This is one of Boulder’s top celebrations. It’s the biggest community festival that takes place on the Pearl Street Mall.
Every summer, the brick-lined pedestrian mall becomes a bustling tourist hot spot. And every fall, after the bulk of tourists drift out of town, the Pearl Street Mall returns to a local hang-out. That’s when the Boulder Fall Fest kicks off.
Therefore, it’s a totally Boulder party — for Boulderites, by Boulderites. Of course, fall tourists are more than welcome. But there’s a distinct local feeling to this bash that sets it apart from any other event around.
The Fall Fest draws upwards of 80,000 revelers to four and a half full blocks of the mall for free live music, food, a Biergarten, family activities and tons of shopping.
This year’s festival, Sept. 15-17, marks the 30th anniversary. In honor of the ‘80s when it started, a Friday night performer is a Police tribute band called Message in a Bottle.
But organizers wanted to give a nod to the local feeling, too, so another performer is the local Wendy Wood Band.
Other performers throughout the weekend include Native Station and Zen Mustache.
The Boulder Fall Fest centers around the 1300 block of Pearl, near the Boulder County Courthouse (that’s where you’ll find the performance stage). Grab an Avery Brewing Co. beer and have a picnic on the courthouse lawn (ahem, how often can you drink booze at the courthouse?). Bring the little ones and let them scramble up the climbing wall, bouncy houses and bungee jumps.
Local tip: Save money by coming on Friday, when kids’ wristbands are just $15 for unlimited activities.
Beyond microbrews, there’s also wine and legendary margaritas from the Rio Grande restaurant. Wash it down with food from Boulder Bowls, Falafel King, McDevitt Taco Supply and Fast Eddie’s Hot Dogs (a traditional staple on the mall).
An Excuse to Shop
In addition, during the Fall Fest, the popular Firefly Handmade Markets sets up its curated fall market on the mall, featuring about 100 talented local artists who make everything from accessories to skin care to fine art to home goods to clothes. Everything here is handmade and high quality.
The Firefly market started in 2010 and organizes pop-up shops throughout the year. It’s constantly evolving and changing, so you never know what gems you might find. About a quarter of vendors per market are new and emerging.
It’s fun to browse the one-of-a-kind souvenirs of your time in Boulder and also have an excuse to pop into the many shops that line the mall, says Anna Salim, spokesperson for the Downtown Boulder Partnership.
She says some locals avoid the mall in the summer, due to the tourist traffic, and they might be surprised to see all of the new businesses and restaurants that have recently opened up. Fun newbies to check out include Eureka (a locally sourced kitchen with small-batch whiskey and cocktails) and bartaco (tacos, margaritas, tequila) on the west end.
Other new businesses in downtown this summer:
- Kiwi Boutique, with affordably priced clothes and accessories
- Nani Nalu Beachwear Boutique, selling swim and resort wear
- Warby Parker, selling modern glasses
- Truman Barber Co., a traditional barber shop
- Boulder Beer on Walnut, the second location in town for this craft brewery
- French Quarter Brasserie, because Boulder loves its French food
- The North Face with its popular outdoor wear
- Emmerson, a new restaurant
- Canoe Club, a stylish men’s clothing shop
- Elison Rd., a women’s clothing boutique with a Cali vibe
- Le Pops, all about artisanal, innovative popsicles
“There are a ton of fests like the Fall Fest these days, but this is one of the older ones. It’s been around along time,” Salim says. “It’s not your run-of-the-mill, summertime fest. It’s focused on our local community. It’s about the Boulder locals coming out, enjoying their downtown.”
Local tip: Parking is free in the city’s parking garages on weekends.