The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Planning a spare-no-expense staycation in Boulder? Or maybe you’re an out-of-towner looking to experience the best the People’s Republic has to offer? Whatever your reason for visiting, if you want a top-shelf hotel experience—we’re talking within walking distance of Pearl Street, views of the Flatirons from your window, all the fancy accoutrements, and a budget that can handle the possibility of a fourth digit—you really only have two options.
In one corner, we have Hotel Boulderado. Just a block north of Pearl Street and clocking in at more than 100 years old, the Boulderado has hosted Helen Keller, Robert Frost, and numerous other celebrities and politicians. The building is recognized as a city landmark and named on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also a Tripadvisor Traveler’s Choice award-winner.
That's only $1 per issue!
In the other corner, a block south of Pearl Street, sits St Julien Hotel & Spa. Much newer to town, this Boulder hotel arrived in 2005, looking to bring an urban resort experience to a crunchy outdoor mecca. Since then, St Julien has become the only AAA Four Diamond lodging in the city and taken home a laundry list of awards from the likes of Travel + Leisure (top hotel), Condé Nast Traveler (top spa), and Tripadvisor (Certificate of Excellence), among others.
So, which is the best? To find out, we weighed each of the champs by their best attributes.
Hotel Boulderado: In the late 1800s, Boulder was primarily a supply town catering to miners and farmers. The locals believed their humble abode had the potential to be something special, but the city needed a luxury hotel to draw cultured (and wealthy) visitors from the East. So residents financed such a place by buying shares at $100 a pop, introducing their masterpiece in 1909. Although most upscale hotels of the day adopted grandiose monikers like “Plaza Hotel,” Boulderites chose something more memorable: a smash-up of the town and state.
St Julien: The St Julien sits at the base of Boulder Canyon, atop what used to be the station for a narrow-gauge railway called the Switzerland Trail that snaked to the top of the mountains. But instead of the Switzerland Trail Hotel & Spa (or maybe Swiss Suites?), the developers of the St Julien decided to name their luxury hotel after a humble inn located a few blocks away at 14th and Spruce streets that was run by a Mrs. St. Julien in the early 1900s.
Winner: Hotel Boulderado
“St Julien” sounds as fancy as the hotel it represents, but “Boulderado” may go down in history as the state’s most famous wordplay.
St Julien: After pulling onto the bricked drive off Walnut Street, guests enter St Julien’s expansive lobby. They’ll notice the earth-toned color palette, inviting couches, and massive pillars that manage to create an elegance that isn’t ostentatious. To the right, a roaring fireplace adds warmth both literally and figuratively. Rotating installations from Colorado artists put a local spin on usually generic “hotel art,” while local jazz and blues musicians, jam bands, and more perform every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Oh, and a sweeping terrace provides unimpeded views of the Flatirons.
Hotel Boulderado: Once inside the stately red-brick exterior, guests will likely notice the grand, cantilevered wood staircase leading to the second floor. From there, the eye continues upward to the amber-and-crimson-colored stained-glass ceiling, a near-identical replica of the original. All around, the interior’s Victorian-era architecture looks just like it did in 1909, with Mission-style wainscoting, Italian Renaissance–style pillars, and floor tile imported from Italy. Modern furnishings brought in by Denver-based design firm Rowland+Broughton Architecture as part of a 2017 renovation pair well with the centuries-old grandfather clock and antique nickel arcade game to create an ambiance that’s refined, welcoming, and historically significant.
If it’s relaxation you seek, savor St Julian’s tranquil vibes. History buffs, however, will prefer Hotel Boulderado.
Best Guest Rooms
Hotel Boulderado: When the Boulderado first opened, guests could reserve one of the 90 rooms for $1 to $2.50, depending on whether or not there was an ensuite bathroom. Rates now start at $219, but at least they all have bathrooms—as well as plush bathrobes and Aveda toiletries. The Boulderado’s collection of original rooms lean into their history, with Victorian-inspired decor (think: hardwood armoires and floral wallpaper), while rooms in the North Wing (added in the late ’80s) feature a more contemporary aesthetic. For Flatiron views, ask for a room on the hotel’s west or south sides.
St Julien: The 201 guest rooms—including six two-room suites—are designed to mix modern luxury with mountain-inspired tranquility. The chocolate, warm wood, bronze, and soft white color scheme are almost as soothing as the oversize bathtub and separate, granite-walled shower. Request a room (rates start at $299) on the south or west sides of the hotel for clear views of the Flatirons.
Winner: Another toss-up
Both are great. Plus, who wants to spend all vacation in their room?
St Julien: The hotel’s trademark casual elegance extends to its dining scene at Jill’s Restaurant & Bistro. Guests entering from Walnut Street are greeted by a life-size, ceramic statue of hotel owners Richard and Elaine Barrett’s black lab before walking into the elevated-yet-approachable eatery. Guests can enjoy the First Friday Vegan Lunch Buffet ($28), a seasonal selection of salads, grains, wood-oven pizzas, and more available on the first Friday of every month. For dinner, split the Handmade Tots ($13) and a Maple Roasted Carrot Salad ($13) before moving on to the Gnocchi Bolognese ($28), made with slow-cooked beef, smoked bacon, and Grana Padano.
Hotel Boulderado: The in-house restaurant has transitioned with the times, from a steakhouse to a coffee shop to a seafood joint to a French bistro. Arguably its best iteration, Spruce Farm & Fish, opened in 2014 and continues wowing guests with everything on the menu—from brunch’s Prime Rib Hash ($15.95) to dinner’s Rocky Mountain Trout ($24.95)—including fresh, local-when-possible ingredients. Be sure to start your meal with the Crispy Brussels Sprouts & Cauliflower ($11.95) in a spiced-just-right chili-soy glaze.
Winner: St Julien
There’s a reason Jill’s is the rave of local media outlets.
St Julien: The upscale yet unpretentious T-Zero Lounge in St Julien’s lobby takes its name from a favorite nearby climbing route. There, expect to find locals (climbers and otherwise) along with hotel guests sipping drinks concocted with Colorado-made spirits, and, in the case of the Ozo Frozen Espresso Martini, coffee roasted in town.
Hotel Boulderado: Situated in the basement, License No. 1 has a moody, speakeasy vibe well suited to a bar that acquired one of Boulder’s first liquor licenses back in 1967 (the town was dry way past Prohibition). Choose a timeless classic like the Old Fashioned ($15) or sample the house-made ginger cordial in their Boulder Mule ($12) while enjoying live music and comedy shows multiple nights each week.
Winner: St Julien
For its emphasis on local liquids.
Hotel Boulderado: Although artifacts like a hotel rendering from 1898, an original Otis Elevator, and a marble water fountain can be found throughout the lobby, guests looking for the stories behind the history should book an hourlong tour ($25) with the Boulderado’s in-house expert, Laurel McKown. Named Hotel Historian of the Year in 2020 by the Historic Hotels of America, McKown points out intriguing, yet easy-to-overlook details, such as the Door to Nowhere. Tours are scheduled upon request with 12 maximum guests.
St Julien: For a true indulgence, guests should book the Day of Decadence package ($560 for a massage, facial, pedicure, and more) at the Spa and Salon at St Julien. The St Julien Scrub ($160)—a 50-minute treatment that includes an exfoliating sea salt scrub, relaxing scalp massage, and application of your choice of essential oils—is a great choice for those with other to-dos on their itinerary.
Winner: Hotel Boulderado
The thought of a day in the St Julien’s spa makes our skin quiver with anticipation, but you simply can’t recreate a century-old legacy.
Actually, we don’t think we want to be held responsible for deciding your vacation plans. But really, does anyone lose at these hotels?