The Ultimate Aspen Guide From goop
The Ultimate Aspen Goop Guide
This weeks guest blog comes from goop featuring a guide to Aspen with their top picks on what to do, where to stay, top shopping recommendations, where to imbibe, and more! For the complete Aspen guide from goop, click here.
There’s something about Aspen that’s a little bewitching—meaning that there are very few one-time visitors. It could be because the actual skiing is excellent—thanks to four separate mountains, each with their own unique personality, there’s almost endless terrain. But there’s also a lot more to the town than winter sports: It’s home to one of the country’s best contemporary art museums as well as the globally recognized Aspen Institute, which hosts an annual Aspen Ideas Festival every summer. Throw in some big-city caliber restaurants and shopping, and you’ll be trying to figure out how to stay year-round. Just in time for Spring Break, we give you our favorite spots to stay, eat, and shop, plus activities for every season.
- Gonzo Gallery: Hunter S. Thompson lived on a ranch outside Aspen for more than four decades, and his legacy here is strong. Catch a local after a few drinks, and they're likely to entertain you with stories of his antics around the town—he famously ran for town sheriff on a platform of drug legalization, centering the headquarters for the campaign at J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome. This accessible art gallery is just as Thompson would have wanted it (a.k.a. not too fussy), and you'll find plenty of photography, prints, posters, and other artwork from Thompson and peers of the likes of William S. Burroughs, Thomas W. Benton, and more.
- Pine Creek Cookhouse: There are several ways to get to this lodge-style restaurant in an idyllic valley surrounded by the Elk Mountains, and none of them by car. In the summer, guests can bike or walk along a dirt road, and in the winter, cross-country skis and show-shoes (for those too beat from a day of downhill or simply too lazy, there's also a horse-drawn sleigh). After all the hard work, you'll be greeted with a round of Hot Toddies and locally-inspired cuisine, with dishes like sautéed rainbow trout, North American buffalo tenderloin, and their famous momo's—stuffed Nepalese dumplings that are a Pine Creek specialty. The convention is to make a reservation during the day, when you can enjoy the views of the surrounding valley, but there's something utterly magical about quietly making your way in the dark, with the moon and stars lighting your way.
- Aspen Center for Environmental Studies: The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), which operates out of four different locations in the area, is a tremendous community asset. The organization provides classes and a host of educational activities for the community from a nature camp for kids, to senior birdwatching, to cooking classes using local ingredients, and everything in between. Visitors can hire a naturalist guide from the center to give a personalized—and vastly informative—tour of the surrounding mountains, focusing on wildlife, native plants, and more. You'll go by foot in the summer and snow shoe or cross-country skis in the winter.
SPECIALY & BARS:
- Belly Up: This legendary live music venue is the type of place that could only exist in Aspen: It's unimaginably tiny, it's always packed, and it brings some of the best musicians in the country to a small, isolated mountain town. The rumors about the big-name acts are no joke, as everyone from Wyclef Jean and Pitbull to SEAL, John Legend, and Lynyrd Skynyrd have graced the stage. With the exception of a few age restricted shows (check the calendar just to be sure), this is a family friendly spot, so whether you're seeing a local cowboy crooner or Widespread Panic, you can bring the whole group along.
- Aspen Farmers Market: Open from mid-June to October, Aspen's Saturday farmers market offers terrific Colorado-grown produce, as well as craft stands and live music. Walk the U-shape market, beginning at the corner of Galena and Hopkins, to pick up your fill of local fruits and veggies, making a pit stop at the food court for breakfast or a snack.
- J-Bar: Situated in a side entrance of the historic Hotel Jerome, J-Bar has been a popular local hangout for years (Hunter S. Thompson famously made it his campaign headquarters when he ran for town sheriff). When Auberge bought the hotel back in 2011, it gave the space the expected makeover, but it's largely retained its charm. It remains cozy and dimly-lit, and its proximity to the base of Ajax and the rest of downtown Aspen makes it an ideal location for spiked hot chocolate after a long day on the mountain.
BEAUTY & HEALTH:
- O2 Aspen: O2 is part studio, part spa, and part boutique, each with compelling offerings, but we like it best for its pilates and yoga classes. They're one of the only outfits in town with a serious collection of machines, making it a life-saver if you're the kind of person that can't go a week without a reformer. Private sessions book up quickly during Christmas and other peak times, so call in advance of your trip to get something set up. Schedule a facial afterwards for the full experience.
- Shakti Shala Yoga: While Shakti Shala is best known for excellent yoga classes (which are taught in a gorgeous studio that's built out with reclaimed barn wood), it also has a robust Ayurveda program. Led by Jess Ewart, the offerings include consultations and follow-ups, with recommendations for diet changes and therapies that can be administered at home or through Shakti Shala. There's also a very well-curated shop.
- A1 Foot Massage: If "hole in the wall" is a phrase you can use to describe a massage place, A1 certainly qualifies. It doesn't look like anything special from the outside (or the inside, really), but the reflexology foot massages here are just what the doctor ordered after a long day with your feet jammed into stiff, ice-cold ski boots. Everyone goes here and spots book up fast, so make a reservation during breakfast.
- Cache Cache: Cache Cache is an old-school steakhouse that's proven to be a mainstay in Aspen: The restaurant opened back in 1987. The kitchen—under the lead of Chef Chris Lanter, who brings a French culinary background, and Chef Nathan King—focuses on using local ingredients, in fact, Cache Cache invested in local-ish Dog Patch Farm, which is a couple hours away from Aspen, in Paonia. For non-red-meat eaters, there are still plenty of options on the menu: rotisserie chicken, a freaky good mac-and-cheese, excellent salads, mussels, and more. Also take note: the outdoor patio is a nice spot to enjoy a bottle of wine from the expansive wine menu—we haven't counted, but we hear it's 100+ pages long.
- Grey Lady: Lobster Rolls, Seafood Stew, and Dark N’ Stormy’s are popular favorites at this New England-inspired bar and restaurant (they also have locations in New York and on Nantucket). Seafood is flown in fresh daily, and with the notable exception of Nobu it's one of the only restaurants in town with a menu that exclusively focuses on the sea. It's a lovely change from the steak and red wine that typically dominates mountain menus.
- Creperie du Village: Walking into Creperie feels a bit like tucking into a cozy West Village cafe; it's primarily candle-lit, with rustic barn wood tables and white, blue-striped napkins. The menu here is all about fondues, both of the meat and cheese variety. If you can carve out some space in your stomach after the gluttonous appetizers, order a bottle of Grüner and a dramatically presented raclette for the full experience.
- Aether: Ski coats around these parts tend to skew overly technical or ridiculously over-the-top, but this Los Angeles-based brand is all about basics in subtle colorways that look just as good on the streets of New York as they do in Highlands Bowl. They've got their technical bases covered, too, as all of their jackets are supremely warm, with features like helmet-friendly hoods, waterproof seam seals, and built-in avalanche safety sensors. In the summer, stop by their sleek, gorgeously-designed store for sweat-wicking hiking layers, super-light rain jackets, and really good sunglasses.
- Little Bird: The clientele in Aspen is famously flashy, so it's no surprise that this upscale, exquisitely curated consignment shop is home to some serious gems. It's ideal for picking up things that are fun to wear in Aspen but too impractical to buy full-price, like faux-fur snow boots, Gucci ski goggles, or turquoise-studded belts.
- Explore Booksellers: This charming indie bookstore is the kind of place you go for a vacation read and end up walking out with a stack of historical novels, detective stories, and hard-to-find biographies. They also host a children's storytime (a great rainy-day or après-ski activity), as well as a range of literary events for adults—from author readings to a writer's open mic night. If you get hungry while browsing, or after an event, head upstairs to their Pyramid Bistro, which is also open late.
- Hotel Jerome: The historic Jerome has been part of Aspen's story since it opened as the town's first hotel more than 120 years ago. Still housed in the original building (albeit with an updated interior and an expansion), the hotel was purchased by Auberge in 2012. While it retains its small-town charm, it now offers Auberge-style amenities like a gorgeously-decorated bar, in-house ski rentals through Gorsuch, a luxe spa, and two full-service restaurants. As for the décor, it feels warm and stately, with deep greens, rich leathers, and western touches like plaid and vintage portraits throughout the rooms and public spaces. The location, perfectly situated between the base of Ajax and the river, is just the icing on the cake.
- The Little Nell: The Little Nell is famously the most luxurious of Aspen's resorts, so it follows that it's also home base for the ritzy see-and-be-seen scene the town is known for. Still, it's perfectly possible to have a discreet stay, if only because the rooms themselves—designed by LA-based Holly Hunt and turned out with Fili d'Oro down, heated marble bathrooms, cozy fireplaces, and mountain views—are so exquisite. You'll also be grateful for the impeccable service, which makes every activity from skiing to making a dinner reservation blessedly simple. In the hotel's two restaurants, Element 47 and Ajax Tavern, take advantage of the over-the-top wine list from Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, a relative youngster for the wine world who's already earning top stars for his management of the hotel's deep wine collection. Art lovers, take note: The Nell is also home to a legendary collection of contemporary art, which occupies all of the hotel's hallways, restaurants, and guest rooms.
- Aspen Mountain: The original resort here, Aspen Mountain is the closest of the mountains to the village, with its lower runs spitting out skiers at the doors of the Little Nell. The mountain is known to locals as Ajax, and it's a favorite among them for its convenient location and its steep, bumpy style.
- Buttermilk: The least steep of the four mountains, Buttermilk is typically a favorite of beginner skiers (whether they're little kids or adults who are just getting the hang of things). In the spring, the mountain's entire personality completely changes when the X Games hosts its competition there for the week. If you happen to be in town, have your concierge arrange for you to see a few of the events in person.
- Highlands: Highlands is known for having some of the most challenging terrain in Aspen, offering steep runs and, of course, the legendary Highlands Bowl. It's not a huge mountain, but it's absolutely the place you want to be on a powder day. (Though you'll be fighting locals for the first chair if that's the case.)