Wreathed by the Rocky Mountains on one side and roughly 45,000 acres of open space on the other, among more than 300 miles of hiking and trails, you’re never far from an outdoor adventure in Boulder, Colorado.
Marry that with a cocktail of art and music venues, pedestrian-friendly shopping zones, and world-class eateries, and you have a place where athletes, students (the University of Colorado is based here), artists, farmers, beer geeks, hippies, business types, and beyond feel at home.
It’s an easy place to love, even if you only have a few days to sample the city. Here are a handful of the best things to do Boulder.
Hike at Chautauqua Park
Arguably, one of the most “Boulder” things to do is to spend time in Chautauqua Park—on a bluebird day, it seems half the city is here. The National Historic Landmark is filled with hiking trails, like Ski Jump Trail and Bear Peak Canyon Loop, many of which offer views of the Flatirons (five strikingly photogenic, slanting sandstone formations) for hikers and bikers. But it’s not just somewhere to get a leg-burning workout; Chautauqua is a community gathering place. The park also houses a historic dining hall, an auditorium, and rental cottages; throughout the year, it hosts concerts and festivals.
How to visit
The park is free and always open, though it can often be challenging to find a parking space due to its popularity.
Shop, eat, and drink your way down the Pearl Street Mall
Spanning from 8th to 20th streets, Pearl Street Mall is a popular pedestrian shopping zone in the heart of downtown Boulder. Here you’ll find all the well-known outdoors brands (Patagonia, Cotopaxi, Fjällräven, the North Face, etc.), as well as an eclectic mix of locally owned stores that sell handmade shoes, plants, homegoods, records, and more.
Pearl Street Mall is home to some of the best eateries in town, like Frasca Food and Wine (a northern Italian restaurant with multiple James Beard awards), River and Woods (elevated comfort food in a cozy home setting), and Salt (a seasonally inspired bistro). There’s also Avanti F&B, a food hall with concepts from around the world (including Taiwanese and Costa Rican fare), a coffee shop, two bars, and a rooftop deck. For those teetotaling (and not) Boxcar Coffee Roasters shares space with a wine and cheese shop. And for some tongue-tickling alfresco brews, there’s Mountain Sun Brewery.
Sip craft beer at one of many breweries
It makes sense that the city where the Brewers Association (the trade group that promotes craft beer) is headquartered is also home to some stellar suds.
There’s Finkel & Garf, with its taproom filled with old-school games and Great American Beer Festival gold medals (if its cream Oatmeal Milk Stout is on tap, do yourself a favor and get it); Vision Quest Brewing, where playful IPAs and pastry stouts are the order of the day; Wild Provisions, the sister company of the popular 4 Noses Brewing Company, that crafts top-notch spontaneously fermented sours; and Avery Brewing Co., the old guard of Boulder’s beer scene, to name a few.
Visit the Dushanbe Teahouse
In 1990, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, sent its sister city, Boulder, a generous, albeit bulky gift. It was a 1,700-square-foot teahouse (carved and elaborately painted by a group of 40 Tajik artists) that they’d disassembled and shipped to Colorado in 200 shipping containers. When the city finally hashed out where it would go (eight years later), the artisans came over to help assemble it.
Now guests can visit the Dushanbe Teahouse Tuesday through Sunday for lunch, dinner, or teatime. Even if you’re not interested in the chai, you’re welcome to come in and walk around the unique space.
Ride a bike
With 96 miles of bike lanes, 84 miles of multiuse paths, and roughly 50 miles of designated bike routes, Boulder is an easy place for cyclists to explore safely.
One of the most popular routes is the Boulder Creek Path. The mellow 7.5-mile multiuse path hugs its eponymously named waterway as it cuts across town from east to west. If you’re undeterred by a steep hill climb, one particularly scenic route is Flagstaff Road. It begins at Chautauqua Park and immediately slopes upward. Luckily, there are various view (read: rest) points along the way, including Realization Point and Lost Gulch Overlook, where you can catch your breath and take in the scenery. The whole route is 10 miles one way.
If you’re keen on trying out mountain biking, Betasso Preserve is good for beginners. There are various tracks within the park, making it a choose-your-own-adventure option (though do keep in mind that it’s shared use, so there may be hikers or horseback riders there, too).
Where to rent a bike
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, there are a variety of tour companies, including Electric Cruiser Bike Tour and Boulder Bike Tours, that can guide visitors around their city, plus a bike-sharing system, called Boulder BCycle, where users can rent bikes from a variety of kiosks around town by the hour.
Word to the wise: Keep an eye out for what locals call “mamils” (middle-age men in Lycra). Slaves to their stopwatches, they’re known to zoom around town at breakneck speeds.
Catch a music show
If live music is your jam, you’re in luck—Boulder’s scene is thriving. You can catch everything from opera to disco at the recently renovated art deco Boulder Theater; see acoustic shows at the barn-like Chautauqua Auditorium; head-bang along with craft cocktail in hand at Velvet Elk Lounge; listen to national acts at the Fox Theater; or spot local talent at various bars and restaurants and on Pearl Street’s corners.
Stay at a historic hotel
- Book now: Hotel Boulderado
In the early 1900s, Boulder’s residents decided they needed a luxury hotel to bolster the city’s tourism appeal. Rather than seek out private investors, a group of locals sold stocks to their friends and family at $100 a pop until they had enough to build the five-story brick hotel. The Boulderado features a large, open lobby with a stained glass skylight and a grand staircase. Throughout the property, expect rooms heavy on antiques and original features.
Be sure to have a drink at License No. 1 (formerly known as Catacombs Bar) in the hotel’s basement. The speakeasy-style cocktail joint is so named because it received the first legal liquor license in Boulder in 1969.