Travel Guide: Discovering Fort Collins
Old Town Fort Collins, Colo. is so quintessentially Americana that it inspired the Hollywood art director who created Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.
The walkable historic district is as charming and friendly as ever, full of independent retailers and homegrown brands to explore. Aside from the Disney connection, Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, some of the best craft beer in the country and great live music every night of the week. Music fans should consider visiting in August for NewWestFest, a free festival featuring tons of emerging Colorado talent.
Just an hour’s drive north of Denver, it’s easy to get here no matter where you’re flying in from, and between shopping, outdoor activities and the plethora of restaurants and breweries, you’ll want to stay awhile.
Where To Stay
$: The Solarium International Inn and Hostel is owned by sisters Chelsea and Elly Gressman, passionate about sharing their love of Fort Collins with visitors at an affordable price-point. Décor is happy and bright, with both private and dorm-style shared rooms. There’s a botanical courtyard and in-house yoga studio along with bikes available for rent.
$$: The Armstrong Hotel just completed a top-to-bottom renovation and the 45-room boutique hotel is looking more dapper than ever. Since opening in 1923, the hotel housed the first chapter of the American Automobile Association and was used as an army barracks during World War II. Don’t forget to say hi to Oreo, the house cat, when you check in.
$$$: The Elizabeth Hotel is a Marriott Autograph Collection property that opened in December 2017 and it’s a music lover’s dream. All 164 rooms have a Crosley record player, and you can checkout vinyl records and musical instruments like ukuleles, guitars and keyboards from the lending library. Plus, there’s often live music at the Sunset Lounge open-air rooftop bar and at Magic Rat. The furnishings here are luxe and service is enthusiastic.
What To Do
There may not be any 14ers nearby, but there are plenty of more moderate leisurely hikes, and fishing in nearby state parks and national forests. The Cache la Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally designated “Wild and Scenic” River and it’s a great place for whitewater rafting with Class I to Class V rapids for every level of experience.
Within Old Town Fort Collins, the shopping is excellent. Otterbox has its only brick-and-mortar retail store here and you can print a bespoke phone case with any photo from your phone – something you certainly can’t do online. Topo Designs and Akinz are a couple more locally designed and screen-printed companies with Colorado’s distinct brand of casual, which is both comfortable and cute. If only all fashion could be so laidback!
As Colorado’s craft beer capital, you have to visit at least a few of the 26 breweries in Fort Collins. New Belgium is the biggest, offering a 90-minute brewery tour with beer sampling. For small-batch breweries that you won’t find at home, Funkwerks, Snowbank and Gilded Goat always have new and experimental beers on tap. If beer’s not really your thing, there’s also great hard cider at Scrumpy’s, flavored with local fruit, and for teetotalers, there’s kombucha at Turtle Mountain Fermentery and hundreds of teas to choose from at Happy Lucky’s Tea House. Lots of options for sipping.
Where To Eat
Start your day with coffee and pastries at The Little Bird Bakeshop. Pastry chef Amy Corliss and her small team make everything from scratch, and whether you’re in the mood for savory or sweet, the line-up is sure to entice. Manchego cheese biscuits break open to reveal a super fluffy interior, while the almond croissants are beautifully laminated and deliciously nutty – not too sweet. A couple of blocks away, Silver Grill Cafe is another local favorite for their giant cinnamon rolls.
Ginger and Baker is a great place to fuel up at any time of day, with a market, bakery, cafe, rooftop bar and upscale restaurant all under one roof. They’re best known for their pies and they’ll even blend a whole slice with ice cream to make the most decadent milkshake. The Cache upstairs has unique dishes like bourbon-blueberry glazed pork belly, duck arancini, and a smoked and flash-fried cauliflower entrée with gnocchi and creamy parsnip purée.
The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market at The Elizabeth is another great choice for dinner. Their bison bourguignon is killer, and the French chef is doing a great job executing French traditional dishes with classic technique and local Colorado flavor.
Don’t Miss – The Bucketlist Must-Do
Nuance Chocolate makes the largest variety of single-origin chocolate bars in the country. Even if dark chocolate isn’t really your thing, stop in for a chocolate tasting flight and you’ll most likely change your mind. Alix and Toby Gadd are self-taught chocolate makers, and the husband-and-wife duo whip-up an incredible array of treats with the help of their friendly and passionate young team. Truffles range from the spicy tequila and sea salt-infused Snakebite, to a delicately sweet Ambrosia truffle flavored with local rose petals steeped in honey. There are hot and cold chocolate drinks, too, and many items are vegan.
Amber travels the world 350+ days each year. She’s flown a plane to the Grand Canyon, spearfished in Mexico and had dinner with Francis Mallmann at his home in Uruguay, all in the name of work. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and, in addition to serving as the RUBY Travel Expert, her work also appears in Forbes, Saveur, Hemispheres, Departures, American Way, Four Seasons Magazine, Spafinder and USA Today. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.