High Heels to Hiking Boots
Savoring all the charms of Boulder and Denver.
Written by Bridget Williams
Dramatically nestled up to the Rocky Mountains, Denver bills itself as an ideal basecamp for myriad outdoor adventures. While the Mile High City has served in that capacity for me on multiple occasions, for our most recent visit, we utilized its cosmopolitan charms as a well-earned reward after a few hiking-focused days in nearby Boulder.
With the lowest obesity rates in the nation and omnipresent opportunities to engage with the outdoors, every time I'm in Colorado, I feel healthy by association. In addition, there is a unique confluence of affluence and outdoorsy in places like Boulder, creating an upscale "work hard, play hard" environment.
Look no further than Pearl Street, the retail heart of this city of 105,000, to see upmarket outfitters including Fjällräven, Black Diamond, and a dozen more who've set up shop there. In a recent article for 5280 magazine, Scott Crabtree, a commercial realtor with The Colorado Group, called the street the "Rodeo Drive of outdoor apparel." And, with Boulder's cost of living coming in around 42% above the national average, it consistently ranks as the most affluent medium-sized city in the United States. What this means for visitors is outstanding food, wine, and craft beer offerings; top-notch shopping with lots of independently owned outlets; a thriving arts scene; and miles and miles of trails for exploring by foot or bike.
Want to park your car and forget about it for a few days? If so, check-in at the award-winning and locally owned St. Julien Hotel & Spa (stjulien.com), situated in the shadows of the Flatirons in the heart of downtown Boulder. The hotel's public spaces and 201 newly renovated guest rooms boast Arts and Crafts-style architecture and a color palette that captures the essence of fall in the Rockies. For the best views of the Flatiron Mountains, book a 400-square-foot King Veranda room.
Property amenities include the 10,000-square-foot Spa at St. Julien and fitness facility, a 50-foot indoor lap pool, Jill's Restaurant & Bistro (jillsboulder.com), T-Zero Cocktail Bar, and ample indoor and outdoor meeting, gathering, and event space. As evening approaches, there's a noticeable uptick in energy as locals and visitors order a cocktail and gather in the lobby's comfortable seating areas and on the terrace under the shade of patio umbrellas. A striking illuminated onyx bar defines T-Zero; the stone reappears in the open kitchen of Jill's, where the woodfired oven is the focal point.
The kitchen at Jill's sources its ingredients through partnerships with local farms, creameries, and ranches, from its on-site garden, and Boulder's seasonal Farmer's Market – conveniently located across the street. The upscale casual menu at Jill's offers something for everyone, including various vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Tip: if your order the Brussels sprouts, request a side of their truffle aioli for dipping, and thank me later.
The hotel is less than two blocks from Pearl Street, and some of Denver's best restaurants, including Frasca Food & Wine (frascafoodandwine.com), Corrida (corridaboulder.com), SALT (saltboulder.com), Steakhouse No. 316 (steakhouse316. com), The Kitchen (thekitchenbistros.com), and Oak at Fourteenth (oakatfourteenth.com). A visit to the Boulder Dusanbe Teahouse (boulderteahouse.com) is a must, even it's just for a look around. This ornate and colorful Persian teahouse created over three years by more than 40 artisans was a gift from a sister city in Tajikistan.
In the opposite direction from Pearl Street and about a mile (uphill on the outbound) is the Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark at the foot of the Flatirons where some 40 miles of hiking trails can be accessed. Boulder County owns or oversees more than 100,000 acres of open space, and there are three dozen trailheads within the city limits, making it easy for hikers of all abilities to hit the trails. Visit bouldercoloradousa.com/hikeplanner/ for help planning your outdoor adventure. For a short but challenging hike with great views, check out the out-and-back Mount Sanitas Peak trail.
If shopping is your preferred cardio, you and your wallet can get a workout at Todd Reed Jewelry (toddreed.com); Weekends, a locally owned purveyor of men's and women's contemporary and designer clothing (weekendsboulder.com); Peppercorn (peppercorn.com), offering everything for the home; Liberty Puzzles (libertypuzzles.com) for whimsical wooden puzzles crafted in Boulder; Two Hands Paperie for unique stationery (twohandspaperie.com); Boulder Bookstore (boulderbookstore.net), a local institution since 1973; Colorado Multisport (coloradomultisport.com), a playground for triathletes; and Neptune Mountaineering (neptunemountaineering.com), a locally owned source for all things outdoor.
After a few days of outdoor excursions, we headed to the urban jungle of Denver's Cherry Creek neighborhood to experience the newly opened Clayton Members Club & Hotel (claytondenver.com), a first-of-its-kind property in the city. When we checked in at the chic 63-room boutique hotel, the front desk attendant referred to the property as a "culinary playground," and, as we were pleased to discover throughout our stay, he was spot on.
Orchestrated by New York-based firm AvroKO, the entirety of the property has a sexy mid-century-inspired design, punctuated by a top-drawer collection of contemporary art. From the moment you grasp the leather-wrapped door handles at the entrance, you know you are in for a thoughtfully planned sensory experience. Guest rooms and suites, including the two-floor Isabella Penthouse, are all exceptionally appointed. I don't usually get excited about toiletries, but if a roll in the hay smells at all like the "Cowboy Grass" line from DS & Durga, then count me in!
Hotel guests are privy to the activities and amenities of the Clayton Members Club. Member spaces encompass a second-floor members' restaurant with all-day service; a sprawling subterranean fitness center; The Parlor, serving light bites accompanied by a zeroABV beverage program and an extensive natural/organic wine list; a coworking lounge; and a rooftop pool, bar and restaurant. At any given time of day, each of the spaces was populated with well-coiffed individuals whose panache was on par with the swank surroundings. The Club's robust roster of member events—more than 150 annually and frequently created by Member Collaborators— is designed to "highlight the collision of arts, culture, and activism, entrepreneurial endeavors, and ultimately, the community's collective desire to live a more meaningful and impactful life."
The hotel boasts a trio of public culinary outlets. Bright and airy, OAK Market is a daytime eatery with sidewalk seating. Even if you aren't a breakfast person, I guarantee you'll be rethinking that after eyeing their tempting offerings, both decadent and healthy. Conjuring speakeasy ambiance, Five Nines cocktail lounge offers an intimate stage for jazz, acoustic and spoken word performances Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
Our dinner at Of A Kind was a culinary tour de force. Executive chef Brandon Duley's menu of Mediterranean and California coastal fare was beautifully plated and pleasing from first sight to the last bite. Engaging and entertaining service made the experience even more elevated.
Much like our experience in Boulder, once we left our keys with the valet, we didn't retrieve them until it was time to head for the airport. While my idea of what's within walking distance is substantially more generous than most, Cherry Creek, just south of the city's largest park, is Denver's premier upscale shopping and dining district. There are plenty of places to eat and shop within a few blocks of the hotel.
Further afoot are several exciting neighborhoods with distinct personalities. The Denver Art Museum is the anchor of the Golden Triangle Creative District. Refuel after a morning of ogling art at Leven Deli (eatleven.com), a high-ceilinged space loaded with greenery. The naturally leavened rye loaf that forms the foundation of their classic pastrami is super yummy. Be sure to get there right before noon, or else you'll find yourself in a line that snakes down the block.
The RiNo (River North) Art District is considered the hotspot for creative types, evidenced by scores of vibrant murals created during CRUSH WALLS, Denver's annual international street art festival. One heavily hued alleyway leads to Noble Riot (nobleriot.com), a wine bar specializing in Pét-nat and orange wines. Unfamiliar with both, our server provided us with fascinating insight and made it fun to try something completely foreign. The absence of pretense is refreshing, and you can't help but smile when you spy the "Weirdo Bubbs" heading on their menu.
We capped off our evening and our trip at Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club (nocturnejazz.com), a place that tugs hard on my nostalgia for the silver screen version of date night. Seated along the rail in the second-floor balcony, we had a great vantage point to watch the quartet play an engaging mix of familiar standards and original pieces, as well as survey the eclectic crowd spanning all age groups. Their three-course dinner is designed to be an integral part of the experience and was as well-composed as the music. It was our first time enjoying live music in over a year, and it was clear from the palpable energy passing back-and-forth between musicians and audience that everyone was keen for the return.
Outside the club, we were quick to note the sounds of laughter, a distant rhythmic drum beat, and thumping bass emanating from a bar across the street. Similar to the improvisation that defines many a jazz set, the seemingly discordant sounds of a fully alive neighborhood combined to make sweet music to our ears.