If you’re looking for a unique day trip a short drive from Denver, head north. Fort Collins has everything you need for a memorable vacation in one city: amazing restaurants, breweries, distilleries and shopping, all with that special local flair.
Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, and it’s always at the top of one best-of list or another. Buzzfeed even went as far to call Fort Collins the greatest city on Earth. That’s like the best of best-of honors.
Although it’s hard to narrow down, here are eight of the best ways to experience Fort Collins over a weekend trip:
01 of 08
Explore Old Town: Real Life Disneyland
Fun fact: Old Town Fort Collins was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street USA. The charming, old buildings and stone-lined streets truly feel like a fantasyland, except the shops that line it are the real deal.
Downtown is full of specialty, artisan and local shops, such as the popular Welsh Rabbit Cheese Bistro. Pop in here for a selection of charcuterie and artisan cheeses paired with wine and beer.
Then, visit Revolution Artisan Pops, which sells handmade popsicles made with natural, pure, local ingredients. Instead of dyes and preservatives, enjoy tasty cold treats made with fresh fruit and local spices.
You’ll also find colorful public art installations, water features and fun, interactive displays that bring the community together on the bricks.
It’s no surprise why FoCo has been named one of America’s best downtowns.
02 of 08
Tour New Belgium Brewing Co.
Fort Collins is called Colorado's Craft Beer Capital.
It's home to some of the world’s best microbreweries, including New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing Co. and New Belgium.
When in Fort Collins, you absolutely must-must-must stop by New Belgium Brewing.
This is not your ordinary craft brew tour.
First, there are free tours every 30 minutes (from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) that take you into the guts of this monster brewhouse (the largest wood cellar beer production facility in the nation), complete with lots of free beer. But you’ll also want to carve out plenty of time to chill on the lawn.
It feels like a festival here. Any given afternoon, especially weekends, you will find hundreds of people sitting around the huge yard lined with food trucks, sipping beer, playing lawn games and strumming instruments. It's the coolest place in town to hang out.
New Belgium’s grew lawn hosts a Bike-in Movie series and Yoga at the Brewery classes.
There's also Zwei Brewing Co. Black Bottle Brewery, Coopersmith's Pub and Brewing, Three Four Beers Co. — yeah, FoCo loves its beer. Tour multiple breweries on quirky Magic Bus Tours. Take a bike, bus, limo or go by foot.
03 of 08
Play in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Even if you’re not the museum type, add this to your Colorado bucket list. The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is the best place in town to take your kids.
Find hours of educational and fun entertainment in this expansive, interactive museum, and make sure you snag a ticket to the revolving special exhibits that hide in the back room. In the past, there's been a ticketed dinosaur event that included a movie about the ancient flying dino creatures, life-sized models, virtual games and real fossils.
Another highlight is watching a movie in the Digital Dome (like an Imax movie screen that wraps all the way up the rounded ceiling).
Bonus: On the top floor of the museum is an observatory where you can look out over Fort Collins and beyond, panorama style. This is a great place to take photos and get familiarized with the layout of the city from above.
04 of 08
Head South to Jessup Farm Artisan Village
Jessup Farm Artisan Village feels like traveling back in time, but with hip, updated offerings.
This old farmstead, home to one of the city’s earliest settlers, has been converted into a coffee shop (in the 19th-century mechanics shop), a photography business (housed in the former loafing shed), a clothing and home shop (also in the old shed), a barbershop (in the old farm shop) and the Jessup Farm Barrel House, which features beer-blending and barrel-aging.
But the highlight of this unique village is the Farmhouse restaurant, located in the 130-year-old house.
As is fitting in a cozy, old-school building, the food here is comfort food (of course made from scratch), but with a sophisticated, upscale spin.
Produce comes from the village’s small farm and garden, and the rest comes from local sources.
Look for the likes of a mouthwatering braised lamb shank, herb-brined pork chops or a skillet chicken pot pie. The pork belly slider appetizers are a must-try.
Have a dietary restriction? The... Farmhouse can easily accommodate gluten-free, dairy-free or any other specifications.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Explore Some of the 42 Natural Areas
There’s plenty to do outside in Fort Collins. Horsetooth Reservoir is a super busy place to go boating and swimming in the summer, and the city also has the Poudre River, the state’s only nationally designated Wild and Scenic River.
Plus, find hundreds of miles of biking and hiking paths and excellent bird-watching.
Bring your camera to see if you can spot the local herd of genetically pure bison (but don’t get too close).
Having trouble narrowing down the options? Zoe Shark, community relations manager for the Fort Collins Natural Areas, recommends these favorites:
Pineridge Natural Area: Easier hiking with picnic tables and boating.
Reservoir Ridge Natural Area: For a more challenging activity in the foothills, yet still close to town.
Bobcat Ridge: For history buffs who want to dive a little deeper into the foothills. Great for mountain biking.
Gateway: Excellent picnic spot in the canyon with short hikes nearby.
Riverbend Ponds: For a river and ponds close to town; fun for fishing.
06 of 08
Enjoy the Foodie Scene
Fort Collins boasts more restaurants per capita than most U.S. cities of a similar size. This is a foodie heaven.
For brunch, head to The Kitchen, a contemporary, sleek bistro in Old Town with locally inspired dishes. Don’t miss the Bloody Mary and mimosa bar.
For a naughtier breakfast, The Waffle Lab is all indulgence and creativity. Find thick waffles (even gluten-free options) piled high with all kinds of unusual toppings. There’s the standard: Nutella, chocolate, fruit. Also find waffles wrapped in cheese, layered with bacon and avocado, topped with eggs. Anything you can put on a plate, put on a waffle.
For dinner, check out the farm-to-table restaurant, Locality, with a cool hydroponic grow wall that will produce vegetables and microgreens for dishes on the menu.
On a budget or short on time? Spoons is a local favorite. Find simple and yummy soups, salads and sandwiches with plenty of gluten-free options.
07 of 08
Try Craft Coffee
Fort Collins doesn’t only have craft beer. It’s got craft coffee.
Much like craft beer, craft coffee emphasizes the quality, uniqueness and the story of the coffee and its beans.
Some say craft coffee is the next big craft trend.
Fort Collins’ craft community is growing and the popularity of third-wave coffee is growing with it. Head over to Harbinger the Coffee Spot for exotic, pure coffee from some of the nation’s best roasters.
Other craft coffee homes: Harbinger Coffee, Farmers Brother Coffee, The Bean Cycle, The Human Bean, Bindle Coffee and Everyday Joe’s. The latter is a giant coffee house with a stage. It often holds special events and live music.
08 of 08
Taste a Flight of Chocolate
You've tried a flight of beer. Now try a flight of chocolate.
Nuance Chocolate, in downtown Fort Collins, makes small-batch chocolates from beans that it roasts and grinds on site. It takes about a week to go from beans to bar.
A fight of chocolate will walk you through tasting chocolate made from beans from different regions of the world. You will be surprised by how many variations in flavor there are for pure, dark chocolate.
Nuance claims to have the largest selection of “single-origin” chocolate in the world. It features more than 20 single-origin bars. That refers to beans that come straight from one specific region and are not blended with beans from other areas. It’s chocolate in its purest, natural form.
As a plus, all bean sources are vetted for being ethical, sustainable and direct or near direct fair trade.
For something indulgent, check out the decadent truffle selection, most made with local ingredients (like local honey from a beekeeper, local coffee roasters and lavender... and red chiles from a nearby farm).
Warm up with thick sipping chocolate, made with no sugar or milk. It’s not like traditional hot chocolate. It’s a whole new experience.
The shop began as a hobby and is now one of the rare bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the nation. Owners Toby and Alix Gadd have lived in Fort Collins for nearly 30 years.
The chocolate shop is the only place in the world to find Nuance Chocolate. The Gadds say they would sell wholesale or online, but they can’t keep up with demand as it is. Maybe some day. Until then, this tiny, cozy, brick storefront is the only place to get your Nuance chocolate fix.