I heard it first from friends who moved there, as in: “The woman swimming in the lane next to me today was an Olympian. So Boulder.” Or: “Our grocery store is offering goat yoga. So Boulder.” Then I began visiting, and I heard it not only from Boulderites (in an adoring, self-deprecating way that makes you want to search for skits about “Boulderlandia”) but also under my own breath. Like when I found a rack of Prana dresses at McGuckin’s, the beloved hardware store; or when I realized that a pet shop called P.C.’s Pantry sells gluten-free biscuits and has an in-house baker; or when I learned that February is Stout Month, which just might, among locals, have more celebrants than Valentine’s Day.
For a city of just 103,000 residents (almost a third of whom are students at the University of Colorado at Boulder), it packs a lot of punch. And for good reason: At 5,430 feet and generally sunny, it’s a spectacularly beautiful destination that’s been smart (and pioneering) about growth and preserving open space, so it’s a magnet for athletes, bohemians, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts of every ilk. When I visited my friends, for example, they both were training: she for her umpteenth Ironman; he for a 50-mile run at 10,000 feet. So Boulder. With a progressive dining and brewing scene, it’s a breeze to eat healthfully and drink locally. Even outdoor music is better in the Front Range: You won’t regret splurging for a concert ticket at Red Rocks, just to the south. So what’s the catch? The average home now costs $1.2 million. And there’s an annoying surplus of youthful energy, from the CU-Boulder students to the octogenarians who pass you on the bike path. You’ve been warned.
Here’s a hiking tip: When you’re winded climbing up 1Mount Sanitas 1Mount Sanitas Google Map: A half-mile west of Fourth Street on Mapleton Avenue Website: bouldercolorado.gov/osmp/mount-sanitas-trailhead 303-441-3388 and a runner flits by you in fluorescent yoga pants (and then passes you again after summiting), remind yourself you’re still adjusting to the altitude, even if you kind of already adjusted last week. Just west of downtown, Sanitas is among the most popular hikes for locals and dogs. My friends and I chose a moderate 2.5-mile loop that gained 1,350 feet in elevation, and the view from the top was stunning. I looked out to see Denver, the I.M. Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research and CU-Boulder’s red-roofed campus. If you really want to roll like the locals, end your adventure at Sweet Cow, where you can line up with the groupies for a scoop of the best ice cream in town.
Bad news, friends: You just missed Tube to Work Day, July 11. But you can still enjoy 2Boulder Creek, 2Boulder Creek Google Map: Eben G. Fine Park, 101 Arapahoe Ave., or points west Website: bouldercoloradousa.com/things-to-do/insider-guides/boulder-creek/ NA where locals come out to play every day of the week. The creek meanders from Boulder Canyon right through downtown, and the adjacent 5.5-mile paved path is great for walking, running and biking. Pick up provisions at the farmers market or dogs at Mustard’s Last Stand and picnic by the water. Dip your toes into the local culture, which often involves students swaying in hammocks and smoking weed. (I’m sure they’re studying.) Tubing season lasts all summer: Start at Ebin G. Fine Park, where work attire is discouraged.
On the 3Celestial Seasonings Tour 3Celestial Seasonings Tour Google Map: 4600 Sleepytime Dr. Website: celestialseasonings.com/visit-us/ 303-581-1266 , the factory in northeast Boulder sounds and looks like any other — machines whirring, forklifts crawling. But it smells like stepping into a box of Sleepytime tea. Our guide, Debbie, asked us not to touch anything: “You don’t have to put your nose on something to smell it. That’s just gross.” Wearing super-flattering blue hairnets, we learned about blendmaster Charlie, who might taste 120 teas and herbal infusions a day, and walked into the calming — and eye-wateringly strong — peppermint room. At the end, Debbie explained that it takes three seconds for a machine to wrap a box in plastic “and 10 minutes to get it off.”
Since it opened in 1898, the 4Colorado Chautauqua 4Colorado Chautauqua Google Map: 900 Baseline Rd. Website: chautauqua.com 303-442-3282 — part of a national cultural movement from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — has celebrated nature, lifelong learning, music and the arts. Nestled against the famed Flatirons, it remains a treasured spot that operates in the spirit of its founders. You can hike 48 miles of trails, rent original cottages, eat in the dining hall or attend a concert. (On deck: the Gipsy Kings, Ziggy Marley and Boz Scaggs.) But the best of Chautauqua can be found just by showing up with friends. A couple of years ago, I had a birthday picnic on the lawn. On a nice day, you’ll see a steady stream of hikers. Start at the Ranger Cottage, the hub for all city hikes, plenty of which are accessible and kid-friendly. For a steep climb, rock scrambling and epic view, try the First and Second Flatiron hike.
At 5Shine Restaurant & Potion Bar, 5Shine Restaurant and Potion Bar Google Map: 2480 Canyon Blvd. Website: shineboulder.com 303-449-0120 my friend Sarah said “It’s a sign of an excellent menu that you’re paralyzed by all the good choices,” which is how I felt in general about dining in Boulder. Shine (from Trilogy Wine Bar & Lounge’s Blissful Sisters, as the triplets are known) features a spirited menu — mushroom bisque, probiotic slaw sampler, lamb meatballs — and life-enhancing libations. (One of our “potions” included a B12 shot from a syringe.) It wasn’t until we were later recalling the scrumptious buttermilk biscuit of Sarah’s veggie burger that we remembered the restaurant is 100-percent gluten free. If you can’t get a table, head to nearby Rincon Argentino for killer empanadas.
A comfortable, intimate neighborhood farmhouse kitchen and pub, 6Bramble & Hare 6Bramble and Hare Google Map: 1970 13th St. Website: brambleandhare.com 303-444-9110 may be better known for its cocktails (ostensibly, beyond the witty names such as Here I Am, Arrack You Like a Hurricane). But equally notable: Nearly all the food is sourced at the chef’s northeast Boulder farm. A young tattooed server wearing a crocheted bow tie had me at mention of the seared farm carrots with a pistachio tarator. The menu changes daily, but the mac and cheese is a staple, as are rustic dishes such as pork and white bean chili, root vegetable curry and beef bread pudding. Bramble’s elegant sibling, Black Cat, adjoins in the back. Peek next door for some magical decor.
If Boulderites ever kick off their Birks and dress up for dinner, it very well may be for 7Pizzeria Locale. 7Pizzeria Locale Google Map: 1730 Pearl St. Website: localeboulder.com 303-442-3003 The elegant restaurant serves classic Neapolitan-style pizza with perfectly doughy crust and spare, flavorful toppings. Locale — those in the know pronounce the “e” — takes pride in its Stefano Ferrara pizza oven, which cooks pizza in 90 seconds at 900 degrees, and its almost exclusively Italian wine list. A marble bar curves around the open kitchen, and alfresco dining is as good for seeing and being seen as it is for pizza-savoring. I sat outside with a lunch special ($12 for Margherita pizza, half an arugula salad and iced tea served in striking Italian glassware) and kept feeling like I should say “Grazie” to my server.
The 8Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse 8Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse Google Map: 1770 13th St. Website: boulderteahouse.com 303-442-4993 was constructed 30 years ago by hand (as in no power tools) in Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, before it was disassembled, shipped and rebuilt here. Whether you visit for breakfast, lunch, dinner or afternoon tea — during which you can order Argentine mushrooms, Thai fish cakes, Indian samosas or Chinese tea glazed ribs — you’ll think you’ve walked into a Persian shrine. Of note: hand-carved cedar columns, an ornate, hand-painted ceiling and hand-sculpted, life-size copper figures in the bubbling fountain. Oh, and the tea! Find more than 100 loose-leaf options at the bar. From July 28-29, the teahouse hosts the Rocky Mountain Tea Festival.
Easy to navigate by bike, Boulder is a favorite of triathletes, who find joy in suffering up excruciating hills. But even mere mortals can bike here, and 9University Bicycles 9University Bicycles Google Map: 839 Pearl St. Website: ubikes.com 303-444-4196 is the place to start. U-Bikes, as it’s called, has a solid collection of rentals, a great inventory of helmets, bike bags and maps, and fun vintage cycles hanging from the ceiling — such as the Schwinn Stingray with a baseball-bat holder. Mountain bikers, try Valmont Bike Park and the more challenging Betasso Preserve. Check U-Bikes’ website for rides from the shop, from five to 65 miles. Need bars, energy chews, pumps, tubes or lights after hours? Visit the store’s velo vending machine out front, natch.
When I travel, I’m all about finding gifts that are local, consumable and compact, so I hit the jackpot at 10Savory Spice Shop. 10Savory Spice Shop Google Map: 2041 Broadway Website: savoryspiceshop.com 303-444-0668 Who wouldn’t love Red Rocks Hickory Smoke Seasoning and Pyramid Peak Lemon Pepper? Savory originated in Denver and now has many locations, but some items — such as the Best of Boulder gift set I bought (including Pearl Street Plank Salmon Rub and Hippy Dip Olive Oil and Salad Spice) are only available here. An impressive list of local businesses, from ice cream shops to breweries, use Savory’s spices. For those with a sweet tooth: The Black Onyx chocolate sugar’s got your name on it.
Oh, the bounty! Among the pleasures I sampled at the 11Boulder County Farmers Market: 11Boulder County Farmers Market Google Map: 13th Street Between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue Website: bcfm.org 303-910-2236 tomatoes so red they looked like they’d been Photoshopped, dried peaches, black-bean dip, artisanal mole, hard pretzels, goat cheese, pea shoots, edible flowers, pesto and a bitter mustard green called mizuna. Every Saturday through mid-November, the market delights its throngs of locals and visitors who line up for the cash-only Izzio Artisan Bakery, gaze at Hazel Dell’s wacky lion’s mane mushrooms and sample cherry dark chocolate from the Fortuna Chocolate truck. The Wednesday evening market is less crowded; both have live music weekly.
My old neighbors loved jigsaw puzzles, and it was at their house that I first saw a work of art from 12Liberty Puzzles 12Liberty Puzzles Google Map: 2526 49th St. Website: libertypuzzles.com 303-444-1442 with its gorgeous, quarter-inch maple veneer pieces that send their cardboard brethren sulking back to the closet. So I was pleased to learn that Liberty, a throwback company founded in 2005, produces its puzzles in Boulder. Weekday afternoons, guides will show you around the factory, which includes laser-cutting machines, a take-apart room where humans check that pieces are fully separated, and the wall of shame — a photo collage of naughty dogs. (Liberty will replace pieces that are lost and, er, eaten.) Each of the 700 puzzles includes “whimsy” shapes that reflect the theme, and visitors can pick a free one from the extras jar. I picked a guitar. Buy puzzles here, or visit its retail location in the Pearl Street Mall.
13Boulder Adventure Lodge 13Boulder Adventure Lodge Google Map: 91 Fourmile Canyon Dr. Website: a-lodge.com 303-444-0882 is the real deal. Just three miles west of the Pearl Street Mall, its rustic rooms sit on Four Mile Creek (crack your windows to hear the babble) with trails and the Boulder Creek path minutes away. The pet-friendly A-Lodge has 27 rooms, hostel-style bunks and sites for campers and #vanlife. Rooms include kitchenettes, and I was happy to try a local porter on tap at check-in. After soaking up some outdoors, enjoy the hot tub, slackline park, yoga, Thursday bluegrass jams, Saturday bands and monthly film nights, which attract hundreds. (Upcoming ones are on July 19 and Aug. 23.) Summer rates start at $179 for rooms and $55 for the hostel. If nearby shopping is your sport, try Basecamp Boulder, a camp-themed hotel in town.
Struggling to picture Boulder before athleisure and cold-pressed juices? Step into 14Hotel Boulderado 14Hotel Boulderado Google Map: 2115 13th St. Website: boulderado.com 303-442-4344 , where you can ring a bell for service on a 1909 Otis elevator and sip from a historical drinking fountain that sources its water from Arapahoe Glacier on the Continental Divide. The 160-room, 109-year-old hotel, a block off Pearl Street, is also home to Spruce Farm & Fish restaurant and License No. 1, said to be the first city restaurant with a liquor license after local prohibition ended in 1967. In this cavernous speakeasy, enjoy Sidecars and Pisco Sours, billiards and comedy nights. Summer rates start at $203. If ritzy is more your style, head to the nearby St. Julien Hotel & Spa.
If Boulder isn’t hippie enough or high enough (elevationwise) for you, you’re in luck. 15Nederland 15Nederland Google Map: 15 miles west of downtown Boulder Website: nederlandco.org 303-258-3266 , best known for its spring Frozen Dead Guy Days, is a 30-minute curvy drive west of town. At 8,230 feet, five bucks will buy you a pretty groovy afternoon: a ride on the Carousel of Happiness (complete with a 1913 Wurlitzer) and a pint at Very Nice Brewing Co. Dude, you can’t help but smile! Stroll around town, where you’ll find street musicians, a coffee and taco bar (Salto) and a shack-sized visitor center with a sticker: “Don’t hate. Neditate.” One shop was closed with a “Sorry, I’m in Red Rocks” sign. Take a hike or keep on driving: Ned sits on the breathtaking Peak to Peak Highway, a National Scenic Byway that stretches to Rocky Mountain National Park, if you dare brave the crowds.
Car-free and vibrant, 16Pearl Street Mall 16Pearl Street Mall Google Map: Pearl Street between 11th and 15th streets Website: boulderdowntown.com 303-449-3774 is the 40-year-old, four-block promenade that serves as the city’s commercial and social hub. With a nice mix of boutiques, sidewalk cafes, indies and chains, you’ll find Fior Gelato, the three-story Boulder Bookstore and Prana, which offers free daily yoga classes. Check out Spinster Sisters Co. Mercantile (locally made products and “Be Hippy” trucker hats) and the Boulder Psychic Institute (get healed free every Thursday at 6). Stroll slowly enough to enjoy the musicians and performance artists. In the span of a few days, I caught a high school string quartet, mime, bagpiper, tarot-card reader, sombrero-wearing percussionist, accordionist and the legendary Zip code Man who stands before a crowd, asks spectators’ hometowns and (almost always) guesses their number.
Kaplan is a freelance writer based in the District. Her website is melaniedgkaplan.com. Find her on Twitter: @melaniedgkaplan