Keep Boulder weird

By | Category: Travel destinations
Boulder Colorado

aerial view of downtown Boulder ©Stephen Collector

In what other small city of just under 100,000 would you find an outdoor Shakespeare Festival, over 1,300 live music performances annually from a Philharmonic Orchestra, a Chamber Orchestra and a Symphony Orchestra as well as gorgeous mountain hikes just moments from downtown, fabulous rock climbing, snow sports and world-class cuisine?

Boulder, Colorado, once called the “Athens of the West,” is so much more than the 60’s hippie image that many people still believe is true. This progressive, urban playground, just a 45-minute drive from Denver International Airport, is situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, beside the banks of a rushing creek and alongside a lush green valley, framed by the spectacular Flatirons rock formation.

Boulder is known for its diverse, eclectic populations – throw-back hippies, students at Naropa (a Buddhist-inspired liberal arts university,)  yoga practitioners, IT geeks,  extreme athletes, environmentalists, scientists, academics (home to University of Colorado,) musicians, dancers, poets and foodies. Those funny-looking Crocs shoes were invented here, and the irreverent “South Park” series was created by two film students at the University of Colorado. Somehow, the varied groups all get along in Boulder, sometimes referred to as a “New Age granola” town. Indeed, now there even  IS such a thing as Boulder Granola, and it’s tasty!

one of the hiking trails © Denise Chambers

one of the hiking trails © Denise Chambers

There are over 300 miles of hiking and biking trails in Boulder, named America’s Number One Sports Town by Outside magazine. One can also kayak, rock climb, ski, snowshoe, Nordic ski, go river tubing, and more in Boulder County. The May BolderBoulder 10K race is internationally renowned, with some 50,000 participants in this very festive event. An unusual bonus to Boulder is its 45 minute, 21-mile proximity to Eldora Mountain Resort, which offers excellent downhill and Nordic skiing as well as snowshoe trails (lessons and equipment rentals too.) The Boulder bus system has a “Ski-n-Ride” bus with all day service (just $5 one way!) Don’t miss checking in with Brit Peter Marshall at the Nordic Center – he hails from a small town just outside London, and will set you up expertly.

Cuisine is an exceptional scene here – in fact, Bon Appetit magazine said Boulder “is officially bursting at its foodie seams.” The Farm-to-Table movement is booming and such restaurants as Black Cat Farm to Table Bistro, SALT, Frasca, and The Med serve up innovative, divinely fresh dishes. Don’t miss, however, The Sink, Boulder’s oldest bar and restaurant (it’s been here for 92 years) where President Obama himself enjoyed the delectable pizza on a visit. You’ll be astonished by the wall-to-ceiling murals, graffiti and autographs left by decades of diners. (Delicious hamburgers and an extensive beer menu, too!) Indeed, Colorado has the second most craft breweries per capita in the United States, and Boulder has a huge share of them – including Upslope, Boulder Beer, Avery, New Planet, Twisted Pine, and Shine, to name but a few. Most offer free tours (and tastings.)

Pearl Street Mall in Boulder

Peal Street Mall at dusk © Denise Chambers

When one tires of those extreme sports and eating, the pedestrian-only, brick-paved downtown Pearl Street Mall beckons, with its street performers, flower gardens, cafes with alfresco patios, children’s rock garden play areas, boutiques and the outstanding Boulder Bookstore. One can stroll and explore for hours here – there are poets, musicians and dancers showcasing their talents even in wintertime.

Just a block away, the exquisitely decorated Dushanbe Teahouse is open to the public. Gifted to Boulder by its sister city of Dushanbe in Tajikistan, this is the largest teahouse anywhere outside  Asia and was reassembled  onsite in 1998, after being handcrafted by artisans in its home city.  The beautiful, tranquil interior is the ideal place to rest after all that exercise and exploring.

The arts scene in Boulder is way beyond that of a typical small city. There is a dizzying number of live music venues, with jazz, blues, rock, country, classical – just about anything one could want. Big Head Todd and the Monsters is a local band – but not anymore! Check out the Boulder Theater, Fox Theatre, the Town Hall, and even the Boulder Public Library for concerts and shows. September brings the 12-day Boulder International Fringe Festival, with plays, dance, poetry, puppetry and storytelling.

Chautauqua  © Werner R Slocum

Chautauqua © Werner R Slocum

Two art museums, two history museums, and various arts centres are open year round, while the Colorado Shakespeare Festival gives performances from  June until the end of August in the lovely outdoor Mary Rippon Amphitheatre.  At the Chautauqua, (one of three original Chautauqua institutions in the U.S.,) concerts, lectures and performances are given all summer. The Chautauqua movement began in the 1870’s near Buffalo, New York, as a sort of cultural summer camp for adults. The movement had almost died out by the 1930’s, but still thrives here as a year-round site, the only one which has its grounds free and open to the public. Its dining hall is a gem, dating back to 1898, and offers excellent cuisine in a lovingly restored Victorian mansion, along with a wrap-around, flower-bedecked patio with expansive views of the Flatirons just beyond. Chatauqua’s cosy cottages are historic, but all are renovated to modern standards, and most are available to rent.

“Keep Boulder Weird,” say some of the T-shirts sold in novelty shops. If weird means exciting, eclectic diverse, and gorgeous, then I’m all for it.  Boulder is a wonderful world of its own.

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