Welcome to Main Street USA, the Real One
If you’ve been to any Disneyland anywhere in the world, then Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, might look familiar. Disney’s Main Street USA was partially modeled after the picture-pretty historic center of this northern Colorado college town. Restored 19th-century brick and red stone buildings, mansard roofs and lacy Victorian ironwork highlight streets filled with eclectic shops and art galleries, craft breweries and pubs, and more than 80 unique restaurants, bars, and cafes.
It’s a town with a hip and happening vibe, huge civic pride and a lot going for it. Downtown Fort Collins puts on more than 100 days of free events every year. Yes, there’s a lot to do here. And you really should go do some of it.
I spent an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins recently with family. We ate and drank, walked and shopped, enjoyed the historic architecture and learned about single-origin chocolate. We were all charmed enough to want to return.
During my Colorado visit, I stayed with family, but if you don’t have that opportunity, a great option is to rent one of many beautiful private cabins in Colorado. Check them out and stay in private luxury.
A Great Place to Live, Work, Retire, Study & Visit
Old Town Square is the heart of the Downtown Fort Collins area, and the Downtown Visitors’ Center, at #19 Old Town Square, is a perfect place to start your afternoon. The maps, brochures, and friendly helpers with lots of information you’ll find there will point out the best direction for your afternoon of discovery. Or if you’re an advance planner, go to www.visitftcollins.com
Fort Collins is famous as Colorado’s craft beer epicenter. In fact, it’s been called the “Napa Valley of beer.” There are more than 20 craft beer breweries in town, and a few of them are right in the historic downtown. Whether your taste is for India Pale Ale or amber, wheat ale or stout, you’ll find a very good example of it here.
We had our first taste at Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing, directly across Old Town Square from the Visitors’ Center. It’s a great place to start your exploration of Downtown Fort Collins. It’s the longest-operating brewery in town with a wide range of brews available. I especially loved their Poudre Pale Ale.
Besides all that great beer, you’ll find that walking, window shopping, and browsing the boutiques and galleries is the #1 recommended activity for an afternoon in downtown Fort Collins. As you stroll, you’re likely to come across more than one gaily painted upright piano. The program “Pianos About Town” rounds up donated instruments and asks local artists to transform them into unique pieces of street art. They are there for anyone to play. Pull up the whimsical metal chair and set your fingers flying across the keys.
More than a dozen art galleries invite you to get your art on in Old Town. One of our favorites was Trimble Court Artisans (118 Trimble Court), an artist-operated co-op of fine art and craft. The more than 50 co-op artist members also staff the gallery, so a visit is even more interesting. They show very high-quality work in jewelry, ceramics, painting, fused and blown glass, fiber arts (like the simply delicious painted silk scarves by Susie Hardy), metal work, and other media.
Another shop I didn’t want to leave was Nature’s Own (201 Linden St.). Look for it on the corner in the beautifully restored Art Deco Linden Hotel building. An enormous selection of science and nature gifts and jewelry: fossils, crystals and other minerals and gemstones, bones, scientific items. We also loved that Nature’s Own gives significant financial support to a wide array of organizations working toward conservation, sustainability and wildlife survival and rehabilitation. You can shop till you drop and know you are helping maintain a healthy and sustainable environment
Next we browsed through the delightful Ten Thousand Villages (113 Linden St.), a non-profit store staffed by volunteers, with amazing displays of fair-trade crafts created by artisans in developing countries around the world. The range of items offered is staggering, a veritable mall of the hand-made world. Journals to jewelry, skincare to stationery, baskets to bags of every size and shape. And all at very fair prices. If you can’t find something you need and covet here, you’re not looking closely enough.
Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado–a Heaven for Foodies
Shopping is all well and good, but we were a group of serious cooks and foodies. What did Downtown Fort Collins have to offer us? The answer: a staggering banquet of tastes, textures and tools, sweet and savory flavors, and delicious libations of every variety.
Of course, we needed to stop for coffee. Fort Collins is a college town, home to Colorado State University. And where there are college students, there is sure to be good coffee and a lot of it. The “third-wave coffee” movement has made great inroads here. We had lots of fine choices and settled on Bean Cycle Roasters (144 No. College Ave). They’re major roasters as well as having an on-site café. After we sated our need for caffeination, I bought a 12 oz. bag of freshly roasted Ethiopian beans, which turned out to be some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.
All the serious cooks in the group went a bit wild in a few shops. Savory Spice Shop (123 College Ave.) hits your senses the minute you walk in with its heavenly fragrance. Just about every herb and spice and blend you could want is here, lining the shelves. They specialize in mixing there own custom spice blends for rubs and sauces and pre-measured packets of single-serving spice blends for recipes they provide. If you’re not vegetarian, don’t miss the Chicharron salt. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.
Down the street at The Cupboard (152 S. College Ave.) you can pick up any and every kitchen gadget you could want. You can even bring your dull knives in for sharpening. Upstairs, browse through a huge selection of cookbooks.
Sweet and then Savory in Fort Collins
Now, how to describe my personal highlight of our afternoon in downtown Fort Collins? Let me just say–chocolate. Heavenly chocolate. Single-origin craft chocolate. Chocolate bars made onsite with beans from Belize and Venezuela, Madagascar and Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. Drinking chocolate and chocolate bars and hand-rolled truffles. The shop is called Nuance, and their range of chocolate will challenge your palette and your ability to choose. Find it at 214 Pine Street. Owners Toby and Alix Gadd will educate your chocolate palette, occasionaly waxing poetic about this wonderful food of the gods. Here’s how Toby described the Trinitario Cacao 70% pure dark bar: “An especially capricious chocolate that shifts its character depending on your mood and mouth temperture. Subtle and earthy with a fickle note of dried apples, licorice, meadow herbs, winter spice and stone fruits.” And damn… I could actually taste all of that in it
My niece had the Ecuador sipping chocolate and described it as “like a chocolate bar you can drink. Not too sweet.” It is actually made with half a bar of chocolate melted with heavy cream. My other niece ordered a “flight” of bar chocolate. It came in small, star-shaped bites of six different flavors, with printed cards describing each one, a nice way to compare types.
Eat Dessert First: Oh, We Already Did That
Having thus finished a wonderful dessert, we decided we should probably have dinner. We walked around the corner to The Welsh Rabbit Cheese Bistro. And oh my, what a wonderful decision it was. If Nuance is all about chocolate, this place is all about cheese, and anything that makes the cheese even better… like wine, olives, warm baguettes with balsamic drizzled olive oil for dipping. We ordered salads and a wooden platter of cheeses with some meats.Samples we tried included Lavender Cheddar with embedded lavender buds; Apple Cinnamon Chevre Spread with small bits of apple on top (my favorite of all my favorites); a Parmesan-Reggiano that was mild at first bite but developed its flavor in your mouth. We also tried the Powerful Welsh cheddar, grassy and nutty, and Hoja Santa, a mild, creamy chevre wrapped in hoja santa leaves.
For something more substantial, you can order from the “small bites” menu. It includes some inventive dishes like bison tongue, sage quail, beet polenta and a traditional ploughman’s lunch. Or order their classic Welsh Rarebit, made with their Powerful Welsh cheddar melted with dark beer and poured over grilled sourdough. Oh my!
From the long wine list, you can choose a flight of three 2-oz pours. There’s also a nice list of beers and ciders from local breweries. We lingered long, until we could no longer deny it was time to head back to my niece’s home 45 minutes away. And drove back wondering how soon we could come back again.
For an even more complete look at this enviable eatery, check out my review of the Welsh Rabbit on theyums.com.
I hope I’ve convinced you to spend an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado the next time you’re in the area. It is a pretty, interesting and definitely filling way to add to your Colorado trip.
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