Boulder Is Giving Denver a Run for Its Money as Colorado’s Funnest City

Think beyond drinking beer. But also that.

There’s no other place like Boulder, Colorado. Located just northwest of Denver, this lively, earth-and-health-conscious community is made up of vibrant university students, active adults, and lovers of food, art, and unique things to do. Established nearly 20 years after Denver in 1876, the city has long been loved for its sprawling beauty, crisp mountain air, and plentiful recreation. Whether for the first or fiftieth time visiting Boulder, here’s your guide to spending a long weekend in one of America’s happiest, healthiest, and best places to live.

Travel time:

From Denver: 35 minutes
From Cheyenne, WY: 1 hour, 30 minutes
From Salt Lake City, UT: 7 hours, 30 minutes

The Flatirons
The Flatirons | Rich Wolf/Shutterstock

If you don’t do anything else: Visit Chautauqua Park and stroll the Pearl Street Mall

Boulder is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise and alpine oasis, known globally for its beauty and endless activity. It’s also home to the Flatirons, the striking red sandstone formations that slant up toward the sky and mark part of the Boulder foothills on the western end of town. The formations are unlike any other in the area—or even the country—and the rolling hills and pine and fir forests present unparalleled hiking, biking, and climbing opportunities.

Another adventure entirely is the Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian mall lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, and all types of shops and boutiques. It does see a lot of tourist foot traffic especially in the warmer months, but it’s a worthy attraction for anyone who hasn’t been before. Browse the shelves at a bookstore, stop for lunch at any one of the many eateries (with ice cream afterward, of course) and don’t miss Chiri's Momo Delights for some light snacking while admiring an array of street performances.

Flagstaff Mountain
Flagstaff Mountain | Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Fill your days:

Hiking and outdoor recreation around Boulder

You could spend a whole year trying to experience all of Boulder’s outdoor offerings—from hiking and biking to climbing, camping, and more—and still not scratch the surface. In addition to Chautauqua Park, favorite local hikes include Royal Arch Trail, Mount Sanitas, and Flagstaff Loop/Flagstaff Mountain. Because there are so many hikes to choose from, it’s easy to find one that suits your skill level, no matter what that is.

It’s important to point out that Boulder is close to Rocky Mountain National Park, but while the popularity of the national park has exploded in recent years, Eldorado Canyon State Park—located just 20 minutes south of Boulder—is an often overlooked Boulder County gem ideal for rock climbing, trail running, and canyon gawking.

And for a little less hike and a little more float, visitors should carve time out for tubing down Boulder Creek—a very Boulder summertime activity. In the cooler months, the 5.5 mile path that runs along the creek is a treat for walkers, joggers, and cyclists who don’t mind the added ambience of rushing water.

Art and music in Boulder

Art lovers need not trek Highway 36 into Denver for their art fix, with the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) offering big-city culture along Boulder Creek. But if you know Boulder, you know the residents are either outdoorsy, artsy, or both; there are many artists living and working in the city, meaning there are dozens of galleries to explore, whether along Pearl Street or in less-touristy parts of town.

Boulder also shares its love of music with Denver, boasting impressive venues of its own. The Fox Theatre on University Hill (aka “The Hill”) brings in a bevy of live rock and hip-hop acts plus plenty of other genres, and the historic Boulder Theatre can be counted on to class up any Boulder evening with renowned music and comedy acts. There’s also the Central Park Bandshell, which often hosts local bands and live entertainment during summer festivals and events.

Totally unique things to do in Boulder

While outdoor recreation, art and music, and good food can be the hallmarks of any cool city, there are a few attractions in Boulder that you won’t find anywhere else. For starters, there is the planetarium at CU Boulder, where visitors can stargaze and learn about constellations as well as attend one of the many cultural, social, and educational events the University frequently hosts.

Despite being available for consumers to purchase from year-round, the Boulder Farmers Market has become a warm-weather staple for the community and beyond. One of the most impressive and beloved markets in the metro area, the Boulder Farmers Market features tons of local growers, producers, and makers just a few feet from Boulder Creek, Central Park, and all the hustle and bustle of Downtown Boulder.

The West End Tavern
Photo courtesy of The West End Tavern

Eat, drink, and sleep:

Restaurants and bars in Boulder

There’s no shortage of good places to eat and drink in Boulder, from casual ramen shops to Michelin-starred restaurants. Synonymous with fine dining in Boulder is Frasca Food and Wine, which earned one such Michelin star in 2023. Also recognized by the guide is Blackbelly Market, a favorite among both Boulder and Denver residents, and those beyond city limits as well. Easier on the wallet but lacking nothing in quality is Zoe Ma Ma, with its pork belly bao and pot stickers that rival every other Chinese spot in the Greater Metro area.

Boulder also (unsurprisingly) hosts a solid craft beer scene, with standouts like Avery and Upslope among the most well known. But visitors can find non-brewery bars and pubs aplenty, and should try not to miss West End Tavern and Pearl Street Pub and Cellar.

Where to stay in Boulder

History and old-world opulence come together in the iconic Hotel Boulderado, a massive hotel situated just steps from Pearl Street Mall. On just the other side of the mall is the relaxation haven that is St Julien Hotel & Spa, where guests can experience luxury and bliss under one roof. And for those looking for lodging with slightly fewer frills, Basecamp Boulder is exactly that—an extremely cool jumping-off point for all your adventuring (though we don’t blame you if you want to spend most of your time here, either).

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Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram for updates on Denver food and other Mile High shenanigans.