Hair Design Studio is located in the back of the shop.
J Brand, Rag & Bone, Free People and 7 For All Mankind—and dozens of other brand names—are at Tula Boutique, the other designer shop in town.
As the name suggests, Old Firehouse Books is located in the town’s first firehouse and is now home to books both new and used. Trade in a few titles from your collection for store credit, or stop in for a book club meeting, story time or author signing.
Gallery Bleu, part of Bas Bleu Theatre Company, is a quaint gallery featuring work by local artists. The first Friday of each month offers the opportunity to visit this gallery and others after hours for a more intimate tour.
Once sold out of the trunk of a car, Akinz clothing line has expanded to a beautiful storefront that sells beanies, tees, tanks, hoodies, handmade jewelry and sunglasses (check out the annual Sunglasses at Night party hosted by the owner, Suzanne). I love the vibe I get when I walk into the store and see Suzanne making something rad. Many of her products are inspired by Colorado, but you can also ask to have something custom designed (a favorite winter product is the Akinz beanie, which can be customized by color, style, material and size).
Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys is a sweet children’s boutique that just begs to be explored. Shop local clothing and toy lines, or stick to brand names like Baby Lulu, Tea Collection and Oompa Toys. Most of the items in the shop are organic, wooden or BPA free.
Enjoy an indie or foreign flick on a comfy couch at Lyric Cinema Café. The independent movie theater (and café, in case you missed that part) also hosts a monthly Bad Movie Nite! and shows free cartoons Friday through Monday mornings, accompanied by a $5 all-you-can-eat cereal bar.
New Belgium Brewery is the heart of Fort Collins—really. The employee-owned brew house donates a considerable amount of its profits to local organizations, and also hosts a multitude of events (Tour de Fat is the most popular). Make a reservation to tour the facility, and sample a handful of beers along the way. The coolest room has to be the wood cellar, where New Belgium’s sour beers are wood-conditioned in retired French oak barrels for one to three years before being bottled (it’s seriously the craziest process you’ll learn about). Stop back at the bar to fill out a few coaster postcards, which the bartenders will mail out later in the week. It makes each person you send one to super jealous of your visit.
Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial Garden is worth taking a stroll through. The garden is used to research and display different growth habits and visual characteristics of a variety of flowers, and is a wonderful place to gather ideas for your own home garden. Annuals are planted from late May through October.
The French Nest Open-Air Market is such a treat when it opens every third Saturday of the month from May through October. The artisan outdoor fair features more than 75 vendors selling anything from handmade goods to hand-collected antiques. I absolutely adore the hand-knitted wool mittens available in the fall, and I am always a sucker for antique mason jars and skeleton keys.
Every Saturday from May through October, locals flock to Old Town for the Larimer County Farmers’ Market, a bunch of vendors selling typical market items like local honey and homemade soaps. It’s the only place in town I can find McIntosh apples for applesauce (ask on-site experts how to preserve and can your own) and fresh bundles of baking lavender. Bonus: most of the vendors stay open for the Winter Farmers’ Market inside Opera Galleria.
Pieces by Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams make Fort Collins Museum of Art a special place for art enthusiasts. It is located in the first Fort Collins post office building, on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Colorado Brewers’ Festival takes place every June and draws thousands of beer aficionados to Old Town. This is the place to sample limited-edition brews, local favorites and new flavors from up-and-coming Colorado microbreweries. Music and presentations on home brewing round out the weekend.
Visitors will see boaters, kayakers and paddleboarders on any given summer day at Horsetooth Reservoir, a six-mile stretch of freshwater just west of downtown. Sunrise day use area is dog-friendly and has a beach and picnic tables.
The Holiday Twin Drive-In is one of the few drive-in movie theaters still operating in Colorado. Both screens show double features every night of the week during summer months.
New West Fest is a free, three-day music festival that takes place at the end of each summer. Spend the days listening to local musicians or noshing on food truck fare, and come back in the evenings for concerts by national acts like Michael Franti and Ben Harper.
Tour de Fat is a national bike parade hosted by New Belgium Brewery, and the Fort Collins leg draws more than 20,000 cyclists each year. The parade, which routes through Old Town and is free to participate in, is best enjoyed in full costume. Seriously—you’ll feel out of place if you don’t dress up.
The Poudre River winds through Fort Collins, but follow it north through the canyon and you’ll be greeted by white water rapids, campsites and—about two hours west—moose. Yurts (not quite a teepee, not quite a cabin) are available for small nightly fees and offer the best opportunity to stay amongst aspen trees and tons of wildlife.
The Mishawaka (or “The Mish” to locals) is neatly tucked along the Poudre River and hosts small-scale outdoor concerts in the summer. Don’t be turned off by the lack of nationally recognized musical acts. People flock to the space on weekends to spend an evening jamming out and camping along the rapids afterward.