9 Reasons to Drive to Manitou Springs, Colorado

Manitou Springs is a must-hit day trip with no shortage of history, plenty of spas, and impeccable mountain town vibes.

Some of the best day or weekend trips happen in the smaller towns down the roads less traveled. Sure, you could drive an hour and a half to Colorado Springs for a little more hustle and bustle, if you’re into that. Or, you could treat yourself to somewhere with history, somewhere a little more diverse and a lot more funky. Somewhere with old-school arcades and a surprising variety of restaurants and pretty much the perfect place for unique gifts (and a little something for yourself, too. Somewhere… like Manitou Springs.

Initially established in 1872 by Englishman Dr. William Bell and his business partner General William Palmer as a scenic health resort that attracted many a tuberculosis patient, Manitou Springs has since transformed into an eclectic, cultural destination. The appeal of the small, art-centric town full of natural mineral springs has grown and grown—ever since a railroad spur was built to divert from Colorado Springs in the late 1800s—and resulted in the part-touristy, part-charming village that Manitou Springs is today. In addition to the eight natural mineral springs still flowing throughout the town and the nearby Manitou Incline, Manitou is known for its many art galleries and local artisans, relatively diverse food options, abundant hotels and day spas, and unique quirks like its Penny Arcade—a classic draw for visiting families. But most important of all, it's a perfect destination for a weekend getaway, for these nine reasons.

Make it a staycation to remember

Now, if there’s too much temptation on this list and you don’t think you can pack everything you want to do, see, and eat in a single day, consider our favorite option: lodging in Manitou Springs. Make it a long weekend and dive fully into all that the area has to offer, whether you’re into climbing steep steps up a mountain, drinking natural mineral water, or something else entirely. The Cliff House at Pikes Peak is a classic view when visiting Manitou Springs but staying there is another experience entirely; marvel at late 1800s-architecture that’s been lovingly brought into the 21st century. Your room will be special no matter what, and could include a gas fireplace, two-person hottub, or towel warmers. If you’re looking for something more intimate, though, we suggest checking out one of the several local bed and breakfasts, like the Spurs n Lace Inn, the Old Town Guest House, or Blue Skies Inn. Each is unique and fully emulates the cozy, comfortable vibes of Manitou. Or, go totally rustic and experience cabin life in the historic Keithley Pines Cabins, each with its own stove and fireplace, and explore as much or as little of nearby Manitou Springs as your heart desires.

Manitou Springs Carnivale
Manitou Springs Carnivale

There’s always something to celebrate

In addition to the ever-reliable shopping, eating, and educational opportunities in Manitou Springs, it’s often quite fun to spice things up by keeping a close eye on what sorts of events are passing through and which ones are drawing people together. Find a full calendar of events on the official Manitou Springs website, including the big, upcoming Carnivale weekend, where you can delight in a gumbo cookoff or get your February parade fix or the Manitou Springs Wine Festival happening this June. But just know that food tours, artist co-ops, and tons of mind- and body-focused events are constantly happening in and around Manitou—keeping exploration and excitement top priority for locals and visitors alike.

Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant
Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant

Calling all food lovers to Manitou Springs

Despite Manitou Avenue not even stretching a full mile, it comprises a ton of tasty food options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three. Swirl Restaurant and Wine Bar is the self-proclaimed locals’ favorite, with a menu of sandwiches, salads, and a long list of wine, beer, and other boozy beverages. Find mouthwatering Mexican food at The Loop or indulge in Middle Eastern cuisine at The Sahara Cafe. Looking for something more romantic (or just more hands-on)? Head to the Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant for a four-course night to remember. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more casual, check out Townhouse Sport Grill for pub bites and an extensive tap list, or Armadillo Ranch for some live music to accompany your meal. One place you can’t miss—the delights of Totally Nuts, where you can enjoy cinnamon roasted nuts, a variety of fresh-squeezed lemonades, and a lot more to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Manitou Brewing Company
Manitou Brewing Company

… and whet your whistle while you’re at it

Fancy a drink? If you’re in downtown Manitou Springs, you won’t have to look very far. Aside from the array of drink menus at the popular food spots in town, breweries and wine bars are in abundance for a quick sip, tasting, or kicking back and relaxing for a while. The Keg Lounge serves fresh and fruity cocktails in mason jars and also has a pretty long list of beers, seltzers, and wines by the bottle. Manitou Brewing Company is your go-to local brewery, serving up everything from full-bodies stouts to hoppy pale ales and everything in-between, plus wine, spirits, seltzers, and more lip-smacking pub bites. Enjoy a glass, bottle, wine tasting, or even create your own unique wine at D’Vine Wine, and maybe catch a glimpse of winery mascot Maya while you’re there. And not all drinks have to be boozy while you’re visiting Manitou Springs—check out the Maté Factor Café for fresh, sultry teas in a cozy atmosphere.

Manitou Springs is not short on history

The now bustling mountain town has a history that stretches back to the 1800s, and likely even before that, from its natural water springs to a flocking population of tuberculosis sufferers seeking healing waters. There are currently eight public, cold-water drinking springs (that lend the town its name) to check out while perusing downtown, plus the nearby Rainbow Falls that make for a beautiful and easy hike to a historic Colorado site. Or, for a more immersive historical experience, check out Miramont Castle Museum for tours, events, or an afternoon visit to the Tea Room.

Manitou Art Center
Manitou Art Center

Shop to your heart’s content

If anything, Manitou Springs is a perfect spot to do some shopping. (For you, for someone else, for you… who’s keeping track?) There are a bunch of art galleries showcasing local artists, including the Green Horse Gallery, the Commonwheel Artists Co-Op, Fare Bella Studio and Gallery, the Manitou Art Center, and local sculptor Fred Darpino’s Studio Gallery. For some unique shopping, check out Boulder Nepal Arts and Wear for eclectic clothing, jewelry, and knick-knacks as well as yoga materials and handcrafted items from Nepal, Tibet, and more. The Vault is also a popular gift shop featuring locally made art, decor, and jewelry, and the Southwest Silver Company is the place to go for brilliant gemstone and silver jewelry.

Manitou Incline
Manitou Incline | Gary Reinwald/Shutterstock

...and find adventure around every corner

If “Manitou” sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the popular hiker’s challenge nearby that is the Manitou Incline. With 2,768 steps getting you over 2,000 feet in elevation, the views at the top—and the bragging rights—are most definitely worth the trek. Also around the corner is the breathtaking Garden of the Gods park, good for a quick drive-through for some epic scenery or a full-on hike, and a perfect photo-op destination, too. There’s no shortage of hiking trails to satisfy the avid hiker, and of course, the city of Colorado Springs is just a hop, skip, and jump away from downtown Manitou Springs, boasting its own intrigue and adventure. Oh, and there’s this little mountain called Pike’s Peak that people are always chattering about, too.

Feel encouraged to bring the kids

Manitou Springs is one of those places that truly has something for everyone. So when it comes to entertaining the kids, there’s no shortage of things to do and fun to be had. One of the biggest draws for youngsters (and parents, too) is the Penny Arcade smack in the middle of Manitou Ave. You can also get an old-timey photo with the family at Old Tyme Photography, complete with old-school clothes and props to put you right back in the Old West. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are also hard to miss and just as hard to resist, combining adventure and history in the same exciting experience. Cave of the Winds Park also offers tours, rides, ropes courses, and an abundance of activities to keep the whole family entertained.

Sunwater Spa
Sunwater Spa

Manitou Springs is a spa destination, too

Last but certainly not least is Manitou Springs’ emphasis on good ol’ R&R. The Garden of the Gods Resort has one of the most comprehensive wellness offerings in Colorado, making it an exceptional place to get a single service or stay for a full weekend of restorative relaxation. Sunwater Spa is also a highly acclaimed spa that offers the works—enjoy a soak in its mineral water tubs and sauna, join a yoga class, or book services that cover everything from eyebrow maintenance to full-body massages to specialized skin treatments.

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Erica Buehler is a Thrillist contributor.