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Aspen, Colorado: Where to Eat, Stay, and Play

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This mountain town has so much to offer, even for the non-skiers.

You will usually find us in a mountain town once or twice a year, either for play or planning or executing one of our destination weddings. This is our first time visiting a skiing destination where we didn’t ski. Although it seemed really weird at first, Aspen ended up being one of our favorite mountain destination vacations because it freed up our time to do so much more to explore it. We also were screaming for fun activity since we had been living in Covid times for so long. We were so excited to travel somewhere that was very safe, taking all Covid precautions and was filled with outdoor activities that we could safely partake in without worry. The city of Aspen did a phenomenal job with that.

If you are looking to travel to Aspen in the near future, please note Pitkin County, which includes Aspen, is currently requiring all visitors to obtain a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before arriving (or quarantine for 10 days), and sign a traveler affidavit agreeing to an array of local coronavirus precautions and rules. Don’t forget to read up on the latest state restrictions and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines before you head out as well. 

At 8,000 feet in elevation, 200 miles west of Denver, Aspen, Colorado, is nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. In the winter it feels especially magical with the fresh snow glistening on the tress, the expansive cobblestone downtown and twinkling lights on every corner. We visited right before Christmas and loved all the holiday decor in all the shops and restaurants.

Getting there

Fly into the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, which offers direct flights from several major cities, as well as hundreds of connecting flights. And when you fly directly to Aspen, you can lower the environmental impact of your flight for a small fee through the airport’s new carbon offset program.

To explore more of Colorado, fly into Denver International Airport, then rent a car (ask about a vehicle that meets Colorado traction law standards, which go into effect during winter storms) and head west on I-70. This four-hour drive will take you past the Denver city skyline as well as through gorgeous mountain scenery. There are also daily passenger shuttle options from Denver International Airport to Aspen if you don’t feel like driving yourself.

What to do

SKIING

I’m going to deep dive into activities for the non-skiers but if you are looking to ski, from December to early April, Aspen has whatever your heart desires between their four sister resorts: Aspen MountainButtermilkAspen Highlands, and Snowmass. Each have varying terrain types and difficulty levels (as well as ski and snowboard lessons if you need a refresher). You can ski right into downtown from Aspen Mountain, known locally as “Ajax,” which has 64 miles and 3,267 vertical feet of terrain, while sprawling Snowmass offers tons of family-friendly amenities. If you want to hop around and try all four mountains, you can choose from several multi-mountain ski passes.

Beyond what I shared we decided to do, there are other outdoor winter activities to choose from that are popular in Aspen. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, uphilling, winter birding, hiking, and ice fishing (I’m sure there are more I’m missing) are all great winter activities here. If you’re new to any of these, there are experienced guides and instructors who can show you the ropes, including Sun Dog AthleticsBlazing Adventures, and Ashcroft Touring and Adventures

SNOWMOBILING

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We did such a fun excursion at T-Lazy-7 Ranch snowmobiling up to The Maroon Bells (the most photographed place in Colorado!) across 2 million + acres of the beautiful forest. Here’s the skinny on our experience:

  • You can get a snowmobile for 1 person or for 2. We did 1 because Adam loves to drive and I love to take in all the scenery and chill. He did let me drive for a little bit which was fun but total personal preference and they can accommodate both.
  • The total time for the excursion was 2 hours
  • What to wear: LAYERS! Your warmest jacket with layers underneath, snow pants, warm socks and snow boots and gloves. Hand warmers recommended. They will provide you with a helmet and ski goggles wont fit over them so make sure to bring sunglasses.
  • We stopped at the top of the mountain for hot cocoa and apple cider and I’m a total sucker for a warm drink on a snowy day so I loved that.
  • If you have some granola on you, the wild bluejays will find you and love you! I put my hand in the air with some granola for a few seconds and within moments there was a wild bluejay eating from my hand and I loved every second of it.
  • You’ll see a lot of people cross country skiing or biking with their dogs off leash being super cute and well behaved. I must have took 50 videos (no pics though, sorry!) of passing adorable dogs being perfect little furry companions to the owners enjoying the outdoors.
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PRIVATE SLEIGH RIDE

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Dashing through the snow with our beautiful fur friends: Kit, Kat and doggo, Blue. ⁣

We took a jolly stroll through the woods with stops along the way for butterscotch schnapps hot cocoa (a Mariah Carey special request from her sleigh ride that is here to stay for the rest of us) did we know butterscotch schnapps existed?! Newly obsessed, thanks Mariah. ⁣

This excursion lasted about 45 minutes but we took breaks along the way for the horses.

I did lots of research to ensure we were going with the right company that treated the horses with love and respect. Sandy, the owner of Aspen Sleigh does that and more. For 40+ years she has paid to rescue horses every year that are about to be shipped to Mexico for slaughter. She even raised money with the locals to rescue an additional pair that she couldn’t afford this year. Some are injured or simply don’t love to do rides anymore and spend their day grazing her farm but many of these horses need to feel they have a job/purpose within their comfort limits. They go on limited short rides and take breaks along the way. They truly love their horses as we would love our dogs.⁣

I know there is a lot out there about animal cruelty in activities like this and although there is sadly a lot of abuse with horses there are also small companies like Sandy’s that do very well by these animals and they have a very happy life after being rescued from a very miserable one. It’s always worth doing the research to make sure you’re going with the right company.

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SPA DAY AT THE ST. REGIS

OK. Without question, this was one of the best spa experiences of my life, from massage to overall facility . Here is why:
•They serve you bubbly the entire time ⁣
•They have an oxygen bar lounge with fireplace, yummy snacks & MORE bubbly ⁣
•There is a stunning large co-ed hot tub with waterfalls in addition to the men’s and women’s locker rooms that both have: hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas, and a cold plunge pool ⁣

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SNOW POLO

We lucked out that the World Snow Polo Championship was during our visit. It takes place in Aspen every winter, so make sure to double check the dates before you go, it was really fun to see in person!

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Where to eat

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Can you ask for a better view with a bloody mary and hot toddy in hand?

The food scene is Aspen was so incredible. We could have gone there to simply just eat and I would have been happy.

One of our favorite experiences in Aspen by far was driving up the mountains and then taking a sleigh the rest the way (you could also snowshoe or cross country ski there but cars aren’t permitted) to Pine Creek Cookhouse for picturesque high alpine dining at 10,000 feet. We opted for lunch while it was still light out and warm. The dinner experience is also popular but I felt this was the best way to maximize the true experience. You can contact Pine Creek Cookhouse to arrange everything for you. Make sure you carve out a full afternoon for this, it was about 6 hours in total time.

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Our favorite dinner experience by far was at French Alpine Bistro. Every inch of that establishment is adorable and ultimate winter-cozy chic. The food and drinks are so incredible from the cocktails, champagne, french onion soup, mussels, escargot, fondu and french inspired desserts. Yum, yum, yum.

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The French and Austrian owners have poured their hearts and souls into creating an authentic atmosphere that is best described in one German word: gemütlich. The word refers to a feeling of warmth, friendliness, and a sense of belonging, which guests experience in this charming candle-lit hideaway.

The owners, who designed the restaurant themselves, furnished their award-winning establishment with rustic wood panels and precious antiques from the old world with a lot of Switzerland influence.

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We loved taking the gondola up Aspen Mountain to have lunch at Sundeck. The views were breathtaking and the chalet food had a great variety and everything we had was casual and very good.

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We stopped at Clark’s Oyster Bar for a casual dinner at the bar with amazing cocktails, oysters on the half, and an incredible lobster roll with string fries.

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Mediterranean lovers by nature, we dined at The Wild Fig and loved their cozy ambience, incredible service and impossible not to love dishes.

Hotel Jerome has 2 really far bar areas. We grabbed drinks and dessert at their living room bar and holy donuts! I got a hot cocoa cocktail with their homemade marshmallow and some of the best cinnamon sugar doughnuts of our life. Their ambiance is incredibly inviting and very mountain chic.

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Other recommendations included Poppycock’s Cafe (oatmeal pancakes!) and Bear Den Aspen for brunch. For lunch, White House Tavern and order the locals’ favorite crispy chicken sandwich, made with Swiss cheese, tomato, and spicy coleslaw. Other spots to bookmark include Nakazawa Aspen for sushi, Ellina for contemporary Italian cuisine, Hooch for craft cocktails, . Before you leave, stock up on artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and pickles from Meat and Cheese, a hybrid restaurant and specialty food store.

Where to stay

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The St. Regis Aspen Resort is located at the base of Aspen Mountain and walkable to all the action. The 179-room retreat is decorated in a Western alpine style. All suites come with butler service, and the 15,000-square-foot Remède Spa has a complimentary oxygen room for high-altitude acclimating. Some two- and three-bedroom residences are rentable. This is where we decided to stay. That offered a daily champagne sabering for guests and every morning the offered a complimentary bloody mary tasting. I love that they gave us “sleep vitamins” at night with turn down service (such a sucker for the little things). They also have a Bernese mountain hotel dog named Kitty that I’m obsessed with.

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Hotel Jerome has been an Aspen landmark since 1889, and the hotel’s rich 130-year history alone makes it worth a visit. The hotel first opened amid Aspen’s silver-mining boom as a model of class and elegance, pioneering innovations like electric lighting and indoor plumbing. It survived Aspen’s subsequent silver bust and the Great Depression, then tracked the city’s rise to become an elite mountain destination among skiers, movie stars, artists, and intellectuals. Now, it’s centrally located downtown and offers the perfect blend of modern luxury and historic Old West charm in its 99 guest rooms, complete with mounted wooden deer heads and burnished leather bed frames. Head down to the J-Bar for an “Aspen Crud,” a boozy, Prohibition-era milkshake.

If you’re traveling with your pandemic pod, Aspen Street Lodge is a new nine-room boutique hotel with a two-bedroom penthouse available this winter for total buyouts.

For architecture lovers, Aspen Meadows Resort offers an up-close view of Bauhaus architect and designer Herbert Bayer’s distinctive style and legacy.

The Little Nell is another Aspen icon, offering high-end accommodations and ski-in/ski-out access to Aspen Mountain for guests in its 92 rooms. Even if you don’t stay there, at least stop by for a glass of wine at the new Wine Bar at The Nell or a steaming mug of their popular hot chocolate, made with rich Dutch cocoa.

SHOPPING

Aspen is also a shopping hub, with fashion brands like PradaGucci, and Ralph Lauren lining the walkable brick streets downtown. To round out your shopping trip, browse for unexpected treasures—like a vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase or a pair of World War II binoculars—at Daniel’s Antiques, or head over to Chequers for tastefully curated home decor and art. More shop till you drop recommendations below:

Anna Trzebinski
Designer Anna Trzebinski, who spent her youth in Kenya and now owns a safari lodge there, stocks her flagship boutique with tribal-inspired goods crafted by Kenyans.

Caribou Jewels
This jewelry shop carries pieces by some of the most intriguing jewelry designers at work today, with pieces that run from the wildly extravagant to simple gold cuffs and charms.

Gorsuch
This iconic luxury outerwear brand is known for its elegant ski outfits, après-ski wear, coats, and jackets. Gorsuch’s Aspen boutique has a range of styles from traditional Austrian jackets and lederhosen to fashion-forward styles by designers such as Etro and J Brand.

Paris Underground
This hole-in-the-wall antiques store sells an eclectic mix of French furniture and objects. The owner is partial to 1940s and Mid-Century Modern design, but you’ll find a range here, including beautiful glass objects.

Pitkin County Dry Goods
Aspen’s most iconic fashion emporium opened in 1969 and carries an impressive selection of leather and shearling coats from France and Italy as well as fun basics.

Souchi
In addition to designer Suzi Johnson’s signature Souchi knitwear (including sweaters, blankets, and accessories), this upscale boutique features other designers with appropriately “après-chic” womenswear

The Town of Aspen

The town of Aspen is so fun to walk around. We could have spent a whole day going to all the shops and walking the cobble stone streets. Aspen is one of the most dog friendly places we have ever visited! And it was one of the few times we didn’t bring our little dog child. They have a huge dog park right in the middle of town, everyone brings their dogs with them everywhere to do everything no matter what the size. Our hotel even had a “hotel dog” haha. We loved Aspen! It has something for everyone and has it’s own special vibe about it that we really loved!

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