Once in a while in Boulder, you’ll wake up to what local resident Elisabeth Thompson calls a “powdered sugar doughnut day.”
It’s a sight that’s just as sweet as it sounds. On mornings when seasons seem to collide, Colorado’s bluebird sky sets a vibrant backdrop for an iconic view of the snow-dusted Flatirons.
The majestic rock formations surround the Chautauqua Meadow — an area that Kim Farin, communications manager of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, said is the “crown jewel” of Boulder’s open space system.
Boulder is surrounded by more than 45,000 acres of undeveloped land that is owned by the residents. Farin said the city was the first in the country to start taxing itself to buy the land, and she explained how this became the basis for the healthy lifestyle Boulder is known for — hosting professional athletes and Olympians, an accomplished university, a strong natural foods movement and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Adventure upon arrival
Boulder’s micro-climate can occasionally bring sunny, 65-degree days in the middle of winter, but don’t be surprised if you encounter a snowstorm through even the late spring. Pack a variety of clothing options — layers, specifically. A warm and sun-drenched January morning arrival recently brought my group straight to a hike in Chautauqua area’s Enchanted Mesa trail; yet by nightfall, the temperature had dropped significantly and, sure enough, snowflakes began to fall.
Fortunately, the plethora of outdoor access is matched by an abundance of indoor climbing gyms and yoga studios, as well as culturally stimulating and family-friendly activities. There are also a number of boutique-style stops on the east and west ends of Pearl Street and a lot of curbside entertainment in between.
Two mainstay theaters are known to bring big names to their small venues — downtown’s Boulder Theatre is an old building decorated in art deco style, and The Fox, on University Hill, presents shows with a retro-hipster style all its own. Also, The Dairy Center for the Arts has a new movie theater that features independent films in a unique and intimate setting.
Coming up in March for Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 13-16, the Boulder International Film Festival, named one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals” in the world by MovieMaker magazine, brings to town a four-day celebration of art and cinema.
Art lovers should definitely hit Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and for some family flair, hit up the only place in the state where you can see laser shows. Fiske Planetarium not only has a full slate of educational programs but also offers weekend-night laser shows, with timed musical themes such as Queen and Pink Floyd. Located on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, the analog star projector was recently replaced with an HD screen that surrounds the audience for a 360-degree view.
A Front Range feast
While it is truly a place to play, Boulder has progressively been making its mark on the dining scene. Renowned downtown spots such as Frasca Food and Wine and The Kitchen seem to have created an elite culinary framework for the area, while newer spots such as Cafe Aion, Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Cured, Oak at Fourteenth and Pizzeria Basta have kept the cafe and restaurant scene rolling.
The Kitchen is the more formal spot of its three adjacent eateries, while Next Door takes on a more casual feel, and the Upstairs features an extensive European and domestic craft bottled beer list, as well as small plates and cocktails.
Head Upstairs for “Community Hour” from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. for food and drink specials, including a $5 cocktail du jour. Next Door offers half-price Colorado craft beer pitchers and half-price bottles of wine, Monday though Saturday from 9 p.m. till close and Sunday from 6 p.m. till close. Live music plays at Next Door on Wednesdays and Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m.
Cherice Engel, marketing maven with Boulder’s Big Red F Restaurant Group, said clean eating is a food trend in the area, with inspirations from hunter-gatherer, or Paleo diet, themes that are weaving their way into menus. Even with freshie, farm-to-table movements staying pronounced in the area, Boulder’s selection of happy hours keeps the indulgence coming.
Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace offers an all-day happy hour on Mondays and from 3 to 6 p.m. every other day — plenty of opportunity to try some small plates and peruse their extensive cocktail list.
“The new chef, Cade Beerman, has a goal to really drive Latin cuisine,” Engel said. “And Centro is really trying to own the name of ‘refreshment palace.’”
Cafe Aion is a cozy weekend brunch spot, and on the opposite end of the day, craft cocktails take the crown for a speakeasy-style finale at The Bitter Bar. Engel described The Bitter Bar as the perfect place for a nightcap cocktail, as well as a place with some of the best food in Boulder.
“With an Italian-centric menu, chef Slavatore is producing dishes that you wouldn’t even imagine in a bar,” she said. “It’s truly impressive. And the cocktails are still amazing as ever.”
Stay in the cocktail spirit with a visit to 303 Vodka, offering distillery tours Wednesdays through Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m. during hours of operation. Farin said you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the custom-built stills, the hand-stamped corks and the bottling area.
“They’re one of the few in the country making potato vodka (gluten-free),” she said. “And all of the potatoes come from Colorado’s San Luis Valley.”
Also, Boulder’s microbrew scene is a hop haven for beer lovers. You can taste your way down the list (although they are not within walking or close biking proximity). Brew spots include Avery Brewing Co., Boulder Beer Co., Fate Brewing Co., Mountain Sun (and Southern Sun) Pub & Brewery, New Planet Gluten Free Beer, Twisted Pine Brewing Co., Upslope Brewing Co., Walnut Brewery, Wild Woods Brewery and more.
Boulder is definitely a place you can visit again and again, since every season provides a unique perspective to the town, along with an ever-changing list of upcoming events and activities.
Finally after all is said and done, you’ll need a place to rest your happy head. The St. Julien Hotel & Spa in the heart of town not only offers the comforts and charm of a contemporary boutique hotel but also is right in the middle of the action. The hotel is set back just slightly on Walnut Street, which is just a stone’s throw from Pearl Street, and has a perfect view of those aforementioned, majestic slabs of mountain rock.
Peter Walstra, general manager, said the aim of the St. Julien is to provide an experience that is luxurious, as well as approachable. Signature spa treatments in the on-site sanctuary, such as the St. Julien classic massage or the “Day of Decadence” package, may even make it hard to leave the property at times, but either way, guests can come and go to a home that feels not so far away from home.
“Whether guests stay with us and enjoy live music from local musicians on our terrace or in the lobby, relax with a spa treatment made with mind and other herbs grown in our on-site garden or just enjoy our luxurious accommodations,” Walstra said. “We hope we are able to enrich each travel experience with a little Boulder flavor.”
Our first morning greeted us beneath a feathered down comforter, and from the balcony window, we could see what was now a snow-blanketed Boulder — still and white with its dusted mountains in the distance. A cozy fireside breakfast in the lobby with steaming coffee and a pile of periodicals made for a perfect start to what was truly simple and sweet — just the beginning of one of Boulder’s powdered sugar doughnut days.