After a thoroughly East Coast childhood, Avery Stonich traded Boston for Boulder to attend university in 1988. Once she experienced the city locals lovingly refer to as the “People’s Republic of Boulder,” she never looked back. This outdoor enthusiast and freelance adventure and travel writer has more than 40 countries under her belt, but still thinks Boulder is one of the greatest places on Earth. Here are a few of her favorite things about her hometown of choice.
Boulder Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Pearl Street Mall, a charming four-block pedestrian plaza in the heart of town with an eclectic cornucopia of restaurants, bars, galleries, shops, street performers, and hula-hooping hippies. The people-watching potential here is unparalleled, right down to the dreadlocked contortionist who bends like rubber to stuff himself into a box.
Summer is the best time to visit my city because it’s quieter without the University of Colorado students in town. It’s a great time to explore Boulder’s miles of hiking and biking trails, then sip a margarita on the outdoor patio at Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace or the rooftop deck at Rio Grande. On Wednesdays, locals flock to free “Band on the Bricks” concerts on Pearl Street Mall.
You can see my city best from Panorama Point, a short drive up Flagstaff Road, which offers a bird’s-eye view of Boulder. If you want to feel like an über-athletic local, bike (and grunt) your way up the steep, winding road to the summit of Flagstaff Mountain, where you can peer over the city from Sunrise Amphitheater.
Locals know to skip chain coffee shops and check out locally owned cafés such as Trident, The Laughing Goat, and Amante Coffee instead. These are a few of my quirky favorites, which cater to crunchy granolas, artistic types, and shaved-leg cyclists respectively.
Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs that ooze hand-crafted Colorado charm.
In the past, notable people like actress Jessica Biel, poet Allen Ginsberg, and skiing Hall of Famer Jeremy Bloom have called my city home. Ginsberg helped found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University, which seems to plant prayer flag seeds all over town.
My city’s best museum is the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art because it presents a frequently revolving cast of exhibitions that are sure to satisfy your urge for culture. If you’re in town in early October, check out Open Studios Fall Artist Tour, when local artists open their homes and offer an interactive glimpse into their craft.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to leave your car at home and jump on two wheels. Boulder’s bike path system is one of the best in the world. You can ride for hours on miles of interconnected trails, many alongside creeks. To become fully immersed in Boulder’s bike culture, don a crazy costume and join the Boulder Cruiser Ride, where hundreds of wacky cyclists roll through the city every Thursday, ringing bells, blasting music, and having a jolly time.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. Back in the 1960s, the City of Boulder had the foresight to start snapping up land to preserve habitat and give Boulderites a place to commune with nature. As a result, the city is surrounded by 45,000 acres of open space with 146 miles of trails and its stunning mountain backdrop is unmarred by development.
My city really knows how to celebrate Halloween because we love to dress up and act like characters—it’s not just for kids.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they have more bikes than cars. Guys typically wear sporty plaid shirts (not sport coats) while women walk around in yoga pants. Basically, everyone looks like they’ve been working out and running marathons.
For a fancy night out, I dine at Frasca Food and Wine, a northern Italian restaurant that prides itself on perfect food and wine pairings. Start with a salumi (cured meats) plate and a sparkling red, then spring for the four-course menu. It’s a three-hour extravaganza that will lift your taste buds to the pearly gates of heaven.
Just outside my city, you can visit Rocky Mountain National Park, an iconic gem that is an hour’s drive from Boulder. Head up there during the fall to witness the spectacle of rutting and bugling elk. You can practically smell nature’s raw fury as the bulls strut proudly, bash antlers, and call loudly to claim their mates.
My city is known for being an isolated bubble, but it’s really home to many well-educated people who share progressive social and environmental values.
The best outdoor market in my city is the Boulder County Farmers Markets. Boulderites come out in droves on Wednesdays and Saturdays to stock up on local fruits, veggies, meats, and flowers. There’s also the option to grab a bite from a food stall and linger long enough to enjoy a live band.
Tangerine is my favorite place to grab breakfast—though I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Lucile’s Creole Café, which serves hearty plates of Louisiana-inspired fare in a quaint Victorian cottage. Illegal Pete’s is the spot for late-night eats, serving burritos until 2:30 a.m., while Oak at Fourteenth offers more sophisticated munchies until midnight.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Boulder Weekly, the city’s independent paper.
My city’s biggest sports event is the Bolder Boulder, a 10-kilometer footrace held on Memorial Day that attracts more than 50,000 participants from all over the world. Watch it at any spot along the route, which is lined with cheering spectators, characters in costume, live bands, kids shooting water guns, belly dancers, and locals handing runners everything from water to marshmallows. Even better, run the race early with your friends or family, then stick around to watch the pros huff up the final hill to the finish at Folsom Field.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I bring a picnic and a Frisbee to the Colorado Chautauqua. This beautiful site, which was established at the end of the 19th century as an educational and cultural retreat, is nestled at the base of Flatirons—the famous rock formations that provide Boulder’s backdrop—and is the starting point for many hiking trails that head into the hills. The National Historic Landmark’s storied history is fascinating.
To escape the crowds, I hop on my bike and pedal up one of the many mountain roads west of Boulder. For a great loop, ride up Fourmile Canyon, through the historic mining town of Gold Hill, and back down via Sunshine Canyon. If you prefer to be in the midst of a peloton, Lefthand Canyon is the place.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be singer Jack Johnson because he’s smart, healthy, good-looking, musical, athletic, and an environmentalist. Plus, he wears flip-flops.
The dish that represents my city best is anything healthy and organic, like a smoothie made with sprouted almonds, banana, cinnamon, and turmeric; and craft beer is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Julia’s Kitchen and one of dozens of brewpubs that have popped up all over town.
The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is my favorite building in town because it is a work of art. On the outside, gorgeous ceramic panels exude a funky, foreign vibe. The riot of color continues inside, where intricate paintings coat every surface of the ceiling and walls. Presented to us by our sister city in Tajikistan, this masterpiece is a proud symbol of international cooperation and friendship.
The most random thing about my city is that we call dog owners “guardians.”
The historic Boulder Theater is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Tahona Tequila Bistro, a Mexican restaurant that transforms into a beat-throbbing DJ club on weekend nights.
In the spring you should feast your eyes on the blooming tulips on Pearl Street Mall. The city plants 15,000 of them each year. There’s even an annual Tulip Fairy & Elf Festival to celebrate them.
In the fall you should go leaf-peeping along the Peak to Peak Highway, where vast stands of aspen trees glow with gold, or cheer the Colorado Buffaloes on at football. After the game, stroll the university’s beautiful campus and admire its sandstone buildings, which are modeled after those found in the hills of Tuscany.
In the winter you should rip some turns at Eldora Mountain, a ski and snowboard resort 45 minutes west of Boulder. During the holidays, bring the kids to the Lights of December Parade and take in The Nutcracker at Macky Auditorium.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Boulder Creek Festival. Every Memorial Day weekend, downtown explodes with carnival rides, live tunes, arts and crafts, street eats, and beer gardens. There’s even a rubber-duck race in the creek.
The best book about my city is Stephen King’s The Stand because it talks about how all the good people go to Boulder to establish “The Free Zone” after a flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” by the String Cheese Incident. It waxes poetic about the beauty of living a mile high, and rips into a healthy jam at the end.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because Boulder is the best! With a stunning mountain backdrop, this small city woos you with charm and delivers great food, music, sun, and fun.