Though sandwiched between the beer meccas of Denver and Fort Collins, this happy-go-lucky Colorado college town is hardly the forgotten middle child.
A national poll titled Boulder, Colo., America’s happiest city last year, largely based on its relatively healthy economy and citizens—but loads of local beer can’t hurt. Colorado’s storied microbrewing history began here in 1979, when two University of Colorado physics professors founded Boulder Beer Co. (Northeast Boulder, boulderbeer.com) in a goat shed. In 1984, Boulder Beer upgraded to its current building, where a bright, high-ceilinged pub overlooks the 300-case-per-hour bottling line, and free weekday tours finish with serve-yourself pitchers including easy-drinking Buffalo Gold, dry-hopped Hazed & Infused ale and rotating small-batch brewers’ choice selections. Not far from Boulder’s oldest brewery sits one of its youngest, the almost 3-year-old Upslope Brewing Co. (North Boulder, upslopebrewing.wordpress.com).
In a newly expanded, industrial-chic taproom, Upslope serves its four canned varieties on draft, including the nutty Brown Ale and refreshing Craft Lager, plus experiments like the Randall of the Day—an ever-changing brew filtered through fresh hops or fruit en route to the tap. Avery Brewing Co. (East Boulder, averybrewing.com) prides itself on big, envelope-pushing ales like Maharaja Imperial IPA and The Reverend, a smooth Belgian quad, both packing 10%-ABV punches. Daily tours lead to a gaping barrel room, where retired wine, rum and bourbon barrels create borderline-bizarre limited releases. In an adapted warehouse closer to downtown, Twisted Pine Brewing Co. (Central Boulder, twistedpinebrewing.com) also pours some surprises from its gnarled, hand-carved taps, like the genuinely spicy Billy’s Chilies, brewed with five types of hot peppers. At the unassuming, Grateful Dead-decorated Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery (East End, mountainsunpub.com), locals congregate as much for good, cheap grub as the GABF gold-medal-winning brews like Illusion Dweller IPA.
The first Old Chicago (Downtown, oldchicago.com/boulder) opened in 1976 on the Pearl Street pedestrian mall, spawning a 100-restaurant chain known for its 110-brew lineup. The Avery, Odell and other Colorado mainstays on tap here are best enjoyed on the patio, which doubles as a front-row seat to impromptu street concerts. New this year, Backcountry Pizza & Taphouse (Central Boulder, backcountrypizzaandtaphouse.com) boasts Boulder’s largest selection of microbrews on draft—52, ranging from nearby Oskar Blues to California’s Russian River. After dark, young Boulderites flock to Catacombs Bar (Downtown, boulderado.com), a subterranean maze beneath the Hotel Boulderado, and The Sink (University Hill, thesink.com), an 88-year-old landmark, for respectable beer lists at college-student prices. The more upscale Salt Bistro (West End, saltboulderbistro.com) offers exclusively Colorado brews and build-your-own cocktails in flavors like coffee-anise and strawberry-basil.
Crowned “Foodiest Town in America” last year by Bon Appétit, Boulder earns the reputation with a bounty of local, organic ingredients and celebrated chefs. Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg hails from Jax Fish House (West End, jaxfishhouseboulder.com), consistently voted Boulder’s best spot for fresh-daily seafood. Nearby Rueben’s Burger Bistro
(Downtown, ruebensburgerbistro.com) piles drool-worthy, all-natural burgers with creative toppings like oven-roasted beets, fresh mozzarella and honey-baked ham, then pairs them with an impressive list of Belgian brews. Boulder’s most lauded dining belongs to Frasca Food and Wine (East End, frascafoodandwine.com), a Northern Italy-inspired restaurant co-owned by James Beard award-winning chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey. Radda Trattoria (Old North Boulder, raddatrattoria.com) offers less budget-busting Italian, like a decadent pancetta-laced pasta carbonara. In an ornate building hand-carved in Boulder’s sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse (Downtown, boulderteahouse.com) serves exotic fare like tea-rubbed pork loin and Persian chicken with roses.
A soaring stained-glass atrium, rich cherry wood, cozy chairs and soft lighting beg guests to linger in the lobby of the Hotel Boulderado (Downtown, boulderado.com), Boulder’s lodging crown jewel since 1909. Walking distance from anywhere downtown, this 160-room Victorian is worth a peek even if you don’t stay. More rustic but equally historic, the cottages and lodges at Colorado Chautauqua National Historic Landmark (Chautauqua, chautauqua.com) offer the easiest access to hiking and some of the best views of the Flatirons, the slanted slabs of rock towering just west of town. More posh digs await at the St. Julien (Downtown, stjulien.com), a AAA four-diamond-rated hotel and spa overlooking the Flatiron Mountains.