Boulder has transformed itself time and again, from farm country to hippie haven to an epicenter of the modern tech boom. With current travel limitations, it’s the perfect time to rediscover locales close to home, like this city at the base of the foothills. Welcome to the Boulder you’ve been overlooking.
We’ll be the first to admit it: We Denverites are often guilty of disparaging our neighbor to the northwest. At best, we consider Boulder a small college town worthy of the occasional visit to grab a bite or when we’re in desperate need of something to do with visiting family (see: the Pearl Street Mall). At worst, we see it as the ’burbs, rife with all the typical suburban problems, including a shocking lack of racial and ethnic heterogeneity (the town is 90 percent white) and a cost of living that favors the wealthy (average single-family home prices sit north of $700,000). Yet, we must concede that when we make the trip up U.S. 36, we always enjoy ourselves.
More from our September 2020 Issue
- The Best Staycation Deals at Front Range Hotels
- Where Our Food Editors Are Eating Right Now, September 2020
- 3 Wildlife Viewing Opportunities Made Possible by Animal Instincts (To Get It On)
- How 4 of the State’s Most Colorful Fishing Flies Got Their Names
- How Jack’s Solar Garden Hopes To Transform Farming—For Good
- 3 Ways To Wear Your Favorite Spring Clothes in the Fall
- Room for Milly Is a Denver Cocktail Haven
We aren’t the only ones who’ve succumbed to Boulder’s wiles over the years. Since the late 1850s, settlers have been drawn to this picturesque valley, first for the gold mining, then as a university town, next as a hippie refuge, and today as a bastion of the eat-well, play-hard Colorado lifestyle. Here, you will indeed find a multitude of craft breweries, trendy boutiques, and farm-to-table restaurants. These things, however, are only part of what makes Boulder a desirable place to spend a day or a weekend.
If you take the time to look past the high sheen, you’ll also discover a still-groovy town full of brainy entrepreneurs nurturing innovative startups, ultra-athletes plying the same trails as weekend warriors, artists creating works that both inspire and challenge the mind, and, yes, plenty of yogis, crystal healers, and meditation gurus waiting to help you find your Zen.
In other words, the People’s Republic is no longer a one-note burg. Yes, Amazon and Google may have settled in, but even with a new layer of sophistication, Boulder has managed to preserve much of its laid-back nature. If you know where to look, you can still find the magic that locals like Will Frischkorn, a former pro road cyclist and co-owner of Pearl Street’s Cured cheese and wine shop, say is the reason people have long been enamored of this city that abuts the Flatirons. “It’s been wild to watch the changes happen as Boulder has grown and filled and become busier. It’s made our town vibrant,” Frischkorn says. “But those values and ideals—the desire for things to be a little funky—are still in our roots.”
The COVID-19 Chronicles
For up-to-date intel on which area businesses are open and when, as well as local health guidelines, visit bouldercoloradousa.com.
Live music may be paused right now, but Boulder’s venues have already survived a few historical events. The Boulder Theater opened in 1906 as an opera house and managed to weather the Great Depression as a movie theater. The original Fox Theatre (founded in 1926 as the Rialto Theatre) was destroyed in a fire in 1960; it reopened nearly a year later with its neon marquee.
Long before wellness was a trend, Boulder called to those seeking to heal body and mind. Today, as we navigate a pandemic, anxiety abounds. Fortunately, finding a curative dose of serenity in Boulder is easy.
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#1 Walk the labyrinth at the StarHouse
This nonprofit, nondenominational church—designed as a 12-sided star map symbolizing the zodiac—opened 30 years ago and is surrounded by 105 acres of forest. Tune in to the area’s energies with a moving meditation on the seven-circuit labyrinth (caveat: you must be a member, starting at $165 annually, to access it). Or find alignment during virtual celestial celebrations ($15 to $20 suggested donation).
#2 Move your body at Kaiut Yoga Boulder
Kaiut is a biomechanical yoga practice that focuses on improving the functionality and mobility of your body, particularly in joints like ankles, hips, and shoulders—areas that may be especially tight for those who sit at a desk (or, recently, on the couch) all day. The Kaiut Yoga Boulder studio offers daily in-person and online classes; access the unlimited membership level for your first month for $57.
#3 Meditate with Boulder Shambhala Center
Reconnect mind and body during the venue’s weekly drop-in meditation practices. Learn the basics during group instruction on Thursday evenings, or join a community meditation on Sunday mornings. The practices run for one hour on Zoom; they’re free, but donations are welcome.
Boulder has the third-highest concentration of artists in the country, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. We asked local cultural leaders to share whom they’re watching right now.
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The Mystic: Albert Chong
Photographer and mixed-media artist Albert Chong often explores spirituality, mysticism, and identity (the University of Colorado Boulder professor identifies as Afro-Asian and splits his time between Colorado and Jamaica). Chong’s I-Traits series of self-portraits—among the artist’s earliest works—are haunting and ethereal and incorporate the links between Jamaica, Africa, and Chong’s life in New York at the time. More recently, he’s been trying to figure out how to respond to the pandemic through his art; in his Visualizing the Journal series, he’s superimposing his journal entries from this time with images of objects or his face.
The Resister: Melissa Pickering
An artist-in-residence at Boulder Creative Collective, this printmaker doesn’t shy away from political commentary. Her latest series is particularly astute: Tentatively called Echo Chamber, it explores the polarization in today’s culture and what Pickering considers an antidote to the current discord: listening. Using the collagraph printmaking process, Pickering created prints of ears, some of which are cut out and filled with hashtags like #agreetodisagree. At press time, an exhibition of these works was expected to open in the nonprofit’s AKA Gallery on August 28.
The Change Agent: Katrina Miller
The City of Boulder’s Office of Arts and Culture’s Creative Neighborhoods program fosters art projects all over town. In response to the pandemic, 66 pieces have been funded with the goal of keeping people connected during quarantine. Among them is an in-progress film by Katrina Miller. The filmmaker is focusing her lens on the experiences of the local Black community, specifically through the eyes of 91-year-old Second Baptist Church member Elmira Davis; Miller plans to release it this fall. See her “ISO Boulder,” a three-minute exploration of Boulder under quarantine, and “New Me #BLM” online.
The Crafter: Steven Frost
Queer history and pop culture take the spotlight in interdisciplinary artist and CU Boulder media studies instructor Steven Frost’s pieces. Walk by the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art before February 20 to witness Frost’s latest installation: A hand-woven grid hangs over the building—a nod to the lifelong but hidden love between his aunt and her partner (and the lawn chairs they used in their yard). “For people who were adult and queer, building your own home was a way you could have some freedom away from the looking eyes of others,” Frost says.
Mark Your Calendar
Street Wise Arts’ annual mural festival enlivens the walls of Boulder from September 7 to 13. The goal: encourage artivism, or the blending of art and activism, through large-scale street art focused on social justice issues.
Where Should We Eat?
Whether you need to refuel after a trek along the Flatirons or simply want to safely catch up with friends, this gastronomic question is always in the backs of our minds. (C’mon: We know it’s not just us.) So, we posed it to five of Boulder’s top toques.
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“The food truck called Tierra y Fuego Taqueria outside Upslope Brewing Company. [There’s also a new brick-and-mortar on Broadway.] Boulder hasn’t always been known for tons of Mexican food…it’s pretty special.”
Must-Have Dish: Whatever tacos are available, but the carnitas and barbacoa, in particular
—Kelly Whitaker, chef, Basta and Dry Storage
“Sushi Zanmai. I’ve been going for 30 years. It’s owned by my very dear friend Nao Kanda. When I was young, I used to chuckle, looking at the old men that go to the same place for years and years.I’m that guy now.”
Must-Have Dish: Buri, which is fatty yellowtail belly
—Edwin Zoe, co-founder, Zoe Ma Ma and chef-owner, Chimera Ramen
“LeFrigo. My favorite sandwich in Boulder is the Provençal. It has a hard-boiled egg on top of the tuna, and the tuna has olives in it, which I don’t normally like. It’s almost similar to a niçoise salad as a sandwich, and it’s on a pretzel roll. It’s incredible.”
Must-Have Dish: See above, but if you don’t dig fish, the cheddar-and-roast-beef Brexit is an excellent alternative
—Natascha Hess, chef/owner, Ginger Pig (formerly located in Rosetta Hall)
“Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage. I think it’s the sauce more than anything; it’s got a nice little kick to it. The pizzas are huge—really good, classic New York–style pie. No weird ingredients. No frills. Just\really good pizza.”
Must-Have Dish: Italian Mamma, New York–style
—Hosea Rosenberg, chef/owner, Blackbelly and Santo
“Oak at Fourteenth is one of Boulder’s best restaurants. The menu is endlessly creative, and they put out great pastries.”
Must-Have Dish: Kale salad with candied almonds, apples, and Grana Padano
—Jennifer Bush, executive pastry chef, Lucky’s Bakehouse
Three popular treats you might not know were born in Boulder.
Bobo’s | Est. 2003
Eat This: Healthcare Heroes Chocolate Chip Oat Bar. For every six-pack purchased, Bobo’s donates product to health care workers in Colorado and beyond.
Bhakti Chai | Est. 2005
Drink This: The Spicy Chai Concentrate. Just add milk.
The Good Crisp Company | Est. 2014
Eat This: Outback BBQ Potato Crisps for a cleaner take on Pringles.
With more than 20 breweries within city limits, we’d understand if you thought of Boulder as a beer town. But there’s an extensive array of locally made drinks that go well beyond ales.
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Coffee \ ko-fē
A beverage made from the seeds of the coffee plant—also known as the jolt of caffeine you require each morning to get from your bed to your home office, which is in the kitchen, adjacent to the coffee pot and that life-affirming bag of whole beans.
Discover At: Boxcar Coffee Roasters; Conscious Coffees; Dragonfly Coffee Roasters (cross-reference with Roast magazine’s 2019 “Micro Roaster of the Year”)
Hopped Tea \ häp-ped tē
A nonalcoholic beer substitute made by combining tea, hops, and sparkling water. It’s like craft beer (IPA lovers, take note), except without the sugars, additives, and fermentation.
Discover At: Hoplark HopTea Brewery and Taproom
Juice \ jüs
Liquid extracted from fruits and vegetables. Cold-pressed juices are made using a hydraulic press, which crushes the ingredients rather than spinning them, preserving more nutrients—and, yes, upping the price.
Discover At: Wonder
Kava \ kä-və
A booze-free beverage made from the root of a pepper plant (Piper methysticum) native to the South Pacific. Consuming it is believed to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and increase focus. Fair warning: It can be bitter, so consider trying it in a mixed drink.
Discover At: The Root Kava Co.
Kombucha \ käm-bü-chə
An effervescent probiotic drink made by fermenting green or black tea with yeasts and bacteria. The tart sipper is thought to improve digestion and create a healthy gut microbiome, although further scientific research is needed.
Discover At: Mortal Kombucha; Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha; Upstart Kombucha
Potion \ pō-shən
Herbal tonics that are brewed with adaptogenic herbs, juices, and botanicals and then infused with the vibrational imprints or energies of gems, flowers, and sounds to help improve your life by, for example, increasing energy. (We told you Boulder was still groovy.) Enjoy straight or mixed into cocktails.
Discover At: Shine Community
Travis Rupp is kinda like Indiana Jones—maybe even cooler. After all, he’s a beer archaeologist. For part of his role with Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company, he engages his research skills to unearth ancient beer recipes—and then brews them using traditional methods as part of the brewery’s Ales of Antiquity series. On deck: Roman Britain, a spelt-based wheat ale based on an approximately 1,900-year-old recipe. Says Rupp: “I want to give people a piece of tangible history…they can touch, experience, and get an idea of what was being consumed by certain peoples.”
When grocery stores were picked over early in the pandemic, we were reminded of the importance of buying local. Visit some of Boulder County’s farms on your own, as part of a scenic drive along the Boulder County Farm Trail, or during the Boulder County Farmers Markets (expected to run until November 21; make a shopping reservation online).
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Visit: Cure Organic Farm
To Get: Vegetables (the farm grows more than 100 varieties)
Then Add On: A dozen chicken or duck eggs
Visit: Isabelle Farm
To Get: Squash
Then Add On: Wedges of Haystack Mountain cheese made in nearby Longmont
Visit: Buckner Family Farm
To Get: Lamb and beef
Then Add On: Locally produced Highland Honey
For a list of markets as well as farm-based activities, go to bouldercoloradousa.com.
Who Needs I-70?
You can satisfy all of your outdoor desires in and around Boulder without the stress of high-country traffic.
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If You’re A Beginner…Lap the Overland Loop at Heil Valley Ranch in the nearby town of Lyons. The two-mile route was built for newbies and is an ideal place to practice navigating tight turns and rocky sections.
Need Something Gnarlier? The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance has called Walker Ranch “the hardest eight miles of mountain biking in Boulder.” The trail descends more than it rises, but the climbs are steep—and include a 100-foot-long staircase that can force even the strongest cyclists to walk.
If You’re A Beginner…Take the family along the 3.4-mile (round trip) Anne U. White Trail, which reopened in December as the final element of the county trail system to be restored following the 2013 floods. (Or opt for the wheelchair-accessible Ute Loop Sensory Trail on Flagstaff Mountain, a 1.2-mile-long path designed for individuals with vision impairment.)
Need Something Gnarlier? Conquer all five of Boulder’s highest peaks in a single day (see “Adventure Is Relative” at right).
If You’re A Beginner…Paddle around 440-acre Gross Reservoir’s 11 miles of shoreline, situated about 16 miles southwest of town. The water is open to nonmotorized boating and paddling through September 30.
Need Something Gnarlier? Test your kayaking chops on the Boulder Creek white-water course. It’s not the most intense white-water park in Colorado, but the half-mile section (put in above Eben G. Fine Park) features a fair number of splashy drops.
If You’re A Beginner…Explore beyond the well-known First through Third Flatirons by focusing your attention on the south side of the formation. The Maiden and the Matron offer some moderate 5.5/5.6 lines to practice your skills.
Need Something Gnarlier? West of town, Upper Dream Canyon is a secluded setting full of multi-pitch sport climbs. Along Lower Dream Canyon, skilled climbers will find challenging routes like Plotinus Wall and the Wall of Winter Warmth, ranging from 5.10 to 5.12.
Snowshoe or Cross-Country Ski
If You’re A Beginner…Cross-country skiers and snowshoers are welcome on Brainard Lake Recreation Area’s 41 miles of trails, most of which qualify as easy or moderate. Bonus: Dogs are allowed to join the fun on a handful of specified routes.
Need Something Gnarlier? OK, so this isn’t what you might call epic skiing, but from the popular Fourth of July trailhead (located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness), cross-country skiers should seek out the Hessie Trail and Lost Lake Trail.
Adventure Is Relative
We planned two perfect Boulder outings—one for those seeking more of a rush and one for those who need more calm in their lives.
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Bag All Five Of Boulder’s Peaks
The 16(ish)-mile Skyline Traverse is a bucket-list hike for outdoorsy Boulderites. The all-day excursion follows mostly well-trodden singletrack, but some route-finding is required. Maren Horjus, an editor at the REI Co-op Journal, has conquered the route four times, always traveling a slightly atypical south to north route, checking off Bear Peak (8,459 feet) first, followed by South Boulder Peak (8,549 feet), Green Mountain (8,150 feet), Flagstaff Mountain (6,983 feet), and, finally, Mt. Sanitas (6,843 feet). Horjus shares four things to know before you make your own attempt.
- The first peak [Bear] is the never-ending climb. It’s a slog. You go up this boulder-choked gully the whole way up until you gain the ridgeline. It’s invariably one of the best views in Boulder.
- Once you’re on the ridgeline, it’s pretty intuitive—even though nothing is called the “Skyline Traverse”—because the trails between the peaks, with the exception of Flagstaff Mountain, are generally easy to follow. The vast majority of these trails are going to be the most pristine, awesome singletrack: skinny trails that are flanked by shrubbery. Then there’s this fun element of Class 3 scrambling to get to the tippy-tops of Bear and Green.
- Flagstaff Mountain doesn’t have a true summit block like the other peaks. You do your best. If I do it with friends, we’ll use a GPS and try to get as close as we can to the summit. It’s arbitrary. There’s no trail.
- I take the goat path down Mt. Sanitas because then you’re very close to the bus stop and it makes logistics easy. Leave your car at the Shanahan Ridge trailhead [where you started your hike].
Take a walk through a prehistoric forest on the Long Canyon Trail (2.6 miles round trip, starting from the Realization Point trailhead). More than 11,000 years ago—during the last ice age—Colorado was teeming with white-barked paper birches. As the climate warmed, many disappeared. Here, you’ll find one of the last surviving paper birch stands in the state.
Enjoy a Socially Distant Picnic
Setting: Wonderland Lake
Details: The 23-acre body of water in north Boulder is surrounded by open space easily accessible by car, bus, or bike. For a quieter spot to spread out your blanket, Frischkorn suggests hiking up Wonderland Hill Trail (0.5 miles) to reach perches that overlook town, with views extending as far as Denver.
Setting: Boulder Reservoir
Details: Pedal from Cured’s downtown location to the 700-acre northeast Boulder site on two wheels (an e-bike from Pedego makes the 6.6 miles a breeze!), and then follow the perimeter trail to the lake’s east side for the best areas to break for a bite. Burn off those well-deserved calories by finishing the 5.3-mile lake loop.
Setting: Mesa Trail
Details: Stroll south and then west from the NCAR trailhead in south Boulder. Says Frischkorn: “There is a handful of spots to plop on the side of the trail, with views over Boulder, Marshall Mesa, and Denver.”
When we say Boulder is full of brainiacs, we’re not only referring to its plethora of professors and scientists (hello, National Center for Atmospheric Research). The city also tops the list for “high-tech startup density” among small to mid-size metro areas in the country. Here, five local companies that are solving our recent stuck-at-home problems, one click at a time.
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Choosing video games over the outdoors is acceptable once in a while, but you can at least make that screen time worthwhile with these amusements from CU Boulder grad Zhenghua Yang and team, which are designed to make you think (and, perhaps, subtly teach you the laws of physics) rather than just space out. Their newest game, Neversong, was released in May.
Cusa Tea & Coffee
After visiting the tea shops of Asia, Jim Lamancusa launched Cusa in 2017 with a line of instant tea. In April, the e-retailer rebranded with the launch of five flavors of cold-brew instant coffee. Because when you need caffeine, you need it now.
Any avid outdoorsman knows to be off the mountain early as lightning strikes are a serious concern in Colorado. Get an accurate hourly weather forecast pre-adventure—you can get as hyper-specific as Boulder’s Betasso Preserve trail system—with this free app and website.
As CEO and co-founder Sara Bates learned firsthand, life doesn’t get easier after you give birth. But many women aren’t aware of the additional health issues they may face postpartum or where to access services. This digital health platform, started in 2018, shares research and connects new moms to practitioners who can help—and Mom doesn’t even have to leave her much-deserved bubble bath.
Temperature checks are likely here to stay, and this company gives the necessary annoyance a WALL-E spin with its new Temp Screening Assistant. The talking robot—Misty II—can detect elevated temps and other COVID-19 risk factors from a couple of feet away using a thermal imaging camera and a contactless health question survey.
Whether you’re ready to peruse store shelves in person or are digging the ease of online shopping, add a piece of Boulder to your home with these locally made souvenirs.
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Clou’s hairpins should really be called wearable art. Metalsmith and jeweler Mathieu Shields hand-forges each of these brass and nickel silver beauties. New designs dropped in August, but you certainly can’t go wrong with the Bloom hairpin’s beautiful organic shape.
Find It: $34, clouhairpins.com, or Sage Studio Salon, 1634 Walnut St., Suite 111C, Boulder
This summer, sustainable drinkware brand EcoVessel updated its triple-insulated, 24-ounce Boulder water bottle with two ombre hues; the Rising Sun version is fitting for daybreak hikers. A removable strainer makes steeping tea or infusing your water with citrus a breeze.
Find It: $33–$35, ecovessel.com
Need to keep the kids occupied on your upcoming camping trip? Amuse them with the just-released Strawberry Sunset card game. Designed by Boulderite Justin Biegger for local game studio Stellar Factory, it’s a game of strategy (for those seven and up) to see who can build the most fruitful garden.
Find It: $13, Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe, 2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Keep your hands free by storing your valuables in a boldly patterned cross-body sling bag from Maruca Design, or, for the more subtle-leaning, a vegetable-tanned leather zip-top hip pack handcrafted by Elke Bergeron (aka By Elke).
Find Them: $42–$72, Boulder Arts Co-operative, 1421 Pearl St., Boulder, marucadesign.com; $135, By Elke, 1721 Pearl St., Boulder
If you want to spread the joy that comes from sipping Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary & Supply’s Happy Tea, gift a mason jar of the rosehip-and-peppermint loose-leaf brew.
Find It: Starting at $3.50, Rebecca’s Herbal Apothecary & Supply, 1227 Spruce St., Boulder
Puzzles made a major comeback during quarantine, and some of the country’s most whimsical and challenging designs come from Boulder’s Liberty Puzzles. Made from maple plywood, the puzzles have become so popular that the company is currently limiting purchases to one per customer. Good luck with the 373-piece Bison edition.
Find It: $95, Liberty Puzzles, 1468 Pearl St., Boulder
Pearl Street isn’t just the heart of Boulder’s commercial district today—it’s served as ground zero for much of the city’s growth since Boulder was incorporated in 1871. In 1891, a horse-drawn streetcar was built on the central strip; electric streetcars eventually took over. The avenue, between 11th and 17th streets, was the first in the city to be paved. And Boulder’s original streetlight signaled at the intersection of Pearl and Broadway.
What do you most enjoy about the medium of ceramics?
I like that people can touch and engage with the work. Ceramics is often, I’m afraid of breaking it. Even cups, they’re too precious; often people get nervous about using them. But I like people to not be afraid of it because there’s so much beauty in handling it and holding it and feeling it and experiencing it. It’s so much nicer to use a cup than have it sit on the shelf. It’s for the viewer to engage with and not be intimidated by it.
In Person: View new additions to Quan’s Cumulus series during her show at Denver’s Walker Fine Art, November 13 through January 9, 2021.