Aspen has come a long way since being founded in 1879 by intrepid miners seeking fortunes in silver in the Wild West. Today the resort town, nestled in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, is best known as a wintry wonderland where celebrities and the well-heeled mingle for the world-class slopes and a buzzy social scene.
Since visiting during peak ski season can be crowded and costly, here’s a tip: Aspen makes for an equally thrilling visit the rest of the year, especially in summer and fall. Hotel prices dip; the climate is blissfully moderate; crowds thin out; and there’s plenty of ways to take advantage of the great outdoors. Below, a weekend guide on where to stay, what to eat, and what to do in Aspen during the off season—no snow or skis necessary.
Where to Stay in Aspen
The Little Nell
Fresh off of a spiffy renovation, this beloved hotel feels brighter than ever with 78 refreshed rooms, eight suites, and new hallways. A soft palette of blue, grey, and cream runs throughout the property, and the accommodations are made even more plush with the help of custom wallpaper, pillows, and throws. What’s remained the same is the polished, agreeable service and the popular restaurants, Ajax Tavern and Element 47. The former is a casual, al fresco spot perched at the base of Aspen Mountain. (Naturally, it’s home to one of Aspen’s glitziest apres-ski scenes, but it’s just as fun when it’s warm out.) From a vegan cauliflower gratin to porchetta sandwich, there’s something for all types of diners. At Element 47, refined, yet approachable cuisine is the specialty of the house, and oenophiles will geek out over the famous wine cellar curated by Carlton McCoy, which stocks over 24,000 bottles.
An Aspen mainstay for over 125 years, Hotel Jerome also unveiled a sweeping renovation earlier this year. Now there are even more spacious suites and outdoor common spaces to unwind in, along with a sleek underground speakeasy bar called Bad Harriet. The decor throughout is luxe and handsome, thoughtfully bridging the building’s storied past to the modern day with its eclectic mix of materials (like leather, velvet, and animal hides) and furnishings (think chesterfield sofas, antler chandeliers, and contemporary art). After a long day of being out and about, head to the hotel’s legendary J-Bar, where you can ease into the evening with a local draft beer and famous house burger made with 7X Colorado beef. Relax even more by booking a High Altitude Sports Recovery Massage at the spa. The unique treatment blends firm pressure and aromatherapy to help you to recover and adjust to the high altitude.
Where to Eat in Aspen
Chef and Aspen native Barclay Dodge spent years traveling the world and cutting his culinary chops at some of the most esteemed establishments (including El Bulli) before returning to his roots to open his own. Dining at the intimate 40-seat Bosq feels like dining in someone’s gracious and elegant, but laid-back, home. The menu is wholly original and globe-trotting, as evidenced by the Peking duck, achiote shrimp tacos, and best-selling sweet and sour eggplant.
Opened in 1998, this is Nobu Matsuhisa’s first restaurant outside of his namesake Los Angeles hot spot. The vibe is refreshingly low-key with its underground dining room, bamboo-lined ceilings, and sushi bar made from salvaged wood. As seafood is flown in daily, the sushi and sashimi are pristine, and the signature dishes (like the black cod miso and yellowtail jalapeño sashimi) dependably on point.
Perched atop the Shigeru Ban–designed Aspen Art Museum, this light-filled, daytime cafe run by Julia and Allen Domingos specializes in seasonal snacks, salads, and sandwiches, which change weekly. Simply order at the register, and within minutes, you’ll be presented with a flavorful, ingredient-driven meal that won’t slow you down.
Even though it just opened in June, Clark’s Aspen—the sister restaurant to Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman’s Austin hot spot—is already the place to see and be seen. Like the original, this location features an extensive raw bar and seafood specialties. And happy hour specials, which are thoughtfully offered every day of the week, making dining and drinking well easy on the wallet.
Meat & Cheese
Since 2014, owner Wendy Mitchell and her team has been winning guests over with, as the name implies, thoughtfully-sourced meats and cheeses. While the the rest of the menu is no slouch—locals rave about the Thai coconut soup—it’s the artfully-presented signature boards that take top billing here. They all arrive with a bounty of meats, cheeses, condiments, and bread, and can easily sub in for a hearty meal.
This casual spot—with arguably the best patio in town—by Jimmy Yeager is seafood-centric, but has solid options for meat lovers, too. The thin double patty burgers are delicious diner throwbacks, while the rib-eye steaks finished in cast iron skillets are also surefire bets. Wash everything down with a tequila or mezcal (Jimmy’s collection of the agave spirits is Aspen’s largest.)
What to See and Do in Aspen
Aspen may not be the biggest town, but it boasts an arts and culture scene that defies its diminutive size. And arguably, the crown jewel is the Aspen Art Museum. Originally founded in 1979, it moved to its current address in 2014, into a striking 33,000-square-foot structure envisioned by acclaimed architect Shigeru Ban. As it’s a non-collecting institution, exhibits are constantly on rotation. If you’re a history buff, beeline to the Aspen Historical Society, where you can dive deep into local lore. (For example, at the society’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum, there’s a provocative Hunter S. Thompson exhibition on display through September 29.) Music fans will flip for Belly Up, a snug live music venue that’s packed in some of the industry’s biggest acts, including Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Buffett, and The Roots.
Aspen’s summer and fall climate is so temperate, you’ll naturally want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. While running and cycling are no-brainers in any natural backdrop, take advantage of the rugged Rocky Mountain terrain for a more unique experience. If you’re seeking a moderate hike, try your hand at the Smuggler Mountain Trail, Sunnyside Trail, and Rim Trail. But if you’re a fitness buff seeking a challenge, go big for one of Aspen’s infamous “14ers,” whose peaks soar to 14,000 feet in elevation. Fly fishing and horseback riding are also terrific ways to make the most of your breathtaking surroundings, so book excursions with The Little Nell Adventure Center and Maroon Bells Outfitters, respectively.
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