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BoulderThis Colorado enclave boasts 300 days of sunshine per year and endless offerings for the outdoors enthusiast.
By JULIA BEESON
SAN DIEGO HAS OCEAN BEACH. Northern California has Berkeley. In the greater Denver area, it’s Boulder: a funky, liberal enclave that energizes the greater community with its unapologetically bold personality. This mountain pocket of counterculture proclaims itself the “People’s Republic of Boulder.”
My flight begins its descent into Denver, cutting through cotton-candy clouds to reveal the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. A 40-minute shuttle ride drops me on the Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor, tree-lined pedestrian mall filled with a mix of restaurants, sidewalk cafés, bookshops and boutiques. It’s also an ad-hoc stage for a number of street performers. A quintet of college students performs a jazzy number on one corner; ZIP Code Man entertains by guessing tourists’ hometowns; a small crowd gathers to watch a dreadlocked contortionist fold himself into a small plastic box.
But it’s the mountain setting that really steals the show. Framing Pearl Street are Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, slabs of rock jutting diagonally along the foothills of the Rockies. Beginning in April, you can rent a cruiser at Full Cycle bike shop and ride into the shadow of the Flatirons. At their base, the Chautauqua Park Historic District is a popular spot for hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers. It’s also an active summer venue for music festivals, theater performances and other community events. Chautauqua is a small fraction of the 30,000 acres of open space in Boulder.
Heading back downtown, I cycle onto the 200-mile-long Boulder Creek Path. Near the University of Colorado campus, I veer around bleary-eyed students weighed down by bulging backpacks. Thirty thousand such students make up 30 percent of Boulder’s population, and they breathe a palpable energy into the city. Students pack The Fox for top-billed music acts any night of the week. And the numerous local breweries love their college clientele.
The Dushanabe Teahouse, another stop off the Boulder Creek Path, is a local landmark and the only teahouse of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. A gift from Boulder’s sister city, Dushanabe, Tajikistan, it was hand-built by 40 Tajik artisans. Between sips of fragrant jasmine tea, I stare at thousands of pieces of vibrantly colored tiles laid out in exotic patterns. It’s on par with the exhibitions at the neighboring Museum of Modern Art.
Just across the path, I park at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, Boulder’s newest luxury accommodation. My room has a breathtaking view of the Flatirons, and an outdoor terrace. There’s an airy, stylishly furnished living room (oooh, leather pillows) with a huge plasma-screen television and fireplace.
The gorgeous, cavernous stone-and-glass bathroom is the size of a typical hotel room.
The hottest place in town to eat is Frasca Food & Wine (swap the Birkenstocks for the Manolo Blahniks here), where nationally renowned chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Peterson creates a seasonal menu incorporating local produce and meats. Master sommelier Bobby Stuckey (one of 60 in the country carrying the distinction) perfectly pairs each plate with any of the 200 wines Frasca cellars.
Also on Pearl, The Kitchen is another spot that caters to food gourmands in a sophisticated setting. For lunch, check out The Dish’s heaping gourmet sandwiches, or grab an oversized burrito and a pint at Foolish Craig’s.
I SIGN UP FOR A GUIDED CITY TOUR on day two. Banjo Billy’s Bus Tour showcases (screams, actually) Boulder’s offbeat personality. It’s an 80-minute stand-up routine/tour/historical lesson enjoyed from the seats (take your pick between a saddle or recliner) of a 1994 yellow schoolbus reincarnated as an eccentric shack-on-wheels. Cruising around Boulder, “Banjo Billy” alternates historical accounts of Boulder’s earliest inhabitants and notable buildings with ghost stories and grisly true-crime tales. I spend my last night in Boulder at The Bradley, on Pearl’s east end. It masterfully combines the homey feel of a mountain bed-and-breakfast with the upscale style and privacy of an urban boutique inn.
It could have been the smell of banana bread in the oven, or the crackling fire in the stone fireplace—or maybe it was our hostess Sarah’s invitation to the nightly wine-and-cheese hour—but walking through The Bradley’s front door felt like coming home at the end of a long day. There are 12 guestrooms appointed with luxurious linens, fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs and Aveda spa products. Their gourmet breakfast is the only lure out of my room for the flight home.
IF YOU GO
Frontier Airlines offers six nonstop San Diego–Denver flights daily; see frontierairlines.com or call 800-432-1359 for schedules and reservations. Full Cycle bike shop is located at 18th and Pearl Streets (303-440- 1002; fullcyclebikes.com). Rooms at St. Julien Hotel & Spa start at $285 and range up to $655 for a suite. For reservations: 877-303-0900 or stjulienhotel.com. Rates at The Bradley range from $145 to $200 (800- 858-5811; thebradleyboulder.com). For a schedule of summer programs and events at Chautauqua, go to chautauqua.com. Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours depart from the Hotel Boulderado at 13th and Spruce daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Call 720-771-0087 or see banjobilly.com for a schedule and more information. For general information on the Boulder area, visit bouldercoloradousa.com.