This is a city guide that hits close to home. Aspen, Colorado is a place that I’ve been coming to my whole life and it really is my home away from home. In the summers. there is so much to do outside: incredible hikes, family bike rides, white water rafting, great shopping and some of my favorite restaurants. Being a world-class ski town also makes Aspen a top destination during the winter months. It’s not hard to see why this little slice of the Rocky Mountains is my favorite place on earth.
Yes, Aspen has become one of the more internationally recognized and glitzy ski towns in the past few decades, but don’t let the skyrocketing property values and name-brand luxury stores fool you – Aspen has a lot going for it. Aspen has played host to the Winter X Games since 2002, has a legendary Aspen Food + Wine Festival every summer, and the Aspen Jazzfest featuring some of the biggest names in music. They also have an epic Gay Ski Week every January! The beer might actually flow like wine here after all, and that certainly doesn’t stop people from having a great time!
- Poppycock’s Cafe – Great hole-in-the-wall diner. Their oatmeal pancakes are a must, we always get some for the table. They also sell their famous pancake mix, so don’t forget to grab some on the way out!
- Spring Cafe – A beautiful and organic cafe featuring healthy bites.
- Paradise Bakery – An aspen staple This bakery has incredible cookies, muffins, and treats. They’ve got coffee and some of my favorite ice cream as well. Do yourself a favor and grab a few chippers there if you’re ever in town. We usually find ourselves walking over to paradise after dinner for some late-night sugar, too!
- Hickory House – Country-style breakfast spot – don’t sleep on their bacon! They also have great ribs and BBQ for lunch!
- VICTORIA+co. – Aussie Cafe with great coffee.
- Maker – One of my favorite coffee shops with a great collection of curated artisanal goods for sale!
- Ajax Tavern – Located at the base of Aspen Mountain, you’ll get a front-row view of the gondola. If you’re going in the summer, grab a seat on the patio and get the wagyu double cheeseburger with truffle fries. My favorite burger in town. And get the cauliflower gratin to start… you can thank me later.
- Clark’s Oyster Bar – From Austin, Tx, there’s now a reason to eat seafood in the mountains! The crudo plate is a great starter along with some fresh oysters. Really can’t go wrong with their menu ~ and don’t skip out on their french fries!
- White House Tavern – From the same group that bought your Hillstone’s (Houston’s), there always seems to be a line here because the space is small and the food is so good. The dip duo and deviled eggs are great starters and the chicken kale salad is what I always find myself getting, but their fried chicken sandwich is pretty unreal, too!
- Meat and Cheese – Just across the street from White House Tavern, this chic little eatery has a great charcuterie board as their name says!
- Grateful Deli – A solid spot for some classic cold cuts sandwiches. Perfect for grabbing before a hike and they keep well! We always drive up to hike Weller lake and eat our sandwiches along the river or up at the lake!
- Element 47 (at Little Nell) – Upscale restaurant that we usually get lunch at. The tortilla soup, fish tacos, and cobb salad are all incredible. They also have a brunch buffet on Sundays!
- Heather’s – In Basalt, about 15 miles down valley from Aspen. We usually bike here down the Rio Grande Trail and have lunch here. Great kale salad and known for their savory pies: get the chicken pot pie and the pulled pork tamale pie!
- Steakhouse No. 316 – (steakhouse) Our favorite steak in town and one of my top 5 steaks. The atmosphere is cozy and quirky and they also have some of the best onion rings. I think I also love this spot because they have a laundry list of sauces and steak toppings that are all phenomenal.
- French Alpine Bistro – (French) We call it “the crêpe place,” but this cozy French bistro serves up every french delight from one of the best onion soup to cheese or chocolate fondue. It really is a cozy and ideal spot in the winter!
- Kenichi – (Japanese) Get the dynamite shrimp, spicy edamame and some of their specialty rolls.
- Matsuhisa – (Japanese) From the same owners as Nobu, it’s one of the best sushi spots in town.
- Little Ollie’s – (Chinese) Probably one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants. From egg rolls, soup dumplings and sesame chicken..everything here hits the spot.
- Aqualina – (Italian) One of my family’s favorite Italian restaurants. They have such an authentic and extensive menu and feature fresh pasta that is made in-house daily.
- Monarch – (Steakhouse) The same owners as Steakhouse no. 316. They have an insane caesar salad that they make tableside and had great tequila cocktail, the black pearl. If you’re choosing between the two, I’d go with Steakhouse no. 316!
- Woody Creek Tavern – (TexMex) About 15 minutes down-valley from Aspen) Some of the best TexMex in the valley. It’s such a dive that has so much character and don’t forget, it’s cash-only. They have the best Nachos (get “the works”!) and cheese enchiladas. You can’t-not get one of their margaritas!!
- Mezzaluna – (Italian) Casual and solid spot for pizza and pasta. A great place for a bigger group to dine!
- Casa Tua – (Italian) – Great patio and place to enjoy a spritz outside!
- L’hosteria – (Italian) – Upscale and classic Italian restaurant – sit at the bar for a local’s menu!
- Betula – (French/Pan-American) One of the hottest and best newer restaurants in Aspen. They’ve got great cocktails and good food and an incredible vibe.
- Hooch – Underground Craft cocktail bar that plays hip-hop!
- Aspen Brewing Company – Swing by and try a flight of Aspen’s own!
- HOPS – Fun and casual gastropub with a great beer offering.
- 7908 Aspen – After dark, this supper club turns into part bar, part nightclub (that number is Aspen’s elevation!)
- Eric’s – Casual local watering hole
- Escobar – An underground club that is modeled to feel like you’re in one of Pablo Escobar’s airplanes.. with stripper poles!
- J Bar (at The Hotel Jerome) – An Aspen staple – great mules here!
- Bad Harriet – In the basement of the old Aspen Times building on Main St., this new speakeasy serving up craft cocktails in a beautiful space
To do (in-town) :
- See some modern art at the Aspen Art Museum
- Aspen Farmer Market – Every Saturday during the summer – don’t miss this! Farmers, artists, and vendors from all over the valley come set up shop along two blocks in town (mid-June to mid-October)
- If it’s raining Catch a movie at ISIS
- Carl’s Pharmacy – Grew up spending hours upstairs rummaging through the eclectic toy collection at this general store. They have everything you might ever need.
- Weller Lake – (easy /1 mile) hike to Weller Lake
- Maroon Bells – One of the more iconic views of Aspen. The Bell-shaped mountains are stunning with Maroon lake at their base. You have to take a bus from Aspen Highlands to visit during the day. After 5pm, you can drive up in your own car.
- Crater Lake Hike – (moderate / 3.8 miles) hike that starts at the base of Maroon Lake at the Maroon Bells. Great hike up the beautiful Crater Lake. Could also bring your lunch and eat it up at the lake!
- American Lake Hike (difficult / 6 miles) – a little more difficult of a hike, but a great treck up to American Lake.
- Aspen Mountain (difficult / 8.8 miles) – there are a few different ways to scale the mountain, which takes around 1.5 hours. I’d recommend going up the Ute Trail and then continuing up from there! You can eat at the top of the mountain at Sundeck and take the gondola back down into town (for free!).
- Ute Trail (difficult / 2 mile) – this is a hike that Aspenites will do in the morning before work. It’s a steep climb up the switchbacks to Ute Rock (great views of the city) then you can continue hiking up to the summit of Aspen Mountain – 3.1 miles to summit if you choose.
- Bike the Rio Grande Trail – you can pit-stop at Woody Creek Tavern and bike back. In recent years, we’ve continued on to Basalt and will eat at Heather’s and call a van to pick us up and take our bikes back into town.
And now for some Thompson family throwbacks…
Have you ever been to Aspen, Colorado? Let me know if you end up going and what your thoughts are – I hope you enjoy it!