Plan Your Visit to Boulder, Colorado

In Things to do by Aimee HeckelLeave a Comment

Welcome to Boulder

They call it the “Boulder bubble,” the invisible fortress that sets this Colorado town apart.

Physically, by a buffer of more than 45,000 acres of open space. Socially, by extra liberal politics. Spiritually, by a reputation for being a Buddhist and yoga hotspot. And mentally, by, well, pretty much everything else.

Boulder is truly like nowhere else in the world.

It’s educated, traveled and well-off, yet chill, approachable and casual. Boulder works extremely hard and plays just as hard. Boulder is so open-minded and creative that it’s sometimes comical — but that out-there mentality makes Boulder a leader and innovator, as well as a super fun place to visit.

Boulder was named one of the Best Places to Live (Livability, 2015) and one of the Best Vacation Destinations (Frommer’s, 2012).

Let us show you why.

Picnic at Chautauqua

Picnic at Chautauqua. June 24, 2010. Photo by Werner R. Slocum.

Only in Boulder

Only in Boulder can you do slackline yoga with your children on a mountaintop; take a trapeze class taught by a geochemist who analyzes ice cores from Antarctica; drink a potion infused with “positive energy” from crystals and sounding bowls; visit the world’s largest Buddhist book publisher; share a cup of cannabis tea with a world-famous ultrarunner who uses cannabis to assist in athletic pursuits; find Mae West’s famous jewelry at a local antique shop; visit “singing plants;” and go dancing at a sober rave.

There’s so much to Boulder that only long-time locals know. And that’s what Travel Boulder brings you: the natives’ secrets, the hidden gems and the quirky, bucket-list items that make Boulder so dang special.

Boulder is both luxurious and rugged. Designer stores and thrift stores. A college town and family-friendly. It’s high end with no attitude.

And underlying all the seeming contradictions, Boulder cares about connection: with self, with the community, with nature, with the world at large. Boulder is conscious and thoughtful, intuitive and aware. And that’s exactly the kind of advice visitors will get from Travel Boulder’s credible experts.

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Where is Boulder?

Boulder’s location is ideal, built against the foothills, backing up to the Flatiron mountains.

It’s a short drive to Denver (40 minutes) and the Rocky Mountain National Park (just over an hour), as well as a straight shot to both the Denver International Airport (about 40 minutes) and some of the state’s most popular ski towns off Interstate 70.

Keystone Resort is about an hour and 45 minutes away. Or for a smaller ski town, Eldora is only a half hour drive.

 

What’s the weather like?

Hold your beanies. Boulder is not constantly covered under a blanket of snow.

In fact, Boulder sees as many as 300 blue skies every year. Yes, even when it’s snowing.

As the saying goes, if you don’t like Boulder’s weather, just wait an hour.

The air here is dry and also thin. At more than 5,400 feet above sea level, beware of altitude sickness, dehydration and sunburn. Take time to acclimate before hiking, drink plenty of water, minimize the booze (you’ll find your tolerance lower, anyway), slather on sunscreen and pack sunglasses and a hat.

Boulder has four seasons.

Summer is generally June through August. Expect rare rain showers and high temps that can occasionally surpass 100. Many of the 30,000 University of Colorado students leave town and their spots are filled by a surge of tourists.

Fall lasts September through October, when the temps cool down, especially at night, and the aspens begin changing colors.

Snow typically starts falling in October and can remain on the ground through April, especially at higher altitudes. Still, winter is surprisingly mild, with highs typically in the 40s. The blizzards and bitingly cold days are sparse.

April and May is considered Colorado’s short “mud season,” when the snow melts, the wildflowers peek out, colorful tulips line Pearl Street and the rain sprinkles more regularly. You can see snowfall into May, but most ski resorts close lifts.

B Bikes

You can rent B Bikes at places all over town and you don’t have to return them to where you got them either.

How to get around?

You can plan an entire vacation in Boulder without renting a car — but only if you stay within city limits. If you want to venture west into the mountains, you need a vehicle. You can’t hitch a bus to the remote trailhead.

 

Leg-powered transportation

Boulder is more pedestrian-friendly than most cities in the state, so much that it’s a joke that pedestrians and cyclists run the streets. Pedestrians do have the right-of-way at flashing crosswalks, which you’d expect in the No. 2 Most Walkable City in Colorado (Walkscore, 2016). Guided walking tours are a popular way for tourists to explore downtown.

Bikes are basically a religion here. They’re also usually the quickest way to get around, thanks to a ton of one-ways, limited free parking and growing congestion.

Boulder is home to USA Today’s No. 2 Top Urban Bike Path Across the USA (the Boulder Creek Path), and the city has been named one of the nation’s most bike-friendly cities many times over.

BCycle is Boulder’s inexpensive bike-sharing program. Look for the stations of cherry red cruisers all over town.

Engine-powered transportation

Boulder’s public transportation system, RTD, is awesome (it won the country’s Best Public Transportation in 2008). You can take the RTD from the airport to Boulder, many neighboring cities and all throughout Boulder.

Also check out shuttles (SuperShuttle, GreenRide), taxis or rideshares.

Travelers who want to visit the mountains and ski resorts often rent a car. But beware: In the winter, check the Colorado Road Condition Hotline (cotrip.org or call 511) before heading up the mountain.

There is public parking downtown, although it’s not cheap. If you’re patient, you can find free parking in the outlying neighborhoods a short walk from Pearl Street or University Hill. There’s free parking at the Twenty Ninth Street Mall. Tickets here can be pricey and are diligently distributed for even minor parking offenses, so don’t tempt the fate of the parking gods.

What to pack and prepare?

Even the finest restaurants in Boulder are casual. Rocky Mountain Black Tie (dark jeans and a polo or button-up/sundress and sandals) will fit right in.

Jeans are almost always acceptable. Because Boulder’s so active, it’s common to see people in yoga clothes and spandex biking outfits everywhere.

But layer up. The weather here changes quickly. The standard Boulder costume is some combination of a Patagonia fleece jacket or vest, a flannel or tee, jeans or black yoga pants, flip-flops or Uggs. Pack a coat and beanie. (Even though Colorado natives notoriously omit appropriately warm outerwear.)

Boulder’s student population means you’ll see a pop of fashion around town, but even the students keep it casual, because so many of them are active — riding bikes or walking to school or heading straight to yoga or the mountain after class.

Also, know that Boulder is not cheap. It’s one of the most expensive places in Colorado to live, and this trickles down into the menu prices and shops. Although the number of college students helps create a demand for inexpensive offerings in town — and of course, going on a hike is free — Boulder doesn’t have a reputation for being a budget city, so pack some extra cash.

 

How safe is Boulder?

Boulder has a low crime rate, although has had some high-profile crimes over the years (see: JonBenet Ramsey, but don’t ask a native about it without expecting a groan).

Other than using common sense in town, especially around campus, also beware of wildlife on the trails. Deposit trash in the bear-proof bins and keep an eye out for mountain lions. If you see one, make yourself appear as big as possible, make loud noise and try to scare it off. Back away slowly, and fight back if attacked. Here’s to hoping you never have to fight off a mountain lion.

 

Lion’s Lair Summit in February. Photo: Isaac Nagel-Brice

The lay of the land

Although it’s no San Francisco, Boulder has its distinct regions.

Downtown includes the Pearl Street Mall and centers around great shopping, Boulder bars and restaurants, plus what feels like about one coffee shop per resident. The mall is lined with street performers and during warmer months, the Boulder Farmers Market takes over 13th Street.

North Boulder has turned into a major arts hub and boasts its own regular art walk, with scattered art galleries. It’s one of the newer parts of town and the gateway to the mountains northwest and the small mountain town of Lyons. Don’t miss North Boulder Park.

South Boulder is more for locals, but the Table Mesa shopping area boasts some quintessential Boulder shops and casual dining. The northern edge of South Boulder encompasses famous Chautauqua Park, easily the most beloved destination for hiking and yoga on the grass.

University Hill, or The Hill, is a quirky bundle of buildings near campus, spanning an entertainment venue, restaurants, coffee shops, head shops, bars, bookstores and the edgier, young flavor of town.

The University of Colorado is a beautiful, sprawling campus with excellent museums and art galleries that make it worth strolling through, even if you’re not a student. Boulder was named the best college town in America by Livability (2013), Wallethub (2014) and Best College Reviews (2014), just to name a few.

Central Boulder is mostly residential but touches on the large Twenty Ninth Street Mall and some of Boulder’s best shopping. Find chain favorites, like H&M and Lululemon, as well as yoga, barre, restaurants, tea, coffee, smoothies and more.

East Boulder is quickly growing from a commercial and residential second thought to its own neighborhood. Leading the way are new breweries, distilleries, fitness warehouses and the Boulder Creative Collective, an edgy artists’ group.

The mountains west of town are Boulder’s most famous “neighborhood.” The red, slanting Flatirons are the stars of the foothills, but Boulder’s entire west parameter is lined with rugged adventures and tons of trails that mark the front door to the mountains.

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