7 of Colorado’s Coolest Main Streets
By Kathryn Mayer
In today’s fast-paced society, where technology rules and face-to-face interactions are getting rarer by the day, there’s something charming—and necessary—about slowing down, taking a leisurely stroll, and soaking in small-town vibes.
That’s why, especially when summer rolls around, I like to hit the road to visit what I consider Colorado’s best main streets. Some are hip, some are quaint, some are historic, but each is unique to its hometown.
“Anywhere you go in Colorado, it seems festivals are thriving, breweries are popping up everywhere. I think people are really looking to connect with a community and with each other, and downtown historic communities are really the best way to do it,” says Traci Stoffel, Main Street Specialist for the Colorado Main Street Program at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which offers support for community-led, grassroots progress in downtowns.
My favorite main streets can be found all over Colorado—from the metro-Denver area to ski towns to each corner of the state. My favorite part? They are all different, which gives me the chance to see what my state is all about.
“Main streets let people really experience the community in a compact area in the heart of the town,” says Elise Penington, communications director for the town of Parker. “People can go to a show, have dinner, and take in an event, all in one place.”
Here are a few of my favorite main streets:
For a Gilmore Girls fan like me, Parker is a must-see. Stroll down the town’s Mainstreet and you could swear you’re in the TV show’s Stars Hollow—a small community with big heart. Just like the show, there’s a general store, a diner, and a coffee shop—even a gazebo. As a resident of nearby Lone Tree, I venture to Parker often to eat, to shop, and walk around. Some of my most frequented spots include the Tailgate Tavern & Grill, a biker bar with live music; the cozy Vines Wine Bar, where I like to enjoy a glass of pinot grigio on the patio and people-watch; and the Parker Arts, Culture & Events Center, which offers a wide-ranging lineup of music, comedy, theater and more. The most charming experiences, though (again reminiscent of Gilmore Girls), are taking part in the city’s must-visit seasonal events and festivals—among them a carnival, art and wine walks, concerts in the summer, and an ice trail and Christmas Carriage Parade in the winter. “People drive to Parker just to see the lights during the holidays,” Penington says. “It’s like a fairytale kind of setting.”
I’m not quite a Colorado native, but I’ve lived here most of my life, and I still get a kick out of the way Durango’s main street celebrates the area’s cowboy and mining history. The AAA Three Diamond-rated Strater Hotel, built in 1887, offers Western-flavored food and lodging in Victorian-surroundings, along with a saloon featuring live ragtime music, and an in-house theater that spotlights music, comedy, and more. Occasionally I like to go more continental (and pretend I’m in Paris!) at Jean Pierre Bakery, Café and Wine Bar, while my husband prefers to sample the latest beers from Animas Brewing, Carver Brewing Company, or Steamworks Brewing Co.—a Colorado stalwart known for its flagship Kolsch. We like to ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (or just check out its adjacent museum) on the south end of town, or head north, toward the river, to the Powerhouse Science Center and MakerLab, a hands-on, interactive science center for all ages.
Fort Collins may be the most special to me for one big reason: Downtown Fort Collins was one of the inspirations for the famous Main Street USA in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As a diehard Disney fan, I was floored to learn that back in the 1950s, Harper Goff, an art director from Fort Collins, worked on early renderings for the Disney park inspired by his birthplace, envisioning a street lined with restored 19th-century brick and red stone buildings, mansard roofs and Victorian ironwork. Now, as I stroll down the main street, College Avenue, I can’t help but notice the historic storefronts that resemble those in the House of the Mouse. Besides the historic factor, Fort Collins is also a favorite spot of mine to try new restaurants or grab a beer at one of its many breweries. Now if only Mickey were there, too.
I’m not a skier, but I love visiting Colorado ski towns, especially in the off-season when the weather is warm, and the crowds are smaller. When it comes to main streets, Steamboat is at the top of my list. I love the array of bars, restaurants, and microbreweries along Lincoln Avenue, along with boutiques, art galleries, clothing stores (including outdoor brands like Marmot and North Face), and even a novelty shop that sells everything you need to pull pranks and practical jokes. But there’s more—including music, comedy, and movies at the recently renovated Chief Theater, the First Friday artwalk, and the nearby Farmers Market that runs through Sept. 21.
As an art lover, Salida is one of my go-to getaways when I need some artistic rejuvenation. A certified Colorado Creative District, downtown Salida and its main thoroughfare, F Street, is a haven for artists, with more than 20 galleries spotlighting everything from fine art and ceramics to clothing and jewelry. For eats, I’m a fan of the Boathouse Cantina on the banks of the Arkansas River or the gastropub fare at the AAA Two Diamond-rated restaurant The Fritz. The city also is home to a number of events and festivals, including an annual Art Walk (June 28–30), WineFest (Aug. 31), and the Brewers Rendezvous (July 13).
West Main Street is probably my favorite main street in all of Colorado—mainly because the town offers the best of both worlds: A hip urban feel and small-town vibes. The former is due to the presence of ViewHouse, Tavern, and Smokin Fins restaurants, which give Main Street a hip feel along with good eats. My favorite part about Main Street, though, are the local businesses that bring the neighborhood to life and make it feel extra special and like you have been transported back in time: art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, and independently owned restaurants housed in red-brick buildings from the turn of the century. A mechanic shop, general store, and elaborate costume shop, Reinke Brothers (which puts on a haunted house in the fall), are among the nearly 220 businesses in the area. The town’s true gem, though—and my personal favorite—is the Town Hall Arts Center, an intimate 260-seat theater that puts on great local musicals and plays. As a self-described theater buff, I’ve seen the best talent in London and New York, but there’s really something special about a hometown theater.
When I’m feeling historic, I make the drive to Leadville’s Harrison Avenue. Seventy square blocks of the city’s downtown have been designated as a National Historic Landmark District of Victorian Architecture, with most of the buildings dating between 1880 and 1905. The must-dos on my Leadville list include the famous Tabor Opera House, the largest opera house west of the Mississippi, and the Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, a pub whose history includes visits by patrons including Oscar Wilde, outlaw John Henry “Doc” Holliday and Margaret Brown, better known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. This former silver mining town lies among the headwaters of the Arkansas River in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
“There’s a lot of cool history, but there’s certainly a local vibe and revived downtown for people to shop, eat, drink, and just have a really great experience,” says Sarah Dallas, administrative services manager for the city of Leadville. For dinner, Dallas suggests Treeline Kitchen, an “incredible rooftop spot with unparalleled views of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.”
While those are a few of my favorite main streets in Colorado, the beauty of the main street is that there is an abundance pretty much every direction you go—and just a short drive away. So, get in your car, head to one of the state’s and find your own favorite.
Kathryn Mayer is a Denver-based writer and editor whose travel-themed articles have appeared on PopSugar, MSN, Yahoo, and more.