Why Colorado Should Be On Your Autumn Bucket List

I know it’s hot outside in most parts of the country, but foliage season is just around the corner. Before you know it, the leaves will be changing and the air will feel crisp. Autumn is personally my favorite season. I’ll never get over how magical Autumn is in the New England region BUT I also feel like Colorado is often over looked when it comes to Autumnal destinations.

Since Colorado is centrally located, it makes getting here relatively cheap and easy. There are tons of places in the mountains to experience stunning foliage. Colorado is home to tons of Aspen Trees which are so vibrate when their leaves change colors. My favorite places for leaf peeping are Vail, Estes Park, Idaho Springs, and Aspen. You could really drive anywhere into the mountains and spot Aspen Tree groves.

One of the hardest parts about planning an Autumnal getaway is the timing. Foliage season is somewhat unpredictable and in some regions a very short period. One of the great things about Colorado’s foliage season is that, as a state, it’s much longer. Since Colorado has pretty dramatic elevation changes we get a longer foliage season. The trees will start changing color in the mountains about a week or two before the trees in the lower region start changing. This gives us about an entire month of foliage season. If you are thinking about planning an Autumnal getaway this year, I highly recommend Colorado.

Travel Guide to Vail Colorado

I’ve lived in Colorado for 7 years now and Vail is hands down my favorite place in the state. I love the European feeling atmosphere, the shopping, the food, and the stunning landscape. I’ve been to Vail about a dozen times and I’ve even helped family members plan their trip to Vail (for mine and my husband’s wedding weekend) so I’m pretty familiar with the best places to stay, where to eat, and what to do.

Getting There

Screenshot from Google Maps

If you are flying, the Denver Airport is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Vail. There is also Eagle County Regional Airport, which is about 40 minutes from Vail but only certain airlines from a handful of cities offer flights into the Eagle County Regional Airport. Based on the distance from the nearest airports, you might be tempted to rent a car but I highly recommend avoiding that if you can. Vail Village and Lionshead Village are mostly pedestrian only areas, so there is no need for a car once you arrive (plus parking can cost over $50 a day). The best option is to hire a private transfer which might seem expensive but keep in mind you are saving money by not renting a car and not paying for parking (not all hotels in Vail offer parking). You can also take a bus from Denver to Vail using the CDOT West Bus Line (keep in mind this will take longer than a private transfer but is less expensive).

Where to Stay

When looking for a place to stay in Vail I suggest looking in Vail Village and Lionshead Village so you can walk everywhere you’ll want to go. You can stay on the outskirtsof Vail and take one of Vail’s free shuttle busses into the Village and Lioshead. Vail Village and Lionshead Village are about a mile apart and have a pedestrian path that connects them. Vail Village is a little bit more lively and Lionshead is a bit more quiet. If you are intested in staying in Vail Village I recommend the Austria Haus. The Austria Haus is a boutique hotel that was bought by Hyatt. It still feels like a charming hotel but you also get the benefit of being able to use World of Hyatt points. It’s also on of the few hotels in Vail Village that offers valet parking.

If you want to stay in Lionshead, then I suggest staying at the Arrabelle Hotel. I might be biased because this is the hotel my husband and I held our wedding reception at, but I love this hotel. This a a very expansive hotel and the rooms have great views of the mountain or the village. It also has a rooftop pool with great views of the mountain.

If you are interested in staying in the outskirts of Vail, or if you are traveling with a family and want to rent a condo, I recommend the Vail Racquet Club Resort. Vail’s free shuttle has a stop just outside the resort that can to you to Vail and Lionshead Village.

What to Do

What you do in Vail is totally dependent on the season. In the Winter skiing and snowboarding is the main attraction, but there’s so much more to do than just that. Both Vail Village and Lionshead Village have outdoor ice skating rinks in the Winter. You can also try cross country skiing, sledding, snow tubing, snowmobiling, or just take in the sights and do some shopping during the Winter. Vail is typically thought of as a Winter destination but my favorite time to go to Vail is in the Summer and Autumn. Vail is less crowded in the Summer and Autumn months but still offers a ton of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, exploring the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, and there is a great Farmers Market in Vail on Sundays June-October.

Where to Eat

Vail is home to the best restaurants in Colorado. My favorite restaurant in the world has a location in Vail (it’s a small Colorado chain) and that is Matsuhisa. It’s the most phenomenal sushi and wagyu I’ve ever had. It’s owned by the same chef that owns Nobu. If the European vibes of Vail have you craving German and Austrian food, then you should try Alpen Rose. If you are looking for a great steak house in Vail, you can’t go wrong with Russel’s. Although it’s a steak house, my favorite thing on the menu is the king crab.

Best Day Trips from Denver

Denver is centrally located in the US which makes most flights in mainland US to Denver very affordable. While there is a ton to do in Denver, the best things Colorado has to offers lies outside of Denver. Below are the best day trips from Denver.

Estes Park

Estes Park is just over an hour and thirty minutes outside Denver. Estes Park is a great destination for groups of people that have different interests. It’s a great place to have a relaxing day shopping and eating, or for outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, or fishing. It’s a convenient place to visit because it’s such a small town you can park in the downtown area and explore the restaurants and shops by foot.

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is located just over an hour outside Denver. It’s a great day trip for anyone that’s looking to get out of the city for some beautiful scenery. Colorado Springs is most popular for Garden of the Gods which is a stunning rock formation with hiking trails around it. You can also take a scenic train to the top of Pikes Peak which is one of the tallest mountains in Colorado.

Boulder

Boulder is less than an hour drive from Denver. It’s a beautiful town nestled up against the mountains. My favorite thing to do in Boulder is shop and eat along Pearl Street. Part of Pearl Street is pedestrian only, and there are tons of unique and chain stores as well as great restaurants. I recommend Jax Fish House and Centro for a bite to eat. If the altitude is affecting you there is an oxygen bar along Pearl Street. If you want a great view of Boulder you can hike up the Royal Arch trail.

Idaho Springs

Idaho Springs is also less than an hour from Denver but really gives you the feel of being in the mountains without driving through the mountains far. It’s a hippy town with great shops and restaurants. Similar to Estes Park, you can easily walk the entire downtown area in an afternoon. Echo’s Hippie Shop is fun to browse through and The Spice & Tea Exchange has phenomenal and unique spices. Whenever my husband and I go up to the mountains we always stop at Westbound and Down Brewery for lunch.

My Favorite Recipes to Make on the Smoker

Back in the Spring my husband and I got a Traeger smoker. I’ve completely fallen in love with it and have got a ton of use out of it this Spring and Summer. Below are my favorite recipes that we have made on the smoker.

Smoked Chicken Breast from Taste of Artisan

This recipe is more intensive than other similar recipes but it’s totally worth it! Definitely the best chicken breast I’ve ever had.

Smoked Buttery Shrimp from Lane’s BBQ

I love this recipe because the cook time is only 25 minutes and as far as smoker recipes go, this is one of the healthier ones.

Smoked Queso from Plain Chicken

Prior to making this recipe I had never tried smoked queso and now I can honestly say smoked queso it definitely superior to regular queso. This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd.

Midnight Brisket from Traeger

Smoked Brisket can be a challenge to make but this recipe makes it pretty difficult to screw up. I was a little hesitant to make it because of the 12 hour cook time but I’m glad I did wake up at 6 am for it.

Everything I Bought from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale opens to general access tomorrow, July 15th. Before it opens to everyone I wanted to share everything I bought during early access.

Hany Panky Thong I got this thong in the colors Chia and Black which have sold out but it’s still available in 4 other colors. Hanky Panky makes the most comfortable thongs I’ve ever worn.

Treasure and Bond Sweater I got this sweater in the oatmeal color. I typically wear a size small but sized down to XS. I recommend sizing down one size, especially if you are between sizes. It’s currently sold out in XS but available in all other sizes.

Slip King Size Silk Pillowcase Set My husband and I have been using these silk pillowcases for years and I love them. I love them so much I even bring mine when we travel. Our old ones need to be replaced so I was happy to see them included in the sale.

Revitalash I have a lot of lashes but they are not very thick or dark, and from my experience this serum really helps improve that. I’ve tried other lash serums and they have either irritated my eyes or did not work.

Clinique Moisture Surge Set This is one of my favorite moisturizers so I love that it’s included in the sale. It has a gel like consistency so it feels lightweight, and my skin has an easier time absorbing it. I use it every night,, and sometimes during the day. It wears well under makeup.

Bony Levy 14k Gold Bracelet I’m not usually a jewelry lover but I love this bracelet because it’s light enough I don’t really feel it. I also have VERY small wrists so it can be a challenge to find bracelets that fit. I don’t have to worry about this one sliding off my hand. It’s dainty which I love! It can be styled on it’s own or in a stack.

A Guide to a Weekend in Monterey Bay

In June my husband and I attended a wedding in Gilroy California. We decided to make a little vacation out of it and spend some time in the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz area as well. Santa Cruz is located about 40 minutes SW of San Jose. The San Jose Airport (SJC) is the easiest place to fly into. This is a destination I’d recommend renting a car for.

Screenshot from Google Maps

Where to Stay

We originally wanted to stay in Santa Cruz and in all honesty, there’s not a great selection of accommodation in Santa Cruz. When I was looking for a place to stay, a lot of the hotels seemed seedy, over priced, or they were fully booked for the days we’d be there. If you really have your heart set on staying in the heart of Santa Cruz, the West Cliff Inn gets great reviews and it’s in a central location. In our case, we wanted all the fun of being near Santa Cruz but also accommodation that felt more like a relaxing beach vacation (Santa Cruz can get rowdy). Since most of the things we wanted to do were closer to Santa Cruz it didn’t make sense for us to stay in Monterey. For those reasons we decided to stay at the Seascape Beach Resort.

What to Do

I’ve been to the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay area several times and one of the things I love most is that it has tons of stuff to do for all ages, activity levels, and interests.

West Cliff Drive

The West Cliff Drive is a scenic 3 mile path along the cost. I suggest either walking or biking the path. There are benches along the way so it would be a great place to grab some pastries and coffee (or tea in my case) to take with you on a morning walk. I suggest setting aside a half day for this which is generous but it will allow you enough time to stroll and take in the sights without feeling rushed.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz boardwalk takes you back in time with it’s old school charm. The boardwalk has indoor arcades and outdoor rides. I suggest setting half a day aside for the Boardwalk and doing something more relaxing the other half of the day.

Henry Cowell State Park

California is known for it’s breathtaking redwood trees but you don’t have to go to the National Park to experience their beauty. Henry Cowell State Park is only a 15 to 20 minute drive from Santa Cruz. You could easily spend a full day in the park but we brought a picnic and did the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. You can research more of the trails and hikes in the park here.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

This was both mine and my husband’s favorite thing we did on our trip. The Aquarium is about an hour drive from Santa Cruz and definitely worth it. The aquarium is known for having an emphasis on local ocean habitats. I highly recommend seeing the otter feeding while you’re there. It was super informative and I could watch otters play all day. I suggest setting aside and entire day for this and checking out the Monterey wharf afterwards since it’s only 2 miles away.

Where to Eat

Sanderlings & Palapas

Since we stayed at the Seascape Beach Resort we ate at the Sanderlings restaurant a couple of times. I recommend the Cioppino and they make a great Aperol Spritz. We also tried Palapas which is also an onsite restaurant. I loved the Ceviche Tostada from Palapas.

Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant

Palapas is a great Mexican restaurant but if you want the best Mexican food you’ll ever have in the US then I highly recommend Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant in Aptos. Since I grew up in California I’ve had a lot of Mexican food there and Manuel’s is the best. The margaritas are lethal and the carne asada tacos are to die for.

Zoccoli’s Deli

One of my other favorite meals we got on our trip was from Zoccoli’s Deli in Santa Cruz. We picked up sandwiches, deviled eggs, and drinks from Zoccoli’s on our way to Henry Cowell State park for a picnic. My husband and I split the Antipasto Sandwich and Italian Club Sandwich. Both were great but the Italian Club was extra delicious.

I wish I had a great restaurant to recommend in Monterey. The place we ate at had a great view but not so great food. The area surrounding the Aquarium is VERY touristy so I suggest finding a place more off the beaten path. The aquarium also has a restaurant inside that might be worth trying out of convenience.