- Distance from Denver: 30 miles
- Best time: Year Round
- Best for: RomanticFood and WineOutdoor
Boulder, long lauded for its quality of life, has a new accolade: "America's Foodiest Town." Bon Appétit made the designation in 2010, formally recognizing the scenic city at the base of the Rocky Mountains as one of the most progressive culinary hotspots in the country. With more than 400 restaurants—many sourcing meat, produce, and herbs from their own farms—and a bi-weekly Farmer's Market that draws nearly as many people as the University of Colorado football games, Boulder embodies the locavore food movement that's sweeping the nation. The medium-sized city also boasts 45,000 acres of open space, nearly twice the amount as all of Colorado's ski areas combined. Follow these picks for the best of Boulder's culinary scene, mixed with a dash of outdoor recreation. –by Jayme Moye
1 Kick off the weekend with a breathtaking half-mile drive up steep, winding Flagstaff Road to Panorama Point overlooking Boulder at 6,000 feet. Wait for a parking spot to open up (they turn over quickly) and make the short walk to the viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver. Don't forget your camera.
2 Drive another 500 feet up the road to the Flagstaff House Restaurant. Perched high above Boulder, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 180-degree views of the city, the Flagstaff House has been Boulder's most iconic dining establishment for more than 40 years. The French-leaning restaurant, owned and operated by the Monette family, features local ingredients like wild matsutake mushrooms. Take advantage of the 12,000-bottle wine cellar to put an already delightful dining experience over the top.
3 Finish the evening in downtown Boulder at the chic T-Zero Lounge located inside the St. Julien Hotel & Spa. Sip handcrafted cocktails like the Beetnik, made with vodka, ginger liqueur, and (yes) beet juice from nearby Toohey Farm. On Friday nights in the summer, the back terrace is packed with locals who come to see and be seen, while dancing to live salsa music under the stars.
1 Start the day at Boulder's best spa, located in the St. Julien Hotel & Spa. A serene 10,000-square foot sanctuary in an otherwise buzzy urban hotel, the spa specializes in all-natural products and services, like the St. Julien Scrub, which uses 100% organic ingredients. The therapists are experts in treating Boulder's pro-athlete set with muscle relieving extras like organic Arnica Alpine Oil.
2 From April to November, the Boulder Farmers' Market, located downtown adjacent to Central Park, is the place to be on Saturday morning. More than 150 vendors sell seasonal fruits and veggies alongside artisan food products, including locally made honey, organic cheeses, rustic just-baked breads, and Colorado wines. You can expect a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, and a festive atmosphere.
3 Next to the Farmers' Market, set against a backdrop of the iconic Flatirons mountains, Boulder Creek runs through Central Park, setting up a picture-perfect picnic spot in the grass along the water. First, peruse the market for your picnic lunch, especially the food vendor section, where local restaurants dish up hot plates. When in doubt, grab a chunk of goat cheese from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy booth, a fresh baguette from the Breadworks booth, and a bottle of Ensemble, a tasty red blend, from the Bookcliff Vineyards booth. Note: BYO corkscrew and blanket.
4 Every Saturday at 2:30 pm, local food and libations expert Megan Bucholz leads the Taste of Boulder walking tour in the Pearl Street pedestrian mall area downtown. In about an hour and a half, you'll visit three standout Boulder restaurants like The Kitchen, Pizzeria Locale, and Aji Latin American Restaurant, with insider access to the kitchen and chef, and—of course—plenty of sampling.
5 The Pearl Street Mall is Boulder's pedestrian shopping mecca, with more than 1,000 businesses, boutiques, and restaurants (85% of which are locally owned). While traversing the mall on the Taste of Boulder tour, take note of shops that pique your interest and circle back after the tour concludes. Don't miss Peppercorn, a two-story culinary specialty store showcasing cookware, kitchen utensils, and gourmet food items, and Cured, a new shop on the east end of the mall offering a handpicked selection of cured meats, cheeses, chocolates, table wines, and other gastronomic indulgences.
6 For dinner, head to Black Cat, just off the Pearl Street Mall on 13th Street. Owner/chef Eric Skokan sources 90% of the Parisian-style bistro's ingredients from his 130-acre organic farm in Boulder County, including meat, produce, and herbs. His creative menu is geared toward foodies and changes daily.
7 For a nightcap, wander down to the other side of the Pearl Street Mall to the Kitchen Upstairs, where Boulder's sophisticated set of athletes and academics gather. You'll find them around the community table in the bar drinking and discussing notable Colorado beers like Crooked Stave's Vieille, a barrel-aged saison, or nestled into booths beside the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the west end of the mall while sipping artisan cocktails.
1 For Sunday brunch, drive through the UC Boulder campus to the Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark. At the far side of the parking area, you'll find the Chautauqua Dining Hall, unmistakable with its giant wraparound porch in the shadow of the Flatirons. A local favorite since the early 1900's, the dining hall serves classics like organic blueberry pancakes and Belgian waffles alongside progressive Boulder-style offerings including the tofu scramble.
2 After fueling up at the dining hall, hit the trails at the adjacent 80-acre Chautauqua Park, Boulder's most popular hiking destination. Choose from flat to steep trails, a third of a mile to seven miles in length. Boulder's many professional athletes can often be seen pounding out a training run on the 6.9-mile Mesa Trail, and rock climbers hike the First Flatiron Trail to the 1,000-foot tall "slabby" rock formations on the park's westernmost edge. Bring water and pace yourself: hiking at 5,430 feet is always challenging, regardless of your fitness level.
3 For one last taste of Boulder, stop at the Boulder Dunshanbe Teahouse. The building itself is a work of art, hand-carved and painted by artists in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and shipped to sister city Boulder in segments. In addition to an eclectic menu of African and Asian specialties, the teahouse makes tea-infused cocktails. Owners Lenny and Sara Martinelli grow many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs on their 10-acre farm in nearby Lafayette.
Where to Stay
The St. Julien Hotel & Spa (rooms from $250/night) is not only Boulder's newest, but also its most luxurious hotel. Located in the heart of downtown, the stylish property provides stunning mountain views, a notable restaurant, and all the sleek, modern amenities you'd expect, from oversized soaking tubs to marble staircases.
The Hotel Boulderado (rooms from $224/night), located two blocks northeast, is a touch less pricey than the St. Julien, but no less glamorous. The Boulderado dates back to 1909, and has become an elegant city landmark with soaring stained-glass ceilings, large ballrooms, and romantic balconies. The traditional rooms are decorated with period antiques and Q's Restaurant has been serving a local, organic-focused fine dining menu for two decades.
When to Go
Boulder is a year-round destination, with 300 days of sunshine and considerably less snow than the ski resort towns. The city's population increases 30% (to 100,0000) when the University of Colorado is in session, and in the fall, home football games, as well as the college's annual Family Weekend, can fill hotels and downtown restaurants to capacity. When planning a visit in the fall, it's worth it to check the Buffalo's football schedule to avoid the crowds.
Winter (January through March) is considered the off-season, and an opportunity to snag the lowest hotel rates. Boulder's winters are surprisingly mild, with the biggest snows historically happening in March.
How to Get There
By car (from Denver): Boulder is 45 minutes by car from Denver. Take I-25 north toward Fort Collins. Merge onto Highway 36 west to Boulder. The highway turns into 28th Street, one of the main arteries through Boulder.