I affectionately refer to myself as a desert rat. Having grown up in Phoenix and lived in the Sonoran Desert my whole life, I’m probably more comfortable around cacti than people. Despite my love for this dry, dusty place I call home, the grass has always—literally—seemed greener on the other side. In high school, I dreamed of moving somewhere lush and verdant after graduation. Instead, I stayed in state for college and got a job in town after completing my degree. Luckily my sister, Robin, has lived in Denver, Colorado, since I was a kid, so I’ve always had somewhere to visit with towering oaks and grass that doesn’t come by the roll.
On a recent trip to see Robin, I decided to bring along my boyfriend, Grant, who is also an Arizona native. We had been dating for about a year and hadn’t yet been on a trip together, so I figured it was about time we traveled as a couple. And what better time to visit Colorado than in the fall, when the air is crisp and the leaves have started to change colors?
Rocky Mountain state of mind
Robin greeted us at the airport with warm hugs, and we all hopped in her car for the 45-minute drive downtown.
Knowing that this was our first out-of-state trip together, Robin suggested we take a couple days to sneak away on our own to Boulder. I had never been, but she assured us that the charming city at the base of the Rocky Mountains is more than just a college town. She mentioned breweries, local shops, gorgeous mountain views, and some of Colorado’s best restaurants—we were sold! We spent that evening hanging out with Robin and researching activities in Boulder for our impromptu getaway.
The next morning, Grant and I picked up a rental car and headed northwest. We cruised the highway toward Boulder, taking in the panoramic view of the Rockies. I was mesmerized by the rich colors of the red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees we passed. The colors ran together as we sped by, and it reminded me of the warm hues of desert sunsets at home.
Fresh air and local brews
Our first stop was Royal Arch Trail, about five miles south of town. We started up the three-mile trail, meandering through a grassy meadow and pine forest before beginning the steep climb toward the arch. Grant and I love to hike, so it was exciting to explore a new area together with a completely different climate and ecosystem than we’re used to back home.
When we reached Royal Arch—a natural sandstone formation overlooking the city—we approached it in awe. Standing under the jagged arch, we took in the magnificent views of Boulder and the surrounding plains. I took a mental picture, not wanting to waste a moment of taking in the stunning scenery by pulling out my phone.
We made our way back down the trail, and our stomachs told us it was time for a bite to eat. Grant had read about the Boulder Beer Company and said we had to check out Boulder Beer on Walnut—the brewery’s downtown outpost—while we were in the area. Walking into the brick building, I admired the colorful glass-paneled windows, high ceilings, and industrial vibe. We sat down at the bar with a view of the brewing tanks behind glass above the taps.
Grant tried a pint of the Due East, a New England IPA, while I opted for the refreshing Pulp Fusion Sangria, a beer cocktail made from Boulder Beer’s blood orange IPA, pineapple and orange juices, red wine, and grenadine. We munched on soft pretzels with homemade beer mustard to start, and then shared an order of the fish and chips. The fish practically melted in my mouth, and I enjoyed the crispy batter made with Iron Lion Hefeweizen.
After we finished eating, the bartender told us about the Boulder Beer Trail through downtown, featuring nine local breweries. I enjoyed Boulder Beer’s brews and would’ve loved to sample more from the area. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to tackle the trail this trip, but I promised Grant we could come back and start the journey next time we’re in town.
We decided to pass time before our dinner reservations by sightseeing downtown. Walking along the main drag—the Pearl Street Mall—we passed public art, boutiques, galleries, bakeries, cafés, vibrant flowers, and other people enjoying the beautiful fall afternoon. We strolled the four-block brick path and stumbled upon Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery, where I picked up a handmade maple cutting board as a hostess gift for Robin before we made our way back to the car.
Dinner with a view
A scenic 10-minute drive over Boulder Creek and up Flagstaff Mountain brought us to our dinner destination, Flagstaff House. Built in 1929 as a summer cabin, this stunning family-owned restaurant has been a pillar of New American and French cuisine in Boulder since the early 70s. I knew it would be the perfect place for a dinner date thanks to breathtaking views, a wide selection of wine, and a gourmet menu.
We were seated next to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. With a view of Boulder to my right and Grant sitting across from me, I felt overwhelmed with happiness, knowing this trip would be the first of many to come. Glasses of Champagne in hand, we toasted to our Boulder adventure.
We started with an artisan cheese board; I couldn’t resist the appeal of cheese at a French restaurant. I chose the lamb shank with white truffle polenta, ratatouille, and goat cheese for my main course, while Grant ordered the New York strip with twice-baked potatoes, asparagus, bacon, and mushroom bordelaise. I enjoyed each delicious bite of my tender, fall-off-the-bone shank and couldn’t resist stealing a couple bites of Grant’s steak. Our dishes were heavenly, but the high point of the meal was undoubtedly the decadent s’more dessert with a graham cracker blondie, roasted marshmallow ice cream, and Valrhona chocolate from France. Traditional s’mores were officially ruined for me!
Full and happy, we drove to our hotel to rest after a successful day exploring a new city.
The next morning we decided to keep the good times rolling, so we headed to breakfast at Lucile’s Creole Café. Located in an adorable yellow former house just a couple blocks from Pearl Street Mall, Lucile’s serves up breakfast classics with a creole twist.
In my eyes, the best breakfasts start with a Bloody Mary; Lucile’s version is top-notch, garnished with a stalk of celery and a pickle, olive, and shrimp on a skewer. I sipped on my drink while we decided what to order. It would’ve felt like a crime to come to a creole café and not indulge in beignets, so we obliged. They were warm, light as air, and dusted with a generous coating of powdered sugar. I followed up the beignets with the creole omelet filled with spicy sausage, diced ham, and creole sauce. The buttermilk biscuit on the side was nearly as big as my head! Grant opted for the shrimp and grits served with andouille sausage and red peppers. We agreed it was one of the most delicious and unique breakfasts we had ever eaten.
We wanted to spend some more time outdoors before driving back to Denver, so we headed to Wonderland Lake, just a couple miles north of downtown. Strolling the trail that circles the calm, clear water, we took in views of fall foliage and majestic mountains. The path was serene and quiet, so we broke the silence chatting about our plans for the rest of the trip. We saw only a few other walkers and joggers along the path, including a local walking his dogs and a young family making a beeline for the playground. As we made our way back to the car, Grant spotted a few deer in the distance, so we paused to watch them graze.
On our way out of town, I convinced Grant to stop at Le Pops for a cool, sweet treat. Inside, we perused the selection of popsicles in a variety of rotating flavors, from salted caramel and black sesame cream pops to pineapple cilantro and melon tarragon ice pops. I decided on a banana pudding cream pop, while Grant went for a strawberry kiwi ice pop. This place even offers dips and coatings for the pops; I got mine dipped in milk chocolate and coated in toasted coconut. It was the perfect cure for my afternoon sweet tooth.
Back on the road with Denver plugged into the GPS, we cruised out of Boulder, sneaking peeks of the expansive Rockies to the west. I had the best time experiencing a new place with Grant and felt thankful to still have a few days left to spend with Robin before flying back home. With Boulder in the rear-view mirror, I looked forward to our next destination, knowing that wherever we traveled, we would go together.