There’s no place like Aspen. The weather is perfect, the snow is light and fluffy, the people are friendly, and the roads are perfect for cycling. It’s the kind of place where you can go for a ride in the morning, hit the ski slopes in the afternoon, then party with an amazing crowd at night. Every time I visit Aspen, I come back happier and fitter than when I left! If you’re planning to visit Colorado’s chicest resort town, here’s how I recommend spending your time.
Eat + Drink
After a long day on the slopes or a hike up Tiehack, nothing feeds your sore muscles like a stop at the Spring Café, a pet-friendly vegetarian restaurant with a great vegan and gluten-free menu. I like the cold-pressed juices, homemade smoothies, and protein-packed egg scrambles, but I always order the Highland Bowl made with quinoa, tempeh, and veggies in a ginger tamari dressing.
Woody Creek Tavern
This eclectic tavern serves up the best Mexican food in the Aspen area. Its charm is in the oddball signs, tin ceilings, kitschy memorabilia, and colorful Christmas lights strung up year-round, but the food is a true treat. If I want to indulge, I’ll go for blue agave margaritas and homemade tamales.
Campo de Fiori
The menu at this hip, fun Italian restaurant is always changing with the seasons, which I appreciate (along with the live music). In the summer, there’s a freshly spiraled zucchini “pasta” and a three-mushroom risotto topped with truffle oil that tastes like Italy. Say hi to my friends: Aspen hot shots “Campo Dave” and Billy who you’ll find behind the bar.
Element 47 serves some of the best wine I’ve tasted stateside, thanks to sommelier Carlton McCoy. The wine list pairs beautifully with locally-raised wagyu steak, dry-aged duck breast, and creamy burrata served with beets and homemade focaccia. I find myself stopping by the bar for a casual midday meeting, but it’s also perfect for a dinner that’s equal parts upscale and relaxed.
This classic white-tablecloth steakhouse is an Aspen favorite for dinner. The bar is trendy but the wine selection is impressive—one of my favorite places to enjoy a glass of wine al fresco on their outdoor patio.
If you love sushi, this is the place. Its innovative cuisine and hip celebrity following is part and parcel with Matsuhisa’s California counterpart, Nobu—undeniably one of the world’s most renowned Japanese restaurants. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Aspen location is just as fantastic, especially for elegant dishes like lobster shiitake salad and toro tartar with caviar.
Aspen Art Museum Café
With unbeatable views from the roof deck, the Aspen Art Museum Café is my favorite spot for an espresso or light lunch. The uncomplicated menu highlights locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, like the tuna “verrine” served with asparagus, toasted farro, pecans, and golden raisins. Enjoy views of Aspen Mountain and Independence Pass while you dine, and stroll through the museum’s free collection of contemporary art once you’re finished.
Clubs + Hotels
With its refined lodge vibe, this cozy private club is a legendary place to have a drink and meet for a chat. The fireplace is appealing for après-ski or a pre-dinner cocktail. If you’re looking for nightlife, Caribou Club hosts DJ sets and dancing after 10 PM.
The well-appointed rooms, spa, outdoor pool, and mountainside setting make the Little Nell a world-class hotel. You can’t beat the fantastic dinner or après-ski drinks at the hip and happening bar. The staff have mastered above-and-beyond service, so every second of your stay feels comfortable and luxurious.
I pack my most stylish Aspen-chic attire when I’m staying at this grande dame of American ski hotels, where everything and everybody looks swell. Cashmere curtains, Western design elements, modern art, and leather furnishings create a comfortable, cozy vibe that embodies Aspen in a fresh, authentic way.
The Rolling Stones bestowed Belly Up with the honor of one of the best clubs in America—it’s a music lover’s oasis in the midst of a small ski town. Keep an eye on who’s headlining for a night out with friends: the venue has hosted everyone from Etta James to Snoop Dogg to Jimmy Buffett. Concerts often sell out, so make sure to buy tickets in advance.
Follow Castle Creek Road for a stunning climb surrounded by spruce trees and soaring mountain peaks. At the top, explore the remains of Ashcroft’s mining ghost town then head to the legendary Pine Creek Cookhouse before coasting back down. With an easy 2-4% grade, the 23-mile out-and-back ride is challenging but accessible.
If you only have time for one ride in Aspen, cycling up Maroon Creek Road to “the Bells” is it. The route takes you up a nine-mile climb to Maroon Lake with fantastic views of the mountains. Out and back, it’s 19 miles round-trip from Aspen. I like to combine this with the climb up to Ashcroft for a longer route.
Woody Creek Trail
This scenic, seven-mile trail is a great option for both experienced and novice cyclists. From Aspen, follow signs for the Woody Creek Trail/Rio Grande Trail. The route takes you through shady forests and wetlands with rolling hills and beautiful views of the Roaring Forks River. Celebrate with a margarita at the funky Woody Creek Tavern (see above) at the trail’s end.
Head out of Aspen to Basalt then turn right onto Frying Pan Road. A long, gradual climb following the river valley will reward you with picturesque views of the Ruedi Reservoir. Continue past the reservoir for a more secluded and remote ride. It’s a challenging 80-mile ride round-trip from Aspen, or take a shortcut by catching a bus to or from Basalt.
Serious cyclists should save their legs for this epic climb. The route includes switchbacks, narrow lanes, and a brutal climb over the Continental Divide. Independence Pass has become well-known as a make-or-break stage for US Pro Cycling Challenge races. The last two miles at over 12,000 feet of elevation are especially challenging. I like to start early in the morning to avoid traffic and the unpredictable afternoon weather.