Boulder, Colorado, is the ultimate Rocky Mountain getaway, nestled at the base of the state’s famed Flatirons. There is truly something for everyone -- from outdoor enthusiasts to haute couture fashionistas to foodies -- here. And no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something great to see, do, or experience.
Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in this picturesque college town.
Hike Through Chautauqua Park
To get your share of the fresh alpine air, head to the Flatirons Vista Trailhead at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park. You’ll want to get there early, since parking is limited, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of both the Flatirons and Boulder Valley. Wear sturdy hiking boots, take plenty of hydration breaks along the way to stave off altitude sickness, and hike only to the extent you’re comfortable.
As you wander through the meadows and stands of Ponderosa pines, keep an eye out for Abert’s squirrels. These large, dark-colored rodents with tufted ears look like a strange cross between a bat, a rabbit, and a squirrel; they love to nosh on Ponderosa pine cones.
Visit The University Of Colorado Campus
Get even more steps in at the University of Colorado. This sprawling, gorgeous campus is Boulder’s beating heart, and the energy here is almost palpable. As you wander, make sure to stop by Old Main, the university’s first building and home to the CU Heritage Center.
If you’re a Shakespeare fan and are visiting Boulder during the summer months, check out the schedule for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The professional company performs the Bard’s works in an open-air theater on the CU campus, and tickets start at just $19.
Tour The National Center For Atmospheric Research
While in Boulder, you’re already high up, but science buffs might want to soar even farther into the sky at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR. This research facility hosts scientists who study the atmosphere, our weather patterns, and the climate; it’s also open to the public for tours. The visitor center is free to visit, operates seven days a week, and features fun and educational hands-on exhibits.
Sample Some Tea At The Celestial Seasonings Headquarters
Another unique Boulder experience that will delight your taste buds is a stop at the Celestial Seasonings headquarters for a free half-hour tour of the plant. Here, you’ll learn about the history of the company that brought herbal tea from a hippie fad into the mainstream. You’ll see how its herbs and tea leaves are sourced, and you’ll even get to sample a few of the teas for yourself. Tours take place seven days a week.
Eating In Boulder
Put simply, Boulder is a foodie’s dream. There are plenty of high-end options to satisfy the most refined palate, pub food so delicious and filling you’ll swear you’ll never eat again, and everything in between.
For a really special occasion, dress up and drive up the mountain to Flagstaff House. Originally a summer cabin, Flagstaff House opened its doors for elegant dinner service in the 1950s. It’s now known for its fantastic views and extensive, decadent tasting menus.
For a lighter meal, head to Hapa on Pearl Street Mall for a creative sushi list and Hawaiian fusion dishes. Anything you order here should absolutely be washed down with a pint or two of the signature specially brewed rice beer.
To try burgers so terrific that everyone from President Barack Obama to the late Anthony Bourdain raved about them, stop by The Sink on University Hill near the CU campus. This university hangout has served up hearty comfort food since 1923, and its incredible burgers don’t disappoint.
Chautauqua Dining Hall
Another historic eatery open to the public is the Chautauqua Dining Hall, which serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t let the name fool you: This isn’t residence-hall fare. The Dining Hall boasts well-executed meals focused on locally sourced produce and products. Don’t skip the Dining Hall’s milkshakes -- our favorite was the chocolate peanut butter!
Shopping In Boulder
Boulder offers a wide range of shopping options, and you’re bound to find something for everyone on your list.
The undisputed champion of the Boulder shopping scene is Pearl Street Mall. It’s not a big-box anchored megacenter; rather, the Mall is a four-block pedestrian stretch in the heart of Boulder’s downtown featuring a vast array of specialty shops, boutiques, galleries, and cafes. This spot is a favorite with tourists and locals alike, with its whimsical sculptures and stunning views of the nearby Flatirons. In the summer, you’ll likely encounter buskers and street performers.
A few of our favorite shops here include Peppercorn, a longtime Boulder home goods and cookware boutique that’s fun for foodies or those looking for chic hostess gifts, and Chelsea, your stop for high-end, on-trend fashions and accessories, including terrific jewelry.
To bring home a bit of the mountains for younger family members or friends, Into The Wind is the spot to go. This charming kite shop dates back three decades and offers something for every high-flier.
The Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery showcases and sells gorgeous work by local and regional artists -- everything from oil mountain landscapes to scarves and other wearable art.
Bibliophiles will find their happy place at Boulder Book Store, which has been on Pearl Street for more than four decades.
While a shopping stroll down Pearl Street is a must-do during any visit to Boulder, there are a couple of other places to consider. Twenty Ninth Street Mall is another stretch of shops, but with less of a local flavor, consisting mostly of national brands you’ll immediately recognize.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer, foodies flock to the Boulder County Farmers Market, where you can get the freshest Colorado produce straight from the source.
Where To Stay In Boulder
For a bit of frontier history during your trip to Boulder, consider a stay at the Hotel Boulderado downtown. This iconic hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been in business for more than 100 years. While the building’s five-story shell maintains its fabulous red brick facade, the guest rooms, restaurants, bars, and meeting spaces inside have been fully updated and are stunning. Rooms start at $143 per night.
St. Julien Hotel & Spa
Also located downtown, the St. Julien Hotel & Spa offers a sleek, upscale design, and many of the spacious rooms offer stunning mountain views. There are several dining options and a full-service spa located on-site. Rooms start at $248 per night.
Colorado Chautauqua Community
The historic Colorado Chautauqua community, located right at the base of the Flatirons, is an idyllic place where people have gathered in fellowship for more than a century. World-class concerts take place at its music hall, and academic lectures and other activities still take place on its grounds. While some of the quaint cottages here are privately owned, others are available for rent and make lovely spots to vacation.
For luxe options closer to the Flatirons -- or even some located in the stunning mountain range -- check out Airbnb or Vrbo. These are great options for those who need more space and seclusion during their visit to Boulder.
Pro Tip: While Boulder is a terrific place to visit -- for a weekend or even longer -- it’s important to remember that at 5,300 feet above sea level, you’ll need to play by different rules, especially if you’re used to lower elevations. While at altitude, make sure you drink lots of water, lay off the booze, don’t overexert yourself, and take breaks as needed. If you do get dizzy or end up with a headache, another glass of water and some Advil should make all the difference.