The Denver Post once described Boulder as "the little town nestled between the mountains and reality." Shadowed by the towering Flatirons and surrounded by more than 31,000 acres of recreational open space and nature preserves, Boulder is 28 square miles of outdoor heaven. Named after the mammoth rocks scattered across the terrain, Boulder brims with big city sophistication, college town intelligence, and environmental sensibilities.
Boulder's historic civic center serves as a gathering place for the entire city. Anchored by Pearl Street, a vibrant thoroughfare boasting a magnificent four-block pedestrian mall, the
If high culture is on the agenda, then browse around at one of the galleries brightening downtown, including the popular
The big box retail chains, strip malls, fast food fry pits (even Boulder has them), occupy a long stretch of 28th Street, just a bit south of the city center. The area is great for last minute stops before heading to the mountains. This strip is also the place in town to find a movie theater.
Known as "The Hill" by locals, the neighborhood is the home of the
Spread across more than 600 acres of rolling landscape,
After checking out the
The residential neighborhood bordering The Hill is an odd mix of fraternity and sorority houses, apartment complexes, rental houses and attractive single-family homes. The streets are usually bustling with activity well into the night.
Boulder contains a wealth of pocket residential communities peppered with parks and open space. Martin Park, on the south side of town, is a step into 1950s tract housing. Table Mesa, nestled in the western foothills, is home to the
Most of Boulder's big business sectors reside on the fringes of the city. Gunbarrel, on the eastern edge of town, is home to IBM and
If you are searching for an otherworldly experience all together, take a day and visit one of the area's mountain towns. Eldorado Springs, where the world comes to rock climb, was once a hangout for the well-to-do including Damon Runyon and President Eisenhower. Now, it is a quaint commuter community of about 900 residents. Nederland, home to
It has taken Boulder almost 150 years to develop into an eccentric town two steps off the beaten path. But in the beginning, it resembled just about every other western mountain town appearing overnight, displacing the natives, and evolving into a boom and bust paradise colored by silver and gold.
When the first tribes meandered into the Boulder Valley, most passed it by for destinations further southwest. Although the open plains presented a wealth of hunting opportunities, the harsh winters and fierce winds ultimately discouraged most of the migratory clans from permanent settlement. Drawn to the pristine rivers, protective terrain and the massive quantities of buffalo roaming the prairie, the Southern Arapaho, lead by Chief Niwot, took a chance on the valley, utilizing the area as a winter camp. The tribe lived an unimpeded lifestyle, minus the occasional spat with neighboring enemies, until 1803 when then-American president Thomas Jefferson scored the monumental $15 million bargain known as the Louisiana Purchase.
Although the acquisition more than doubled the size of the existing nation, early scouts exploring the new territory deemed the land uninhabitable,especially for any sort of agricultural endeavor. But digging for gold did not require anybody to plant crops; it did not demand much more than a shack to bed down in, a few tools for mulling about the rocks and a fever for riches. So, when scout William Gilpin wandered into the river valleys of the Front Range and guessed gold might lie in the surrounding hills, the rush was on.
The first specks of gold, discovered at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in present-day Denver, sparked a surge of westward movement. Hopeful pioneers came kicking, scratching and clawing across an angry, unexplored landscape in search of instant wealth.
A prospecting party captained by Thomas Aikins set up camp at the entrance of Boulder Canyon in 1858, becoming the first non-native settlement to call the valley home. Chief Niwot confronted the clan before the first night passed, fearing the paleface gold seekers would pillage the Arapaho camp. But after a hearty dinner and a few passes of the pipe, they all opted to peacefully coexist. Unfortunately, Niwot's good nature would come back to haunt him. A mere six years later, while peacefully encamped at Sand Creek on the eastern fringe of Colorado, Niwot and a large portion of his tribe were brutally slaughtered and scalped by the new white settlers.
Four short months after bedding down in the valley, Aikins and his boys discovered golden flakes floating in a small canyon creek. When word wandered back east, some 2000 gold seekers flooded the Front Range seeking fortune. While the frenzied masses ultimately followed the flow of gold up into the mountains, crippling a good number of lowland settlements, Boulder sought to develop a stable economy and attract residents for the long haul.
In February of 1859, shortly after the initial gold find, the Boulder City Town Company was established. It is hard to believe today with all of the stop growth initiatives filling the city's current law books, but Boulder once sought to expand. So A.A. Brookfield, the company's first president, along with 56 shareholders divvied up 1280 acres into 4044 lots and sold them for an exorbitant $1000 each. When this price failed to bring in the homesteaders, the company slashed the cost. Although the cut still failed to create the desired population surge, it helped Boulder avoid the typical boom and bust cycles affecting neighboring towns. Thus Boulder, which was incorporated in 1871, started budding into a real town complete with a city hall, newspaper, railroads and brothels. By the late 1800s, the town developed into a hub for miners moving from dig to dig and a haven for local farmers.
In 1876, Colorado became a state and Boulder became a college town. After losing to Denver in the race for state capital, Boulder managed to snag the State University. The following year the University of Colorado came to life in the form of Old Main, the initial building, which comprised the entire campus.
Just when things in Boulder were looking up and the town was carving out an identity, along came the unusually long and harsh winter of 1894. The snow piled high well into the warm season when the spring rains began to fall. And on May 31, the rains would not stop. The snow pack melted instantly, running into nearby rivers until they swelled beyond the banks and wiped out most of Boulder. Washed away were the dreams of gold and other remnants of the city's mining heritage, including the notorious red light district.
Given a fresh start, Boulder sought a new vision of city development based on the preservation of open space and tourism. A few years after the flood, a gaggle of Texas teachers wandered into town looking to set up a summer Chautauqua, a prominent movement filtering out of New York that promoted cultural and educational gatherings in open-air settings. The Texans opted for Boulder and locals quickly passed a bond issue to construct a park, an auditorium, and a dining hall at the base of the Flatirons. Originally called Texado Park in honor of the founders, the name ultimately changed to Chautauqua Park. Over the next few years, approximately 60 cottages popped up around the park to house the incoming summer guests. Chautauqua presented an array of events ranging from musical concerts to lectures on politics and culture to operas. Perhaps the most important element of the movement, in relation to Boulder, was the emphasis on health and outdoor pursuits. Visitors to the park flocked to join the Climbers Club, a curious group that trekked about the local mountains in search of enjoyment rather than gold. In 1906, thrill seekers Floyd and Earl Millard pitched their way up the east face of the Third Flatiron, igniting an adventure craze forever synonymous with the word Boulder. Today, the jagged red rock Flatirons possess some of the finest beginning rock climbing routes in the world, and the surrounding Eldorado and Boulder canyons present more technical challenges.
Chautauqua Park was the first step in Boulder's long history of buying surrounding land for parks and open space. Under the guidance of Robert Law Olmstead, Jr, son of the famed creator of New York's Central Park, Boulderites developed an environmental conscience. They sought to remain "green" regardless of the desires of outside developers, and created an economic environment suited to "clean industry." By the early 1900s, the area population was brimming around 10,000. The university district, known as "The Hill," was thriving with small businesses. Tourism was booming. In 1907, 13 years before Prohibition, Boulder elected to ban liquor sales in public places. This included bars, pubs and restaurants. Somehow, the city remained clean and sober until 1969, when the Catacombs Bar, a local watering hole, started pouring spirits again.
In the 1950s, after two world wars and a depression, the "clean industry" pursuits paid dividends when the National Institute of Standards and Technology moved to Boulder. Beech Aircraft followed suit and set up an aerospace division on the north side of town. Ball Brothers Research headquartered its aerospace operations on the east side in the new Boulder Industrial Park. The business outlook appeared bright with technology and research firms peppering the valley. Soldiers on the GI Bill filled the University of Colorado and the opening of the Boulder turnpike allowed easy access to neighboring Denver. But, the population soared uncontrollably and a once modest community of 20,000 residents in 1950 transformed into a bustling city of 67,000 by 1960. This caused discontent, as the local residents had to compete for the industry jobs. And although glad that the new companies and the university jolted the economy, the local population did not want unchecked growth to scar the natural landscape that set Boulder apart from other towns. So in 1959, the organization PLAN-Boulder came onto the scene, paving the way for future initiatives to block development and limit growth. PLAN-Boulder developed a comprehensive policy to limit city water service to within specified boundaries. Later, in the 1970s, the group helped push through an ordinance placing height restrictions of 55 feet on all new constructions. Boulder has since prevented countless attempts to build shopping malls, golf courses and hotels by simply buying the land and deeming it open space.
National Center for Atmospheric Research joined Boulder's hopping research industry in 1960. The architectural gem designed by I.M. Pei, watches over the city from its roost on Table Mesa. Other research and government firms and technology conglomerates found Boulder to be an attractive setting for business. Inevitably, the population continued to increase.
The college town came of age in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s. Student protests and riots occurred in response to the Vietnam War. The predominantly peaceful hippies encamped in the center of town gave way to angry revolutionaries insistent upon being heard. Buildings burned and bombs blasted away Boulder's innocence.
Meanwhile, the town expanded east, continuing to preserve land but also building new shopping centers and allowing more development. IBM, Storage Technology, and homegrown tea maker Celestial Seasonings anchored the new fringes, giving Boulder a significant position in the high technology arena. Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa established the Naropa Institute in 1974 to ponder the liberal arts from the spiritual perspective. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman later formed the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetry at the Institute. The Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian utopia gracing the heart of downtown, also opened in 1974 to rave reviews. The project brought back the city's small town ideals and provided an attractive civic center full of cafes and retail shops.
People still flocked to the town, even though a 2 percent growth plan went into effect in the mid 1970s, and a diverse community was slowly beginning to take shape. Today, outdoor purists and adventure seekers mingle with hippies (known in Boulder as "Granolas"). Computer techies, college professors and scientists shop with postmodern Buddhists, health nuts and every sort of New Age fanatic. And everybody takes time out for a massage. The Boulder School of Massage Therapy formed in 1976 and prompted an all-consuming rage that continues in Boulder today. Although Boulder incorporates a wide range of ideals, from liberal to conservative to down right alternative, the residents have managed to coexist and grow as one community.
Major corporations continue to relocate to Boulder. Sun Microsystems, US West, Lucent Technologies, and NeoData are prominent figures in the recent business boom. Although Boulder has sufficiently fortified itself behind 25,000 acres of unspoiled open space, the town still struggles with development issues and growth problems. The population now hovers around 100,000 and the rapidly growing neighboring towns of Louisville and Broomfield only add to the problem. In recent years, Boulder has also faced an onslaught of negative national and international media attention for the handling of one of the world's most infamous unsolved crimes—the Jon Benet Ramsey murder.
Through it all, Boulder remains an outdoor oasis protected from a Front Range drowning in suburban sprawl. The mountain setting still draws Olympic athletes, free thinkers and distressed urban hipsters. The unemployment and crime rates are low, but the unbearable cost of living forces even the most educated to pinch pennies in order to stay within the city limits. Thus, it is not unlikely to have PhD's serving coffee or research scientists delivering pizza. It is simply a means to an end to live in such an ideal location blessed with unparalleled scenery and more than 300 days of sunshine.
You might think dining in Boulder requires a taste for granola, yogurt, tofu or nutrition smoothies. While Boulder residents might be extremely active (they average two bikes per person—road and mountain) and the healthiest population in the land, they still love to eat. Training for marathons can make a person hungry. A talented crop of chefs, drawn to the city's hip lifestyle, create cosmopolitan menus rivaling the big towns. The offerings range from fine dining to brewpub fare.
As you walk along Pearl Street, aromas drifting from the restaurants penetrate the senses, making it hard to choose where to dine. From sophisticated cuisine to inexpensive pub grub and microbrews, get ready for a quality dining experience. For the health minded looking for stereotypical Boulder fare (i.e. natural foods), stop in at the Creative Vegetarian Café for some of the best fiber fodder this side of California. The Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery is a brewery with a Boulder twist, specializing in full-bodied ales and mostly meatless bar fare.
Upscale bistros and stylish cafes pepper the downtown vicinity. A good majority of the restaurants feature seasonal menus emphasizing contemporary American creations. The imaginative dishes usually involve salmon, trout, lamb, or chicken. Most local chefs feature homegrown organic ingredients including seasonings, spices and vegetables.
Try Q's Restaurant in the Hotel Boulderado for a taste of regional fare and Boulder's most happening ambiance. Chef John Platt is a master of artistic presentation, and the roasted rack of lamb is well worth the expense. Jax Fish House proves you can be landlocked in a mountain town and still find incredible clam chowder and other ocean delights. Plus, the martinis are the best around.
The sunny riviera comes alive at Mediterranean (a.k.a The Med). Incorporating a wood-burning oven, this cozy hideaway just off the Pearl Street Mall serves traditional favorites from Spain, France and Italy. The wood burning oven also flickers at Antica Roma Ristorante & Bar and the 14th Street Bar and Grill, baking innovative Neapolitan pizzas, along with other Italian standards.
For deep-dish, Chicago style pizza and an intoxicating drink menu, stop in Old Chicago and take the world beer tour. The patio is one of the rowdiest in town, especially during the summer. BJ's Pizza, Grill and Brewery brings the chain element to Pearl Street, but still handcrafts some fine local ale while serving an array of pizzas and sandwiches. Hometown brewpubs include the Walnut Brewery which concocts a masterful blends of barley and hops and goes way beyond the traditional bar fare.
Downtown's ethnic offerings span the mountain depths of the Himalayas, chart the cold coastal waters of Japan, and delve into the exotic mysteries of India all in less than a 10 block area. Trek over to the Himalayas Restaurant for authentic Tibetan and Nepalese cuisine featuring some amazingly spicy curries. Mij Bani mixes the healthy (and spicy) eats of old world India with the spiritual flavorings of Nepal.
Sushi lovers line up outside Sushi Zanmai for wild nights of karaoke and the freshest rice wrapped in seafood money can buy. Japango's sushi bar is the tops, but the funky eatery also caters to those who prefer Japanese fare a bit Americanized. The Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, a gift from Boulder's sister city Dushanbe, Tajikistan, adorns the eastern fringe of Central Park and is a cultural experience in itself. The international menu includes creations from such places as Tajik and Algeria.
Juanita's, a festive Mexican joint a block from the Pearl Street Mall, draws the local crowd for platters piled high with all the standards: burritos, tacos and enchiladas. The Rio Grande's potent margaritas (there is a 3-drink limit) are powerful enough to knock anyone silly, and make the Mexican fare taste even better. If you want to skip on the fancy cuisines and simply bite into a no frills burger, head over to Tom's Tavern. It is the best place in town to hear how things used to be in Boulder. The folks that run the place make everyone feel like a local and prepare home-style classics, along with the biggest burgers in town.
No trip to Boulder should be complete without stopping in a downtown coffee shop and debating a little Buddhist philosophy over java and éclairs. If you are up for bantering with locals, check out the Trident Cafe or Sidney's Cappuccino and Art Bar. For the less adventurous, there is always Starbucks.
No matter how many businesses move to town or how high the median income might be, Boulder is still undeniably part college town. The depth of cheap eats, pizza joints and coffee shops on The Hill reflect this reality. For a quirky example of the feel of this campus area look no further than the Sink. Low ceilings and graffiti coated walls give the place the urban charm of a hip subway tunnel, and with every tasty pizza comes a bit of local attitude. The joint is always rocking with distressed poets, suburban hippies and hungry students. Frat boys and business cohorts hit the drink specials at Teresa's Pizza Colore. A local chain, Abo's is the perfect stop for pizza by the slice.
Illegal Pete's caters to the big burrito crowd, packing all sorts of veggies, rice, beans and meats into a tortilla the size of a large pizza. Hapa On The Hill is where to go for cheap sushi. Moe's Broadway Bagel is probably the closest thing to healthy the neighborhood has to offer.
On the other side of The Hill, travel into the past for a feast at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Now open year round, the seasonal menu features Colorado lamb and rainbow trout.
28th Street Vicinity
Muddled in the mass of chain eateries and fast food fry pits, and lost in the labyrinth of strip malls congesting the area, are some of Boulder's best dining surprises. Dolan's, a longstanding Boulder tradition, dabs heavily into the regional cuisine and is the place to go for steak and seafood. If you are entertaining clients, try the Boulder Broker for a juicy porterhouse or filet. John's Restaurant is best for romance and magical New American cuisine. Zolo Grill, a Zagat favorite, specializes in fiery southwestern fare and a lively atmosphere.
For vegetarian fare, sports and microbrews kick back at the Lazy Dog Sports Bar and Grill. Do not worry, the joint also cooks up the traditional burger and fries. Casa Alvarez conjures a taste of old Mexico straight from the family recipe book. Turley's is a great neighborhood stop for healthy grub, and Dot's Diner is an inexpensive start to the day.
Foothills and Mountains
There is nothing quite like dining alongside a mountain, watching the sun creep away, witnessing the city lights settle into an easy glimmer, and mustering up a bit of romance. The Flagstaff House is perhaps Boulder's most elegant (and pricey) dining experience. Perched atop Flagstaff Mountain, it is the place for rattlesnake and alligator appetizers and the best Buffalo filet in the world- and at the price, it should be. The Red Lion Inn also exudes a bit of romance, but is also a great place for business meetings, and the German cuisine emphasizes wild game.
Nederland has quite a few interesting dining spots loaded with all sorts of mountain characters, but Neapolitan's pizza joint is the most popular layover for tourists, especially after a long day of skiing at Eldora Mountain.
The early 1900s brought an end to Boulder's gold rush days and sparked a boom in tourism, but sufficient accommodations were hard to come by. The Hotel Boulderado, a Victorian beauty built in 1909 as the centerpiece to downtown, laid to rest any worries about the town's ability to take care of tourists.
If you are looking for historical elegance or stately neighborhood charm, there are plenty of fine downtown hotels and bed-and- breakfasts to choose from. Staying in and around the downtown however, has a hefty price. Most rooms run well over $100 per night, but offer some of the best amenities in the city.
Combine Boulder with Colorado and you have the Hotel Boulderado. Even after a long and rugged history, the hotel is still the pride and joy of Boulder. Louis Armstrong slept here, as did Teddy Roosevelt. A 1980s restoration transformed the place into an opulent gem. Even if you are lodging elsewhere, stop by for a gaze at the extraordinary architecture, including its magnificent Italian stained glass ceiling. Two restaurants, including the award-winning Q's Restaurant, and a popular basement nightclub provide the entertainment.
The Bradley Inn features 12 distinctive rooms exuding a contemporary flair. Posh leather furnishings adorn the interior and cowboy oil paintings liven the walls. A complete business center and three banquet facilities make it a perfect stop for meetings, while the in-room fireplaces and whirlpool tubs spark romance.
Scattered about the historic residential districts surrounding downtown are a host of charming bed-and-breakfasts and country inns. If you are looking for a breath of individuality, warm mountain hospitality, or a chance to blend with the locals, the B&B scene is a good choice. The Briar Rose Bed and Breakfast, tucked away in the Goss Gove neighborhood, holds the honor of being Boulder's first bed-and-breakfast. The Honeymoon Room, complete with wood burning fireplaces, draws couples from around the world, and the beautifully manicured courtyard garden is perfect for an evening stroll.
For panoramic views of the Flatirons and the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, check into The Inn at the Mapleton Hill. Standing high above downtown nestled beneath towering cottonwoods, the inn started receiving guests in 1889. The current owners live on-site and take great care in preparing the morning's gourmet breakfast. Stunning cathedral ceilings trademark the Pearl Street Inn. Built in 1898, the inn's eight rooms mix Victorian period furniture with modern conveniences, and the pleasant gardens provide a quiet setting for relaxation.
For a comfortable room at an affordable price (by downtown standards), try the University Inn. Although the inn provides easy access to University of Colorado and downtown, the location is off a busy intersection and can get noisy. The Quality Inn and Suites, just down the hill from the University of Colorado, is also relatively inexpensive.
Hotels are not the focus of this district, but you might find a few cheap sleeps, including the Boulder International Youth Hostel. The large quarters feature predominantly dormitory style sleeping arrangements, but apartment style rooms, designed for families on an extended stay, are also available.
The Colorado Chautauqua Association rents 60 cottages and rooms in two lodges on the park grounds. The lodging is perfect for those seeking a tranquil environment close to downtown attractions.
28th Street Shopping District
Whether in town for a University of Colorado happening or a business event, the accommodations in and around 28th Street offer easy access to both the university and the business districts. The Boulder Broker Inn combines stately Victorian elegance with big business. Rooms feature posh leather furnishings, regal antiques and amazing views of the Flatirons. Plus, the facility has more than 4000 square feet of meeting space and a steak house perfect for entertaining clients. The Millennium Harvest Hotel is an expansive 262-room spread located along Boulder Creek. Rent a mountain bike and wander the bike trails or take in a game of tennis on one of the 15 courts. The available meeting space could easily house a small army. The new Boulder Marriott brings a long tradition of excellence to town, and the Courtyard Boulder makes the business crowd happy. Roadside favorites include Best Western Golden Buff Lodge and the Best Western Boulder Inn.
Boulder canyon's lodging options are perfect for romantic getaways or business travelers wanting a taste of the high country without meandering too far from the job. The Alps Boulder Canyon Inn rests against a mountainside and is extremely popular for weekend retreats and wedding receptions. The Boulder Mountain Lodge features an array of accommodations ranging from rustic campsites to comfortable kitchenettes.