Just before Christmas this year, we managed to slip away on a quick trip to Colorado. We found a great last minute deal on a direct flight to Denver and couldn’t pass up the chance to recharge our batteries in the Rocky Mountains, where we first met. In the five years since we lived in Fort Collins (the most charming little town, just an hour north of Denver), the food and craft beer scene has exploded. Where only a handful of craft breweries once were, it would now take weeks to even make a dent in the breweries there!
We only had a couple days to explore, so we didn’t waste any time! Our flight landed right around sunset on a Saturday night. We grabbed our rental car and headed north on I-25 straight for Fort Collins, our home base for the next four nights. By the time we got checked in to our hotel, we had just enough time to grab a beer at Gilded Goat Brewing Company. This family owned brewery was light & bright, with a great selection of beers to choose from. They seemed to specialize in the more European style beers, but there’s definitely something for everyone (including food!) here.
Bright and early the next morning, we made our way to Ginger and Baker, a historic Mill turned modern Farmhouse restaurant/bakery on the outskirts of downtown Fort Collins. This charming spot is sure to give you all the ‘Joanna Gaines’ feels. Fighting off an altitude (beer) headache, we devoured the Fried Chicken & Biscuit and Green Eggs & Ham before any photo had the chance to be snapped! Oops.
After a refreshingly scenic drive around Horsetooth Reservoir, we decided it was time to wet our whistles. We headed to one of the bigger breweries in Fort Collins, Odell Brewing Co., which happens to be one of our old favorites! Odell feels like a well oiled machine and with a ton of great beer options and plenty of room to spread out, this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
And that’s just what we did! We took our time, sipping on our first round in the taproom, then made our way outside to take in the chilly air, perfectly warmed by the sun, for our second round. Everything about this trip to Odell was enjoyable, from the great beers to the friendly staff, who all enjoyed talking about and recommending different styles of beer. We even caught some great deals on their merch! Odell Brewing Co. is definitely worth a trip and if you’re a fan of juicy, hazy IPA’s, look for New Dawn Hazy IPA.
Choice City Butcher & Deli came highly recommended by a friend back home, so when locals all started recommending the same, we figured this would be the perfect spot for a late afternoon bite. I’m a sucker for the cold cuts, so I went with the hot Classic Italian. This flavorful sandwich was filled with Italian meats, provolone and peppers, and came overflowing with onions, tender from the oil & vinegar. Sean’s pick was the Choice City Burger, a juicy buffalo, bacon & cheddar patty, dressed with grilled balsamic onions and a red pepper aioli. With a big beer selection to wash it all down, this tasty spot was a great choice in Old Town, Fort Collins.
There wasn’t any snow falling during our mid-December getaway, but the Winter Wonderland vibe is strong in Fort Collins during the holiday season. A cookie filled stroll through the warmly lit sidewalks of Old Town was the perfect way to end the day.
We got up before the sun the next morning and set out on the most scenic drive of our trip. Estes Park, Colorado is an adorably quaint town, a little over an hour west of Fort Collins, and leads you right into Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s definitely nice to be a passenger on this drive! The breathtaking views just don’t seem to end.
Unfortunately for us, most of the town of Estes hibernates deep into the winter, especially early on a Monday morning. Where the streets are usually bustling with tourists and locals and the smell of freshly made fudge fills the air (seriously!), our visit was a much quieter one. Luckily, we found Claire’s on the Park. The tasty breakfast burrito was the size of my head and smothered with spicy Colorado green chili. The breakfast was great and the coffee was fresh, but the Rocky Mountains staring back at us through the wall of windows really sealed the deal. This place is worth a visit for the breathtaking views alone!
Boulder & Longmont
With our bellies full, we decided to head south through Boulder and Longmont. We put on our mountain music and set off on another amazingly scenic drive. It can be hard to take it all in while you’re driving (especially if you want to avoid cruising right off the mountains!), so be sure to take advantage of the many pull-offs along the way down.
Like the rest of Colorado, Boulder is full of great craft breweries. We knew we had the long drive back to Fort Collins ahead of us, so we had to choose wisely! After a quick google search, we landed on the Flatiron Park location of Upslope Brewing Company. The taproom was spacious with a modern feel. Upslope had a great selection of truly unique beers (Smoked Chili Pepper Pale, anyone??). We would have loved to spend more time at this great stop, but we had to keep moving!
Our last brewery pit stop for the day was Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado. We see their beers all over the place, so we were pleasantly surprised that the popular brewery had a really cozy, laid back feel to it. There seemed to be a style for every taste, but if you’re a nitro or dark beer lover, you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Left Hand!
On our last full day in town, we had to get our butts to Golden, Colorado! This Front Range town, just west of Denver, is truly one of our favorites and where we spent so much time when we were living in Colorado. You’ll want to check out the natural beauties of this former gold rush town. Drive up Lookout Mountain for a different perspective or take a stroll along Clear Creek, which runs through the heart of the city.
Be sure to stop into a brewery or two while you’re there! If you’re looking to save some money but still enjoy a cold one, check out the Coors Brewery. The brewery giant offers free tours that come stacked with three sizable beer samples. But if you’re looking for a good craft beer experience, check out some of our old favorites, like Mountain Toad Brewing, Cannonball Creek, or Golden City Brewery.
One of the best surprise stops on our day trip was El Rancho Brewing in Evergreen, Colorado. Tucked off the highway and nestled into the trees, this updated restaurant now brews a pretty big selection of its own award-winning beer and offers some stunning mountain views. We got a look behind the scenes at where all the beer brewing magic happens and learned a lot from their head brewmaster. Based on the intoxicating smell of smokey barbecue filling the air, I wish we would have stuck around for some food, but I have a feeling we’ll be back!
We ended our last night of the trip in Denver. We didn’t plan on making any stops in the capital city, but after hearing a very convincing rave review about Uncle, a hip ramen shop in the Highlands area, we decided to make our way there. We were warned to get there early and for good reason. A line started forming outside about half an hour before they opened, which was pretty impressive for a Tuesday. Once the doors opened, the crowd was ushered in and seated until the restaurant filled up, as plenty more people patiently waited. We made it in on the first round and ordered the Spicy Chicken and the Chashu Ramen. This was some delicious, unique ramen! We passed the bowls back and forth between each other until we slurped up the last drops. We dragged our broth filled bellies out of there so some other hungry people could have their turn.
We were back on a plane headed for Louisiana before we knew it. Our trips to Colorado have been too few and far between lately, but there’s no reason why we can’t get back there more often. We’re already missing the mountains and there’s so much more to see!
Heading to the Rocky Mountain State?
Enjoy an afternoon sipping on some great beers at Odell Brewing in Fort Collins (try out New Dawn Hazy IPA, Drumrole APA, Rupture Fresh Grind Ale).
Drink, eat & soak in the view at El Rancho Brewing in Evergreen, Colorado. Try out some of their award-winning craft beer!
Have some delicious ramen in the Highlands of Denver at Uncle, just be sure you show up a little early!
What are some of your favorite places to eat, drink and explore in Colorado?