Growing up, I spent a great deal of time in Boulder with my parents. We especially loved going to Boulder early on a Sunday morning. We’d start with a stroll along Boulder Creek Path, grab brunch at SALT (it was one of my mom’s favorites) and wander Pearl Street Mall for the remainder of the afternoon.
Boulder is fantastic for many reasons, one being its proximity to Denver. Visitors with a rental car can easily get to Boulder from Denver in 45 minutes, and those without a rental car can hop on the RTD Route FF1: Denver to Boulder flyer and get to Boulder just as quickly. Additionally, Boulder is an incredibly active town and boasts 155 miles of hiking trails and has a small town vibe despite its population of over 108,000.
Today, I don’t spend nearly as much time in Boulder as I’d like, but it’s a place I always recommend to people visiting Colorado for the first time because it captures the best of our state.
Below is a recommendation for one day in Boulder, Colorado.
A morning hike in Boulder
On the weekends parking is a bit of a nightmare at most of the places listed below. Beat the crowds and beat the heat by arriving at your trailhead early in the morning. Remember to bring water and sunscreen!
First and Second Flatiron Hike
If you’re looking for a view of the iconic Boulder Flatirons, the First and Second Flatiron Hike is great. Fair warning: It’s difficult, steep and often very crowded. I’d recommend this trail for seasoned hikers or rock climbers. For more information on this hike, visit AllTrails.com and sign in with your Facebook account.
Flagstaff Road Trail
A drive up Flagstaff Mountain alone is worth it, but hiking it is even better. The views of Boulder from Flagstaff are pretty incredible. If you are in from out of town and looking for a great view, consider Flagstaff. While it’s not nearly the elevation of the Rocky Mountains, it’s a good quick fix. Flagstaff Road Trail is a 3.9 mile moderately difficult loop.
Royal Arch Trail
The Royal Arch Trail hike comes highly recommended by Elora, a local to Boulder. She mentioned the trail in the Growing Up In Boulder, CO blog post last month in which I asked her about her favorite local spots. Elora says this hike is difficult, but the views are worth it.
For more trail options in Boulder recommended by a seasoned hiker, check out Avery Stonich’s post, A Quick and Dirty Guide to Some of Boulder’s Best Hiking.
Brunch or lunch in Boulder
After your morning hike, you may want a bite to eat. While Pearl Street Mall is full of dining options, I recommend staying away from the mall until you’re ready to commit; once you park near Pearl Street Mall, it’s a shame to give up your parking spot just to come back later to find another.
Chatauqua Dining Hall
I have fond memories of the Dining Hall next to the Chatauqua trails. We came here occasionally for weekend brunch and it always felt so fancy! As a teenager, I refused to dress up for Sunday brunch and wore a shirt with an ice cream cone on it that said, “Lick that shit.” Coincidentally, that’s the last time my parents took me to brunch at the Dining Hall.
I will always promote Cheba Hut because it’s one of my all time favorites. If you’re looking for a delicious toasted sub, stop by Cheba Hut on The Hill. I recommend The White Widow. Read more about Cheba Hut in my review.
While you’re driving around Boulder, be sure to keep an eye out for historical landmarks. Gold Seekers established the first non Native American settlement in Boulder County in 1858. Boulder built its first schoolhouse in 1860 at the corner of Walnut and 15th Street and the railroad depot was constructed on Canyon Boulevard and 14th Street.
JonBenet Ramsey House
For those who are unaware, JonBenet Ramsey was a young girl who was allegedly kidnapped from her parent’s home in Boulder. Her body was found the next day in the basement of their home. The case was controversial and highly publicized, making the home and the family a spectacle in the community. Today, the home has different owners and is not open to the public.
The University of Colorado
The University of Colorado is a large part of the community of Boulder, which is immediately apparent when you enter Boulder by the CU Buffs paraphernalia all over the city. You don’t need to be a prospective or current student to enjoy a walking tour of the campus; it’s fun to just wander through and marvel at the beautiful architecture.
For a list of places in Boulder County listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Places, click here.
You’ll find a variety of walking and biking tours in Boulder, but very few indoor tours. If you’re one of the unfortunate few to visit Boulder on a rainy or snowy day, the Celestial Seasonings tour is a must-see. Otherwise, you will be pressed to find indoor activities in Boulder.
Celestial Seasonings Tour
I am a big fan of the free Celestial Seasonings tour. It’s great for all ages and is one of the few fun indoor activities in Boulder. Start by sampling several of their most popular teas and then watch an informational video. Finish with a brief tour of the factory and a pit stop in the mint room which is sure to clear your sinuses!
Front Range Ride Guides Ltd.
The Front Range Ride Guides bike tour of Boulder’s trails in a great activity for families. All experience levels are welcome as the tour can be tailored to your capabilities.
The breweries in Boulder are all wonderful, but it’s difficult to get from one to the other without driving so we usually only visit one or two in a day. Below are a few of my favorite breweries in Boulder.
Avery Brewing Co.
Avery is dog friendly and has an incredible patio! The astroturf makes it very comfortable to sit on the ground, play yard games and treat it like your own backyard. Be warned — there’s little shade and it’s tricky to get a table on the weekends. We decided to offer half of our table to another couple and loved getting to know them. We even sampled each others beers!
Sanitas Brewing Company
This place is so fun! We love to go to Sanitas on a sunny afternoon for a couple of drinks and yard games. They have a pretty sweet bocce ball setup out back and my niece (who was 3-years-old at the time) loved to throw the balls and explore.
Twisted Pine Brewing Company
Twisted Pine is one of my favorite spots in Boulder. Their food is remarkable and their beer selection is great. I am still dreaming of their Mediterranean pizza – YUM. They also have a nice deck area for outdoor seating. Colorado tip: always opt for outdoor seating if the weather is nice!
Fate Brewing Company
Fate is one of my family’s go-tos when we’re in Boulder. The restaurant has such a wonderful vibe and everything on the menu is delicious. This is one of the few places that I don’t have a usual food and drink order, I just get whatever is sounding good at the time knowing I’ll be happy with it regardless.
Southern Sun Pub and Brewery
We just visited Southern Sun a few weeks ago and were very impressed! The atmosphere is really laid back. It was the perfect stop after a hike. Their hot wings were incredible, probably the best I’ve ever had. Remember to bring cash. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a trip to their ATM or request Karma Check — a take home check that mail back with your payment.
Boulder Beer Co
Surprisingly, I have never been to Boulder Beer despite hearing amazing things about it and loving their beer when I’m at local restaurants. Boulder Beer is conveniently located on Walnut close to the Pearl Street Mall — definitely worth a visit!
The Post Brewing Company
I’ve never been to Post, but I am recommending it because of its proximity to the Pearl Street Mall and its reputation for delicious home cooked food. Plus, it appeared on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives so that’s pretty cool.
Pearl Street Mall
Pearl Street Mall might be the most popular tourist attraction in Boulder. I’m always careful to recommend tourist traps… but it’s worth a visit during your trip. Yes, it’s packed with out-of-towners, but even the locals love a trip to Pearl Street Mall to people watch and experience the magic of Boulder.
The street performers are a big highlight of Pearl Street, and can be found on nearly every street at all hours on the weekends.
On our most recent visit to Pearl Street Mall we saw David “Zip Code Man” Rosdeitcher. He is one of my all time favorite street performers because he can recall zip codes from all over the country (and the world!) and can even identify restaurants known in the area. My husband has a particularly tricky zip code from a tiny town in California, so I begged him to volunteer to be a part of his act. You can see my husband on the left of the photo below.
Shops along Pearl Street Mall
When it comes to shopping on Pearl Street Mall, you’ll have a mix of unique to Colorado stores and chains. In the main Pearl Street corridor prices are a little inflated, but most everything is beautifully presented. Shopping on Pearl Street is an experience unlike shopping in a standard shopping mall.
Restaurants and Bars along Pearl Street Mall
To be perfectly honest, I am not a big fan of dining on the Pearl Street Mall. I find it to be over-priced and overrated. However, I will say that grabbing a drink on the rooftop of Lazy Dog Sports Bar and Grill brings back happy memories of summer evenings with my family.
This blog is a lot to take in, but I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible to give you many options for one day in Boulder. If you only have a few hours in the area, opt for a hike. You can drink and shop anywhere in the world, but the Flatirons are unique to Boulder and should be top priority for any visitor.
Thanks for reading,