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. No snow or skis necessary.
The Little Nell
A soft palette of blue, grey, and cream runs throughout The Little Nell, 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 veal schnitzel sandwiches, 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 Chris Dunaway, which stocks over 20,000 bottles.
An Aspen mainstay for 130 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-style 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 beer and famous house burger made with 7X Colorado beef. Relax even more by booking a High Altitude Sports Recovery Massage at the spa.
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 black chili pork tacos, smoked king salmon, and Peking duck.
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.
For more casual fare, try SO Café. Perched atop the Shigeru Ban–designed Aspen Art Museum, it’s a light-filled, daytime café run by Julia and Allen Domingos, specializing in seasonal snacks, salads, and sandwiches, which change weekly.
Clark’s Aspen—the sister restaurant to Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman’s Austin hot spot, Jeffrey’s—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 Restaurant and Farm Shop
Since 2014, owner Wendy Mitchell and her team have been winning guests over with, as the name implies, thoughtfully sourced meats and cheeses. While the the rest of Meat & Cheese’s 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.
Aspen’s summer and fall climates are 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.
Aspen also 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. 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.
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