A Perfect Day in Boulder

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Everywhere you go in Boulder, the towering sandstone Flatirons seem to pierce the cerulean sky, providing a constant reminder that—Hey! You’re in Colorado! It’s time to spend some time outdoors!

Go on a hike, hit the trail, scramble up some rocks. And while you’re at it, eat some yummy health food, listen to homegrown live music, and sip a local microbrew.

With the sun shining most days of the year, Boulder is a haven for nature-loversand those who enjoy good, natural fun.

I’m fortunate to have relatives in the city, so every now and again I get to pop in to see what’s happening.

Here’s my version of a perfect day in this idyllic mountain town:

> Early morning: Runner’s World devotes a full-page spread in every issue to a gorgeous setting (with a runner plowing through, of course)—“Rave Run,” they call it. Boulder could be the subject of a million of those spreads; indeed, the city boasts tens of thousands of undeveloped acres and 145 miles of trails, each one more scenic than the next.

Marshall Mesa, which brings you to spectacular views of the Flatirons, is one stand-out route. If you find yourself more out of breath than usual, remember that you’re at 5,430 feet above sea level.

Meanwhile, South Boulder Creek Trail offers an easy, fairly level run that, at its southern end, near Route 93, takes you past flatlands dotted with prairie dogs, their little heads poking up and then quickly disappearing below ground as you breeze by.

Didn’t pack your sneaks? Local Pearl Street store Newton purveys cutting-edge shoes that employ patented trampoline-like technology. I have yet to take the plunge, but I’m definitely intrigued. Maybe next time!

> Brunch: South Side Walnut Café is a favorite spot among locals, and my family is no exception. Ignore the specials on the chalkboard at your own peril. Tip: The homemade sour-cream-walnut coffee cake is a decadent addition to any meal.

> Early afternoon: Now it’s time for a different kind of trek in this haven of hiking—Pearl Street Mall. This pedestrians-only area is full of fun shops and restaurants catering to both the hippie crowd as well as “Bobos” (or bourgeois bohemians—though here in Boulder, shouldn’t it be Bobobos?).

I love the Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery, where the local creative class displays their wares—pottery, stained-glass, watercolors, woodworking, and more, often with a Colorado theme—and getting lost among the stacks at the Boulder Book Store, established in 1973 at the forefront of the “shop local” movement.

You might not need a full-on sit-down meal after Walnut Café’s heavy brunch, but if you’re feeling a few pangs, check out the food carts along Pearl Street. The last time I was there I devoured a sweet potato taco for $3.

> Late afternoon: To me, one of the most amazing things about Boulder is how quickly you can escape into nature. One of the city’s most popular trails, a three-mile loop up Mount Sanitas, is located just west of Fourth Street on Mapleton Avenue.

You strike out on the trail, and within minutes have left the urban scene behind, huffing and puffing up a stair-stepped path, with more than 1,300 feet of elevation gain. Your reward? Fabulous views at the top during golden hour. Just like that.

> Happy hour: Boulder is a craft-beer town, and with at least half a dozen noted microbreweries—plus another half-dozen microbrew pubs and even more suds-makers in neighboring Longmont—there’s no excuse not to grab a pint. Favorite destinations include Upslope, Avery, and Oskar Blues breweries.

> Dinner: Organic produce has been a mainstay of Boulder’s culinary scene since the 1960s—a fact that injects palpable freshness into the city’s eateries, whether they’re small mom-and-pop joints or the celebrated Frasca Food and Wine, the recipient of a prestigious James Beard Award. The owners of Black Cat even operate their own organic farm.

Oh—Season 5 Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg recently opened a restaurant in town, Blackbelly Market; while Café Aion chef/owner Dakota Soifer just won the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen.

Bon Appétit named Boulder “America’s Foodiest Town,” and downtown’s Pearl Street was ranked among Food & Wine’s 10 Best Foodie Streets in the United States. Starting to sense a trend?

> Après-dinner: Boulder is a breeding ground for live music, whether it’s being performed in a local coffee shop, a small back room in a bar, or a proper concert hall.

The popular art deco Boulder Theater puts on big-name shows ranging from opera to disco to rock. Lots of special events take place here as well—film festivals and such.

It’s a great place to unwind a bit after another marvelous day in the city, before thinking about which hike, which restaurant, which adventure to tackle tomorrow.

Barbara A. Noe is a freelance writer and the former senior editor at National Geographic Travel Books.

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