Boulder, Colorado, is worth much more than a weekend. In fact, after spending an afternoon there, you’ll probably be making plans to move. (There’s a reason house prices in Boulder are among the highest in Colorado.)
But if you’ve only got one weekend, here’s a general itinerary to help you see some of Boulder’s best highlights. Depending on your interests — biking, hiking, a family vacation, beer, food, art — you could create a more focused plan. But this is a getaway that we are confident anyone could enjoy.
Day 1: Morning
On day one, get to know the city itself.
Start your day at Snooze AM Eatery, 1617 Pearl St., on the east end of Pearl Street. This breakfast stop will probably have a line, but it’s worth it. Grab a latte from The Cup nearby if you get antsy. If you can land a table on Snooze’s patio, you’re in luck. Try the pineapple upside down pancake, which the restaurant is famous for. The Benedicts are no-fail, as well.
After eating, stroll west down the Pearl Street Mall and pop into the local shops and art galleries. A few highlights: Art + Soul Gallery, Cedar and Hyde, Chelsea, Nod and Rose, Two Sole Sisters and John Atencio jewelry. Most shops in downtown are locally owned, making this a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
Watch the buskers and street musicians perform often impressive feats, such as playing the piano upside down while hanging from a tree or contorting into a tiny, see-through box.
Day 1: Afternoon
Check into your room at the historic Hotel Boulderado, located right in downtown. This jaw-droppingly stunning hotel was Boulder's first luxury hotel, built in the early 1900s back when horses and buggies roamed the town. Spend some time gawking at the elaborate stained glass ceiling in the lobby (still containing original stained glass that has been restored) and make sure you ride the tiny, old 1908 elevator to your room. Stay in a historic, Victorian-furnished room in the main wing, rather than a modern room. Ask for a room on the fourth floor with a good view of the mountains. All of the downtown action is right outside your door.
After exploring the walking mall, stroll a few blocks south until you bump into the Boulder Creek Path. Walk, bike or even tube down the creek from the west side of town until you get to Central Park. Sometimes you’ll find fun, free entertainment in the bandshell at the park. In the winter, this park is elaborately decorated with holiday lights. In the summer, on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings, Boulder’s amazing farmers market pops up around here, filled with incredible local vendors and farm stands (with free samples), live music and great people-watching.
Grab lunch at the Dushanbe Tea House, one of the most architecturally stunning and colorful places you’ll ever see. This intricately carved restaurant was made as a gift by Boulder’s sister community, Dushanbe. Inside, you can sit in traditional eastern tables, on pillows on the floor or in a western table by a fountain. Outside, the tables in the garden are just as lovely.
Lunch here (served 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) is adventurous and worldly but delicious: Tajik shish kabobs served with cucumber yogurt, a Cuban sandwich with Lapsang tea rubbed pork, a German-style bratwurst and Indonesian peanut noodles with spicy peanut sauce are a few of the diverse options. Make sure you try the housemade chai.
After dining, wander your way to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art located next door. You won’t regret popping in. This is one of the most interesting and esteemed art galleries and museums in the area. Bonus: Entry is only a buck.
Day 1: Evening
Head up to University Hill to see the younger, funkier side of Boulder. You can walk, bike, take the bus or drive here (although driving might take the longest; it’s pretty close and parking is tough). The University of Colorado campus also has a huge influence on Boulder’s culture, and the college crowd centers around The Hill.
You’ll find a hipster record shop, pipe shops (if you want to experience legal cannabis, a head shop can offer nearby recommendations), lots of colorful street art, the famous Fox Theatre, art stores and some good places for souvenir shopping. Take the underground tunnel across Broadway to the CU campus and take in the historical buildings. Relax on the huge lawn under a tree and absorb the innovative energy of Boulder’s students.
If you want a casual dinner, do it on The Hill at The Sink. This colorful, wild dive has quite possibly Boulder’s best burgers and pizza. The interior is covered floor to ceiling, wall to wall in crazy drawings, words and cartoons. On occasion, you’ll find celebrities here. Even Barack Obama once enjoyed a “Sinkburger.”
If you’re a foodie who wants to taste Boulder’s best, head back to downtown and visit Frasca Food and Wine and see why Bon Appetit named Boulder the “Foodiest Town in North America.” Frasca is hands down one of Boulder’s finest restaurants, with three notable James Beard awards under its belt. If you like wine, you’ll be delighted to know Frasca is co-owned by Bobby Stuckey, one of the most respected drink-makers in the state.
Food here is Northern Italian inspired. For something special, ask if the chef’s table is available. You can dine right in the kitchen and watch the magic unfold before your eyes. Order the Frisco Caldo as a starter and end your meal with the grappa cart.
Day 1: Late Night
If you’re up for it, visit Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place for a totally Boulder nightlife option. Shine serves “potions” that it claims are infused with sounds, intentions, feelings and more. Regardless of whether or not you think the Fairy Bubbles really contains giggles as an ingredient, the cocktails are delicious and healthy, for a boozy drink.
Day 2: Morning
Day two is about exploring the farther edges of Boulder and getting out of town.
Start your day at the Greenbriar Inn, perched just north of Boulder at the foot of the canyon. You will need to drive to get here. Greenbriar not only has the best brunch in Boulder County (white tablecloths, champagne, a carving station, oysters, eggs benedict), but its mountainside setting gets you into nature. Request a seat outside and you can watch the birds fly by and gaze at the hills. After you eat, explore the grounds. Many trails connect here.
Explore the canyon area to get a different perspective of Boulder. Take the highway up the canyon for a scenic drive or hike the nearby Left Hand Trail. Or head a bit farther north to the small mountain town of Lyons. If you have time as you head back into Boulder, stop in the NoBo Art District and chat with some local artists, such as an award-winning perfume maker.
Day 2: Afternoon
Grab a pick-me-up cold brew coffee from Boulder’s best coffee shop, Boxcar Coffee on East Pearl Street, which shares a small but perfectly curated spot with Cured, a small meat and cheese counter.
Order a picnic to go. Cured will prepare a basket of the best cheeses, meats, olives, crackers and nuts with sparkling water. Or better yet, ask them to select a complementary wine from their small, on-site wine shop. The Backcountry Picnic to go includes two chunks of cheese, two hunks of salami, Marcona almonds, crackers, two apples and two cookies.
Bring your picnic to one of Boulder’s favorite parks, Chautauqua Park, located at the base of the famous Flatiron Mountains. If you drive here, beware that parking can be limited. We prefer to take the quick and easy bus. Boulder’s public transportation system is excellent.
Depending on your activity level and abilities, choose from a ton of things to do here. You may find yoga in the park, storytime for kids, nature hikes or live music in the Chautauqua Auditorium. Or bring a book to read under the trees on the lawn. The trails here are among Boulder’s most popular.
Swing by the ranger station before you head up for a recommendation on which path to take (there are a variety that connect, from easy to challenging), a map and any safety advisories (such as weather conditions, trail closures or wildlife spottings).
Day 2: Evening
You’ll have worked up an appetite in the mountains, and the best way to finish your Boulder adventure is at the French-American, high-end Flagstaff House. This is one of the Colorado Front Range’s most awarded restaurants, and not just for the incredible food. This has also been named one of America’s top restaurants with a view. This mountainside restaurant is built 6,000 feet above Boulder, overlooking the city that you just explored.
Day 2: Late Night
Depending on how late your dinner runs and the day of the week, you might want to catch a show at the Boulder Theater in downtown Boulder (it regularly draws big-name artists, but also features special events, like dance shows and film fests).
The Bohemian Biergarten, just across the street from the Hotel Boulderado, features great stand-up comedy, karaoke and beer in an authentically European atmosphere.
Or walk west up Pearl Street (it has a distinctly different mood after dark) and stop by Tahona Tequila Bistro, an open-air Latin restaurant with some of the best margaritas in town; all lime juice is hand-squeezed every day. If you want a margarita with a view, the Rio Grande has a hopping rooftop bar with a perfect view of the Flatirons.