Breckenridge Colorado: So Much More Than Skiing

by Tammy Powell
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Breckenridge Colorado and Mountains Photo by Tammy Powell

While Breckenridge, Colorado is mainly known as a ski town — and for good reason, considering its 9,600-foot elevation, breathtaking mountain views, and some of the country’s most popular slopes — it also has a thriving culture all its own, with plenty of unexpected finds. Winter is obviously a popular time to visit. But, consider the other seasons, too!

Breckenridge boasts near-perfect weather in the summer months. It’s a place where you can escape the heat and enjoy highs in the 70’s.

And the “shoulder season” (between the winter and summer months) is a great time to visit because you’ll discover a quiet retreat where you can relax and rejuvenate, with some of the most beautiful mountain views and fresh air you could possibly wish for.

Breckenridge is worth a visit any time of year, and here are a few things you won’t want to miss.

Breckenridge Colorado mountain view

The mountain views are beautiful in Breckenridge, Colorado (Photo Tammy Powell)

Historic Saloon Tour

While Breckenridge has plenty of luxuries and activities nowadays, it started out as a humble mining town in 1859. Skiing didn’t come along until about 100 years later, when the first ski resort opened in 1961.

The Behind the Swinging Doors Historic Saloon Tour is a fun way to learn about the city’s colorful past. It starts at the Breckenridge Welcome Center, so try to schedule this tour at the beginning of your visit. It’ll help you learn your way around town quickly.

The first thing you’ll notice is that a lot of buildings have kept their mining-era facades. In fact, the city has more than 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As you stroll downtown — with snowcapped peaks and quiet, riverside walking paths behind you — you feel a bit like you’ve stepped back in time, back to when the city was full of saloons for miners who paid the bartenders in gold shavings at the end of their workday.

Saloon Tour, photo by Tammy Poweel

A stop along the Behind the Swinging Doors Historic Saloon Tour (Photo by Tammy Powell)

Nowadays, a lot of these old saloons have been converted into modern businesses, like restaurants and boutiques, and even a toy store. But you’ll still find plenty of watering holes to grab a drink and relax.

During the tour, you’ll also hear stories of famous thieves, female mining-era business owners, and how skiing later became popular. And, you’ll get to sample spirits from the local distillery.

Nature and Time Outdoors

There’s no question about it — Breckenridge is beautiful.

In the heart of Main Street, you’re surrounded by fantastic, sweeping mountain views. And even just a short distance outside the small city, you feel totally reconnected with nature.

Besides skiing, you’ll find opportunities to hike, bike, and more. And with so many outdoor activities available, it’s no wonder that Summit County — where Breckenridge is located — has the highest life expectancy in the country.

If you want to get a fabulous view from above — without having to climb — you can also take a gondola ride up the mountain. Rides are free, and the gondola still runs during summertime, even when there’s no skiing.

According to a local tour guide, the spring season is also a good time for moose sightings. So keep your eyes peeled and camera ready for these giants, who sometimes wander very close to the city. Just be sure to enjoy the sighting from a safe distance.

Hiking and Biking Aplenty

There are hundreds of hiking trails in and around Breckenridge, including all levels from beginner to advanced. If you’re looking for a relatively flat and leisurely walk, you’ll find some easy hikes accessible from downtown. And for expert hikers, there’s an option of climbing Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet elevation).

So no matter what type of hike you’re looking for, there’s something for you! Take in the fresh air, mountains, evergreen forests, and streams. And since Breckenridge gets sunshine 300 days per year, you’ll likely enjoy some blue, blue skies, too.

For all hikes, remember to check weather conditions in advance, heed the difficulty ratings of the trails, and bring extra water and supplies. And of course, if you’re not used to the altitude, you’ll want to take some time to acclimate, and then start slow.

Bike riding is also a popular activity in Breckenridge. You can rent fat-tire bikes from a company called Ridden. These bikes are designed to be easy to navigate, and good for many different types of terrains. You can rent them on your own, or go on a guided tour of the city.

Downtown Breckenridge (Photo Tammy Powell)

Downtown Breckenridge, with the Rocky Mountains in the background (Photo Tammy Powell)

Artisan Community

The Breckenridge Arts District is a cultural gathering place of artists, studios, galleries, shows, and other businesses near the city center. And the main attraction is a cluster of renovated historic buildings, where local and visiting artists do their work and teach classes.

In this community, one of the most popular studios is the Hot Shop. Here, “hot arts” like metal working, encaustic painting, and glass working are performed and taught by local artists. Try the silversmithing class, where you’ll make a beautiful pendant-style necklace that you can wear right out of the shop.

You’ll also find plenty of unique stores and galleries to browse. And, try to plan your trip so you can catch some of the city’s lively art events…

In the summer, the city hosts the Creative Street Art Festival, the International Festival of Arts, and the fascinating event WAVE: Light + Water + Sound, which transforms part of the city into a canvas of light and sound. And, fall season brings the renowned Breckenridge Film Festival.

Hot Shop silversmithing class, photo Tammy Powell

At Hot Shop, the instructor heats up the pendants during a silversmithing class (Photo Tammy Powell)

High Altitude Pampering

To adjust to the altitude efficiently, try venturing into one of the local oxygen spas. There, you’ll get some fresh oxygen and relaxation, which helps your body gently ease into the elevation, so you can enjoy your time in Breckenridge more fully. Plus, you can treat yourself to all the usual pampering you’d expect during a spa day, too.

I’d recommend the Altitude Adjustment Massage at Samadhi Healing Arts Studio. It includes oxygen therapy, aromatherapy (with peppermint, eucalyptus, and lemongrass, which help clear up your sinuses whether you’re affected by the altitude or not), and a special focus on the face and scalp. It would have been a real treat even at sea level, but it was especially therapeutic during my stay in the mountains.

Restaurants, Breweries, and Distilleries in Breckenridge, Colorado

The food and drink in Breckenridge is something special. Despite the town’s small size, some amazing chefs have taken up residence, with more than 20 new restaurants opening in the last few years.

There’s a lot to try, but one of my favorites was the Breckenridge Distillery. It happens to be the highest distillery in the world, and it features some amazing spirits on offer, including the popular espresso-flavored vodka. Be sure to take a tour of the facilities, which concludes with a tasting of all the varieties.

At Breckenridge Distillery (Photo Tammy Powell)

Breckenridge Colorado Breckenridge Distillery

Sample a flight at Breckenridge Distillery (Photo Tammy Powell)

But while the tour is a must-see for any trip to Breckenridge, in my opinion, the real star there is the food. The Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant is run by chef David Burke, two-time winner of the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. The menu focuses on seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients and recipes that use the whole animal. A highlight includes a patented dry-age steak, aged up to 100 days) I’d recommend trying the Brussels sprouts, cooked with apple, hazelnuts, bacon, and Breckenridge Bourbon maple syrup.

Photo Tammy PowellIf you’re looking for a vegetarian-friendly option, be sure to try Piante Pizzeria, a vegan pizza restaurant that even meat eaters will love. I recommend the Pesto, made with kale and walnut pesto, and cashew nut-based mozzarella blend. And while you’re there, enjoy the amazing views of the mountains from the balcony.

Piante Pizzeria (Photos by Tammy Powell)

If you’re looking for a place to wind down and drink with the locals, check out the Broken Compass Brewery. They brew their own beer at this small, relaxed, dog-friendly establishment. And besides more traditional options, there are unique flavors like Chili Pepper Ale and Ginger Pale Ale.

Rocky Mountain Underground: Craft Beer, Cocktails … and Ski Equipment

During your trip, be sure to stop in at Rocky Mountain Underground, a Breckenridge staple. Here, you’ll find rotating craft beers, specialty craft cocktails, yard games on the patio… and even a shop for handcrafted skis and other outdoor products. Hear all about how world-class skis are made (and how the business originally started in the owner’s garage) as you sip your drink of choice.

Rocky Mountain Underground (Photo Tammy Powell)

Rocky Mountain Underground: craft beers, great cocktails and custom ski equipment (Photo Tammy Powell)

Take a Cooking Class

And finally, if you want to try something more adventurous, go for a cooking class at the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute. You won’t regret it! It’s perfect for groups, and led by an award-winning chef. For the menu, choose from world cuisines such as Argentinian, Indian, Thai, and more. It’s great fun, with a delicious meal to boot!

cooking class

Some of the dishes from our Argentinian cuisine cooking class at Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute (Photo by Tammy Powell)

Planning Your Trip to Breckenridge, Colorado

It’s easy to get to Breckenridge, with several shuttle companies offering direct transport from Denver International Airport. And once in town, you won’t need a car. Downtown is walkable, and the city offers a free trolley and shuttle service to help you get around.

Breckenridge trolley, by Tammy Powell

Breckenridge Trolley (Photo by Tammy Powell)

For real local flavor and comfort, check out options from Pinnacle Lodging, which features private homes and other options within easy walking distance to Main Street and downtown. It’s a great way to make the most of your time there, and enjoy waking up to beautiful mountain views every morning.

breckenridge colorado

Breckenridge, Colorado (Photo by Tammy Powell)

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-All photos by Tammy Powell.

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