Aspen, Colorado, has always attracted the jet set. The picturesque mining town turned ski resort turned international luxe destination is nestled smack dab in the middle of the Rockies. It’s a stunning spot for sure. But what if you’re not really into skiing? No worries -- there’s so much more to Aspen than lift tickets! Here are a few of our favorite things to do there that don’t involve hitting the slopes.
Explore The Surrounding Area
No matter the season, there are lots of ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Aspen and the surrounding area. In the winter, skip the slopes and consider a snowshoe hike to get that cardio in. Trails abound, and rentals will only run you about $25 a day. If you don’t want to hoof it, a snowcat ride might be more your speed. And there’s no better way to see the town than in a horse-drawn sleigh; many meander down the town’s main streets. Just hail one like you would a cab!
All that said, we also really love Aspen in the summer, when the alpine wildflowers are in bloom. Hiking, kayaking, fishing, and horseback riding are favorite warm-weather activities; your resort can help you make reservations. One of our favorite all-seasons outfitters is T-Lazy-7 Ranch, located near the famous Maroon Bells. The staff can help make your outdoor adventure in Aspen perfect, no matter the time of year.
Conquer The Pass
Weather permitting, consider renting a car and heading out -- and up -- 20 miles to Independence Pass. While this road trip isn’t for the faint of heart, it is amazingly beautiful: At an altitude of 12,000 feet, the mountain road is one of the highest in North America, following the Continental Divide. There are plenty of places along the trek to stop for a picnic, marvel at the breathtaking scenery, and take some selfies. Be warned, however: This road is rugged, taking twists and turns with only a few guardrails. If you get carsick, this isn’t the adventure for you. Also, make sure to take plenty of water for the trip up to prevent altitude-related unpleasantness, which can include killer headaches and nausea.
At the pass, there are plenty of hiking and biking options to work into your trip.
Enjoy Some Great Music
Aspen is blessed to have its own internationally renowned music festival and school. Some of the top names in classical music perform at the Aspen Music Festival annually; the summer season includes more than 400 classical music events, including chamber music and full orchestral works. Joshua Bell and Renée Fleming are just a couple of the notable musicians who routinely perform in Aspen, and tens of thousands flock to the town for the summer outdoor orchestral events.
Since 1889, the historic and gorgeous Wheeler Opera House has hosted an array of cultural events including concerts, plays, lectures, community events, and even an annual Laugh Festival featuring up-and-coming comedians. The opera house is a great place to take in some terrific music, and it’s as popular with the locals as it is with the tourists.
Each summer, Aspen plays host to a deep-dive expert discussion on the major challenges facing the world. Founded in 2005, the Aspen Ideas Festival, presented by the Aspen Institute, has attracted some of the world’s top thinkers. The Ideas Festival seeks to engage the liveliest minds to come up with big solutions for big problems. The engaging symposium series takes place each June; past session topics have included health, science, technology, and the environment. Past speakers have included President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Barbra Streisand. Anyone may purchase a pass to attend sessions at the weeklong event, and tickets start at just $12 for a single panel talk.
Make Time For The Museums
There’s no shortage of wonderful museums to check out in Aspen. Start your cultural tour at the Aspen Art Museum. This former power plant dates to the 1880s. It was transformed in the mid 1970s and is a non-collecting institution, which means that it changes up its exhibits quite often. The exhibits feature contemporary international pieces in a variety of media. Don’t skip the gift shop; it’s got a great selection of jewelry, including couture pieces crafted from precious metals and studded with gemstones! Admission is free, and the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday.
To get an overview of the history of this fascinating town, consider a guided tour with the Aspen Historical Society. On this coach tour with several stops, you’ll learn how Aspen transformed from a mining outpost to a ski town and ultimately, a world-class resort destination. Tours run Tuesday through Friday and cost $25 per person; they are capped at just five people, so you’ll get plenty of interaction with your guide.
The Aspen Historical Society also operates the Wheeler/Stallard Museum. This lovely Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion occupies an entire city block and gives you a feel for how families of the time period lived. The first floor is decorated as a typical Aspen Victorian home, and the second floor features rotating exhibits on the area’s history. The museum is open (with an on-site docent) from Tuesday through Saturday, and admission costs $10 for adults.
Many celebrities have vacation homes in and around Aspen, and there are many ultra-luxe, opulent hotels in town that cater to the rich and famous. Often, during the incredibly busy holiday season, you can catch them hitting the slopes or enjoying an après-ski. The Little Nell’s Living Room, a chic tavern in the famous hotel, is a top spot to glimpse a star. Ajax Tavern, also located in The Little Nell, is another playground for the rich and famous. Supermodels, singers, actors, and athletes routinely spend the holidays in Aspen. You can even spy them shopping in some of the town’s ultra-chic boutiques (more on that later!).
Hit The Spa
Of course, folks hitting the slopes need to soothe their sore muscles. Even if you’re not skiing, you can indulge in some of the best spa experiences of your life in Aspen. All of the town’s high-rent hotels have equally luxe spa facilities -- you’ll just want to make your reservations in advance.
Auberge Spa, located at Hotel Jerome, focuses solely on relaxation; no beauty treatments are offered. There are only three treatment rooms, and the emphasis is on keeping things tranquil and restorative, not quickly moving you in and out of appointments.
Remède Spa inside the Saint Regis Aspen Resort provides a peaceful haven, terrific treatments, a relaxation lounge with a massive stone fireplace, and even an oxygen lounge, which can help with altitude sickness.
The Spa at Viceroy Snowmass is well worth the short drive from Aspen. It offers a whole host of treatments, and also rituals inspired by Ute, Nordic, and Asian cultures.
Eating In Aspen
With its high-dollar clientele, it should come as no surprise that Aspen is a true foodie destination! There’s a big focus on Colorado-raised-and-grown cuisine, in every form from haute to down-home (but delicious!) diner fare.
Paradise Bakery & Café
For 40 years, Paradise Bakery & Café has been a terrific place to start the day, offering baked-from-scratch muffins, croissants, and breakfast sandwiches. Come back later in the day for the amazing gelato!
Casa Tua offers stunning views and Italian-inspired dishes in a beautiful art-adorned space. It’s open for lunch, happy hour, and dinner.
Meat & Cheese Restaurant And Farm Shop
To combine an upscale foodie shopping trip with a gorgeous meal, head to Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, where you can purchase specialty ingredients and enjoy a farm-fresh meal in the retail-restaurant combo space.
For fine dining with a laid-back feel, head to Jimmy’s. Dinner here is served seven days a week, and the restaurant's specialties include meatloaf, crab cakes, steaks, and chops.
For the ultimate après-ski, stop by Bad Harriet, the new lounge located at Hotel Jerome. It offers an extensive craft cocktail list as well as small plates that are perfect for late-night snacking.
Shopping In Aspen
You’ll want to budget for some serious splurge shopping in Aspen. The jet set loves to spend money here, and a walk down the town’s central streets and pedestrian malls reveals plenty of high-end retail options to satisfy the most discerning diva. Gucci, Theory, and Burberry are all here, but there are other boutique options that also cater to high-end shoppers.
Go to Gorsuch for beautifully curated high-end European labels and chic alpine outdoor wear.
Pitkin County Dry Goods
Pitkin County Dry Goods offers on-trend clothing and accessories from both up-and-coming designers and established brands.
Aspen Saturday Market
To grab items for the perfect mountain picnic, check out the Aspen Saturday Market. From mid-June through October, this farmers market offers Colorado-grown produce, breads, meats, jams, and artisan goods.