Breckenridge often gets a bad rap for being unbearably busy—and deservedly so. It’s ranked as the second-most-visited ski resort in the country with more than 1.6 million visits annually. But that hasn’t stopped it from earning a spot as one of my favorite Colorado ski towns. Mainly because it’s actually a town. There are plenty of shops, dining options, bars, and cultural venues to explore. (A memorable childhood family vacation may have something to do with my fondness, too.) Here, a general outline of what Breck has to offer for newcomers and frequent visitors alike:

The Odometer: 80.9 miles, one-way

If You Do One Thing…: Make an après (or mid-day) stop at the T-Bar, located at the base of Peak 8. It may sound like an odd recommendation, but the always-bustling spot allows for incredible people-watching of Breck’s neon-clad skiers and snowboarders. On a bluebird day, there’s nothing better than a pint on the patio, and the spot fits the needs of your whole crew. To wit: My six-year-old nephew found plenty of options to chow down on, and my friend met his now-fiancée there.

Local Secret: Five-month-old Broken Compass Brewing is off the beaten path—literally. Located in an industrial area about two miles north of town, the small brewery is out of sight but should be front of mind. A flight ($8) is your best bet for getting a taste for BCB’s offerings. Or try one of the staff favorites: Coconut Porter, made with roasted organic coconut.

Where to Nosh: Like most Colorado towns, Breck is chock-full of dining options at every price point. If you’re aiming for a nice evening (or après) meal, start with a Prohibition-era cocktail at Modis (pictured, above left) before visiting Relish for “Colorado-inspired cuisine” (pictured, bottom right: octopus carpaccio). Those seeking a more laid-back dining experience can get their fill with burgers and fries at Empire Burger; tacos and margs at Oscar’s of Breckenridge (pictured, top right); subs with special touches at Duggan’s Deli (try the Arch, which combines turkey with garlic aïoli and roasted red peppers); or a stellar veggie burger made from edamame and chickpeas at the Warming Hut Restaurant & Bar. (Bonus: Devour your food next to the patio fire pit.)

Get Outside: Ski or snowboard. (Duh.) When Peak 6 (pictured) opened last season, it added 543 acres of new terrain to an already popular resort. (Heads up: Almost half of that is intermediate to advanced-intermediate.) Flatlanders won’t find as many adventures here as other mountain towns, but the indoor/outdoor Stephen C. West Ice Arena has open ice time. You can also make the short drive to Frisco for tubing (the hill opens Thanksgiving Day) or vist the Nordic Center and give snowshoeing or cross-country skiing a try.

(Check out a beginners guide to Nordic Skiing)

Stay: If you’re not in the mood to search—or don’t want to couch surf at a friend’s or coworker’s place—the Bivvi Hostel is a great option. Don’t let the word “hostel” throw you: This former mountain lodge was recently renovated to include 10 rooms (six are traditional hotel rooms, the other four offer mountain-chic bunk beds), a community fire pit, bar, and hot tub. Did we mention the complimentary breakfast? Dorm rooms start at $49 (weekday) or $52 (weekend) during the winter season; private rooms start at $189 (weekday) or $199 (weekend).

Stroll: North and South Main Street are the heart of Breckenridge and offer plenty of opportunities for shopping, snacking, and caffeinating. Besides the myriad sportswear stores—including a couple outlet shops offering awesome discounts—ladies are sure to find a cute new sweater or dress at Valleygirl Boutique, while the whole family can peruse the shelves at Goods (and get a kick out of their hysterical holiday onesies). Kids will have a ball trying on silly head toppers at Breckenridge Hat Company. And the interior decorator in your group can find mountain-y accents at home decor shops sprinkled along the main drag. Refuel with an irresistably chewy C.O.W. (cranberry, oatmeal, and walnut) cookie from Mary’s Mountain Cookies.

—Bivvi Hostel photo courtesy of Chris Freiboth