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Boulder’s Pearl Street is likely as old as the city itself, rumored to be named for the wife of one of the town’s founders in the mid-19th century. It was the center of the city even then—a spot where gold miners could make a straight shot to the hills. In 1917, Pearl became the first paved street in Boulder, but its most-trafficked areas have been closed to vehicles since 1970. Today, the center of downtown Boulder is home to a variety of boutiques, lively restaurants, imbibe-worthy bars, and engaging street performers. Here, a guide to the area’s best bets:
Boundaries: The pedestrian-friendly mall stretches between 11th and 15th streets on Pearl Street, but the neighborhood arguably extends by a few blocks in any direction.
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The Vibe: Like most of Boulder, the Pearl Street Mall and surrounding area is lively and eclectic. The oft-crowded area attracts Boulderites and tourists alike, ranging from travelers to families to University of Colorado Boulder students. The neighborhood is both historic and a natural beauty, with breathtaking views of the nearby Flatirons.
Main Drag: Pearl Street is the main attraction—but don’t let that stop you from venturing a few blocks beyond.
Brunch: Be warned: Boulderites love brunch. This means that wait times are often long—so put your name down, or get there before 9 a.m. to avoid crowds. That being said, the crowds are there for a reason: The food is spectacular. Head to Snooze, the breakfast stalwart, and order one of their many phenomenal pancakes. Make it a boozy brunch with mimosas, or their AM Manhattan (hot or iced)—a mix of Breckenridge Bourbon, Irish cream, and milk.
The Kitchen is another great brunch (or anytime) spot. The modern farm-to-table restaurant has an attentive staff and a wide variety of meal options and morning cocktails. The menu takes simple and straightforward classics to the next level, which makes for plenty of repeat customers. Make sure to take advantage of the espresso bar while you’re there.
While any meal is a good one at SALT—which sources local, organic, and non-GMO ingredients—the brunch just might be our favorite. Its morning menu features a massive cocktail and beer menu to pair with anything from house-made donuts to the quinoa burger.
Daytime Leisure: Window-shopping is a fitting way to spend the afternoon on the mall. Check out Into the Wind if you brought the kids along—it’s one of the most interesting and popular stores in the area. Stop by Peppercorn for creative kitchen wares and home decor, or if you’re looking for clothes, Goldmine Vintage is worth a visit for distinctive pieces. Visit Cedar and Hyde, just off the mall, for quality clothing, accessories, and home decor that appeals to both men and women.
The kids can play on one of the multiple rock garden areas located on the mall, or in the sprinklers near the courthouse in the summertime. Street performers are also an entertaining way to pass the time. You can typically catch a few musicians, daredevils (knife jugglers and fire throwers), and the occasional balloon-animal creator. Don’t miss community favorite Ibashi-i, a talented contortionist whose main act often includes fitting himself into cramped space, such as a 20-inch Plexiglas cube.
If you tire of the hubbub on the mall, venture a few blocks south to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (check their exhibit calendar here). Afterward, stop by the nearby Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, the only authentic Persian-style teahouse in the Western hemisphere, and marvel at the intricate furnishings while enjoying a pot of premium tea and snacks.
Lunch Break: Head to Salvaggio’s for lunch. This sandwich shop is not only convenient (it’s got a prime spot in the middle of the mall), but it’s a local favorite, making for a quick and satisfying lunch. The Organic Sandwich Company is another great shop, offering dishes using organic, local ingredients. The menu includes gluten-free and vegan options, as well as a kids’ menu, so there’s truly something for everyone. (Our recommendation: the turkey sandwich with house-made bacon jam on a pretzel loaf.)
If you’re looking for something a little more exotic, Arabesque—located off the mall on Walnut and 17th streets—serves great homemade Mediterranean food in a relaxed, coffee shop-style atmosphere. Order the chicken shawarma plate and pair it with an Arabic coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Drink Locally: No visit to Boulder would be complete without an afternoon of craft beverages. Grab a Belgian-style microbrew from the rotating taps at West Flanders Brewing Co., or head over to Mountain Sun pub and brewery for a taste of the classic and experimental beers. If you’re looking for a different type of buzz, check out the Pearl Street outpost of Ozo Coffee Co., or trek further east to enjoy a cup of joe at the original cafe for Boxcar Coffee Roasters, which has become a favorite for home-brewers, restaurants, and cafes throughout the state.
Date Night: We’ll get right to it: Frasca Food & Wine is not to be missed. The fine dining Italian restaurant held the number one spot in our 25 Best Restaurants list for five years (it stood firm in second place in 2015). The intimate atmosphere and stellar service make it the perfect date spot, but you’re really there to enjoy the delicious food, accompanied by a selection from the expansive wine list. Oak at Fourteenth, number 11 on our list of the 25 Best Restaurants, is another standout. Its modern and rustic aesthetic creates a comforting atmosphere, and the menu, which is centered around a wood-fired oven, boasts a vast selection of veggie-based dishes as well as beautiful cuts of meat.
Seafood lovers should swim over to Wild Standard, which offers adventurous dishes. Customers can pick small plates off carts as they roll across the dining area, or order entrees from the menu. Don’t miss their raw bar, which features a selection of oysters, ceviche, crudo, tartares, and Seacouterie. Or for a more relaxed night out, Centro Latin Kitchen is a go-to. The vivacious Mexican restaurant is a favorite for dinner and drinks, and their outdoor patio is open year-round (perfect for those abnormally warm Colorado winter days). Order the $5 garlic shrimp tacos—you won’t regret it.
Night Out: While most of Pearl Street shutters fairly early, there are a few places you can count on for nighttime festivities. The Boulder Theater typically hosts a few concerts per week, and tickets are generally reasonably priced. Many of the bars in the area can get overcrowded with college students on the weekends, but there are still plenty of options. Check out the Bohemian Biergarten, a laidback, German-inspired restaurant and bar that boasts a great happy hour and beer list. Bonus: There’s karaoke on Wednesday nights.
If you’re looking for something a little more refined, head over to Bitter Bar for delicious (but not overpriced!) cocktails in a dim, speakeasy-like setting. Try their signature Blue Velvet cocktail, a mix of vodka, crème de violette, lemon and orgeat (almond). Another spot is License No. 1 in the Hotel Boulderado, a historic and sophisticated bar (they hold the first hard liquor license in Boulder post-prohibition) that hosts trivia on Tuesdays and live music on the weekends.
Dessert: Boulder Baked is open every day from 4 p.m. until midnight and offers mouth-watering cookies, pies, and cakes in a variety of flavors. The shop has vegan and gluten-free options, and you can order cookies half-baked if you like them extra gooey. Two Spoons or Flor di Latte are also good options. Both shops sling made-from-scratch gelato using natural, organic ingredients in traditional and off-beat flavors.