A Full Local's Guide of the Best Things to do in Boulder Colorado
We're pretty positive that you've heard of Boulder, Colorado. Do Birkenstocks, Subarus, organic produce, and college kids partying on the street come to mind? There are certainly a whole slew of stereotypes around this well-known Colorado travel destination.
Boulder is a college town obsessed with partying and buffalos.
Boulder County is an odd juxtaposition between barefoot hippies and a booming tech industry.
Boulderites are always outdoors (rock climbing, biking, you name it) and never work.
Lululemon athletic leggings count as dress-up attire for a night out with friends.
As Colorado natives, we can confirm that those stereotypes are not too far off. In fact, Boulder was named the Happiest City in the U.S. by National Geographic Magazine in 2017. I guess drinking excessively and spending time outdoors are the key to happiness?
We kid. Kind of.
This city, located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, has so much to offer and makes for a great getaway weekend. A quintessential Boulder, Colorado weekend trip should include at least one outdoor activity like hiking the Flatiron Mountains, rock climbing, or mountain biking. If you're not the outdoorsy type, downtown Boulder is packed with local breweries, quirky shops, museums, theaters, and restaurants. You could even make Boulder your home base to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.
Without further ado, here are our top things to do (and more) in Boulder, Colorado. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of BoulderColoradoUSA.com
How to Get to Boulder, Colorado
Boulder County, Colorado is nestled up against the Rocky Mountain range about 45 minutes from Denver, Colorado. It's a pretty straightforward shot traveling northwest from Denver.
Rent a Car
If you are flying into Denver International Airport from out of state, your best option is to rent a car for the weekend. If you plan to truly experience all that Boulder has to offer you such as a drive up the picturesque Boulder Canyon (and you should), a car will be the easiest way to get around. Car rentals are available near DIA and there is a free shuttle that runs between the airport and the car rental locations.
Ride Share (Uber, Lyft)
You could rely on Uber for the weekend, but that could get expensive pretty quickly.
Public Transportation (RTD)
Public transportation does run from Denver International Airport to Boulder, but with limited time for a weekend trip, you could feel quite restricted and frustrated trying to figure it all out. If you're visiting Boulder for a longer period of time, public transportation would be a great option for you.
Boulder is a very bike-friendly town. If you're planning to spend the weekend kicking around town, this would be a great way to get around the urban area. There are several companies around town that do Boulder Bike Tours.
Things to Do (Outdoors)
As we've said, Boulder is an epic place to fill your soul with some amazing outdoor experiences. We are avid hikers, but Boulder offers just about everything outdoorsy from rock climbing, bouldering (how appropriate), a nearby ski resort, whitewater rafting, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Beyond outdoor sports, the town has some beautiful places to wander outside, shop, and people watch. A couple of general activities that are popular are Boulder brew tours and Boulder walking tours. Here are our top-rated things to do in the great outdoors in and around Boulder.
If you don't visit Chautauqua Park, you'd be missing out on the single most exciting landmark in the city. Boulder's iconic Flatirons are striking angled rocks that make up a portion of Boulder's foothills. Throughout town, you'll usually have a view of the Flatirons to the west and you'll notice the rocks being used in a ton of logos and branding around town. There are dozens of choices for hiking trails that take off at the Chautauqua Trailhead. Parking can be a bit tough since this is a well-used park ($2.50 per hour on weekends and holidays), but there's plenty of street parking available if the lot is full. Our favorite trail is a 2.5-mile loop called the 1st/2nd Flatirons Loop. Although short, the elevation gain is significant and you'll feel your legs burning as you climb over rocks on your way to the lookout.
Boulder Creek Path and the Boulder Canyon
Looking to see beautiful urban scenery and mountain scenery on one trail? Look no further than the Boulder Creek Path -- which, you guessed it... runs along a beautiful creek the whole way. It is a 5.5-mile concrete path that runs from downtown Boulder all the way up into the infamous Boulder Canyon. It is fantastic for bicycles, runners, or even just those that want a nice stroll. There are plenty of grassy areas to stop along the way and enjoy a picnic!
Did someone say tubing? Yes, absolutely. During the warmer months of the year, the Boulder Creek that runs along the trail is filled with locals and tourists enjoying a tubing adventure. It was even rated one of the top 10 best lazy rivers for tubing in the US by Men's Journal. Even if you didn't pack a tube in your suitcase, they have rentals available by the hour or day at Boulder Nordic Sport and Foot of the Mountain Motel.
If you're lucky, you might even catch the epic event each year where locals hop on their tubes for a commute to work. If you happen to be there the last weekend in July, you will see locals coming out to enjoy the day knows as "Tube to Work Day". They even dress in their fanciest suits and work attire -- a hilarious tradition!
Pearl Street Mall
We aren't usually the shopping type, but Pearl Street Mall is such an iconic component of Boulder. This four-block pedestrian-only outdoor mall is lined with Victorian style restaurants, local shops, art, bars, and street performers. If you want to soak up the true quirkiness of Boulder, sit on Pearl Street and people watch for an hour or two.
Photo on the right courtesy of BoulderColoradoUSA.com
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is an iconic camping/hiking trail destination near Estes Park and very high on many people's bucket lists. We aren't going to provide many details since we plan to have a full guide up on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park soon. In the meantime, head here for all the information you will need about visiting the park.
If you plan to make a day trip to the park from Boulder County, it is about an hour's drive. If you're visiting in the summer months, expect large crowds of people. In 2018, Rocky Mountain National Park was the third most visited National Park in the USA!
As a kid, I remember sitting in my grandparent's basement watching a slideshow of photos from a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park my dad and his parents went on. Think classic American 1960s outdoor nostalgia, an old station wagon, hot dogs, rustic camp chairs, Coleman brand stoves, and some interesting outfits. The thing I remember most about those photos was the wildlife! My grandparents were surrounded by dozens of elk, a few moose, a bear, and the list goes on and on. Hopefully, you'll have the opportunity to witness the same natural wildlife as the photos show.
Despite the heavy traffic, Rocky Mountain National Park absolutely lives up to the hype and is a must-visit destination!
Eldorado Canyon State Park
This state park is a less-visited gem that provides unforgettable scenery, many options for hiking, rock climbing, and beautiful day-use areas with picnic tables. We also plan to have a full guide for visiting this Colorado destination, but for now, here is everything you will need to know before visiting the park.
To visit the Eldorado Canyon State Park from the Boulder area it is about a 30-minute drive.
Saturday & Wednesday Farmers Market
One of the best ways to experience a cities culinary scene and local artisan scene is to head to the local farmers market. The Boulder Farmers Market is on Wednesday evening (4 pm - 7:30 pm) and Saturday morning (8 am-2 pm) and is located right downtown on 13th street between Arapahoe Street and Canyon Street. The market runs roughly from April through November. They even usually have some local live music for your enjoyment!
Some of our local favorite items to consume are the famous Palisade peaches, Olathe sweet corn, Rocky Ford melons, roasted green chile, and Happy Leaf Kombucha.
Things to Do (Indoors)
Visit the Fiske Planetarium
If you are looking for a divine scientific and otherworldly experience, then this is a must. This 65-foot diameter dome is the largest planetarium between Chicago and Los Angeles and seats 206 guests. The Fiske Planetarium has an 8am to 5pm museum exhibit in addition to the planetarium that hosts live star talks, concerts & special events, full-dome films, star shows, and exhilarating laser fantasy & liquid light shows. A lot of times the laser fantasy show is synced to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album. Talk about trippy! All shows require tickets in advance. Check Groupon for the best deals.
Note: Fiske Planetarium is closed for the remainder of 2020 due to COVID.
Drink Tea at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse
As it turns out, Boulder's sister city is Dushanbe, Turkey. The tea house building was created 100% by hand and built in Dushanbe, Turkey. It was then disassembled and shipped to Boulder, as a gift, where it was reconstructed. The beauty of its exterior will definitely catch your eye if you're walking by and might cause you to temporarily forget which country you're in.
Now Dushanbe Teahouse has become a popular destination to enjoy some fancy tea and fine cuisine. If you want to be swept away to another country and culture in the heart of Boulder, this is the perfect way to do it!
On the weekends they offer brunch from 9 am to 3 pm, tea time from 3 pm to 5 pm with light snacks, and dinner from 5 pm to 8 pm. Due to its popularity, reservations are required.
Attend a Concert and/or Visit Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
If you are visiting Boulder on a weekend any time throughout the year, it is guaranteed that at least one major concert will be that same weekend. Boulder's music scene attracts some of the most famous artists as well as talented local Colorado musicians. There's everything from free shows to ticketed shows and all genres of music. For a full schedule of concerts visit this page. If you know ahead of time you want to see a live concert, buy your tickets well in advance as most sell out.
By far the best concert venue in the world is Red Rocks Amphitheater near Morrison, Colorado. About an hour's drive from Boulder, and you will find yourself in one of the most interesting geological locations in the world. For a list of upcoming Red Rocks Amphitheater shows, click here. If you want to attend a show at this iconic venue, you'll need to purchase tickets the minute they go on sale! As people come from all over the world to see their favorite artists at this venue, tickets are guaranteed to sell out quickly.
Red Rocks Amphitheater isn't only for concert-goers though. Visitors are allowed at the venue whenever there is not a concert going on. The majority of visitors come to marvel at the otherworldly geological formations, hike, visit the museum, or eat at the outdoor restaurant. In the morning, many locals exercise by running up and down the steep steps.
Practice Mindfulness at Yoga
Yoga is plentiful in Boulder, so there are a lot of options if you're looking for an hour of stretching and breathing. We recommend Googling studios based on your preferred type of yoga.
Sip Beer on a Boulder Brewery Tour
Boulder is home to a few famous breweries like Avery Brewing Company, Twisted Pine Brewing Company, and Upslope Brewing Company. If the weather isn't cooperating for outdoor activities, joining a brewery tour is a great way to spend an afternoon indoors. Many Boulder breweries offer free tours, which include generous "tastings" of beer along the way. We recommend checking out the brewery websites to see what their tour schedule is.
Where to Eat and Drink
Brunch at Snooze or Tangerine
Ask any local if they prefer Snooze or Tangerine (both Colorado brunch staples), and you might get some opinionated responses. We love each establishment and they both offer one of the best brunches you'll ever have. In our opinion, Snooze is our personal favorite. During our long-term travels away from the US or Colorado, we'd find ourselves turning to each other from time to time and saying, "I would love to eat a Snooze pancake right now."
If you can only try one during your visit to Boulder, here are some considerations. If you want a deliciously savory meal then visit Tangerine. We love their omelet and egg dishes! If you are looking for a sweet breakfast, then visit Snooze. Their pancakes are the best we have had. Snooze even has a 3 pancake sampler where you can try 3 different flavors -- it is our go-to! Pineapple upside down pancake, sweet potato pancakes, blueberry danish pancakes ...need I say more?
Ska Street Brewstillery
This new establishment is actually a mash-up between Durango, Colorado's Ska Brewery, and Palisade, Colorado's Peach Street Distillers. I grew up in Palisade, Colorado and have been going to Peach Street Distillers since they opened (and I turned 21, of course). They distill gin, whiskey, agave, and are most famous for their vodka. At Ska Street Brewstillery, they have many of the staples that are served at the distillery in Palisade. Everything from peach-infused cocktails, mules, to the greatest bloody mary you'll ever have!
Ska Brewery is a popular brewery known for its heavily hoppy beers. We aren't the biggest fan of their beers, but we did notice they have added a sour beer and a tropical beer. Either way, it is great to see these two Colorado must-try places collaborating to create one awesome place.
The food we had was nothing to write home about. We suggest going just for the amazing beer or cocktails!
Delicious and well-portioned street tacos with strong margaritas. It is great for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters.
We have had several friends and family here in the US tell us they stray away from street tacos because a lot of places charge $3-5 a taco and they come out with barely any filling. We know this is traditionally how they are served in Mexico, but when you pay $5 for a taco you'd think they would have more substance.
T/aco is one of those places that does not go light on the taco filling! We enjoyed two tacos each with a side of chips and guacamole and we thought we were going to have to be rolled out of the place!
The coolest spot to hang in town is the Rayback Collective! With dozens of beers on-tap from all over the state, live music, robust coffee, food trucks, and yard game, it is the ultimate place to be social and enjoy local food and drink!
Where to Stay in Boulder, Colorado
Basecamp Boulder (our top choice)
Basecamp is the most adventurous hotel in Boulder -- especially for outdoorsy travelers like ourselves. This newly-renovated motel is an outdoor lover's paradise that provides a unique experience during a weekend getaway in Boulder. The motel offers various common spaces including an outdoor fire pit, a bar and restaurant with local beer and wine on tap, a huge game room, a sauna, a hot tub, a workout room, and ...wait for it...an indoor rock climbing wall.
The rooms themselves are cleverly designed with outdoor-themed decor, a metal cooler that can be filled with ice, and big comfy beds! The rooms are not those of a 5-star luxury hotel, but rather a comfortable, simple space that truly has a Boulder vibe.
The location of Basecamp Boulder is absolutely ideal. From the motel, you are able to walk to Downtown Boulder in a matter of minutes or drive a few minutes to some of the most popular destinations.
Hotel Boulderado, built in 1909, is a historic Colorado mountain-themed hotel that is right in Downtown Boulder. Stay here if you are looking for a luxurious, upscale experience. They offer several on-site dining and drinking options. This would be our top option if you are looking for a historic romantic hotel.
Boulder Adventure Lodge (The A-Lodge)
This place is nestled a little bit closer to the Rocky Mountain range and roughly 10 minutes driving distance to Downtown Boulder. With a variety of rooms including dorms, campsites, and cabins, this lodge has something for everyone. If you are looking to be a few miles outside of the city, the Boulder Adventure Lodge will be right up your alley!
That's it! Let us know in the comments if you have any other favorites in Boulder. We'd love to hear about for our next trip!
For love & adventure & hippies,