We uncover more than 60 supsecret restaurants, vistas, hikes, attractions, and quirky, only-in-Colorado experiences you probably don’t know about—but should.
These delicious dishes and drinks don’t appear on local menus, but you shouldn’t let that keep you from ordering them.
Little black book of cocktails at Gaetano’s
The Smaldone crime family might be long gone from Gaetano’s, but the intrigue of this mob-linked restaurant remains. Find it today behind the bar in the “little black book” of cocktails, a collection of handwritten recipes from staff and patrons past and present. Ask politely and the barkeep might let you page through and order something special, like the “Thoroughbred of Sin” (a citrusy rye and chartreuse concoction served with a mint sprig). Just remember: Skimpy tippers still sleep with the fishes.
3760 Tejon St., 303-455-9852, gaetanositalian.com
The Precious at Los Chingones, $10
We’ve barely had time to try all of the regular dishes at this new Ballpark hot spot, let alone venture off menu. But when we heard about the Precious, we made a special trip armed with an appetite and an elastic waistband. Consider them necessary weapons for facing down a pork tamale wrapped in a burrito, then deep fried and doused with green tomatillo sauce. One dish to rule them all, indeed.
2461 Larimer St., Suite 102, 303-295-0686, loschingonesmexican.com
Cafe Brazil’s Secret Rum List
Six dozen plus rums seems like enough to satisfy any palate, but the owners of Cafe Brazil don’t want to leave anyone thirsty. In addition to the 80 rums from around the world listed on the Berkeley restaurant and bar’s website, Cafe Brazil maintains a rotating selection of a few hard-to-find bottles. Ask your server about this curated (and unprinted) list. But don’t you dare order any of them with Coke.
4408 Lowell Blvd., 303-480-1877, cafebrazildenver.com
Chicken curry roti at Caribbean Bakery, $8
Trinidad native Lance Huggins has made Caribbean food for about 20 years at this hidden-in-plain-sight Colfax spot. It’s easy to miss, though. Caribbean Bakery doesn’t have a website, a Facebook page, or even a printed menu. Fortunately, all you need to know is this: Order the roti, a tortillalike bread served with a heaping mound of curry chicken, potatoes, and veggies. Be prepared for a wait, though. Huggins makes his roti to order, meticulously rolling, rerolling, and frying the dough. The upside: You’ve got plenty of time to bend his knowledgeable ear about the best upcoming local reggae shows.
2934 E. Colfax Ave., 303-284-7960
The KGB at D Bar, $12
The fact that Uptown’s dessert destination D Bar even has a dinner menu is still a secret to many, so you’ll feel like a real insider when you order chef-owner Keegan Gerhard’s namesake Kobe beef burger. All our server revealed was that it comes between two savory waffles—as if we needed to hear more. But in case you require more convincing: bacon, white cheddar, aïoli, and greens round out the mouthwatering sandwich.
1475 E. 17th Ave., 303-861-4710, dbardenver.com; Editor’s Note: D Bar’s old location is currently closed. They will reopen this summer at One City Block, 444 E 19th Ave.
5280.com Exclusive: More Secret Eats
Rosemary Tagliatelle at Panzano, $19
This beloved pasta dish—rosemary tagliatelle sautéed with dried cranberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese in a lemon emulsion—hasn’t been on Panzano’s menu for three years. But people still order it, and so can you. “We stock the ingredients,” says executive chef Elise Wiggins, “so we’re happy to make it.” 909 17th St., 303-296-3525, panzano-denver.com
Sushi aburi at Sushi Den, $8
Waaaaay down Sushi Den’s menu, under “signature rolls,” you’ll find a menu item called aburi albacore, which means white tuna that’s flash seared (aburi). That’s just one option, though. Those in the know ask the sushi chef to divulge which fresh fish merits the aburi treatment—and then devour his recommendation. 1487 S. Pearl St., 303-777-0826, sushiden.net
The Toasty Christo at the Lobby American Grille, $12
With brunch served all day long at the Lobby, how’s a hungry Denverite to choose between a sweet breakfast treat and a more savory entrée? Avoid the dilemma by going off menu with the Toasty Christo. Ham, bacon, and cheddar and Muenster cheeses make this a real meal on the inside while the French toast bookends add a touch of sugary goodness. After a swim in the deep fryer, the sandwich is topped with berry jam and powdered sugar and served with a side of salty tater tots—fried up with finely diced peppers, garlic, and onions—making this a no-compromise order at any time of day. 2191 Arapahoe St., 303-997-9911, thelobbydenver.com
CONVERT PIT STOPS
Fuel up on the road at these tasty undiscovered places.
—Aspen’s only microbrewery serves just one thing: beer. The seven-year-old Aspen Brewing Company’s (aspenbrewingcompany.com) owners, however, encourage you to bring in your own picnic to wash down their 10 flavors, including a bourbon barrel-aged oatmeal stout. And you thought there was no such thing as a cheap meal in Aspen.
—Stop in, pre- or post-powder, to Clint’s Bakery & Deli (clintsbakery.com), a small, no-fuss split-level shop on Breckenridge’s Main Street that sells coffee, ice cream, breakfast, and lunch. Our go-tos: the Blue River (lox, cream cheese, red onion, and an egg) and croissant French toast.
—The only thing better than a meal made from farm-fresh ingredients is not having to cook it yourself. Enter James Ranch (jamesranch.net), a 450-acre high-altitude farm tucked just 11 miles outside of Durango that uses farm-grown veggies, beef, pork, eggs, and raw milk cheeses in belt-loosening feasts at its Harvest Grill & Greens food cart. (And you can take any of those fresh ingredients home with you thanks to the on-site market.)
—Visiting the Arkansas River Valley without taking time to lunch at Salida’s Boat House Cantina (719-539-5004)—a casual spot with a great view of the mighty Arkansas—isn’t just a missed opportunity, it’s a tragedy. Especially when you consider that Boat House’s made-to-order, hand-battered Best Chicken Strips Ever are easily the…wait for it…best we’ve ever had.
5280.com Exclusive: More Covert Pit Stops
Crested Butte’s the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin’s humble exterior belies a chic interior: a candlelit cocktail bar with a high swank factor and a varied drink menu. Order a Romeo Y Julieta for the unexpected flavor—and buzz—of tobacco or the Beesting margarita for a spicy take on the tequila-laced original, and take your libation outside to the hidden side patio.
The options at Ouray Brewery are limited, but whatever keg is pumping is well worth the mileage (try the red ale, when available). If the weather’s bad, hop onto one of the swings at the bar. If it’s a bluebird day, head to the rooftop patio for views of Main Street backdropped by the stunning San Juans.
The Rocky Mountain oysters at Bruce’s Bar in Severance are really more for your entertainment than for satisfying a craving: Trust us, introducing unsuspecting visitors to fried cow testicles never gets old. If your guests don’t catch on after seeing the protesting cows mural outside, well, that’s on them.
UNLOCKING FEDERAL FOR FOODIES
Federal Boulevard presents a treasure trove of culinary adventures. But where to start? We set aside the more obvious options in favor of lesser-known spots to create this guide to eating your way down Denver’s busy, bountiful street.
Taquería Mi Pueblo
Just about every region in the world has its own specialty chicken dish. The South has fried chicken. France has coq au vin. And in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, you’ll discover juicy, smoky, whole roasted chickens cooked to perfection with onions and jalapeños. Find an excellent example at this tiny spot a block away from Jefferson Park.
2300 W. Federal Blvd., 303-480-5332
When he moved to Denver in the ’80s, Hiep Thai took a page out of his mother’s cookbook (she’d owned a restaurant in Vietnam in the ’70s). Familial predisposition might explain why Viet’s chicken wings and goat hot pot stole the show during our taste tests. A crowd favorite, the crispy skinned, lightly seasoned wings could give Portland’s famed Pok Pok a serious run for its money.
333 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 125, 303-922-5774
Celestial Chinese Bakery
Don’t be scared off by the various pigs and birds roasting and curing throughout this shoebox-size eatery. There’s nothing we didn’t like from its menu of savory and sugary snacks, but the crunchy, then squishy, then sweet sesame balls with bean paste and swoon-worthy honey cookies particularly satisfied our sweet tooth.
333 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 128, 303-936-2339
Vinh Xuong Vietnamese Bakery
Bring plenty of cash to this pint-size strip mall bakery (they don’t accept credit cards) because once you bite into the crusty-on-the-outside, oh-so-soft-in-the-middle banh mi packed with pork, meatballs, or chicken, you won’t be able to stop at one. Just remember to save a few singles for dessert: sweet, but not saccharine, sesame flatbread and authentic moon cakes.
375 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 112, 303-922-4968
There are no rattling carts in sight at this dim sum paradise that anchors the Far East Center. But there are plenty of options. Choose from the paper dim sum menu, or page through the separate, enormous Chinese American menu, which includes a variety of hot pot dishes. Whichever you settle on, just be sure you include the fragrant shrimp dumplings in your order.
375 S. Federal Blvd., Unit 109, 303-935-0033
Few pull off the unexpected culinary combination of Vietnamese Cajun with as much aplomb as Vietnam Bay, home of the $50 Bay Special, a gargantuan platter of underwater treats such as hearty crab claws and sublimely seasoned crawdads. Equally appreciated: the spicy chicken wings and the tangy gumling, a savory marriage of gumbo and dumplings.
472 S. Federal Blvd., 720-328-3620
Torres Mexican Food
Although there are giant margarita goblets aplenty and an expansive menu that includes traditional dishes like menudo and campechana, you could be forgiven for momentarily forgetting this is a Mexican restaurant—at least, if you order the spicy-sweet chicken mole. This thick, rich dish mimics Indian cuisine as much as Mexican flavors. It’s light on the chocolate and heavier on a slow-burning heat—an unexpected (and delicious) flavor profile that left us scraping our plates clean.
1597 S. Federal Blvd., 303-934-8857, torresfood.com
If you’re south of Alameda Avenue and in search of a good banh mi, get yourself to Baker’s Palace. Order the number nine, a brilliant bit of grilled pork laid upon a perfectly crisped baguette and then topped with pickled onions and carrots and leafy greens. At less than $4 a sammie, give into the temptation to get one for now and one for later.
550 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-2279
San Antonio Fresh Mexican Bakery
Atkins devotees should avoid this bright bakery. In fact, anyone on a diet will want to drive right on past San Antonio’s 12 cases of perfectly golden, carb-tastic delights, including custard-filled crêpes; crunchy cinnamon-sugar crisps; fruit-filled croissants; and loaf after loaf of freshly made bread. We spent 15 minutes trying to choose one treat—and ended up with six. Fortunately, we could handle the bill: a whopping $4.
2007 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-0323
Tacos Junior’s al pastor wins the day at this tidy, cheerful shop not just because the staff will slice off a few piping hot pieces and snuggle them into a taco with a little Cotija cheese for you while you wait, but also because the succulent, spit-grilled meat pairs perfectly with the vast selection of bases: The tortillas, tostadas, fried masa huaraches, and bean-stuffed tlacoyos are all so delicious you can’t go wrong.
1951 S. Federal Blvd., 303-427-0121
5280.com Exclusive: More Federal for Foodies
El Camaron Loco
The “shrimp” in “Crazy Shrimp” doesn’t refer to the diminutive size of El Camaron Loco’s building—one of three Denver-area locations—but rather the plethora of shrimp options on the menu: 52 in total. The bright, cilantro-y shrimp ceviche proved our favorite, but we’ll certainly head back to sample seconds (and thirds and fourths) of the other 51. 775 Federal Blvd., 303-573-0862
Hong Kong Barbecue
Hong Kong Barbecue owners Sun and Jian Yu hail from the powerhouse island in the South China Sea. It’s a fact that becomes quickly evident when you bite into the eatery’s expertly roasted duck, which taste of the restaurants in Kowloon City and Causeway Bay. Assemble with the steamed fluffy buns, and let these succulent sammies melt in your mouth. We bet you can’t eat just one. 1048 S. Federal Blvd., 303-937-9088
Los Agaves Mexican Restaurant
Los Agaves’ proximity to Sports Authority Field has made it a game-day breakfast staple for years. But it’s the queso fundido that has us coming back for lunch and dinner. The bubbling, cheesy goodness, mixed with crispy bits of chorizo, practically cries out for a post-football-season pilgrimage. 1703 Federal Blvd., 303-433-1257
Sometimes you simply don’t want to share Colorado’s majesty with anyone. At these spots, you don’t have to.
Pawnee Buttes, Pawnee National Grassland
With all due respect to Horace Greeley, we’re going to skip the whole “Go West” thing in favor of the 193,060 acres of stunning grassland 45 minutes east of Fort Collins. Despite its relative proximity to Denver, Pawnee sees only 270,000 visitors per year, compared to the more than 3 million that descend upon Rocky Mountain National Park. So the only souls you’ll likely share the 1.5-mile-long trail to the Pawnee Buttes with are the antelope, coyotes, and foxes that call the area near the 300-foot sandstone towers home.
Collegiate Peaks Scenic Overlook
CDOT’s not stupid. It knows it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when driving through overwhelming natural beauty like that along the 103-mile stretch of U.S. 285 between the Front Range and the Arkansas River Valley. That’s why it created several pull-offs along the way. Sadly, one of best options—the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Overlook on the west side of Trout Creek Pass—gets few visitors because it’s so close to many drivers’ final destinations. Too bad. They’re missing out on a vantage point that offers an unparalleled perspective on the jaw-dropping grandeur of the Collegiates reigning over the verdant Arkansas River Valley.
This 12,126-foot mountain pass between Buena Vista and Crested Butte on the
Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway closes for winter, which means sneaking a peek at the Sawatch Range towering over Taylor Park Reservoir remains a warm-weather-only opportunity. It doesn’t mean you have to share the view with every Nikon-wielding motorist who stops at the Continental Divide sign, though. Avoid the hordes by taking the dirt trail that begins behind the yellow-and-brown Cottonwood Pass sign and skirts up and over a knoll. A short hike this way will give you just enough distance from the parked cars—and lazy masses—to capture a panorama that’s all yours.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best views in Colorado can only be had at night. After the sun sets, millions of stars light up the skies over Curecanti National Recreation Area, an isolated series of reservoirs guarded by impressive mesas that qualifies as one of the darkest parks in the state. Set 20 miles from the nearest source of light pollution (Gunnison), Curecanti gets just 15 inches of precipitation a year. Translation: clear, dark skies that make for prime stargazing. Get a guided look on one of Curecanti’s ranger-led stargazing hikes this summer. Worried about neighbors wrecking your solitude? Fear not. Groups rarely number more than 15.
Two hours down a two-lane road from Craig, Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge’s remote location near the borders of Utah and Wyoming made it a popular hideout for outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once upon a time. Today, the only thief left in this rarely visited corner of the state is Mother Nature herself. She’ll regularly steal your breath as you wind through the 50-mile-long valley’s ruggedly beautiful terrain. Must-see stops include Vermillion Falls, a 25-foot cascade near the park’s southwestern entrance; the Gates of Lodore, where the Green River carves between spectacular red walls; and Swinging Bridge, a pulse-quickening single-lane span across the Green River that’s just 8.5 feet wide.
FORGET THE FOURTEENERS
Colorado adventure writer Dan England offers his close-to-Denver picks for the state’s less famous 13,000-foot peaks.
McHenrys Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park
The trip up 13,327-foot McHenrys is packed full of wild, unbelievable views, but you’ll have to earn them: The journey is 14 miles round-trip and includes some Class 3 scrambling. Along the way, you’ll pass Black Lake, where you’ll find what may be the quintessential Colorado lake scene—a dark pool with an impressive peak presiding over it and a rare view of Longs Peak’s back side. This climb requires a pre-dawn start, but you won’t mind the early wakeup call when you’re savoring the solitude on the stony summit.
Mt. Audubon, Indian Peaks Wilderness
You’ll gain 2,800 feet over about four miles on the trek up 13,223-foot Mt. Audubon, making it one of the milder summit adventures on offer among Colorado’s cadre of thirteeners. Audubon might be less demanding, but that doesn’t make it less pretty. You’ll hike through an almost Pacific Northwest–like forest for the first mile and a half or so before breaking through the treeline and switchbacking up the remaining 2.5 miles. There you’ll lay eyes on gape-inducing panoramas of the Never Summers, Indian Peaks, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Rinse off the remains of your day with a quick dip in Brainard Lake, where your trip began, once you’ve descended.
South Arapaho Peak, Indian Peaks Wilderness
If you stopped to smell all of the proverbial roses on your way up this 13,397-foot mountain, you’d never reach the summit. Deep in Boulder County, the 4.3-mile hike from the Fourth of July trailhead may well qualify as one of the best places to see wildflowers in all of Colorado, especially in mid-summer. The Monet-worthy scene transitions to one of stone and sky at the 3.5-mile marker, near the saddle of South Arapaho and Old Baldy, where the expansive view of the Arapahoe Basin will keep you motivated for that final summit push.
Your guide to Colorado’s quietly quirky attractions.
One of Colorado’s hottest après bars never gets above freezing. The Ice Bar at Crested Butte’s Uley’s Cabin serves cocktails—including an expansive White Russian menu—as long as it can keep its counter from melting. Drinks usually flow from December through April.
“Budget friendly” isn’t typically used to describe Telluride, but on North Pine Street, you’ll find the best deal in Colorado. Started by a group of locals in the 1970s, the “free box,” which is really more of a free shelf, has held everything from fur coats and flat-screen TVs to everyday items like gloves, goggles, and long underwear—all donations from anonymous do-gooders.
How a tiny mountain town like Creede manages to produce top-notch theater productions (this summer: Annie Get Your Gun, among others), we’re still not sure. But we’re damned happy to take our seat in the audience. And we aren’t alone. While the town only maintains a regular population of about 400, the Creede Repertory Theatre regularly sells nearly 20,000 tickets each season.
Mystery meat reaches a whole new level of eww at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill. Named for the infamous cannibal who survived a winter stranded in the Rockies in 1874 by snacking on the clients he’d promised to lead through the peaks, the Grill has dedicated an entire menu section to Packer: El Canibal Mexican Specialties.
At Monte Vista’s Best Western Movie Manor there’s hardly a bad seat in the house. Fifty-three of the hotel’s 59 rooms have tuned sound and an unobstructed view of the Star Drive-In’s massive screen. The movies—all new releases—are free with your $79-a-night-and-up room from May through September.
Fifteen miles from the Nebraska border, among the grain silos and rolling grasslands, sits one of the golf world’s greatest glories: Ballyneal Golf Club. Named one of the top 100 courses in the world by Golf Digest, Ballyneal’s fescued fairways resemble Scotland’s majestic links courses. The members-only course offers the public a limited opportunity to play; nonmembers can call for a one-time-only tee time.
A quarter doesn’t get you much these days, unless you’re in Burlington, where two bits earns you a five-minute ride on a carousel that’s worth millions. Each of the ornate, circa-1905 Kit Carson County Carousel animals is valued up to $200,000. They giddyup daily May through September.
Running for more than three miles along the Arkansas River, the Pueblo Levee Mural Project, initiated largely by paint-wielding college students in the 1970s, holds the Guinness World Records title for longest consecutive stretch of murals.
The call of the wild isn’t an abstract idea in Divide, where 28 wolves, foxes, and coyotes live at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. Forget howling; you’ll be hard-pressed not to gasp when you meet the beautiful wolf-hybrid ambassador Bella on your tour.
Five Under-The-Radar Festivals
Crested Butte, April 2–6
Crested Butte’s spring fete—which celebrates the “flushing out of winter” and the welcoming of spring—marks its 45th year this April, complete with a massive parade, costumes, kooky competitions, and an evening of polka dancing (experience not required). gunnisoncrestedbutte.com
Glenn Miller Swing Fest
Fort Morgan, June 19–22
Each summer, swing and jazz fans descend on the small Eastern Plains burg of Fort Morgan—where 20th-century big-band leader Glenn Miller (think “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “In the Mood”) graduated from high school—for a weekend of concerts, dances, meals, and historical tours. glennmillerswingfest.com
Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour
Keystone, June 21–22
There are few things Coloradans love more than beer. Bacon might just be one of them. Enter Keystone’s Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour. There’s plenty of sizzling hog on offer (last year’s tour featured more than 3,000 pounds of the stuff), live music, and demonstrations that will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about your favorite breakfast (and lunch and dinner) meat. And don’t forget about Colorado’s Biggest Bacon Bloody Mary Bar. Mmmm, bacon…and booze. Does it get better? keystonefestivals.com/index.php/bacon-tour
Pagosa Springs, July 19–20
Finally, a triathlon you don’t have to train for. Cruise-a-Thong features a cruiser ride, a walk over the Pagosa Springs River Walk (in flip-flops), and, finally, tubing down the San Juan River. Making the podium seems entirely unimportant, but if winning really matters to you, consider entering the Hair of the Dog disc golf tournament the following day. cruiseathong.com
Mile High Horror Film Festival
Denver, October 30–November 2
In 2013, the five-year-old Mile High Horror Film Festival managed to deliver 60 scary films from 16 countries to Denver. A year before that, Corey Feldman was on hand to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Lost Boys, the 1987 cult classic. Organizers are still dreaming up the horror picture shows they’ll present this year, but with a possible venue like Alamo Drafthouse (organizers were wrapping up the deal as of press time), it almost doesn’t matter what’s on the big screen. milehighhorrorfestival.com
4 UNSUNG PLACES TO PEER INTO COLORADO’S PAST
[165 Million Years Ago]
Picket Wire Canyonlands in Comanche National Grassland
Rattlesnakes, scorpions, drop-offs, flat tires, flash floods: If you think the dangers on the safety checklist for the Picket Wire Canyonlands guided auto tour (May, June, September, and October) sound scary, imagine how it would have read 165 million years ago, when allosauruses—pint-size, equally lethal versions of T. rexes—roamed what was then a tropical landscape. Yeah, we’ll risk the rattlesnakes, too. Especially if it means seeing this Jurassic jackpot, home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur tracks in the world: 1,300 dino prints dot a half-mile stretch near the Purgatoire River. Don’t have a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle? You can take a 10.6-mile round-trip hike. 719-384-2181
[800 Years Ago]
Ute Mountain Tribal Park
The Ute Mountain Tribal Park comprises 195 square miles of canyons, cliffs, and ancient dwellings. Nearby Mesa Verde National Park encompasses just 82. Yet Mesa Verde packs in more than a half million guests annually while Ute Mountain’s visitation figures never tick past four digits. All the more reason to cruise 25 extra miles down Highway 160 for an uncrowded glimpse of 800-year-old Anasazi dwellings like the Eagle’s Nest House, an abode set 50 feet up an overhanging cliff. The only way to see these amazing structures is on a tour with a Ute tribal member, who provides historical and cultural context along the way. Tours start at $29. utemountaintribalpark.info
[140 Years Ago]
Despite its status as Denver’s oldest cemetery, 77-acre Riverside often gets overlooked in favor of its fancier cousin, Fairmount. Established in 1876, Riverside’s stone tapestry reads like a Colorado history book: More than 1,000 Civil War veterans are buried here, as are three Colorado governors, four Denver mayors, and the state’s first poet laureate. Riverside had fallen into disrepair until 2008, when the Fairmount Heritage Foundation and the Colorado Association of Lawn Care began to restore order to the forgotten site. Dead trees and toppled markers have been removed, tulips line the roads, and many sections now have native wildflowers and grasses. fairmountheritagefoundation.org
[100 Years Ago]
In 1890, Robert Miller Womack discovered gold in Cripple Creek, bringing tens of thousands of people to the area. More than 22 million ounces of gold eventually were dug out of the Cripple Creek Mining District. But by the 1940s, it was all over. Today, the false-fronted buildings along Main Street bathe in the neon glow of signs from 11 casinos. You can still get a taste of Cripple Creek’s past at the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine, where you’ll descend 1,000 feet underground to look at Colorado’s gold veins. The real treasure, though, is up the road, where the view from above town—a panorama of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—will leave you feeling rich, no matter what’s in your wallet. visitcripplecreek.com
The Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and even the New York Municipal Library share something in common: They all contain a little (and in some cases, not-so-little) piece of Colorado from the Yule Marble Quarry. Discovered in 1873, the quarry produced marble for myriad state and national projects until it shuttered in 1941. Reopened in 1990, the mine now provides stone to the Marble Sculpting Institute of Colorado for artists of all abilities looking to channel their inner Michelangelos at weeklong summer sculpting seminars. marbletourismassociation.org
This northeastern Colorado town specializes in craft beer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options on tap. At the 11-month-old Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar, located in the Old Town district, quaffers can try flights of hard cider or simply order a pint—if they can decide among the 19 varieties available. We dig Blue Mountain Dry from Oregon and Wyder’s Pear Cider from Vermont and also the house-made Hopricot and Tart Cherry ciders.
Coloradans’ love for all things craft extends to beanies, too. At least, that’s what Suzanne Akin has learned since opening her Fort Collins clothing store, Akinz, in 2012. The Old Town storefront carries a variety of shirts, hoodies, scarves, and accessories, but it’s the customizable beanies that have really taken off. We’re particularly fond of the Colorado flag version, but Akinz can stitch up vintage stripes, bright neons, or slouchy wool to your liking. akinz.com
Planted in a clandestine back alley in Old Town, the Forge Publick House is a classic brewpub—dark woods, exposed brick, a roaring fire, and cozy furniture—that caters to a more discerning crowd (read: few rowdy CSU students). You won’t find a drop of hard liquor and not every Colorado craft brew is available (gasp!), but the Forge hosts a regular brewer series (meet Verboten Brewing on April 10). Plus, the pub’s 19 rotating taps ensure patrons aren’t left wanting—as long as they have cash; plastic isn’t accepted here.
Grand Junction might not have the same reputation for prehistoric holdings as northwest Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument, but it’s one of the few places where you can actually search for the Jurassic giants yourself. The Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum lets fossil fiends join half- and multi-day digs during the summer. Trips start at $35; museumofwesternco.com/dino-digs
You can hardly drive a country road in this farm-rich part of the state without passing a fruit stand. One you shouldn’t miss: Alida’s Fruit Stand in Palisade, where the overall-clad farmer Bob Helmer—who also stars in YouTube videos about life on the farm with his wife, Alida—sells fresh fruits, jellies, chocolate-covered, uh, everything, and real fruit jelly beans. If you pass it, don’t worry. You can also try the shop on Grand Junction’s Main Street. alidasfruits.com
Take a meal at Cafe Sol, an eight-month-old Grand Junction restaurant that uses locally grown fruit and veggies from nearby Field to Fork CSA—an organic Palisade farm—to craft delicious sandwiches and salads such as La Fruita (mixed greens, apples, mandarin oranges, strawberries, bananas, and peach mint vinaigrette). Wash it down with a glass of local wine (we like Plum Creek’s Palisade Festival white table wine) or a Colorado brew, such as Odell’s Cutthroat Porter. cafesolgj.com
Don’t tell our mamma, but we found a rival to her pecan pie at the easy-to-miss Front Range Barbeque in Old Colorado City. Owner Brian Fortinberry uses a 100-year-old recipe from his grandma to craft this rich, nut-packed dessert, then tops it with two scoops of house-made vanilla ice cream—a gluttonous delight that probably qualifies as the eighth deadly sin, but we’re willing to risk it. frbbq.com
Snuggled next to Garden of the Gods sits a fairy-tale-worthy castle: Glen Eyrie, or “Valley of the Eagle” (there’s a massive eagle’s nest near the entrance gate). Originally the home of railroad baron General William Jackson Palmer, Glen Eyrie’s stone towers now belong to the Navigators, a Christian organization that offers daily tours of the 110-year-old structure and its manicured grounds. Play royalty for a night with a stay in one of its 17 guest rooms, or make a reservation for afternoon tea—a fanciful affair full of the pastries, tea sandwiches, and dainty dishware that every princess deserves. gleneyrie.org
5280.com Exclusive: More Locals’ Secrets
Colorado Springs | Inside downtown’s cute King’s Chef Diner, you’ll find one of the best examples of green chile Colorado has to offer. Made fresh with locally grown chiles (including habaneros), owner Gary Geiser’s cornstarch-free version will leave you wearing the sweaty sheen that comes from a perfectly spiced bowl of chile. Little wonder Food Network magazine named the colorful diner’s green chile–covered breakfast burrito the tastiest breakfast in Colorado in 2010. kingschefdiner.com
Grand Junction | No visit to Grand Junction is complete without a stop at Colorado’s original house of sole, Benges Shoe Store. At 102 years old, this third-generation shoe retailer is the oldest in the state. Part store, part museum, Benges still sports its original tin ceiling, under which you’ll find funky old cash registers, antique button machines, and 45 brands of good-for-your-feet shoes to fit every kind of Cinderella.
Colorado Springs | Skip the stroller-packed pathways at Garden of the Gods in favor of an equally impressive stretch of stone and sky just five miles away at Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Families can take in the gorgeous rock formations of the 1,474-acre park along the moderate Red Rock Rim and Red Rock Canyon trails, while more adventurous hikers (and bikers and climbers) might opt for the 5.5-mile trek through mountain splendor along the Palmer Red Rock loop, which begins at the Section 16 trailhead.
5280.com Exclusive: Secret Places to Stay Across Colorado
Wake up to eye-widening vistas of the Colorado National Monument without changing out of your pj’s at Grand Junction’s Los Altos Bed and Breakfast. The seven-room guesthouse is perched on a cliff above the southwestern edge of the Grand Valley and serves up spectacular views of Grand Junction; enjoy them with your gourmet breakfast. At suppertime, watch the fading sun set the Bookcliffs aflame and just try not to gasp. Nightly rates start at $95
Teddy Roosevelt once stayed at the quaint two-acre Red Crags Estate just outside of downtown Manitou Springs. A massive two-story stone fireplace welcomes guests at Rockledge Country Inn, one of three buildings on the property, and plush furnishings await inside the eight stately rooms. Our favorite: the Spindletop Suite, a luxe 700-square-foot space with a marble fireplace, oversize Jacuzzi tub, and 18 windows through which you can steal glances at the nearby peaks.
With a bus stop to Crested Butte just one block away, the Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison makes a great budget option for skiers or summer revelers. You won’t find a bunch of bells and whistles at this quaint cabin, but you will find a communal kitchen for cooking and great rates—so what you save on your room you can apply to your lift ticket (or white-water rafting trip). Bonus: Spot can stay too for a few extra bones in one of the private rooms. From $23 per person