By Aimee Heckel and Jeremiah Thomas
Whether you live in Boulder or are making it your home base for your Colorado vacation, it’s ideally located close to a ton of fantastic staycations, just a short drive away. This fall, plan a vacation within a vacation — a mini staycation over the weekend in a nearby city.
Looking for inspiration? Here are some of our favorite fall staycations close to Boulder.
Hip and Sexy With a View
Denver is a natural staycation destination for Boulderites because it’s so close but also so diverse. Head to Cherry Creek for a hip and sexy vacation with an unbeatable view. The luxurious and quirky Halcyon hotel is one of our favorite places to stay in Colorado; in 2016 it also became the first new hotel to open in Cherry Creek in more than 13 years.
There are many features that make the Halcyon stand out. It’s ideally located right in downtown Cherry Creek, so you can walk to some of Colorado’s finest shops and restaurants. Or take a bike, longboard or Vespa, which you can borrow for free from the hotel’s unique Gear Garage. You can also borrow an old-fashioned camera and the hotel will develop the film and mail you the pics.
Here’s what kind of place the Halcyon is: When you check into your room, instead of a boring reception desk, you check in at The Kitchen Counter (basically, a bar/coffee shop counter), complete with a complimentary espresso drink, wine or beer.
If you’re having trouble letting summer go, head up — to the rooftop. The Halcyon’s rooftop pool is one of the few in Denver. It’s heated and open year-round. The best way to do it: Rent a private cabana, which comes with your own server, who will bring you drinks and snacks all day (can you say dim sum cart?) from Departure Elevated, a modern Asian rooftop restaurant. Try Japanese whiskeys, sakes or innovative cocktails.
Splash in the pool or hot tub and then relax in your covered cabana with a jaw-dropping view of the city skyline and mountain range. Stay all day, if the weather allows (which, in Colorado, it very well may) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
While the Halcyon has multiple delicious restaurants on site, as well as within walking distance, a hip and sexy vaca in Denver isn’t complete without a visit to Larimer Square. This pocket of Denver always has something going on. In the winter: a massive holiday party, complete with carolers, Santa and the Yuletide Window Walk. In the summer there’s the highly popular Dining Al Fresco on Larimer Square, where award-winning chefs and restaurants set up tables outdoors like one big, one-of-a-kind, high-end, block-wide patio. Larimer Square was named one of the USA Today’s top 10 Dining Al Fresco Neighborhoods in the country.
In the fall in Larimer Square, catch live jazz at the Crimson Room, stroll beneath a surreal canopy of lights and make sure you visit Tag, with a local and fresh menu with Asian, Hawaiian and Latin influences. Nestle yourself in Denver’s social artery and prepare to have your taste buds tantalized by unexpected delights. Allow the friendly staff to transport your senses to exotic locations, starting with an octopus so tender, you can cut it with a fork.
Once you have savored the tentacled equivalent of filet mignon, dive into an array of expertly prepared entrees, ranging from salmon swimming in a curry oasis to heavenly ribs. If that wasn’t enough, add the wide range of wine pairings and you might refuse to leave altogether. Each meal is cooked with intention, portioned to deliver satisfied appetites but not bog you down.
At Tag, dessert is an experience rather than a plate. Limiting yourself to one would be remarkable self-control. The rich but light cheesecake is accompanied by a warm peach slice and scoop of ice cream. Drizzle some thyme foam over the bunch.
Tag is a rarity, a warm and inviting ambiance, perfectly set for dates and passionate getaways.
Luxury and Romance
If you’re planning a romantic and glamorous fall staycation, make the Ritz-Carlton Denver your central point. This is one of Colorado’s finest hotels (it’s won the AAA Five-Diamond award seven times, the most of anywhere else in Denver).
Make sure you request one of the 32 Club Level rooms (with cloud-like beds with 400-thread-count linens and panoramic views of the city) and upgrade to get 12-floor Club Lounge access. The Club offers five different food presentations every day, complete with beverages (from coffee to wine to cocktails).
The upgrade costs about $100 a person but can actually be a budget-friendly choice if you fully use the amenities. (Five meals plus drinks and transportation in downtown Denver is going to run you many times that, if you’re frugal.) So you get the feeling of ultra-luxury, plus Ritz-style hospitality (and a cookie bar) (and a candy bar), with some of the best views in Denver, while simplifying your trip.
The Ritz is home to one of Colorado’s favorite steakhouses, Elway’s Downtown (owned by former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway), but don’t overlook Elway’s brunch. If you’re at Elway’s on a Sunday morning, check out the Game Day brunch buffet. Offerings include prime steak and potatoes, omelets, breakfast burritos, bacon and more. Bottomless mimosas or Bloodys kick off game day right, whether or not you have tickets to see the Broncos. If you don’t, Elway’s does stream the Sunday Ticket all day (but of course, right?).
For complete relaxation and romance, take the short stroll over to one of Denver’s other finest hotels, the historic Brown Palace, and book a couple’s mani-pedi at the spa. The Spa at the Brown Palace offers a wide range of services, but fall is the perfect time to give your fingers and toes a polish up before the cold, dry weather hits. Yes, even (especially) for men.
The Brown’s relaxation rooms are stocked with teas, spa water and healthy snacks. Arrive early to spend some time in there (the men’s relaxation room even has a TV), as well as the aromatherapy steam room. Fill your lungs with eucalyptus moisture to began combatting that cold-weather sickness.
Then, let your mind unwind while you sit in the massage chairs and enjoy a foot soak, scrub, mask and paint (if you want it). A Classic Manicure includes a refreshing, exfoliating citrus scrub, heat therapy, a hand and forearm massage and nail care, plus a polish. The trendy colors for fall of 2017 are, surprisingly, a series of darker pastels with grey tones.
Fun fact: The Brown’s spa offers special soaks that draw from the natural, artesian well located 750 feet beneath the hotel.
If steak is on your mind but you want something different than Elway’s, head over to Urban Farmer in LoDo (Lower Downtown). This steakhouse partners closely with local farms, ranches and fisheries to bring an ultra Colorado, rural-chic, seasonally-driven menu to downtown. Here, you can find 7X Beef (basically the best steaks in Colorado). What makes Urban Farmer so unique is not only its emphasis on responsibly sourced food, but its concentration on in-house, whole-animal butchering; the chef uses the entire animal throughout the menu.
Things not to miss: the communal charcuterie station; a roaming cheese cart stocked with high-pedigree, local cheeses (selected by the restaurant’s cheese monger); tableside dishes cooked and plated right in front of you; and the in-house bakery. The atmosphere here is worth the drive. Urban Farmer is set up in a 125-year-old, historic building. You’ll feel immersed in Colorado’s history and agricultural roots, but with a sleek, updated, hip feel. It’s the perfect romantic, fine dining experience — Denver style.
Baseball, Burgers and a Quirky Hotel
For a sporty and casual trip to Denver with a ton of personality, stay at the new Maven Hotel — hand’s down one of Colorado’s coolest hotels, located in LoDo’s Dairy Block micro-district. The Maven is right across from Coors Field, so you can have a free drink in the hotel’s social club (every guest gets one complimentary cocktail per day), play free pinball and then stroll over to see a baseball game (the season runs until November).
The Maven is the official partner hotel of the Colorado Rockies, so ask about its various baseball packages (including one that will even get you access to batting practice and a personal message up on the scoreboard), and if you’re a baseball fan, book the Diamond Suite, a baseball-themed room.
The Maven is artsy, mod and industrial, with art exhibitions throughout (more than 400 original art pieces and interactive installations), rooms with monstrous balconies (a rare gem in Denver) and funky themed rooms and decor. Like a silver Airstream converted into a coffee bar in the lobby.
Top off your laid-back visit in Denver at the 5280 Burger Bar, located right in the Denver Pavilions (hello, great shopping). The menu here boats crazily creative and savory burgers, all made with locally sourced ingredients; everything’s made in house, from the ketchup to cheese. But the highlight here is The Perfect Burger. That’s what it’s named, and that’s what it is. It defies description, so just add it to your Denver bucket list and thank us later.
For nightlife, partake in the latest, hip drink trend: punch. No, not the jungle juice you drank in college, so hold back your dry heaves. Increasingly more bars are taking punch to an exotic, social, next level.
Fun fact: “Punch” supposedly comes from the Hindustani word “panch,” which means “five,” as in there are traditionally five ingredients in punch: alcohol, lemon, sugar, water and tea.
Denver has a variety of cool places to try (or try again) punch. Punch Bowl Social sells $10 flights of four different styles served in tea cups to taste — while bowling and playing vintage games.
Or because punch is meant to share, order a big, vintage pitcher of Elderflower Swizzle from Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen and Bar. This is a mod, more sophisticated twist on punch, combining St. Germain, white rum, fresh-squeezed OJ and pineapple juice, peach bitters and mint. To take it over the top, this drink comes garnished with (wait for it) a bouquet of flowers on top. For reals.
No staycation is complete without Sunday brunch. And while Hearth and Dram doesn’t call its brunch The Perfect Brunch, it should. This hip and cleverly decorated bar and restaurant located steps from Union Station (inside the Hotel Indigo) has mastered the brunch menu, from its fresh, housemade, cream-filled donuts to its bacon steak bowl, stacked with thick slices of bacon, peas, mushrooms, coddled eggs and Bavarian mustard.
Wash it down with the Wake ‘n’ Bacon: cold brew, bourbon and housemade vanilla syrup. Now you can drink your coffee and your cocktail, too.
Here’s a staycation perfectly crafted for the fitness-minded Boulderite: a healthy trip to Colorado Springs, which was recently ranked the No. 2 most desirable city in the nation.
Stay at the Garden of the Gods Collection, a private club and luxury resort located directly across from the famous Garden of the Gods’ towering red rocks, where you can spend all day hiking for free. This resort is connected to a country club with golfing, tennis, a fitness center and multiple swimming pools, including a stunning, adult-only infinity pool with direct mountain views.
The U.S. News & World Report named the Garden of the Gods Collection one of the best resorts in Colorado Springs, which is saying something, since the Springs boasts a handful of pretty incredible lodging options.
A healthy highlight here is the connected 30,000-square-foot International Health and Wellness Center and spa, designed to establish a new model in health care of travelers. This is more than a regular spa. You can meet with physicians, a nutritionist, naturopath, personal trainer, cardiologist, lymphologist and even energetic practitioner to create personalized wellness plans. It’s a merging of Eastern and Western medicine. The center also offers lectures, demos and educational events.
If you have to pick one thing to experience at the center, get a Bod Pod consultation. Bod Pod is an air displacement capsule that measures body composition in the most accurate way possible. (It’s considered the “gold standard” for comparing lean muscle mass vs. body fat, as well as getting a precise resting metabolic rate.) This is the only resort in the Rocky Mountain region where you can experience the Bod Pod. After your reading, a doctor will discuss your results and give you health recommendations.
In the spa, make sure you visit the soothing indoor salt inhalation room for halotherapy and the herbal sauna. Book one of the rarest spa treatments in the state: an Austrian weightless environment bed. The Haslauer Pure Sense Soft Pack Bed treatment claims to provide the equivalent of one full night’s sleep in one “float.” You stretch out on the bed and the bottom slowly drops out, leaving you suspended, waterbed style, while the therapist wraps you in ultra rich creams made with organic honey and nourishing oils. The Cleopatra Milk & Honey Float includes a body wrap and head and face massage — and there’s nowhere else in Colorado you can experience something like this.
While the resort has several restaurants on site (the Grand View Dining Room has the best view of Pikes Peak and the Kissing Camels), it’s worth venturing out to explore Colorado Springs for a day. Like Boulder, the Springs has also been named one of the fittest cities in the nation (by Sunset Magazine), and it’s home to the Olympic Training Center and the tallest “fourteener” in North America, Pikes Peak (14,115 feet). Colorado Springs also has 136 parks, 105 miles of urban trails and 160 miles of park trails.
In town, make sure to stop by a hidden gem restaurant, Shugas. This charming, retro, locally owned restaurant is set in a historic building with a great back patio. In colder weather, make sure you try the mouthwatering, spicy Brazilian shrimp soup, made with coconut milk, shrimp, ginger, peanuts, jalapeno, cilantro and lime. The decor here is so fun and odd, you can entertain yourself by simply looking around.
Leaves, Brews and Views
Here’s a quintessential Colorado fall staycation. Head to up the mountain to Breckenridge and go on a leaf-peeping tour, followed by a brew tour. Beer and the golden aspen leaves are two of Colorado’s most famous fall attractions. As a bonus: Before the ski season kicks off, Colorado’s ski towns tend to be less chaotic — and cheaper. On the downside, some businesses have shortened hours in the off-season, so plan on an early night.
Stay at Main Street Station by Wyndham, located right at the mountain base, and request a room with mountain views or a room on the Main Street side, overlooking Breck’s fantastic downtown. This hotel’s location is its prime draw, but it also features a eucalyptus steam room, six hot tubs, a heated indoor/outdoor pool with mountain views and even a small, on-site movie theater. The rooms come with fully-equipped kitchens if you’d rather not leave the comfort of your own private, little getaway.
The Main Street Station is a few steps away from the beloved Breckenridge Brewery and Pub. Take a fun tour of the brewery to learn how the beer is made, and then grab a seat in the dining room or patio (if weather permits) for fantastic alpine views. The atmosphere is family-friendly, and the staff is a friendly family. Relax while tasting some rare and fall seasonal beers, like the Autumn Ale, a warm and toasty German lager-style brew blended with American ale, and the limited Nitro Pumpkin Spice Latte Stout.
Really, the only way a pumpkin spice latte can be better is if you make it a nitro stout. This new, seasonal brew is made with real pumpkin and cold-pressed coffee beans and has the same smooth texture of a latte, but with dark-roasted malts.
Don’t shy away from the food because it’s in a brewery. The Brew Pub should not be held guilty by association. It has such surprisingly delicious food, it’s even good sober. The smoked salmon salad deserves its own food group with how tantalizing its diverse flavors are, and the Ruby Red Trout will leave you wanting seconds and demanding thirds. The Brew Pub crew is so passionate about their products that they have an ongoing group text, always discussing ways to perfect menu items and better pair each one with a partner beer.
The mountain views are spectacular from town but even better up close. Head out for a leaf-viewing tour along some of the best routes for witnessing the changing of the leaves. Even if you’re a Colorado native, it feels like you’re visiting a faraway land where new colors are being invented right before your eyes.
The moderately difficult 3.4-mile Minnie Mine Trail loop includes a hike through the forest and up to a historic mining site, a former gold dredge. Check out the mill jig exhibit to learn how miners used to pan for gold here. However, you won’t have to hunt hard to find the gold in the aspen trees.
Reiling Dredge Trail and Boreas Pass, up through the Aspen Alley trailhead, are two more local favorites for hiking in the fall. Boreas Pass, originally the country’s highest narrow-gauge railroad, is perched 11,481 feet above sea level. After the rail shut down in the late ‘30s, it became a road that’s lined with aspens and jaw-dropping views of Breck and the area’s mountain ranges. The Reiling Dredge is a fascinating and humbling piece of history to experience. Marvel at the well-kept secret, hidden away in the mountains where the mountaineers of the late 1800s began their journey, planting the seeds that grew into the beloved city.
Before leaving Breckenridge, make sure to grab a coffee from Cabin Coffee Co. and dedicate some time to walking around town. This coffee shop provides the fresh-roasted beans for the Breckenridge Brewery’s Pumpkin Spice Latte Stout. Once you’ve had a temporary fill of beer (the craving quickly returns) we’d advise “the Tumbleweed” to catch your taste buds off guard and satisfy your sweet tooth.
Backcountry Adventures and Historic Sites
If you have a little more time and want to venture a bit farther from Boulder, a trip to Southern Colorado feels like a world away but is about a six- to seven-hour drive. We love the Durango-Silverton area during the fall.
Book a thrilling, off-road adventure with Rock Pirates Backcountry Adventures, and explore the San Juan Mountains in cool, Polaris RZR side-by-sides, or on the road in three-wheel Slingshot motorcycles. Cruise through ghost towns (like famous Animas Forks) and past old mines, up the Continental Divide and across mountain passes; look for wildlife and see the changing of the leaves from an unparalleled vantage point. You can choose different tour packages and vehicles, based on what you want to see.
“The program is taking off just in time for riders to experience fall foliage and the amazing views along the San Juan Skyway in September and October. It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year to explore Silverton,” says Lizzie Loyer, Rock Pirates owner and operator.
Rock Pirates provides access to more than 150 miles of trails of various levels of excitement.
“With the Alpine Loop encircling the heart of the San Juan Mountains and the Continental Divide, riders are able to access and experience terrain unlike anywhere else,” says DeAnne Gallegos, the executive director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Then, spend time in the hidden historic gem, Silverton, which feels like traveling back in time. Stay in the Strater Hotel or the Victorian-style Grand Imperial . Both are charming, ideally located options that will put you in the heart of the action.