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If you’re like too many Coloradans—we call ourselves Coloradoans up here, by the way—you haven’t given Fort Collins all that much thought. Maybe you drove through on your way to Yellowstone National Park or stopped by for a Colorado State University football game or took a tour of New Belgium’s brewery and thought, Hmm, looks like it could be a cool town. Then you moved on. Yes, for far too long, Fort Collins has been shoved aside by the big-cityness of Denver and overshadowed by the patchouli-and-climbing-chalk allure of that other Colorado college town. It didn’t matter that the outdoor recreation opportunities were abundant or that the music scene was hot or that the beer was (way) better. People just couldn’t seem to see the beauty of this northern Colorado town.
Those days are over.
Maybe it’s all the destination restaurants that have cropped up over the past few years, imbuing the dining scene with their thoughtful, locally sourced fare. Or maybe it’s the recent explosion of microbreweries (roughly 10 in the past five years). Of course, it could also be the stylish new hotels or the debuts of musical venues big and small or the promise of a new white-water park. Whatever the magic ingredient might be, the new charms also remind everyone about the cool stuff that has always been here.
Truly, Fort Collins (go ahead, call it FoCo, it’s OK) has a long list of classic attractions: Horsetooth Reservoir; hiking and mountain biking trails that spider into the foothills from the edge of town; an extensive urban system of paved off-street paths; and Colorado’s only federally designated Wild & Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre (definitely call it “the Pooder”). And that’s to say nothing of Old Town, the nexus of nightlife, arts, dining, and people-watching that is so enchanting it inspired Walt Disney World’s Main Street, U.S.A.
Of course, this Front Range city of roughly 171,000—which, along with Greeley, is expected to double in size by 2050—is different from the Magic Kingdom in at least one very crucial way: It oozes authenticity. It’s a vibe born of a rich agricultural tradition, a land-grant university with more than 30,000 students, and a community of friendly people who gravitate toward after-work mountain bike rides, outdoor music fests, and hoppy pints on sunny patios. Locals have always loved this place, but now we’re pretty sure you will, too.
Universities bring a certain something special to their hometowns. Here, we attempt to break down the arithmetic behind Colorado State University’s appeal, defining the elements that add up to an advanced degree of fun.
Highbrow Lectures: Listen to everyone from anthropologists to the co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Company.
Artsy Destinations: The Gregory Allicar Museum of Art and the University Center for the Arts have visual and performing arts covered.
Tailgating: Just show up at Canvas Stadium—no game tickets are required to have fun.
Greasy Pizza: Pizza Casbah’s hefty slices get our vote.
Chic Vintage Shops: Repeat Boutique is stuffed with killer finds.
Cheap Beer: Find $1 pints at Mo Jeaux’s on Wednesdays.
All-Night Coffeeshops: Alleycat Coffee House has your 3 a.m. caffeine infusion.
Pull on your stretchiest pants for this indulgent one-day culinary tour of Fort Collins’ finest eateries.
You’ve gotta respect any coffeeshop that declines to provide WiFi these days: It’s a refreshing reminder that sometimes chatting with your fellow man is a good thing. Besides, you won’t want your laptop distracting you from Little Bird’s made-from-scratch-daily baked goods, like homemade Oreos, French tea cakes, and fancy toasts topped with maple almond butter or sautéed mushrooms. 11 Old Town Square, Suite 121
This warm bakery meets kitchen gift shop has your sugary second-breakfast cravings covered. Grab a slice of one of the rich pies beckoning from the glass case. You might find Nutella caramel corn, buttermilk berry, or vegan chocolate peanut butter varieties on any given day, but purists will be relieved to know that cherry and apple pies are also on the menu. 359 Linden St.
Chefs at this nonprofit, lunch-only spot whip up only a few menu choices per day (think black bean soup and Caesar salad), then guests pay what they can for the meal—with profits supporting the cafe’s mission to feed those who couldn’t otherwise afford it. There’s no better place to get a sense of community than in FoCo Cafe’s dining room. 225 Maple St.
A sleek shipping container compound serves as an on-trend food court, offering snacks from the city’s hippest outposts, like street tacos at Vatos and fried-to-order doughnuts at FoCo DoCo. Drinks? You’ll find options aplenty from the Infinite Monkey Theorem, CopperMuse Distillery, and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. 200 block of North College Avenue
Locally sourced fare isn’t so much a restaurant genre as it is an overriding ethos in Fort Collins. But chef/owner Kevin Grossi’s versions of American regional favorites like fried chicken and Wisconsin cheese curds—made with NoCo ingredients—stand out from the crowd. 130 S. Mason St.
You’ll probably have to wait in line before descending the stairs into this sexy, basement-level bar, but that just adds to its speakeasy-style appeal. Once in, slip into a leather-backed booth and sip the town’s best cocktails. We like the tequila-, strawberry-, and balsamic-vinegar-laced S.S.B.S or the bourbon, ginger cognac, and passion fruit Parachute. 1 Old Town Square, Suite 7
My Top Four with Ty Fulcher
The owner of Social has spent the past 15 years in the local dining scene. Here’s where you’ll find him during his off hours.
1. The Emporium, 378 Walnut St.
“They have great brunch items—their bacon, egg, and ham croissant is the best hangover cure. And their wine selection is wonderful and set up market-style: Pick out a bottle like you’re in a store, then drink it.”
2. Jaws Sushi, 1205 W. Elizabeth St.
“It’s not your normal, straightforward sushi—it’s always fresh and unique. I like the Chum Bucket, a baked rice and seafood mixture.”
3. Harbinger Coffee, 505 S. Mason St., Suite 100; 3581 E. Harmony Road, Suite 160
“The coffee is killer—they’re a bunch of coffee geeks. It’s a good place to set up shop and work.”
4. Choice City Butcher & Deli, 104 W. Olive St.
“They have huge sandwiches. Plus, owner Russ Robinson has a great palate and brings in beers from across the country.”
A Beer for All Seasons
With 20-plus breweries in town, the FoCo suds scene can be overwhelming. Our best simplify-it suggestion? Choose your pints based on the time of year.
Why: Nobody does warm-weather saisons better than Funkwerks—and the eight-year-old brewing company has a slew of Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup awards to prove it.
Odell Brewing Co.
Why: Celebrate Odell’s 30th anniversary this year on the city’s best brewery patio, where musicians play free shows while revelers quaff the summer-only St. Lupulin, a fragrant, hoppy ale.
CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing
Why: This Old Town watering hole serves Fort Collins’ best Oktoberfest, a smooth amber ale with sweet, malty notes that arrives in pint glasses in early September. That still counts as summer in these parts.
Black Bottle Brewery
Why: The closest brewery to the CSU stadium, Black Bottle hosts lively tailgate parties before home games. Build the pregame stoke with the Great American Beer Festival award-winning Belgian Tripel, a spicy-sweet fall seasonal.
Purpose Brewing and Cellars
Why: The brews at this experimental spot change weekly, showcasing owner/brewmaster Peter Bouckaert’s unique creations. Come fall, you can bank on at least one tap being reserved for a complex barrel-aged brew.
Jessup Farm Barrel House
Why: Not only is the cozy tasting room a respite on a chilly day and the Wheelhouse brown ale just what you need to battle holiday stress, but you can also get some holiday shopping done at Jessup Farm Artisan Village.
Horse & Dragon Brewing Company
Why: Savor the heady (seven percent ABV) Sad Panda coffee stout, hailed as the best winter drink in town by local beer snobs for its rich notes of vanilla and chocolate.
New Belgium Brewing Company
Why: The slower midwinter season means a better chance of snagging free tour tickets at this storied brewery. Plus, New Belgium’s 1554 dark ale, which lands between a porter and a stout, has that warm-you-from-the-inside-out property that’s perfect for cold days.
Why: You might not be able to count on a thaw in northern Colorado until late spring, but you can always dream of warmer temps with the crisp Vernal Hefeweizen, released every year on the vernal equinox (of course).
Why: The tart, refreshing Sourado Session Sour IPA pairs nicely with longer days and blooming flowers. Brighten the season up even more by asking for a Solar Flare—the bartender will add a glug of orange juice to highlight the fruity flavors in the hoppy brew.
Why: Grab the delicious spring special Heller Bock—a strong-ish (6.8 percent ABV), bright, Bavarian-style maibock that’s released around May Day every year. Then find a spot on the sunny patio on warm days (or a pingpong table inside if the spring air is still too cool).
Rally King Brewing
Why: Sipping one of Rally King’s constantly rotating, small-batch sours, fruited beers, or IPAs on its intimate outdoor patio signals that summer is just around the corner.
It’s not all about the hops. These three alternative beverage makers complete the local drinking experience.
1. Summit Hard Cider
Owners Jennifer and Rodney Seiwald pick up rejected (read: bruised or blemished) apples, cherries, and peaches from Colorado producers, reducing food waste as they crank out fanciful hard ciders in flavors like blueberry lavender, strawberry basil, and the evergreen-infused Campfire. 215 N. College Ave.
2. Old Elk Distillery
Specializing in bourbon, bourbon cream (kind of like, but technically not, a liqueur), and gin, Old Elk has brought home a bevy of Colorado Distillery of the Year awards since its debut in 2016. And, as of a year ago, Old Elk also has a dark-paneled tasting room for sampling flights and cocktails. 253 Linden St.
3. Blendings at the Preserve
Take BYO to the next level at this two-month-old microblending spot, where a winemaker guides you through a tasting and mixing process to create custom bottles of red or white (or both). Come away with your own distinct wine creation and a personalized label to boot. 3924A Bingham Hill Road
From indie to punk to jazz, quality live tunes have long been part of FoCo’s DNA.
The Fort Collins music scene has always been better than it’s received credit for, but as the town has boomed over the past decade or so, the available tunage has been mushrooming right along with it. Venues both classic and new are attracting big-name touring acts as well as Colorado artists; beloved festivals like FoCoMX in the spring and Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest (see “Fun For The Whole Family” below) in August turn the city into one big stage; and the Music District, a three-year-old creative hub dedicated to supporting musicians, is bringing a special vibrancy to the community. “We’re intentionally developing our music city,” says Alysia Kraft, part of the artist development team at the Music District and a vocalist for local bands Whippoorwill and the Pattie Fiasco. “It’s managed to maintain some of its organic character as it’s grown. Culturally, our city is becoming richer, and that’s most noticeable in the music scene.” So, where can you find your particular jam? We play Pandora for you.
Go to: The Aggie Theatre
EDM is hot right now in Fort Collins (and everywhere else), and this 100-plus-year-old former movie theater in Old Town is the epicenter of the action. 204 S. College Ave.
Go to: Ace Gillett’s Lounge
The University of Northern Colorado’s renowned jazz program—located 30 miles away in Greeley brings plenty of talent to town. Take advantage at this underground retreat (tucked below the Armstrong Hotel), where the cocktails are inventive and the atmosphere is elegant. 239 S. College Ave.
The Classic NoCo Music Experience
Go to: Mishawaka Amphitheatre
It doesn’t really matter who’s playing: Just get yourself up the canyon to this one-of-a-kind outdoor amphitheater nestled on the bank of the Poudre River. The starry skies and elbow-to-elbow camaraderie are the stuff nostalgia is made of, but you won’t be disappointed in the music, either. The Mish hosts marquee names, like Ziggy Marley, Jenny Lewis, and Built to Spill, all summer long. 13714 Poudre Canyon Road, Bellvue
Go to: The Armory
This 225-seat listening room delivers intimate evenings with musical legends; Arlo Guthrie, Rickie Lee Jones, and Iris DeMent have all played here in just the past few months. 314 E. Mountain Ave.
Go to: Surfside 7
Fort Collins is something of a punk magnet, a draw that can likely be attributed to the Blasting Room, a recording studio owned by Bill Stevenson, of the Descendants fame. The well-regarded facility feeds the robust live punk scene at Surfside 7, which reopened in new, smallish digs with an industrial look and a counterculture vibe on Linden Street in late 2015. 238 Linden St.
FoCo has a wild river, a gorgeous reservoir, trails galore, and a national forest in its backyard—yet somehow, its outdoor charms remain underrated. With plentiful options and fewer people, everyone else’s loss is your (elevation) gain.
If you like hiking, try Arthur’s Rock Trail, Lory State Park
Because: While the trailhead parking lots at Horsetooth Mountain Park fill by midmorning, nearby Lory State Park somehow stays under the radar despite its beauty. This 3.4-mile (round trip) hike delivers sweeping views over the Front Range and Horsetooth Reservoir from 6,780 feet—there’s a no-joke elevation gain of 980 feet—no parking lot idling required. $8 entrance fee
If you like camping, try Ansel Watrous Campground, Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest
Because: A mere 35 minutes from Old Town, this quiet riverside escape is the closest Poudre Canyon tenting hot spot. All 19 sites are steps from the river, tucked at the bottom of steep, Ponderosa pine–cloaked canyon walls. $21/night; peak-season reservations (late May through early September) are available six months in advance at recreation.gov
If you like bouldering, try Rotary Park, Horsetooth Reservoir
Because: Problems at this rocky hangout range from newbie-friendly to challenging V12s. Most notable is Pinch Overhang, a V5 problem famously put up by bouldering icon John Gill in the ’50s. To get there, take CR 42C west from town, then go north on Centennial Drive and park at the first lot past the dam. $9/day parking
If you like kayaking, try Poudre River Whitewater Park
Because: This brand-new (at press time, it was scheduled to open in early September) paddling park will bring some of the Poudre’s thrills to an otherwise placid section north of Old Town. Kayakers can show off their surfing skills on the splashy water features; spectators can ooh and aah.
If you like white-water rafting, try The Poudre River
Because: Some sections of this jewel of a waterway careen over exhilarating Class III and IV rapids, while others deliver a mellower, Class II float. Five outfitters run a variety of half- and full-day trips for adrenaline junkies and lazy-river aficionados alike.
If you like stand-up paddleboarding, try Horsetooth Reservoir
Because: The even-tempered waters of this scenic reservoir provide an ideal backdrop for a relaxing SUP session surrounded by reddish, rocky foothills. Put in at the north side’s Satanka Cove to ply inlets shielded from boat traffic. Rentals start at $20/hour; nocosup.com
If you like mountain biking, try Powerline Ginny Loop, Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
Because: Fat-tire options trend toward the steep, rocky, and technical in these parts. You’ll get all that, plus huge mountain views, on this 9.4-mile loop that hauls 1,500 feet up Powerline then descends a fun series of ladders and ramps on Ginny. For an extra challenge, link these two routes via the new expert-level, 1.5-mile On the Rocks connector, which the Overland Mountain Bike Association opened in June.
Legend has it the Cache la Poudre River got its name after fur trappers buried their gunpowder along its banks to lighten their load. For some historical whimsy, think of your FoCo shopping spree like a treasure hunt.
On the hunt for: So much more than a Hershey bar
X marks the spot at Nuance Chocolate, which serves melt-in-your-mouth, locally processed bars and truffles made from meticulously sourced raw cacao beans. Sit down for a tasting flight to savor the differences between single-origin chocolates from, say, Bolivia, Fiji, and Ghana. 214 Pine St.
On the hunt for: A beautiful bauble
X marks the spot at John Atencio. Most Denverites probably think the namesake founder got his Colorado jewelry empire off the ground in the Mile High City. Au contraire: The CSU grad opened his first shop in FoCo more than four decades ago. Pick up a lovely but reasonably priced silver stack ring ($185) or go all out with Bellagio diamond pave earrings ($3,850). 164 N. College Ave.
On the hunt for: A baby gift for your most progressive friends
X marks the spot at Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys, where the shelves are stocked with dump trucks made from recycled plastic, locally made diaper balm, and feminist-friendly kids’ books. 111 N. College Ave.
On the hunt for: A flirty frock
X marks the spot at Kansas City Kitty, a casual-chic women’s boutique that channels lighthearted Colorado vibes with its simple jewelry, cute dresses, cozy hoodies, and line of vintage-inspired tees from Coloradical. Hip babies will also find plenty of cheeky onesies and animal-print pants. 136 N. College Ave.
On the hunt for: A one-of-a-kind work of art
X marks the spot at Trimble Court Artisans Co-op, a gallery/shop run by a coalition of more than 50 area artists. Look for landscape paintings, colorful pottery, animal sketches your kids will love, striped cutting boards, and fiber figurines. 118 Trimble Court
On the hunt for: A date-night jacket
X marks the spot at Storm Fine Apparel, home to everything today’s dapper gentleman (and, since 2017, lady) needs: Think sharp jackets and polos, Italian calfskin sneakers, and luxurious shaving soap. Every cent of profit goes to the Cystinosis Research Foundation to battle the rare disease, which owner Traci Gendron’s son has. 132 W. Mountain Ave.
Three lodging options that offer more than free HBO and a lackluster breakfast buffet.
If you’re looking for something social but not especially spendy, this villa delivers. Whether you’re bunking in the shared dorms or a private room, you can relax in the leafy courtyard, lazy hammock lounging area, and communal tepee. PLUS: The on-site FoCo Yoga Co-op makes it easy to get your chaturanga on.
The music theme runs deep at this not-quite-two-year-old spot on the edge of Old Town: Rooms come with a record player and access to the hotel’s vinyl library, and you can even check out a Martin or a Fender to have your own jam session. PLUS: The on-site bar, Magic Rat, hosts folk, soul, blues, country, and indie touring acts.
Relaunched in April after a makeover, this 54-room hotel retains lots of old-school charm (see: the lobby’s original windows and tiled floor). Rooms are decorated with historical photos and antique knickknacks. PLUS: The hotel will lend you a cruiser bike to take advantage of the city’s pedal friendly streets.
Play All Day
Don’t know where to take your brood for a day of maximum fun (and minimum whining)? Start your search here.
Get learning at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Budding musicians can try their hands at a slew of instruments in the Music & Sound Lab, while young naturalists will love the live snakes and spiders (and stuffed bison and cougar) in the natural history area. Plus, there are hands-on science activities; a tot zone with water cannons and a tree hideout; and a trippy music-and-light room.
Work up a sweat at Edora Pool and Ice Center (EPIC)
Play like an Olympian at this outstanding city recreation site, where kids can hit the ice on an indoor rink during public skate hours or hop in the swimming pool, if their tastes run more Missy Franklin than Nathan Chen.
Sing “Old Macdonald” on your way to The Farm at Lee Martinez Park
This little petting zoo is just right for an hour or two with your smaller humans: Get nose-to-nose with a goat, cow, or pig; take a pony ride (summer weekends only); or go full Farmer John on a real tractor.
Take your baby sharks to City Park Pool
More water park than plain old municipal pool, City Park’s crown jewel overflows with waterslides, spray fountains, and a lazy floating river, all with views of neighboring Sheldon Lake.
Taste adventure at Twin Silo Park
An homage to local agriculture in playground form, Twin Silo thrills elementary-age kids with airy rope bridges, twisty tunnels inspired by farm machinery, and its signature attraction, a 30-foot slide that swirls between two towering silos. There’s also a splash-happy stream with log bridges leading to small islands; pickleball courts; and a hops garden.
Park your sweet ride at Holiday Twin Drive-In
Now in its 51st year, this west-side cinematic throwback is one of the last remaining drive-ins in the Centennial State. Grab some popcorn, open the hatch, and settle in for a double feature under the stars.
Fun for the Whole Family
No, seriously. These events are ideal for the young, the old, and everyone in between.
1. Food Truck Rally
Every Tuesday night from mid-May through September, the city’s best mobile eateries converge on City Park for an alfresco food fair. Let the littles select their own dinners, then kick back on the green for a meal with a side of free live music. 5:30 p.m. to dusk; Sheldon Drive in City Park
2. Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest
There’s something for all tastes at this free music festival downtown (August 9 to 11), from a grab bag of Colorado acts to junior jam sessions at the Kids’ Music Adventure to crowd-pleasing national headliners like Bonnie Raitt. Various locations
3. The Lincoln Center
This stellar cultural hub hosts a diverse lineup of kid-friendly performances and screenings every season. This fall, point your artsy young’uns to Anne of Green Gables: The Ballet (October 16) and Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure (October 19). 417 W. Magnolia St.
Surveying the City
Old Town may be the hip epicenter of Fort Collins, but these lesser-known enclaves have FoCo flavors worth savoring.
Encompassing a wide swath of the city south of CSU’s campus down to Harmony Road, Midtown’s largely quiet residential zones and plentiful parks and green spaces still feature several social hubs, from old-school hangouts to newer eat-and-drink hot spots. The Fox & The Crow specializes in fancy cheese boards and charcuterie and holds monthly culinary classes that are heavy on cheese samples with drink pairings. Next door, Elevation 5003 Distillery pours rye whiskey, vodka, small-batch gin, and Caribbean-style liqueur. The buckwheat galettes and house-baked croissants at Creperie & French Bakery pack ’em in for weekend brunch, and locals call the super-spicy fried birds at Music City Hot Chicken their guilty pleasure. Green thumbs shouldn’t miss the 18 acres of themed gardens, including new beds highlighting water-wise plants and native prairie grasses, at the city’s Gardens on Spring Creek.
You’d expect a vibrant neighborhood to grow up around any university, and CSU’s environs—primarily located south of Mulberry Street and west of College Avenue—don’t disappoint. Although there are the requisite college bars (we like the Colorado Room) and sandwich shops (try Pickle Barrel) aplenty, mixed in among the usual suspects you’ll find a few standout dining destinations. Metro Urban Food & Booze, an upscale lounge with a solid cocktail game and a killer rooftop patio, opened in October 2018. Another don’t-miss is Gold Leaf Collective, a two-year-old vegan restaurant that grew out of the Silver Seed food truck. The enclave also hosts new crops of experimental annual blooms from May through October at CSU’s Flower Trial Garden.
South Fort Collins & Timnath
Yes, at first glance the southernmost stretch of town along East Harmony Road looks like a cookie-cutter line of big-box stores and chain restaurants stretching from College Avenue all the way to the other side of I-25 and past the town of Timnath. But we suggest you look a little closer. Near the intersection of Ziegler Road and East Harmony, you’ll find Locality, a farm-to-table spot that sources 75 percent of its menu within 45 miles, and five-month-old Envy Brewing, which showcases collaboration beers made with other local microbreweries and homebrewers. Speaking of beer, Otto Pint also highlights local suds (plus brick-oven pizzas), and in what could be a catalyst for downtown Timnath, nine-month-old Timnath Beerwerks is slinging tasty microbrews (and hosting a rotating roster of food trucks) at the restored Colorado Feed & Grain Building. There’s also a healthy dose of natural beauty in the area: Nearby Fossil Creek Reservoir boasts Important Birding Area status from the Audubon Society for its eagles, hawks, and herons.
Laporte & Bellvue
These sleepy bedroom communities northwest of town are all rolling country roads, grassy pastures, and rocky outcrops—plus a handful of laid-back destinations. The Howling Cow Café at Morning Fresh Dairy Farm (makers of silky-sweet Noosa yogurt) dishes out espresso drinks and bagel sandwiches with views of the cliffy rock formation Bellvue Dome, and Me Oh My Pie’s sunny patio is a beloved weekend stop for scratch-made, seasonal pies (the blueberry is delicious). Kitty-corner from Me Oh My, Swing Station hosts Texas-style honky-tonk music most nights. And up Highway 287, Vern’s Place, an institution for Poudre rafters, features a huge patio, tasty burgers, and giant milkshakes.