Word of Mouth: Aspen for Non-Skiers

If Hunter S Thompson taught us anything, it's that you needn't hit the slopes to enjoy this city's cultural splendor

There’s more to Aspen, Colorado than its idyllic representation of small-town America. With a downtown city center (walkable from end to end in 15 minutes) that boasts world-class restaurants, galleries, shops and more, one doesn’t even need to ski or snowboard to enjoy Aspen. The mountain destination—a 40-minute flight from Denver—offers stunning vistas, historic architecture and a healthy dose of the eccentric. Whether staying for a weekend or longer, it’s a place that can be both exciting and relaxing.

Woody Creek Tavern

A 15-minute drive from the town center, dive bar Woody Creek Tavern played host to many visits from Hunter S Thompson—who lived just up the road. Fans of Thompson will delight in the decor, which certainly recalls his more vivid works. The food and drinks are pretty standard, but it’s the conversation and atmosphere here that visitors will revel in.

Hotel Jerome

There are more than a handful of worthy hotels in Aspen, but Hotel Jerome warrants a visit—even if visitors aren’t planning on sleeping there. Housed in a historic 19th century red-brick building, the interior makes for an anachronism-free step back in time. Hotel Jerome also plays host to two cocktail venues: J-Bar makes for a superb dining and drinking spot, while the Living Room in the back offers signature specials and an atmosphere of old-time mountain extravagance.

Jimmy’s Bodega

Restaurateur Jimmy Yeager has two staple stops in Aspen, but Jimmy’s Bodega really stands out. While the exterior might not seem like much, inside the fare ranges from fresh seafood and rich comfort food to a premiere oyster bar. It’s the cocktails, however, that reign supreme. Bodega also carries a wide selection of hand-selected tequila and mezcal (a personal favorite spirit of Yeager) and it’s easy to imbibe anything inside the quaint dining room or at the outdoor seating with a view.

Gallery 1949

A two-minute walk away from the Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum is Gallery 1949, a venue that houses works by a remarkable roster of pop and modern artists. Most often, there’s a healthy blend of emerging and established artists, and the small space makes viewing the works feel intimate and special. The gallery plays host to events frequently, making it an ideal venue to celebrate art and creativity.

Kemo Sabe

Aspen is a famous shopping destination, with boutiques spilling with well-known designer apparel, alongside more obscure names. It’s Kemo Sabe that struck our fancy. Inside, visitors can find truly authentic western attire—like Stetson hats and an array of boots and belt buckles. It’s a great store to browse, play dress-up or buy treasures for yourself and friends back home.

Aspen Mountain Sundeck

Whether or not you can tackle the slopes, all visitors can reach the top of Aspen Mountain. After a 20-minute gondola ride yielding some of the best views of the entire city, visitors arrive 12,000 feet up; at the Aspen Mountain Sundeck. It’s a bar and restaurant for those looking to stare off from the top of the world. Owned and operated by Aspen’s most prestigious hotel, The Little Nell, it’s family-friendly and low-key.

Pine Creek Cookhouse

It’s impossible to convey the magnificence of Pine Creek Cookhouse without describing the experience. This ski-in, ski-out destination (also accessible by horse-drawn sleighs) rests atop a mountain a few miles away from downtown Aspen and is only accessible by driving to a ghost town and taking one of the two aforementioned means of travel the rest of the way. By night, the lodge-like restaurant sits under the stars, surrounded by near-complete darkness. The traditional gourmet mountain cuisine dishes are top quality and the cocktails are well-made, but the sense of adventure really sets this apart.

Images by David Graver