Many know Boulder as a college town at the base of the Rocky Mountains, tailored to suit outdoorsmen and students. In reality, there is something for everyone here from hiking dazzling trails to taking in an open-air music festival. Shopping streets, art museums, and many more unique activities abound, so read on to find out the best things to see and do in Boulder.
Pearl Street is the beating heart of Boulder, alive with music, street performers, eateries, shops, and more. The open-air mall ambles through Downtown, in front of the majestic mountain line on the horizon. The mall offers boutique shops, galleries, and bookstores with distinct local flare, such as the Boulder Bookstore, independently owned since 1973, or Into the Wind, which dedicated to the sale of artisinal kites. Foodies and bar-goers are spoiled for choice among Pearl Street’s bars and restaurants, and art lovers can tour galleries or take a trip to Color Me Mine, a paint-it-yourself ceramic shop.
For some of the best views of Boulder Valley, take a hike up one of the many trails to the peak of Mt. Sanitas. This is an ideal day hike, as any one of the trails is only about three miles long and of varying difficulty. Advanced hikers should take the East Ridge Trail that is more rugged and steep which converges with the main trail at the northern end of the mountain. Novices or those looking for a leisurely trek should try the central Mount Sanitas Trail, which meanders gently around the mountain. Be sure to pack water and snacks as this is not an easy hike, but the views are worth the aching muscles.
The Boulder Theater was originally an opera house that opened in 1906 under the purview of local merchant James Curran, and today it is a multi-functional music and entertainment venue. The facade is in the art deco style of old movie theaters (a residual feature of the theater’s stint as a cinema) and the interior is a deceptively large concert hall. Everything from disco to rock can be heard by local and touring bands, and the annual Boulder International Film Festival is on every March.
For an unusual way to experience the sites and sounds of Boulder try a Banjo Billy’s Bus Tour, which is about as campy and quirky as it sounds. A ramshackle wood-paneled bus is decorated with string lights, a hanging tapestry from the roof, and almost excessively comfortable couch seating. This pseudo-log cabin rolls along both the main drags of Boulder and the more offbeat sites. Drivers, most of whom could double as comics, illustrate the history of the city and tell ghost stories as the bus passes ‘haunted’ landmarks.
Hours: Monday-Sunday 2:00PM-3:30PM and 4:00PM-5:30PM
The Fiske Planetarium is part of the Colorado University campus. The lobby area and exhibits are free and open to the public, while the planetary shows have a fixed fee to get in. This domed structure houses a planetary projector that reflects a perfect image of the stars and other astronomical objects onto the roof, like a mirror in an IMAX setting. The planetarium is used for astronomy shows, live lectures, and music-themed laser light shows on a weekly basis. Head to the adjacent Sommers-Bausch Observatory on Fridays for a free open house, and gaze at dazzling nebulas and galaxies through a telescope.
The Boulder County Farmers Market offers the best locally-grown produce, flowers, and herbs in town. The open-air markets spans 13th Street on Saturdays and Wednesday and includes coffee and craft vendors on top of local farm products. Swing by to try free samples and soak up the flavors of Boulder, which are usually accompanied by live music bands. The Saturday and Winter markets are at the Fairgrounds on Nelson Road.
Just outside of Boulder nestled in the mountains is the Red Rocks Ampitheatre, one of the most unique concert venues in the world. The theater is like a dreamscape with seating that escalates up a steep slope in the Rockies towards a crystal clear Western sky. A plethora of famous figures are drawn to the Red Rocks every year, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dave Chapelle, and John Legend, to name a flew. The park surrounding the venue is reason enough for a trip, and for those not interested in music, have a meal at the neighboring Ship Rock Grill overlooking the valley.
Whether or not you’re a supporter of the Colorado University Buffaloes, affectionately called ‘Buffs,’ taking in a football game at Folsom Field is a must in Boulder. Enjoy hot dogs and cold beer in a state-of-the-art stadium with stellar views of the Rocky Mountain foothills and the Continental Divide to the West. Don’t miss (not that you really could) the thousand pound actual buffalo mascot, Ralphie, that runs on the field before every game.
Chautauqua Park at the Flatiron foothills is a sweeping series of meadows, hiking trails, and playgrounds. This is an idyllic spot to relax with a picnic while taking in the stunning scenery, or if leisure is not your idea of a day out, then try one of the many hiking trails to the top of Flagstaff Mountain. The Community Association in the middle of the park hosts concerts, live talks, and offers food and drink to the weary hikers and sunbathers of Boulder.
On Pearl Street every summer is Bands on the Bricks, an outdoor concert series accompanied by food, shopping, and drinks. Local bands concentrated mainly in the bluegrass and rock arenas play every Wednesday, and a beer/sangria garden opens at 5:30 PM before the shows begin. A new local brewing company is featured in the garden every month with a range of seasonals, stouts, and ales. Come down to Pearl Street for great tunes and a taste of Boulder’s most popular district.