Nestled at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a prime spot for enjoying the beauty of the American West — just drive up Baseline Road from town, and in a flash, you’ll be high enough to see the Indian Peaks, the Flatirons, and Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s famous “Fourteeners.” There are lots of things to do in Boulder CO beyond enjoying the incredible mountain views.
Some of Colorado’s most beautiful hiking trails start right in town, from Chatauqua Park on the southern end to Eben G Fine Park on the northern end, just across the street from the cobblestones of Pearl Street Mall. Boulder has the distinction of being not only a Mountain Town but also a University Town – the University of Colorado at Boulder’s sprawling campus with its terracotta roofs gives this city its unique look as much as the Flat Irons, slanting, reddish sandstone formations on the city’s southwestern border.
Boulder may be one of the top outdoor recreation spots in the country, but this city truly has something for everyone. Want to luxuriate at a top-notch spa and sip local wine? Want to push yourself to your physical limits and recover with a craft beer and a big bowl of pork green chili? Want to visit museums, learn about early American history, and finish your day with an outdoor concert? Boulder’s got it all in spades.
Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Best Things To Do In Boulder CO
Boulder has grown up. The perception many people have is that boulder is a hippie community. While there is an element of this, Boulder has gentrified over the years and seen more people with money coming in because of tech. While there are still hippie-style stores and people that embrace this culture, especially downtown and near the creek, there is so much more to Boulder today.
It’s easy to see why Boulder is not only a repeat vacation destination for many but also one of the fastest-growing areas in the U.S., but if you only have one day to enjoy this amazing place, here’s how to do it:
Best Breakfast in Boulder CO
The best breakfast in Boulder can be found at Lucile’s Creole Cafe and serves Cajun specialties including beignets, biscuits, Eggs Pontchartrain (with crispy light fried trout), Creole omelet and Pain Perdu. Below are a few other recommendations for breakfast in Boulder.
- Dot’s on the Hill – Locals rejoice that this piece of original Boulder quirkiness is still going strong, and when you taste their scratch-made biscuits, it’s easy to see why.
- Lucile’s Creole Cafe – Towards the center of town, Luciles serves up southern breakfast and creole goodness in a historic home. Don’t forget to order a bag of beignets to take with you on your hike!
- Walnut Cafe – On the east side of town, trendy Walnut Cafe offers lighter faire with a southwestern flare, including the Boulder Scramble Tofu.
Best Brunch in Boulder
Chautauqua Dining Hall is the quintessential spot for brunch in Boulder. The Victorian-style Chautauqua Dining Hall has been a Boulder tradition since 1898. It’s a great Boulder staple, rich with history, and a lovely dining atmosphere.
The views are amazing, the food is delicious and the Bloody Mary is excellent! Popular items are the waffles and the tater tots, Chautauqua Breakfast which is your standard Farmer’s breakfast, house-made Pop-Tarts, and Churro Waffle with caramelized bananas.
The restaurant is located at the trailhead of Chautauqua Park, so a hike before or after brunch is a great way to round out your morning in Boulder.
Best Coffee in Boulder
- The Laughing Goat on Pearl Street, known for its espresso and Venetian cream.
- Flatiron Coffee on Arapahoe Ave is a mom-&-pop coffee shop with free WiFi brewing up locally roasted coffee, espresso & other hot drinks. Specialties include Chai latte tea and the Caramel cappuccino.
- OZO Coffee on Pearl Street features a full brew bar and expertly crafted espresso drinks. Specialties include Bhakti chai and their drip coffee.
Hikes in Boulder
Taking a hike is one of the best things to do in Boulder if you want to get the true vibe of what makes this city tick. Boulder is surrounded by 120 miles of hiking trails from where the Rocky Mountains and front range can be viewed clearly. Below are a few of our favorite hikes in Boulder.
Chautauqua Park will be on your left on Baseline Road right before it turns into Flagstaff Road, across the street from one of Boulder’s historic neighborhoods. From Chautauqua, you can access flat, easy hikes like the Chautauqua Trail or the more challenging Royal Arch Trail which will reward you with awesome views.
Bobolink trailhead and South Boulder Creek Trail are both easy, flat, and close to downtown close to South Boulder Creek and Baseline Reservoir. Be ready to see more folks on these trails as they are favorite routes for locals walking their dogs (and if you’re a Boulder local, chances are you’ve got a dog or two!) Further north, Wonderland Lake Loop Trail has similarly easy terrain but is surrounded by gorgeous hillsides.
Keep following Flagstaff Road and you can either park at the base and hike up on Gregory Canyon Trail or Flagstaff Mountain Trail or keep driving to one of the many scenic overlooks and trailheads further up the mountain. Don’t miss Realization Point with an incredible view of the CU Boulder campus and Lost Gulch Overlook for a view of the mountains to the west of Boulder, both easy, short hikes from parking areas right on Flagstaff Road.
For an urban hike that’s just a five-minute drive or a thirty-minute walk from the historic West Pearl district, Red Rocks Trail has views that make you feel like you’re far away from it all.
Just on the other side of Sunshine Canyon Road, Mt. Sanitas Trail is another moderately challenging hike with incredible views of the neighborhoods of northwest Boulder. From Eben G. Fine Park, just a bit south of Pearl Street’s west end, hike the Boulder Canyon Trail right along Boulder Creek where, depending on the time of year, you’ll see locals and tourists tubing and kayaking.
On your way to or from these trails, stop at Spruce Confections at Pearl and 8th. If you’re doing your walk later in the afternoon, pop next door to West End Wine Shop to sample fine wine and microbrews. Both shops are a little more out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the main Pearl Street Mall pedestrian walk-in a spot where you will see more locals than tourists.
Boulder Bicycle Trails
There are numerous Boulder Mountain Bike Trails throughout the town and outskirts.
- Boulder Canyon Trail is a well-maintained trail for bicycles and runners and. The 2.6-mile trail follows Boulder Creek through downtown and connects with the Boulder Creek Path.
- Four Mile Link Trail is a dirt path with beautiful views of a lake. The trail connects Fourmile Canyon Road to the Betasso Trail system.
- Flagstaff Mountain to Realization Point is a paved road that takes on quite a bit of elevation, but the views are definitely worth it!
Lunch in Boulder
- Half Fast Subs – Expect this place to be filled with CU students, tourists, and locals alike, and be ready to wait, but you will not find another selection of subs this delicious anywhere. From the Thai Tempeh to Thanksgiving Dinner on a fresh-made bun, Half Fast has something for every taste, and local beer on tap to boot.
- The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse – A gift from Boulder’s sister city in Russia, the Dushanbe Teahouse is one of the most unique and eye-catching sights in town. Enjoy a tea-service that is as visually stunning as it is delicious on the patio over Boulder Creek. While on the pricy side, this is a great place to catch a light lunch in a breathtaking environment.
- Rincon Del Sol – Coloradans love Mexican fare, and Rincon Del Sol serves up classic Tex-Mex and yummy margaritas for some of the best value in Boulder.
- Best Burgers in Boulder- The Sink is most known for two items on their menu: their ugly crust pizza, and their incredible burgers. The Sinkburger is made with top-notch Colorado beef and has a wide array of top-it-yourself ingredients to put on it. The Sink has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
- Food Trucks are always a good idea and Boulder has some great options. Tacos Del Norte, Los Dos Bros Mexican Food Truck and Ruby Ru’s Street Eatery Food Truck are among the local favorites! For a dessert streak, one of the most popular is the Boulder vegan ice cream food truck.
Sightseeing in Boulder
Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall -runs several blocks through central Boulder, east to west, and is located between Walnut Street and Spruce Street. The pedestrian area stretches from 11th Street to 15th Street. Pearl Street is one of the most popular and fun things to do in Bouler.
The street is lined with restaurants, shops, local microbreweries, theaters, art exhibits, coffee shops, bars, and pubs, live music and absolutely best place for people watching. There are lots of street performers and artists out, especially on weekends.
Banjo Billy Tour – You haven’t really seen Boulder unless you’ve seen it from inside a log cabin on wheels. Banjo Billy is the campiest of Boulder staples that will give you the low-down on local history and must-see attractions, and be ready to wave at locals and CU students. This is one of the really fun things to do in Boulder and a fun way to get to know the town and then be able to make your list of the top things to do in Boulder CO!
Boulder’s Best Dispensary Tours – Marijuana has always been part of Boulder’s back-to-nature vibe, and since Colorado led the way to legalize the herb, boutique dispensaries have popped up all over the city. Enjoy a mini-Amsterdam experience with this tour, sure to fascinate whether or not you personally partake.
Boulder Brew Tours – The Boulder/Denver area is microbrew heaven, and the sheer number of breweries and craft beer bars can be overwhelming. Let Boulder Brew Tours be your guide to all the city has to offer, from big names like Avery and Oskar Blues to cozier operations like Twisted-Pine and Sanitas Brewing Co.
Boulder Bike Tours – To say Boulder is bike-friendly is the understatement of the year! Enjoy the city’s ample bike paths, including the beautiful Boulder Creek path that winds from CU campus down to Eben G. Fine park.
Guided Electric Cruiser Bike Tours – For a less intense option, enjoy Boulder’s bike paths with a little battery-charged boost. Guided Electric Cruise Bike Tours is located north of town but has options for sightseeing all over Boulder.
Boulder Creek is a popular spot for locals during the summer with several whitewater sections for tubing, open space for rope-swinging and swimming (tubing season runs from May to August, and depends on water flow).
Arts and Culture
Boulder has one of the best local art scenes in the country. Visit the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, right next to the Dushanbe Teahouse between Arapahoe and Canyon on 13th, or sip wine and beer while viewing the gallery at the Art Bar on Broadway at Spruce Street.
To get your visual and performing arts all in one place, visit the Dairy Arts Center between Pearl and Canyon on 26th. Arrive early to see a concert, dance show, or play in one of the Dairy’s unique venues and enjoy a glass of wine while perusing the galleries. If you visit during the summer, you won’t want to miss an outdoor performance of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival on the CU campus.
Fiske Planetarium and Science Center is a public museum focused on astronomy and astrophysics. The Planetarium is located on the beautiful campus of the University of Colorado, in Boulder, Colorado. They are famous for their 65-foot diameter dome that seats 206 guests.
Boulder is also home to Celestial Seasonings teas and tours are available. Celestial Seasonings is North America’s largest tea manufacturer of herbal teas.
Free Things to do in Boulder
- Hiking. Boulder is a mountain town and hiking is a favorite activity of locals and visitors. From Chautauqua Park on the southern end to Eben G Fine Park on the northern end many in between, there are loads of hiking trails to choose from.
- Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall -take a walk on Pearl Street between Walnut Street and Spruce Street and check out the art exhibits, sculptures, live music and street performers. It’s the perfect place to begin your Boulder experience.
- Drive to Inspiration Point. The Gregory Canyon Trailhead is at the foot of Flagstaff Mountain and the trail travels over 900 vertical feet to come out at Realization Point.
- Tubing Boulder Creek. A popular attraction for locals during the summer with several whitewater sections for tubing, open space for rope-swinging and swimming (tubing season runs from May to August, and depends on water flow).
- The Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour is 45 minutes free tour that includes a walk through the art gallery featuring tea box art, tea sampling of over 90 teas, and an up-close view of the factory where 8 million tea bags are produced daily. Open 7 days a week. Free to the public.
Dinner in Boulder
There are many top-notch restaurants to choose from including Blackbelly and Santo, whose chef-owner, Hosea Rosenberg won Bravo’s Top Chef season 5. The best restaurant with a view and to watch the sunset is Flagstaff House Restaurant located on Flagstaff Mountain. Dushanbe Teahouse is a city landmark. The tea house was shipped from Tajikistan and assembled piece by piece as a gift to the city and serves Middle Eastern food (by reservation).
Boulder is a very casual town. You don’t need to ‘dress up’ to go anywhere. Beyond the above mentions, here are a few more favorites.
- Sherpa Restaurant – Located off of Pearl Street, Sherpa’s is a local favorite for Indian and Tibetan cuisine. There is no better way to nourish yourself after a long day of hiking or shopping than with their fresh, house-made dishes and cozy, casual atmosphere that will warm you up inside and out.
- Carelli’s – For upscale Italian, you can’t do better than Carelli’s. Located on Boulder’s south end, Carelli’s has been serving up classic dishes and cocktails for years, making it a favorite with locals and visitors alike.
- Spruce Farm and Fish at the historic Hotel Boulderado is a great choice for upscale casual. Mike Thom is the Executive Chef and is known for serving seasonal modern New American cuisine with an emphasis on great local meats and fresh fish. You can’t go wrong with the Rocky Mountain Trout sauteed in brown butter or the house-smoked certified Angus beef Prime Rib with rosemary beef au jus. The menu is gluten-free friendly including a house-made chocolate tort with dark cherry coulis and crème Fraiche.
Beer, Wine, Cocktails, Dessert
- Glacier Ice Cream is further out on 28th Street than most tourists venture, but once you get a taste you’ll be glad you made the trek. And you can stop in Boulder’s famous Time Warp Comics, which is just next door.
- The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Store on Pearl Street is both a must-see attraction and a great spot to grab dessert, from delectable fudge to apples covered in every combination of chocolate, caramel, and candy that you can imagine.
- As you walk back toward Pearl Street proper from Rocky Mountain Chocolate, enjoy an Urban Wine Tasting at Silver Vines Winery, only $12 for three glasses.
- Boulder has more than 145 breweries, which means they have more breweries per capita than any other city in the U.S. Avery Brewing Company has been brewing beer in Boulder for over 25 years and has a singular focus on creating the perfect beer, making it a great place to begin your craft beer exploration. Stop in for a brewery tour, to enjoy a pint of White Rascal or one of their many seasonal beers. They have offer a brewpub menu and a dog-friendly patio.
Dispensaries in Boulder
It’s hard to talk about Boulder and not mention marijuana. Colorado is one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana use in the United States. The first retail cannabis stores opened in Colorado on January 1, 2014.
If you are curious about Boulder Colorado dispensaries and checking out the cannabis weed strains available and CBD products the 14er Boulder is a great place to start. There are more than 40 recreational marijuana dispensaries in Boulder, so a quick Google search for “marijuana boulder” or “boulder colorado dispensaries” will give you a lot more info!.
Best Time To Visit Boulder
If you visit from October through March, there’s a good chance you’ll get to enjoy Boulder looking its best, covered in snow! Luckily, you can head up Boulder Canyon and get to Eldora Ski Area in about thirty minutes to experience some of the best slopes for the best value in the region.
If snow’s not your thing, try for mid-to-late-September and plan a mountain drive to see the Aspens turn gold and catch a Buffs football game. The most popular time to visit is definitely the summer when you can spend all day hiking, kayaking, and strolling Pearl Street Mall in the not-too-hot sun.
Air Quality in Boulder Colorado
Boulder County’s air quality is complex because it is affected by the proximity to the City of Denver. It is also affected by smoke from out-of-state wildfires from as far as California. The overall air auality in Boulder Colorado the annual BestPlaces Air Quality Index for the Boulder area is 74 (100=best). The US average is 58.
Fun Facts About Boulder Colorado
- Boulder boasts 360 days of sunshine every year, but even with so few rainy days, it would be hard to cross every single trail and outdoor destination off your list.
- Boulder building ordinances include height restrictions which allows the city to maintain its laid-back look while being one of the most populous in Colorado.
- The annual Bolder Boulder 10k attracts tons of locals as well as elite runners from all over the world looking to prove themselves at high-altitude.
- The first people to live in Boulder were a southern Arapahoe tribe led by Chief Niwot who famously predicted that anyone who visited the area would long to live there.
- Denver, CO may be the mile-high city at 5280 feet above sea level, but Boulder is 200 feet higher. This makes the altitude of boulder 5,328′.
Hotels in Boulder
Hotels in Boulder are expensive, and staying just an exit or two up the highway in Superior or Louisville will be the best bet for your budget, plus you get to enjoy the view of the mountains as you drive into Boulder. Wondering where to stay in Boulder? We’ve got you covered no matter your budget.
- For a low-cost option in town, check out Foot of the Mountain Motel.
- For a mid-range price, Millenium Harvest House and Rodeway Inn & Suites offer quality accommodations right off of 28th Street.
- On the other side of town, Basecamp Boulder is a boutique hotel that caters to outdoor enthusiasts.
- If you want to spend a bit more and be closer to the mountains and historic district, try mid-luxury The Bradley Boulder Inn.
- The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is the best luxury hotel in Boulder and the kind of place everyone should stay at least once in their lives. While the price is high, the in-house spa offerings and the aesthetic of this hotel are well worth the expense.
- The Hotel Boulderado, a 160 room historic hotel, opened in Boulder on New Year’s Day, 1909, and has been an institution ever since. If you’re only going to visit Boulder once, this is the place to stay, right in the middle of the best dining, shopping, and historic neighborhood in the city. The Hotel Boulderado is one of the Historic Hotels of America.
It’s always fun to take a few souvenirs home from a trip. If you are looking for the best Colorado souvenirs in Boulder, this is what we recommend.
- Tea from the teahouse
- Rocky Mountain chocolate
- CU T-shirt
- Locally made and hand-blended spices from Savory Spice Shop.
- Locally brewest coffee from Ampersand Coffee Roasters.
- A growler or 6-pack from a local brewery.
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Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Thinking about visiting Boulder, CO? Still have questions about the best things to do in Boulder CO? Ask your questions in the comments below!
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.