Mountain Biking

15 things to do in Boulder, Colorado, for the best local experience – Lonely Planet Travel News

Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is famously known as a destination for nature lovers looking to hike, bike, climb and ski in the nearby mountains. Despite its well-earned reputation as a hub for outdoor adventures, Boulder also has a lively downtown center with dazzling shopping and dining options, a famed microbrewery scene, and several popular galleries, museums, and theaters for appreciating local arts and culture.

You might be looking to fill your Boulder itinerary with activities in the mountains, concerts and outdoor events, food and drink tours, nights on the town, or a little bit of everything – here are some of the best things to do in Boulder.

Take a stroll down Pearl Street

Pearl Street is the heart of downtown Boulder and home to some of the best shopping and dining options in town. The colorful, brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare stretches on for six blocks and is lined with historic buildings that have been converted to coffee shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and more. Street performers and food carts line the street daily, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll, a bite to eat, and prime people watching.

See Pearl Street at its liveliest at the street festivals and events held here throughout the year, including local favorites like Bands on the Bricks and Boulder Fall Fest

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A group of hikers follow a trail on a sunny day heading towards huge, pointed, rocky outcrops
Follow Chautauqua hiking trails to The Flatirons © Page Light Studios / Getty Images

Hike to the Flatirons from Chautauqua

Chautauqua Park is the starting point for the most popular hikes that get you up close and personal with The Flatirons. These slanting slabs of sandstone have become Boulder’s most recognizable landmark and a symbol of the town, and they are a sight to behold in every season.

Hiking trails at Chautauqua range from easy to steep and strenuous. Consider the Enchanted Mesa or the Chautauqua Loop Trail for a quick, easy outing, or Royal Arch Trail for a tough but rewarding trek to a massive stone arch. Pack a picnic to eat back in the park once you’re finished or enjoy the views during lunch at the historic Chautauqua Dining Hall.

Have afternoon tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is one of the most unique tourist destinations in town. Presented to the city in 1987 as a gift from the mayor of Dushanbe, Tajikistan to celebrate the establishment of sister city ties, the tea house was shipped to Boulder piece-by-piece and assembled next to the city’s central park and the Boulder Creek Path.

The tea house is a great spot to spend a peaceful afternoon and recharge after a morning of outdoor activities or exploring town. Enjoy any of the dozens of types of teas available and a bite to eat while marveling at the intricately painted ceiling or taking in the views from the lush patio.

Traverse the Boulder Creek Path

The Boulder Creek Path is a multi-use scenic trail that winds through the heart of Boulder for approximately 5.5 miles, connecting many of the city’s main attractions. Accessible by bikers, walkers, runners, and skaters year-round, the path is one of the best ways to experience a variety of picturesque Boulder landscapes – like the iconic Flatirons and beautiful Boulder Creek. It also connects many of the city’s main parks, such as Scott Carpenter Park and Eben G Fine Park, making it a great afternoon activity before a picnic lunch. 

Looking to explore the path by bike? Check out nearby bike shops like University Cycles for a rental or look out for the B-cycle bikeshare stations situated along the creek path. After downloading the B-cycle App, you can rent a bikeshare for as little as $2 for a half hour, or $8 for an entire day.

Introducing Colorado

Try some tricks at Valmont Bike Park

Colorado is a major hub for mountain biking, and Boulder is no exception. While there are several mountain biking trails around town, one of the best spots to ride for beginners and families with kids is Valmont Bike Park. Located less than 10 minutes away from downtown by car, this 42-acre park features several well-maintained mountain biking courses of varying difficulties. There are easier options for younger children and beginners, as well as several courses where you can pick up speed around turns or practice jumps and other tricks. After you’ve finished on the trails, rest and refuel with lunch in the park’s beautiful picnic area while watching other bikers out on the course.  

Sample the season’s bounty at Boulder County Farmers Market

A trip to Boulder simply wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Boulder County Farmers Market – one of the best ways to experience the city like a local. Every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon from April through November, local foodies and tourists alike flock to 13th Street (just a few blocks from Pearl Street) to buy seasonal produce, meats, cheeses, flowers, and more from the farmers who grew them just a few miles away.

The market also features a food court and several booths for local organic and natural food brands – an industry for which Boulder is the hub. Take your time perusing the market and sampling the seasonal offerings, but try to get there early to avoid long lines and larger crowds.

Quench your thirst at Avery Brewing Company

Avery Brewing Company is a local favorite craft brewery with a massive outdoor patio, upbeat atmosphere, and a stellar brewpub menu. For passionate beer enthusiasts, one of the best parts of the Avery experience is that you can tour the on-site tap room to get a closer look at how your beer was made. Avery also offers tours of its entire brewery, where you can witness the beer-making process from production to bottle – all while sampling several products along the way. It’s a great place for a tasty and interactive happy hour to kick off your evening in town!

Two young men stand triumphantly on top of a huge rock that they have climbed
Eldorado Canyon State Park is a top destination for hikers, bikers, and climbers © Patrick Orton / Getty Images

Spend a day outside at Eldorado Canyon State Park

Many tourists visiting Boulder opt to group their trip with a visit to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, located a short 45-minute drive north of town. However, the popularity of the national park has skyrocketed in recent years, and reservations are now required (and highly competitive) for summer visitation. Luckily, a fantastic alternative to the national park is located just 20 minutes south of downtown Boulder: Eldorado Canyon State Park. This unsung gem is a hiking, biking, climbing, and trail running paradise. Check out trails like Doudy Draw, Marshall Mesa, or the Continental Divide Overlook for incredible views of the Flatirons and the Continental Divide in any season.

See local art at NoBo First Fridays

The North Boulder neighborhood has recently been developed and rebranded into NoBo, a trendy area clustered around modern apartment complexes and artists’ galleries. On the first Friday of every month, NoBo puts on its First Fridays art walk from 6-9pm, where visitors can explore the studios, galleries, and creative businesses of the art district on a self-guided tour. The event features live music, demos, food trucks, and special activities at several locations. This is a great place for art lovers to experience the local creative scene, and it’s also a stellar option for a date night or a warmer winter evening.

Beat the summer heat by tubing down Boulder Creek

Another popular way to enjoy Boulder Creek during the summer months is to tube your way down with friends and a cool drink in tow. It can get up to 100ºF (38ºC) at this time of year and while the lack of humidity helps, the high-altitude sun can be brutal in the afternoons. The creek is the perfect place to cool off, with ample shade from the trees that line the path. You can hop in at any point along the Boulder Creek Path, but locals typically recommend starting from the grassy park areas near the Boulder Public Library.

Snowboarders ride a ski lift at on a bright, clear, sunny day
A winter visit to Boulder means downhill skiing or snowboarding at Eldora Mountain Ski Resort © Hoptocopter / Getty Images

Enjoy winter fun at nearby Eldora Mountain Ski Resort

One of the best things to do during a winter visit to Boulder is to head up to nearby Eldora Mountain Ski Resort for a day of skiing and fun in the snow. The mountain is only a 35-minute drive from downtown Boulder, so it’s easy to spend just a half day at the resort and still have time to explore town or do another activity later in the afternoon. And while Eldora is primarily a downhill skiing mountain, there’s also cross-country skiing, skate skiing, and snowshoeing at Eldora’s Nordic Center.

Visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a climate research center and science museum with a variety of interactive exhibits, lectures, and programs that all visitors can access for free. It’s a great place for families with kids to learn about our galaxy, the atmosphere, weather, and the local environment. NCAR is situated atop a beautiful mesa that offers incredible views of town and the surrounding mountain peaks, so it has also been made into a trailhead for some of the most popular hikes in town, like Bear Peak and Mesa Trail. Pop into the museum on your way back from a hiking excursion, or stop by before your start your trek to learn about the environment you’re about to be immersed in.

Experience the excellent local food scene

Boulder’s food scene is top-notch and well-known for restaurants that champion local and organic ingredients sourced from nearby farmers. Experiencing a meal out is a must, and Pearl Street is home to several award-winning options. Try Pizzeria Locale for artisanal wood-fired pies, The Kitchen for farm-to-table bistro-style eats, Bartaco for upscale street tacos, and Leaf Vegetarian for delicious and diverse vegetarian fare. Off Pearl Street, Zoe Ma Ma Chinese restaurant and Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage are two hot spots that have each been featured on Food Network – both great options for evening take out.

Join backyard happy hour at The Rayback Collective

The Rayback Collective is the local hangout spot of choice year-round. It’s essentially a beer garden, food truck lot, live music venue, and cafe all in one concept – the perfect place to unwind with friends to kick off an evening in town. Food truck options rotate regularly and Rayback even puts on a Vegan Night once a month. Check the website or social media account in advance if you’re curious about what’s being served. The brews and cocktails are also outstanding, and there is a variety of non-alcoholic options too. It’s a spot you won’t want to miss for an authentically Boulder experience.

Watch a Shakespeare performance under the stars

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a prominent annual event that’s hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder, drawing thousands of visitors to the city every summer. On an open-air stage with views of the mountains in the background, actors will perform several of Shakespeare’s most famous shows under the stars. This is one of the best and most unique things to do in town if you are visiting during the summer. You can enjoy a tasty dinner before your show at the Shakespeare Garden or pack a picnic basket for munching during the show.