Main Street USA in Fort Collins, Colorado

Spend an Afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

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.

The F.Miller Block, a restored 19th-century building in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, is lined with dozens of restored 19th-century buildings,
like the F.Miller block, giving it a real Main Street USA look.

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

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.

The redbrick building of Coopersmith's Pub & Brewery, right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewery is right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

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.

A pair of colorful artist-painted pianos on the streets of downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

The program “Pianos About Town” has placed donated pianos, custom painted by local artists, on the city’s streets.
On the right is “Octopus Octaves” by Ren Burke. Pull up the chair and play!

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.

Colorful blown glass olive oil bottles by Dottie Boscamp from Trimble Court, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

I loved these hand-blown glass bottles by Dottie Boscamp at Trimble Court artists’ co-op.
Too bad I was traveling with just a carry-on bag.

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

A huge amethyst geode and fossils at Nature's Own in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

Look a this amethyst geode. Is that not gorgeous? Find fossils, minerals, bones
and other science and nature items at Nature’s Own.

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.

The chalkboard menu at Bean Cycle, in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

We had rich, deep-flavored, fair-trade coffee at Bean Cycle in Fort Collins.

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

Chocolate truffles at Nuance Chocolate, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Chocolate truffles at Nuance, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado,
and perhaps the best chocolate shop I’ve ever entered.

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.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit. Every single bite was wonderful.

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

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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The Neon Museum in Las Vegas: A Gift of Memory to Baby Boomers

At the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the “Boneyard” is stuffed full of the faded glory of Las Vegas’ Golden Age. Beyond all the new LED bling of the Strip, this is where the neon of the city’s past went to die. Let the magic of these old signs and markers bring memory alive and remind us of what was once there.

A yellow crown with neon and flashing bulbs that once lit up the desert sky in Las Vegas, back in the day. Now at the Boneyard of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

In my memories, I can still see the neon and flashing bulbs lighting up the desesrt horizon as my family neared Las Vegas.

It’s 1959. My sister and I have piled into the back of the family’s white ’55 Mercury station wagon. We are off on the annual family summer vacation, a road trip to Somewhere, USA.

The metal cooler full of tuna sandwiches and thick-bottled Cokes has been stowed. The coated burlap water bag is hanging from the Merc’s hood ornament, ready in case the radiator overheats in the scorching California sun. Later, I’ll plead thirst at a rest stop and ask for a swallow of that water, brackish, hot, and tasting like you’d been chewing on dry straw. Disgusting really, but I always beg for it. It’s part of the road trip experience I crave. It’s a built-in part of my happiest childhood memories.

Of course, everyone in the car knows where the first night’s stop will be. It’s always the same. No matter where we’re headed out to from our Southern California home, that first night is the same. Whether we’re heading east to the Grand Canyon, north to our favorite fishing spot on Clear Lake, northwest to the Canyonlands of Utah, there is one constant.

Las Vegas is on the way there.

Because my mom loves Vegas and pulling for hours on the “One-Armed Bandit” at a nickel a pull. And my dad loves my mom and loves giving her what she wants. So Vegas is always on the way.

An old family photo taken at some US National Park, daddy and his girls.

On a family vacation at some U.S. National Park, my sister her always pretty self in her saddle shoes, and me with the dreadful hair and Brownie T-shirt, flanking my dad… where he most loved to be.

Vintage photo of my mom at a slot machine in the 1950s

My mom at a slot machine in downtown Las Vegas, probably The Mint, in the 1950s, playing till her hand was black from the nickels and her arm was sore… where she most loved to be.

Memories That Don’t Fade

Of course, it’s no longer 1959. The white Mercury station wagon went to auto heaven decades ago. Both my parents are gone too. Las Vegas has changed and grown and gotten way more sophisticated. But memory is a funny thing. It fades and shapeshifts but refuses to give up entirely. I can still taste that burlap-y swallow of desert-hot water. I can still feel the shock of cannonballing into a cold Las Vegas motel pool on a 110 degree desert day.

And I remember the neon. I remember all that gleaming, glittering, enticing neon.

The neon was always how we knew we had arrived in Las Vegas. The neon made my mom sit up and smile. It made my sister and me wake up from the flattened back of the station wagon to shake out our hair and pull on our tennis shoes. It roused my dad from the highway-induced stupor of driving an endless road through the desert.

The neon shouted to us: “Welcome back, Meyer family. Let’s have some fun!”

Revisiting the Icons of Old Las Vegas at The Neon Museum

Worn and broken neon sign for the old Silver Slipper Gaming House, Las Vegas Neon Museum.

Almost 60 years later, I loved seeing the old neon signs at the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas.

These kinds of memories have their own special magic. And they can be spurred by many things—sights, smells, a sound, a curve of light. I wrote this memory of our early trips to Las Vegas shortly after visiting The Boneyard at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. I’d like to take you there, to re-visit a bit of my own childhood, and maybe yours too. And if you never visited Vegas during its Golden Age, let yourself imagine how it looked back then—when The Stardust sign could be seen from 60 miles away, when The Mint façade undulated, when the neon lights gleamed and glittered and invited.

Come with me to see the bones of old Las Vegas now on display in the more than 200 old neon signs set out at The Boneyard of The Neon Museum. And see why maybe you’ll want to make that trip to the Nevada desert to see these memories of Old Las Vegas for yourself.

Entrance sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas incorporating iconic typeface letters from various Vegas locations.

The entrance sign to the Neon Museum and Boneyard is itself a part of the display. The lettering on old Vegas neon signs was often the most important part, and typography styles became instantly recognizable. This sign copies some iconic neon typography. The first “N” is classic Golden Nugget style. The “E” is from the famous Caesar’s Palace font. The “O” is copied from downtown’s Binion’s Horseshoe casino. And the final “N” celebrates the Desert Inn of the Rat Pack days.

The entrance lobby of the old La Concha motel was refurbished to become the lobby of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas

The Neon Museum entry and Visitor Center is housed in the renovated lobby of the La Concha Motel, which stood on the southern Strip. It was dismantled, moved and rebuilt for the Neon Museum after the motel closed in 2004. The lobby, its shape mirrored in this sign, was a curvilinear concrete shell designed in the “Googie” style of architecture. The style was enormously popular in Las Vegas and Southern California and later came to be called “Mid-Century Modern.” It is sometimes also referred to as “Space Age” or “Atomic” design.

The atomic-style lettering of the famous Stardust hotel became an icon of Las Vegas during the "Rat Pack" days. Now on display at the Neon Museum.

The jagged galaxy of the Stardust Resorts sign, done in Googie atomic lettering, was built by the Young Electric Sign Company, the premier neon sign company in Las Vegas. It played firmly into the country’s fascination with all things atomic, nuclear and space related in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s one of the larger signs at the Neon Museum.

The neon sign for the Sahara Hotel denoted another famous "Rat Pack" hangout. Its vaguely "Arabic" lettering style was an icon.

The Sahara Hotel and Casino, on the Las Vegas Strip, was one of the famous “Rat Pack” casinos, a hang-out for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. The sign is one of the better-preserved examples in the Neon Museum’s Boneyard.

The neone sign for the Yucca Motel, of a type seen at less expensive motels all over old Las Vegas.

The Yucca Motel was built around 1950. It sat on the northern Strip, in the wedding chapel area. It was demolished in 2010.

An old and battered "Casino" sign in the classic circus style of old downtown Las Vegas. At the Neon Museum.

I’m not sure where this sign came from, but it is exactly representative of the look of many downtown Las Vegas casinos in the 1950s and ’60s. This Old Western/Circus look was very popular, adding to the theme park feel of the area.

The giant Silver Slipper, perched atop its pole at the gambling hall, blinked and flashed and revolved. Now in the Boneyard of the Neon Museum, Las Vegas.

The Silver Slipper Gambling Hall opened in 1950. This giant revolving and blinking shoe sat on a post atop the casino. In 1968, the property was purchased by Howard Hughes. The paranoid millionaire apparently was afraid of the shoe. He thought someone would put a camera in the toe, which stopped and reversed its revolutions when it was pointed directly into his penthouse at the Desert Inn. He had the revolving mechanism dismantled and then turned the lights off.

A smiling, giant yellow duck, picked out in rows of neon. At the Neon Museum, Las Vegas.An old, peeling letter "B," once a shining light marking a casino in Las Vegas. Now in the Neon Museum.

Some of the pieces at the Neon Museum and Boneyard are still in pretty good condition. Others, like these peeling letters, are sad reminders of how many years have passed since my family drove into Las Vegas every summer.

An old and faded neon sign for the original Paris casino in Las Vegas. At the Neon Boneyard of the Las Vegas Neon Museum.

There is a huge Paris hotel/casino/resort now on the Las Vegas Strip, complete with a replica of the Eiffel Tower, sidewalk cafes and a giant Montgolfier balloon. But earlier, there was this Paris, now nothing but a relic and a memory at the Neon Museum.

A vintage matchbook cover of the old Mint casino in downtown Las Vegas.

In my mind, I can still see those lights flashing and blinking and lighting up the desert sky. The Mint, shown on this vintage matchbook cover, was my mom’s favorite place to play the slots until her arm, as she said, “was like to fall off.”

Visit the Neon Museum for Yourself

If you go to Las Vegas, do plan to visit the Neon Museum and Boneyard. Your memories are not mine, and perhaps you didn’t travel to Las Vegas as a child. But I think most of our generation can relate to the era of neon and the mid-century modern look that so many of these pieces display. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Las Vegas.

Let yourself walk through the Boneyard. Listen to the stories these signs tell of a past Golden Age. Look and imagine. And remember.

The Neon Museum and Boneyard is located at 770 Las Vegas Blvd. North, not far from Downtown Las Vegas and The Fremont Street Experience. There is free parking available.

When visiting the Neon Museum, you used to have to sign up for the one-hour docent-guided tour, which I recommend because the docents are very knowledgeable about the history of each sign. It is now also possible to walk through the Boneyard on your own, without joining a tour. The grounds are approximately two acres with well laid-out paths.

General admission at the Neon Museum and Boneyard without a tour is available from 9am to 4pm on most days. Docent-led tours can be booked seven days a week. They are offered several times a day, both day tours and night tours, with hours varying by the season. Tours often sell out, so booking in advance online is highly recommended. There is also a 30-minute film that includes a light show of many of the signs and their history. Ticket prices range from $20-42, depending on what level of experience you want to book.

You can book a tour on the Neon Museum’s website here.

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