Boulder Colorado Overview

Detailed Boulder Colorado Overview

The Denver Post once described Boulder as "the little town nestled between the mountains and reality." Shadowed by the towering Flatirons and surrounded by more than 31,000 acres of recreational open space and nature preserves, the community is 28 square miles of outdoor heaven.

Named after the mammoth rocks scattered across the terrain, Boulder brims with big city sophistication, college town smarts, and environmental sensibilities. Technology and research firms such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Storage Technology and Ball Aerospace keep the business economy booming. Of course, the 25,000 students enrolled at the University of Colorado (called CU in local tongue) keep the town feeling young. Plus, the incredibly diverse student crowd adds a worldly edge to the chiefly white and wealthy population residing in the city limits.

Wanderers from all over the world converge on the valley each year. Some for school, others for the renowned rock-climbing, mountain biking, hiking and skiing. Some even come searching for enlightenment or new age ideals, or simply just for the mountain solitude.

In this hodgepodge of cultures and beliefs is a collective community rallying around the preservation of a natural landscape and a quality of life. Residents have banned together to fight off rapid growth and unruly developers. They managed to pass a law forbidding smoking in public spaces, including bars and nightclubs, and the town is currently battling chain stores from taking over the city. The community's aggressive nature in the political arena and fierce attitudes toward uncurbed growth has earned the city the nickname "Peoples Republic of Boulder."

Although it resides a mere 30 miles northeast of Denver and is lumped into the sprawling metroplex for statistical reasons, the town moves to its own funky vibe and might as well be 3,000 miles down the road. Living in Boulder is like living in a different state of mind, in a place where time somehow moves slower, the paths seem a little less traveled and reality always seems a step away.


Boulder's historic downtown serves as a gathering place for the entire city. Anchored by Pearl Street, a vibrant thoroughfare boasting a magnificent four-block pedestrian mall, downtown brims with tourists, but is also a lively haven for the eclectic locals. The tree-lined promenade, long ago a refuge for drunken cowboys and prostitutes, is alive with cafes, galleries, brewpubs, restaurants and every type of shopping imaginable. Musicians and performers clutter the Pearl Street Mall vying for attention.

The surrounding Whittier and Mapleton neighborhoods feature towering cottonwoods and maples, blocks of stately Victorian homes with hefty mortgages, and miles of flagstone sidewalks which provide the perfect setting for a late night romantic stroll.

University Hill, known as "The Hill" by locals, is a little south of downtown, and home to the University of Colorado. Literally parked on a hilltop above downtown, the district provides the typical college town quirkiness and a host of popular attractions including the Heritage Center and the Sommers-Bausch Observatory.

Chautauqua Park rests at the base of Flagstaff Mountain on the southwest side of University Hill. The park, one of three remaining from the early 1900s cultural movement, features a dining hall and an outdoor auditorium that hosts an excellent summer concert series.

The big box retail chains, strip malls, fast food fry pits (even Boulder has them), occupy a long stretch of congested 28th Street, just a bit east of the city center, and north of the University. Here you'll also find the brand new 29th Street Mall. While it lacks the charm and unique vibe of Pearl Street, it does offer loads of national chain retailer options, and a big, sparkling, new movie theater.

Historic Background

t has taken Boulder almost 150 years to develop into an eccentric town two steps off the beaten path. But in the early going, it resembled just about every other western mountain town appearing overnight, displacing the natives, and evolving into a boom and bust paradise colored by silver and gold.

he first specks of gold, discovered at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in present-day Denver, sparked a surge of westward movement. Hopeful pioneers came kicking, scratching and clawing across an angry, unexplored landscape in search of instant wealth.

A prospecting party captained by Thomas Aikins set up camp at the entrance of Boulder Canyon in 1858, becoming the first non-native settlement to call the valley home. Chief Niwot, leader of the Southern Arapahoe tribe, confronted the clan before the first night passed, fearing the paleface gold seekers would pillage the Arapaho camp. But after a hearty dinner and a few passes of the pipe, they all opted to peacefully coexist. Unfortunately, Niwot's good nature would come back to haunt him. A mere six years later, while peacefully encamped at Sand Creek on the eastern fringe of Colorado, Niwot and a large portion of his tribe were brutally slaughtered and scalped by the new white settlers.

In February of 1859, after gold was found, the Boulder City Town Company was established. It is hard to believe today, with stop growth initiatives filling the city's current law books, but Boulder once sought to expand. In 1871, Boulder was incorporated, and started budding into a real town complete with a city hall, newspaper, railroads, and brothels. By the late 1800s, the town developed into a hub for miners moving from dig to dig and a haven for local farmers.

In 1876, Colorado became a state and Boulder became a college town. After losing to Denver in the race for state capital, Boulder managed to snag the State University. The following year the University of Colorado came to life in the form of Old Main, the initial building, which encompassed the entire campus.

Chautauqua Park was the first step in Boulder's long history of buying surrounding land for parks and open space. Under the guidance of Robert Law Olmstead, Jr, son of the famed creator of New York's Central Park, Boulderites developed an environmental conscious. They sought to remain "green" regardless of the desires of outside developers, and created an economic environment suited to "clean industry." In the 1950s, after two world wars and a depression, the "clean industry" pursuits paid dividends when the National Institute of Standards and Technology moved to Boulder. Beech Aircraft followed suit and set up an aerospace division on the north side of town. Ball Brothers Research headquartered its aerospace operations on the east side in the new Boulder Industrial Park.

Major corporations continue to relocate to Boulder. Sun Microsystems, US West, Lucent Technologies, and NeoData are prominent figures in the recent business boom. Although Boulder has sufficiently fortified itself behind 25,000 acres of unspoiled open space, the town still struggles with development issues and growth problems. The population now hovers around 100,000 and the rapidly growing neighboring towns of Louisville and Broomfield only add to the problem.

Through it all, Boulder remains an outdoor oasis protected from a Front Range drowning in suburban sprawl. The mountain setting still draws Olympic athletes, free thinkers and distressed urban hipsters. The unemployment and crime rates are low, but the unbearable cost of living forces even the most educated to pinch pennies in order to stay within the city limits. Thus, it is not unlikely to have PhD's serving coffee or research scientists delivering pizza. It is simply a means to an end to live in such an ideal location blessed with unparalleled scenery and more than 300 days of sunshine.


In Boulder, the idea of a good time usually involves defying the laws of gravity. Whether hiking mountain paths, riding bikes down rocky trails, scaling steep canyon walls, pushing through the last mile of a marathon, or maneuvering the rapids of a local river, Boulderites always seem to test the limits of mind, body and strength. Even in winter they are active with skiing and snowboarding thanks to the perfect white powder in the Colorado mountains.

Of course, the town offers more than brute muscle, sweat and designer sportswear. Walk down any downtown street and you are bound to pass by a small gallery bedecked with every sort of creation ranging from stunning visual designs to crafts and collectibles. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art started in a small, run down historic warehouse as a space devoted to honing the skills of local artists. After fancying up the building and opening a rollicking performance art theatre on the top floor, the museum has slowly developed into a respected venue, displaying works of nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. Expect the unexpected, from wild kinetic constructions to abstract meanderings, when wandering about the three exhibit rooms.
During the summer, the Boulder Outdoor Cinema gets rolling in the backyard of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Bring a blanket and relax under the stars to weekly showings of classics and cult favorites. The International Film Series satisfies the art house crowd, rolling the best in independent and foreign language films from around the world.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is a Boulder and University of Colorado icon. Time Magazine called the event one of the top three Bard fests in the nation. The entire canon of the Bard's efforts has seen production here, and each year thousands of theatergoers flock to the Mary Rippon Amphitheater for new performances.

From classical and jazz to alternative and roots, Boulder's music scene is bustling. The university town character draws a diverse group of national acts to the Fox Theatre and Cafe, ranging from critically acclaimed underground sensations to college town favorites to the latest chart toppers. Although the Fox, which sits atop The Hill, is an intimate space, the stage has hosted some epic concerts from the likes of Lyle Lovett, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews and 311. Plus, the theater is a perfect spot to check out the nightlife roaming about on The Hill.

The Boulder Theater, located in the heart of downtown, also caters to the rock and pop crowd, but branches into other music spectrum's, including jazz and blues. The theater is also home to National Public Radio's musically oriented environmental show E-Town. Chautauqua Park hosts an annual Summer Concert Series drawing a worldly assortment of talent. Artists include jazz greats, folk legends, barbershop quartets, and even the throat singers of Tuva.

But ultimately when the day is done, Boulderites love to stroll the Pearl Street Mall and relax worn out bodies on a café patio, arm themselves with a designer beer and watch the city life move into the night.

Dining and Drinking

You might think dining in Boulder requires a taste for granola, yogurt, tofu or nutrition smoothies. While Boulder residents might be extremely active, (they average two bikes per person—road and mountain,) and the healthiest population in the land, they still love to eat. Training for marathons can make a person hungry. And, even though you might find the occasional health food creation utilizing a dab of yogurt and a bit of granola, Boulder has a hefty helping of hearty dining options. A talented crop of chefs, drawn to the city's hip lifestyle, create cosmopolitan menus rivaling the big towns. The offerings range from fine dining to brewpub fare.

Locals also love to eat outside, so most restaurants, especially those along the Pearl Street Mall, offer patio seating. A good portion of the upscale restaurants reside downtown, while up on "The Hill" students get a fix of cafes, pizza parlors and big burrito joints. There are dining gems around every corner, and in every nook and cranny of Boulder. Plus, there is nothing like a romantic mountain dining excursion.

Like everything else in Boulder, during the summer and special events at the University of Colorado, you better have a reservation or expect to wait a bit. A local government ban prohibits smoking inside most restaurants and bars, but some establishments find interesting ways around the issue. Make sure to ask about the restaurant's policy before pulling out a cigarette or cigar. Also, regardless of expense, most restaurants are casual, so leave the suit and tie back at the hotel.

Where to Stay

The early 1900s brought an end to Boulder's gold rush days and sparked a boom in tourism, but sufficient accommodations were hard to come by. The Hotel Boulderado, a Victorian beauty built in 1909 as the centerpiece to downtown, laid to rest any worries about the town's ability to take care of tourists.

But even though almost 40 hotels, ranging from sleepy-eyed B&B's and roadside cheap-sleeps to posh luxurious resorts and complete business centers, now spread across the valley, Boulder still seems to harbor a love/hate relationship with the hotel developers. On numerous occasions residents banned together (and even taxed themselves) to prevent resorts and hotels from encroaching on the area's beloved open space. So, although Boulder could probably support some 80 hotels, and developers would die to build a resort on every hilltop, the small town integrity continues to prevail.

Did You Know?

A college town, Boulder is home to the University of Colorado and has over 25,000 students. A hotbed of outdoor activities, Boulder has been rated as the "Number One Sports Town in America" by Outdoor Magazine.