Set against the iconic Flatirons, Boulder, Colo. offers breathtaking views along with the vibrant energy of one of America’s brainiest (Portfolio study), foodiest (Bon Appetit magazine) towns. Boulder, you must know, is an adjective around here — “That’s so boulder!” — employed to describe everything from the trendy farm-to-fork restaurants and paleo cafes to eco-conscious clothing boutiques carrying local labels to all things yoga (studios, festivals, stores).
What makes offbeat Boulder truly unique, though, is not found inside a shop or venue but al fresco, where the sun shines 300 days year round, on average. The downtown streets are alive with healthy hipsters, live music in the air. And only Colorado’s characteristic bluebird sky is the limit for outdoor adventures in and around Boulder.
Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, the town on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains has a laid back yet sophisticated and innovative vibe. “People who live and work here are very passionate about life,” says Terri Takata-Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications, Downtown Boulder. “There is a work-hard-play-hard mentality that really inspires people to reach for their personal best in everything they do.” No surprise Forbes magazine has ranked Boulder number one among The 25 Best U.S. Cities for Tech Startups.
Pearl Street Mall — the Heart and Soul of Boulder
The tree-lined pedestrian mall on Pearl between 11th Street and 15th Street is where tourists from all over the world, local families, college students, professionals on lunch break, punks and hobos all become one vibrant crowd, an enchanted audience to street musicians, jugglers, tomahawk throwers, fire-eaters and Ibashi, the contortionist who folds himself (and onlooking kids) into an acrylic cube.
In the summer, children run through the pop jet fountain, squealing. Toddlers climb around the rock playground and sculpture gardens while their parents and grandparents take turns popping into Patagonia, Prana, American Apparel or Crocs, just a few of the popular brands with outlets on Pearl. Don’t miss the unique independent stores, though. Into the Wind, a Boulder favorite, sells a rainbow of kites and unputdownable toys. Take time to explore Peppercorn’s eclectic kitchen, bath and home accessories from all over the world. For handmade souvenirs by artists from Colorado, the Rocky Mountain region and all over the country, don’t miss Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery, one of the oldest artist cooperatives in the United States.
Downtown dining and shopping extends in either direction beyond “the bricks,” as locals call the pedestrian mall. Pearl’s West End and East End districts are home to the award-winning, upscale Frasca Food and Wine and The Kitchen, a locavore community bistro (very boulder!). “The food here is phenomenal,” Kim Farin, Communications Manager at the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, sums up Downtown Boulder’s progressive culinary scene. “Last year, Food and Wine magazine named Pearl Street one of the 10 Best Foodie Streets in America.”
Take a breather from the buzz and the buskers on Pearl and stroll off to the magnificent Dushanbe Tea House for afternoon tea. The teahouse itself, a gift from sister city Dushanbe in Tajikistan, is a must-see, entirely built by hand with a carved ceiling intricately painted with patterns traditional of Persian art. The list of exotic teas is extensive, the menu of international dishes far flung.
Museums, Art and Culture
“Live music in Boulder is unbeatable for a town of one hundred thousand people,” says Farin. Rolling Stone magazine named Fox Theater on “The Hill” the 4th Best Club in America. The other mainstay theater known to bring big names to a small venue is Boulder Theatre, housed in a historic art deco building at the corner of 14th and Spruce.
The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, a funky, relatively small spot, shows avant-garde art by local and international artists but also features dance, poetry and other live performances and an outdoor summer cinema series.
The Dairy Center for the Arts houses visual art exhibitions, hosts performing art shows and screens independent films.
The Fiske Planetarium, located on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, fully surrounds audiences with a 65-foot (ca. 20 m) diameter 360-degree screen and offers weekend-night laser shows, planetarium shows and free lobby exhibits.
Catch up on the town’s past at the Boulder History Museum, which is located in the Harbeck House on University Hill but will move to the Masonic Lodge building downtown in fall 2014.
Let the locals guide you to secret places and tell stories of the town’s special people on one of Boulders many visitors tours. Takata-Smith highly recommends Banjo Billy’s bus tours — saddle up for a 90-minute ride on an old school bus tricked out to look like a traveling hillbilly shack. Depending on the guide du jour, tourists will hear a medley of history lessons, crime stories and improv comedy.
A very fit(ting) way to explore one of the best cycling towns in the country is on two wheels, pedaling behind an expert guide. Boulder Bike Tours offers half-day mountain biking treks; Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides offers a Boulder Creek Path tour. For sightseeing at a slower pace, check out Boulder Walking Tours’ informative walkabouts.
Colorado is famous for its microbreweries and craft distilleries, and many in the Boulder area offer tours and tastings. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the custom-built stills when you tour 303 Vodka Boulder Distillery, one of the few distillers in the country to make potato vodka (gluten-free), from spuds grown in the Colorado Rockies. Beer lovers should check out the Boulder Beer Company, founded by two University of Colorado professors in 1979 as Colorado’s first microbrewery.
Outdoor Adventures in and Around Boulder
“Even if you aren’t a hard core athlete, being outside is part of Boulder’s ethos,” Farin says. At 6,000 feet (ca. 1830 m) above sea level, this paradise for mountain huggers is surrounded by 45,000 acres (182 km2) of preserved open space, undeveloped land owned by the residents. (By comparison, all of Colorado’s ski areas combined cover 28,000 acres (113 km2.).) Miles of trails and hundreds of vertical feet of rock formations await hikers, runners, bikers and climbers just a short, scenic walk or drive from the town center. Popular close-in hiking destinations include Mount Sanitas, Settler’s Park and Chautauqua Park, a national historic landmark that also offers rock climbing opportunities.
Before you leave Boulder, Farin reminds, a selfie in front of the majestic Flatirons is a must-do for any visitor, snapped from the Chautauqua meadows, Twenty Ninth Street Mall or a rooftop bar.