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 summer 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!
Nestled high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Aspen is a picturesque paradise that captivates visitors all year round. This charming town, known for its glitz, glamor, and natural beauty, offers a seamless blend of world-class skiing, cultural attractions, fine dining, and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or a summer explorer, Aspen has something special to offer!
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 features some of the biggest names in music. They also host 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 have to get some for the table. They also have some great breakfast sandwiches! Peacock also sells 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 and juices. They have a location in NYC, too!
- 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. They are situated on one of the busiest corners in town and usually, there’s a band playing nearby so you can enjoy your sweet treat to some music! 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!
- Mawa’s Kitchen – Located near the airport, this Mediterranean & French Cuisine with flavors inspired by Mawa’s African heritage and world travels!
- JÜS – Grab juice on the go or an acai bowl from Aspen’s favorite juice bar. Also, their chicken ceaser wrap is a new favorite of mine – so delicious! The Scooby-Doo is also my go-to smoothie!
- 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. Their shishito peppers and steak sandwich are also a great option too! 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! They have one of my favorite BLTs and Chicken Pillards! Their 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! Probably have one of my favorite Aperol Spritzes!
- 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! Get their biscuit board and their Asian noodle salad!
- Grateful Deli – A solid spot for some classic cold-cut sandwiches. I love the Galen, 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 The 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!
- Jour de Fete – Quaint, popular deli & French counter-serve café featuring gourmet breakfast, salads & sandwiches. Great for on-the-go or casual lunch options!
- Heather’s – In Basalt, about 15 miles down valley from Aspen. A family favorite! We usually bike here down the Rio Grande Trail and have lunch here. Great Asian chicken salad and mushroom soup and known for its savory pies: get the chicken pot pie and the pulled pork tamale pie!
- Prospect (at Hotel Jerome) – Stylish destination with modern American menus for breakfast, lunch & Sunday brunch. They have a great tomato & burrata starter as well as a delicious burger! A favorite for after the Saturday Farmer’s Market!
- 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. Get the Hamachi Crudo plate to start, thank me later. 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 soups 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.
- Las Montañas (Mexican) – Serves Mexican & Tex-Mex classics as well as ceviches and agua chiles. The “Nº1 Fajitas” are some of the best steak fajitas I’ve ever had! Be sure to get the loaded queso and shrimp tacos for lunch! They also have Austin, Texas’ famous ‘Maudie’s Maragritas’! Opened by the same group behind Clark’s Oyster Bar!
- Casa D’ Angelo (Italian) – Upscale Northern Italian restaurant in an elegant, modern space with a robust wine list & a patio.
- Pintxos (Spanish) – This wine bar is serving up a simple but elevated Spanish-inspired menu with delicious tapas!
- Ellina (European) – Romantic, sophisticated nook offering upmarket Italian dishes & an extensive wine selection.
- Catch Steak – The team behind LA’s Catch brings their steakhouse offering to the mountains! Be sure to get the salmon rice cakes, the wedge salad, beef carpaccio, and truffle butter steak!
- Matsuhisa – (Japanese) From the same owners as Nobu, it’s one of the best sushi spots in town! Along with your
- 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. I usually get at
- Wild Fig (European) – Intimate, candlelit spot featuring a menu inspired by the cuisines of France, Spain, Italy & Greece. They are known for their ‘Fish in a Bag’ offering!
- Monarch – (Steakhouse) The same owners as Steakhouse no. 316. They have an insane Caesar salad that they make tableside and had a great tequila cocktail, the black pearl. But if you’re choosing between the two, I’d go with Steakhouse no. 316!
- 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!
- 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.
- Highlands Ale House (American) – This unassuming gastropub is located at the base of Aspen Highlands. It has some of the best-elevated bar food including pizza and fries! Great place to aprés-ski end the day in the winter!
- Hooch – Underground Craft cocktail bar that plays hip-hop!
- Aspen Brewing Company – Swing by and try a flight of Aspen’s own!
- Dante – My favorite bar in NYC is doing a year-long pop-up at the St. Regis hotel. Come for happy hour and enjoy a spritz or martini or stay for dinner. It will be there until June 2022!
- Caribou Club – This private member’s club is a great destination for dinner and late-night dancing!
- Eric’s – Casual local watering hole with pool table
- Escobar – An underground club that is modeled to feel like you’re in one of Pablo Escobar’s airplanes.. with stripper poles!
- Gala – If you’re looking for a night out with a DJ and bottle service, look no further!
- Ponyboy (at the W Hotel) – This Brooklyn, NYC bar is a cocktail bar mixing up specialty cocktails, plus an international food menu.
- 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 serves up craft cocktails in a beautiful space. I love the martinis here!
- Local Coffee House – Friendly, cozy coffee shop serving an array of pastries, hot breakfast, lunch & cocktails.
- Felix (at Hotel Jerome) – Chic coffee shop from NYC nestled in the corner of Hotel Jerome!
To do (in-town) :
- See some modern art at the Aspen Art Museum
- Get your cowboy on at the Snowmass Rodeo (on Wednesdays!)
- Pitkin County Dry Goods – A favorite of mine! Aspen’s well-curated go-to for designer names.
- Kemo Sabe – Western store with boots and hats galore.
- Res Ipsa – Travel-inspired goods, known for their woven shoes and vintage shirts!
- Gorsuch – Ski gear and alpine-inspired apparel
- Paris Underground – Curated modern European home goods
- 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 trek 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 miles) – 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…
Aspen, Colorado, is a destination that embraces both adventure and culture, offering a unique blend of outdoor pursuits, artistic experiences, and upscale amenities. Whether you’re carving through fresh powder in winter or exploring the mountains in the summer sun, Aspen promises an unforgettable experience for every traveler. So, pack your bags, don your ski gear or hiking boots, and prepare to fall in love with this enchanting little mountain town!