This Beer-and-Mountain Town Is Colorado’s Next Big Hit

Already been to Denver and Boulder? Here’s your new fave.

Nestled into farm and ranch country about an hour’s drive from Denver (not far from the birthplace of Noosa yogurt!), Fort Collins, Colorado, just happens to be one of America’s finest hubs for craft beer, outdoor adventure, festivals, and farm-to-table fare.

Like Denver, Boulder, and the state’s many mountain towns, Fort Collins—or FoCO—has become an increasingly popular hub for California transplants (like this guy). Its young, friendly vibe permeates every restaurant, shop, and many, many breweries (there are about 25, so just about one for every 7,000 residents).

If all of that—plus excursions like hiking, biking, and kayaking in the state’s notoriously beautiful outdoors—sounds like a plan to you, here’s what you’ll want to check out on your next trip to Colorado’s northernmost city.

Where to stay in Fort Collins

Among the most noteworthy FoCO landmarks lining College Avenue, the city’s main downtown drag, is The Armstrong Hotel. Recently restored to its chic 1920s-era majesty, each room and the lobby features eclectic original artwork, from old locomotive prints to portraits of Napoleon Dynamite—but its resident food and drink offerings are the best part. Think bottomless mimosas and dreamy Wafnut (that’s a waffle-donut situation) for Sunday brunch at Ace Café; later, sip a Monte Carlo with live jazz at the underground Ace Gillett’s.

And not one to be outdone, downtown’s Elizabeth Hotel houses its own Instrument Library in the lobby, a turntable and vinyl in every guestroom, live music venue The Magic Rat, and the rooftop Sunset Lounge with views of the mountains.

Wander around Old Town

Despite being surrounded by big nature, FoCO is more like a colorful, well-landscaped burg—especially at its nucleus, the historic Old Town. Dating back to the 1860s, the majority of Old Town’s historic buildings have been converted into buzzing bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels. Its flower-adorned squares and parks are headquarters for free summer art and music festivals, such as Bohemian Nights.

Nosh on freshly made tacos, donuts, and locally distilled spirits in shipping containers-turned-food-stalls at The Exchange, dive into an oozing tuna melt with a boozy shake at Union Bar and Soda Foundation, try authentic Indian at Tajmahal, and sip the most aromatic gin and tonic of your life at The Reserve at Old Elk Distillery

While you’re around, check out a double feature at one of the country’s longest standing drive-in movie theaters, or greatest on-the-river open air live music venues.

Get beered up

On to FoCO’s claim to fame! Suds specialists seem to be popping up on every block, but the real heart of the brew scene can be found at New Belgium Brewery, the powerhouse largely responsible for Colorado’s craft beer explosion. Inspired by a young couple’s bike trip across Belgium in the late 1980s, the company’s flagship brewery today is an expansive facility featuring plentiful patio space, food trucks, weekend concerts, and taprooms with cleverly contrived beer varieties ranging from the internationally famous Fat Tire amber to a vast assortment of sours and IPAs. 

Along with Odell, another of FoCO’s large, long-standing craft beer hubs, it’s worth checking out some of the smaller, lesser known spots: Snowbank, located in an unassuming business park which conjures up a fresh iteration of chocolate stout every Friday; Horse & Dragon, home to one of the tastiest dark brews in all of Colorado, Sad Panda; Purpose, located a few miles south of downtown but worth the scenic pedal through CSU’s campus for its ever-changing experimental brews; and Stodgy Brewing, the new guy in town with a massive outdoor space smattered with seats carved from enormous tree trunks. 

Oh—and if beer isn’t really your thing, there’s always the newly-opened OBC Wine Project, a tasting room and patio for sipping liquid grapes in a can.

Eat extremely well

You could spend a full year eating through the locally sourced dishes at Fort Collins’ best restaurants. But if we had to pick, it’d have to be Jessup Farm, a former farm dating from the early 1900s that now functions as a brewery, artisan village, and restaurant featuring the goods of local farmers and the farm’s own fresh bounty.

There’s also Little on Mountain, a tiny neighborhood gem with lines out the door and locally purveyed bone marrow burgers, duck, lamb, and salads; Rare Italian, with its succulent and wildly affordable happy hour cheese and meat boards; and The Regional, a new Old Town bistro whose flavor creativity is just as apparent in its cocktails as its seasonally fresh appetizer and entrée concoctions.

Hit the trail, the river, and the mountains

Fort Collins is situated at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills, where bikers and hikers can explore endless miles of trails. Horsetooth Reservoir serves as the summertime centerpiece for all manner of water sports, from swimming and wake surfing to boating and stand-up paddleboarding. Rent gear at What’s SUP to explore the motor-free corners of Satanka Cove.

FoCO also happens to lie along the banks of the Cache la Poudre, Colorado’s only designated Wild & Scenic River, which meanders through the glacier-formed, ponderosa pine-strewn walls of Poudre Canyon and into the glistening fields of wildflowers and ranchlands that surround the city limits. Here, the hoots of approaching tubers can be heard far downriver, and kayakers and surfers entertain with their tricks on the waves at Poudre River Whitewater Park.

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A Denver native, freelance writer Shauna Farnell loves a throwback ski lodge but has never donned one-piece outerwear. Follow her on Twitter @shaunafarnell or on Instagram @mountaingirlinthecity.
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