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Colorado should be the poster state for urban renewal. Its cities are filled with parks, river walks, pedestrian malls and activities to delight all ages and lifestyles. Many areas have renovated their old downtown buildings and added modern touches that establish the city’s unique personality. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Colorado’s natural beauty serves as a backdrop, encouraging artistry and creativity. Here’s what’s new and exciting in Colorado’s cities this summer.Downtown: Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins
I admit a bias when I say that Denver’s city center is the most beautiful I’ve seen—and it’s constantly growing and evolving. Sections which were once seedy are now filled with gourmet restaurants, interesting shops and art galleries. In the process, Denver’s neighborhoods—each with its own character—have picked up enough nicknames to rival New York City: SoBo (South Broadway), Uptown (17th Avenue), RiNo (River North Art District), SoCo (south of Colfax) and of course LoDo (Lower Downtown).
Despite its size, Denver is easy to navigate and has efficient public transportation. This summer, visitors can also get around on two wheels thanks to the Denver B-cycle bike sharing program which has placed 500 red bicycles at stations throughout the city.
Summer exhibitions include an open-air display of 20 Henry Moore sculptures at the Denver Botanic Gardens through January 2011. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is hosting Body Worlds through July 18. From July 1 through January 2, 2011, the Denver Art Museum will present more than 130 objects from the tombs of King Tut and other famous Egyptian pharaohs, most never seen before in United States. July also brings the Biennial of the Americas. For these and more Denver events, check www.denver.org.
Colorado Springs harkens back to its beginnings through August during the inaugural Pikes Peak Western Heritage Days. Visitors can learn more about the cowboy, gold mining, geological and American Indian history of the region during the celebration, and also by visiting the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum or the Old Colorado City Historical Society’s History Center. Venerable favorites—including the North Pole and Flying W Ranch—are also offering discounts through the “Savings with an Altitude” program. Hotel deals include the Crowne Plaza’s ZooVille package with free dining for kids, a family four-pack to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and two giraffe food tickets. The Springs’ grande dame resort hotel, The Broadmoor, features a summer package where kids stay and dine free. Guests also get a limited-use day pass to the Spa at the Broadmoor, as well as retail discounts and complimentary movie theater access. For more on Colorado Springs attractions and events, check www.visitcos.com.
Beet Street, an arts and culture organization, will transform downtown Fort Collins into an outdoor stage during “Streetmosphere,” through October. Professional artists, performers and entertainers will stage up to five free shows a day, Fridays through Sundays.
The 'burbs: Arvada, Littleton, Castle Rock, Niwot, Manitou Springs
Not all summer fun is concentrated in Colorado’s big cities. Suburbs also offer unique experiences.
The gold rush lured Arvada’s first residents, but then agriculture turned into its cash crop. Before growth nudged out the farm fields, Arvada was even called the Celery Capital of the World. Its Historic Olde Town is one of Colorado’s oldest and best preserved. I took a walking tour of the approximately four square block area where brightly colored flowers gushed out of pots that lined the sidewalks. In Olde Town Square, children squealed as they darted in and out of the water fountains. I browsed for antiques and gifts in unique shops with historic storefronts, then popped into the Rheinlander Bakery for a frosting-laden red velvet cupcake. Olde Town has many wonderful shops and restaurants, and is a busy place on a warm summer day.
The community of Littleton was not named for its size, but after New Hampshire engineer Richard Sullivan Little, who was hired to construct water conduits there. He loved the area so much he filed a home stake and other land claims. In 1872, Little subdivided his holdings and created the village named after him. Littleton features one of Denver’s most highly rated restaurants, Opus, as well as trendy shops and art galleries.
Despite explosive growth in Douglas County over the last decade, Castle Rock has managed to maintain its small-town, horse-country atmosphere. I could spend a whole day being pampered at Copperfalls Aveda Day Spa, shopping at The Barn Antiques and Specialty Shops, and dining at The Old Stone Church Restaurant or Augustine Grill. An old train depot houses the Castle Rock Museum.
I would never have guessed a town in landlocked Colorado would have a Lobster Bash, but that’s before I knew about Niwot. Named for Arapaho Chief Niwot (his name means “left hand”) this little hamlet northeast of Boulder features a charming historic district with store fronts selling coffee, antiques and vintage clothing. Visitors can bring their bibs and munch on lobster during the summer’s three Lobster Bashes (June 12, July 10 and August 14) being held in conjunction with Left Handers’ Day. Or head to Niwot each Thursday evening until September 9 for the Rhythm on the Rails concert series.
When underground waters around Manitou Springs bubbled out of the ground, Native American tribes believed it was the breath of the Great Spirit Manitou. Later, settlers also came to take the cure. Soaking pools have yet to be revived, but the Mineral Springs Foundation has restored several fountains where visitors can fill their bottles or cups for free from the different springs around town, each with a distinctive taste. There are even Springsabouts walking tours. The romantic Cliff House hotel has just completed a $20 million expansion and features luxurious guest rooms and fine dining.
Resort towns: Aspen, Salida, Glenwood Springs
There are city getaways, and then there are resort town excursions that encompass the range of experience from fine dining to ziplining. One of the most famous is Aspen. And although Colorado residents sometimes short-shrift Aspen because they view it as a playground for the rich and famous, during the summer months the town is less bon ton and more affordable. Many hotels there do offer summer discounts, such as the Hotel Jerome (which treats both people and their pooches like royalty) and the legendary Little Nell (which recently opened Il Mulino New York restaurant, sister to the famed top Italian eatery in Manhattan).
Aspen is home to some of the best restaurants in the state, which makes it a challenge to find cheap eats. However, there are a few spots around town with relatively inexpensive menus. The Mustang features Southwest fare as well as Colorado classics, while Brunelleschi’s made such a good calzone I went back for more the next day. Locals gravitate to Explore Bistro and Main Street Bakery & Café. I wandered Aspen’s Saturday Market and picked up juicy fresh fruit, bread, cheese and a bottle of local wine. I headed to the John Denver Sanctuary to enjoy a leisurely lunch, then to the nearby Aspen Art Museum, which has free admission.
As I strolled the streets of Salida, I noticed that residents are unabashed about expressing their opinions, political or otherwise. This funky, artsy, outdoorsy town on the Arkansas River has attitude as well as altitude. However, in an ironic twist, it’s also reminiscent of the fictional Mayberry. I was amused by local teens who chattered and giggled while lounging on sofas in the Simmering Cup Coffee House, then rode their skateboards down the sidewalks, coffee cups in hand. Numerous small cafes, art galleries and nice restaurants fill downtown, which is Colorado’s largest historic district. Since it’s the jumping-off point for outdoor adventure, there are outfitters such as Absolute Bikes and Captain Zipline in town.
While some cities became resort towns, Glenwood Springs was built to be one. Through January 2011, the community celebrates its 125th birthday with numerous free and low-cost activities that emphasize the downtown corridor. Character actors will wander the historic streets and depict personalities who lived in or visited the region, such as Doc Holliday, Kid Curry (member of the infamous Wild Bunch gang) and President Theodore Roosevelt. The Glenwood Vaudeville Revue will also perform skits throughout downtown.
For more information about all of Colorado’s cities—both large and small—visit www.colorado.com.
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