Trip Report: Boulder, Colorado (2018)

 James Canyon

Since I was out West already to to attend a friend’s wedding and had a bunch of vacation days to spare, I had really wanted to tack on a camping trip. Then I procrastinated on getting permits and finding an appropriate solo route. So I fell back to my old haunt of cycling in Boulder, Colorado.

And I’m glad I did. I fell in love with the place even more than I had been already.

At the end of my stay, I can say that I’ve never been more relaxed. I want to move here someday.

Monday

Greenride: Getting from the Denver airport to Boulder is kind of a PITA: it’s kind of far away, so Uber/Lyft drivers don’t like going there, and regular taxi fares are ridiculous. Enter Greenride: shared vans and buses to Boulder every hour, with drop-off available wherever in town (for a small additional change and likely with a transfer). I was super-impressed by their punctuality, professionalism, and organization. I will definitely use this service again.

Basecamp Boulder: I stayed in the Boulderado the last time I was here alone, and it was fine, but I wanted something new (and while I’d love to stay at the St. Julien, I didn’t want to spend $600 a night). I had heard of this place because it has camping-themed rooms and a climbing wall, so why not? Plus, I knew I’d be using the BCycle bike share network, and Basecamp was near a station and one of the main downtown multi-use paths.

It turned out to not be bad, but it is basically a glorified motel. The food options are not great. But, the front-of-house staff were super-friendly and helpful, and I really enjoyed sitting in the chill outside with the firepit going. Another plus was they have a coin-operated washer and dryer and will even give you some free detergent.

Next time I might just try one of the big chain hotels at the end of Pearl Street, like the Hyatt Place.

 Hawaiian pizza with jalepenos, along with a Melvin 2x4 DIPA

Backcountry Pizza: I arrived at Basecamp kind of late on a Monday, so food and beer options were limited. Luckily, my Greenride driver recommended Backcountry for being only a couple of blocks away and having good pizza and beer, which is definitely in my wheelhouse. Then, the frontdesk staffer at Basecamp made exactly the same recommendation. Done and done, no need to convince me more. As luck would have it, one of my favorite breweries in the world, Melvin, had a bar takeover that night, complete with a muted samurai movie playing on the TVs and rap music playing over it, just like at their brewpub Thai Me Up in Jackson, Wyoming. I had the Mt. Hawaiian pizza, which I’m ashamed to say is the first time I’ve had jalapenos on a pineapple and ham pizza, but it won’t be the last. Definitely recommended if you’re in the area; the tap list is really good.

Tuesday

 Delicious breakfast at The Buff

The Buff: This is a huge claim: this may have been the best breakfast I’ve ever had. For starters, the menu was huge and had everything you could possibly want for breakfast. Then, there was outdoor seating (albeit on a noisy intersection), The “Matterhorn skillet” is recommended.

University Cycles: I rent a bike from UCycles everytime I come here and everytime I come here I’m greeted by great, friendly service at a shop that has every accessory I could possibly want. I’m sort of interested in renting from Full Cycle (which has a really great shop, too), Vecchio’s (which specializes in titanium bikes), or grabbing a Canyon from Rapha, but I just really love the University Cycles shop and staff.

Ride: Super-Flagstaff->Nederland->Sugarloaf: This was a really great ride that I still dream about weeks later. Here are some things I’d want to know before this route:

  • The Flagstaff climb is a local legend for a reason. The descent on the other side is pretty great.
  • The Gross Dam Road descent is loose, coarse gravel, with some intense washboarding at times, making it a little harrowing on a mere road bike. Take your time and you’ll be fine.
  • The climb after the reservoir is great, though!
  • There’s not a lot of water until near Nederland: I stopped at the top of Flagstaff and rang the doorbell at the firehouse, asking a the fireman on duty for a refill.
  • The Peak-to-Peak (P2P) is great as a means to get between destinations: it has wide shoulders and not a ton of traffic.
  • The descent on Sugarloaf is disappointingly short.
  • The 1.5 miles of Boulder Canyon Dr. is sketchy due to the amount of high-speed traffic. I missed a pretty bad car collision by a couple of seconds and almost ran into the debris field. This was easily the suckiest part of the ride.

BRU: I wanted to get some food and some beer (namely, the second and third components of my vacation) and I liked this place’s tagline: “bringing together the art of food & beer”. Indeed, both were pretty good, though nothing I had was particularly stand-out. A neat feature of the bar is that they have a Nintendo 64, a TV, and a bunch of games available.

Heifer and Hen: I stopped at this organic ice cream shop next door to BRU to pick up an ice cream sandwich to bring to the next brewery. I got a chocolate chip cajeta and it was delicious.

 Mmm beer and ice cream sandwich

Wild Woods: This is a really great brewery. I highly recommend bringing some food or getting delivery to the bar and getting the Purple Mountain Majesties IPA, which has a great color and nose, and the Ponderosa Porter, which was deep and complex.

Wednesday

 This is almost always a good sign.

Ride: “Connie’s Ride” + part of NCAR: Having not ridden much this year, I decided to be less ambitious after a fairly big ride the previous day. I remembered a video from Rapha featuring Connie Carpenter that highlighted some nice unpaved roads along with a route. This was a nice ride that showed me a couple areas of Boulder I hadn’t seen and made me fall in love with Boulder even more. I then decided to check out the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is on top of a mesa, with a low-traffic, gentle climb right in town.

 The Post Brewing.

The Post Brewing: This brewery is right Pearl Street and has the slogan “Hot Chicken Loves Cold Beer”, and I love all of those things. The windows were open on a gorgeous day; I sat at the bar and, true to the place, ordered an IPA and a “Nashville hot” fried chicken sandwich. Tasty, but not the best. I’d come back if I needed a beer or food and I was in the area.

Pearl Street: I had to do the touristy thing and meander down the pedestrian-friendly (mostly car-free) Pearl Street Mall. As a visitor, I like that the area isn’t as big box store-like as Denver’s pedestrian mall: while there are many chains, there are a bunch of independent places too, and there are a lot of stores that are high quality. I stopped in at Rapha to check out their sales and sat outside of Boxcar Coffee Roasters with a delicious espresso.

I went to dinner at a friend’s newly acquired house nearby, with their newly acquired puppy, so nothing more to report.

Thursday

Breakfast at The Cup: This is my go-to early morning breakfast place in Boulder: it opens early and is centrally located downtown. While the bagel sandwiches just aren’t as good as in New York, the cappuccino certainly is.

 More James Canyon

Ride: Old Stage -> James -> Lefthand: This was a repeat of a ride I made the previous year and really enjoyed. The James Canyon ascent is probably my favorite climb ever: the scenery is gorgeous, the road is pretty fun, and you end up on a gravel road on the top of the world. Rocky Mountain weather is notorious for changing quickly. Despite starting the climb in beautiful, sunny, 80°F weather, I heard the rumbles of thunder in the distance, and by the time I got to the top, it dropped down to 45°F and hailing. Luckily, the hail turned into sleet then into drizzle and then disappeared within 15 minutes, leaving a gorgeous day. This could have turned out much worse, but that it didn’t has made an excellent memory.

I made the requisite stops at:

  • Jamestown Mercantile: I enjoyed my breakfast burrito here the prior year, but I showed up too late for food (I wasn’t that hungry anyway, as this is only midway up the climb): their hours are interesting. Paying homage to Phil Gaimon, I snagged a cookie and chatted with two other very nice cyclists with whom I hope to ride some day.
  • Utica Street Market: Get an espresso and sit outside in the sun.
 At the top of Bald Mountain

This is definitely my favorite ride so far. The climb is interesting and varied and the descent is fast. It avoids any bad roads whatsoever (e.g. Boulder Canyon Drive) and has good espresso along the route.

Asher Brewing: I had two goals for my post-ride calorie consumption and last night in Boudler: visit Asher for the first time and visit Avery for the umpteenth. Asher is an all-organic brewery and their IPAs are excellent. They, too, have an ample amount of outdoor seating.

Avery Brewery: This is one of my favorite places in the world. Lots of outdoor seating, lots of good comfort food, lots of happy dogs, and most importantly, lots of really well executed, one-of-a-kind brews. I ended up having my last beer in a nice rocking chair on a gantry above their production floor. The meatloaf was excellent.

Friday

 Eldorado Canyon

Ride: Eldorado Canyon: I didn’t have a ton of time before having to leave for my flight, but I wanted to get one last ride in before returning the bike. I chose to visit Eldorado Springs, since it is a popular cycling destination in a direction from Boulder that I hadn’t ever travelled. The road eventually turns into the entrance to Eldorado Canyon State Park and the scenery is lovely. I didn’t actually enter the park (despite the entrance fee for bikes being only $4) out of concern for time, but I’d love to come back.

Breakfast at Snooze AM: Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good breakfast burrito. This popular breakfast-oriented diner delivers. But, the pancakes also looked good; lo and behold, one can order pancakes as a side! Done and Done. I had to wait a bit just to sit at the counter; coming early is recommended. I’m definitely coming back here.

Trip Report: Sonoma Valley, California

Yuko and I were invited to a friend’s wedding in Sonoma, California. We spent a long weekend in the area, eating and drinking our way though as usual.

 SingleThread Farms

Friday

Yang Sing: I suggested we go to Marlowe, a California-chic restaurant. Yuko wanted dim-sum. We left New York City to come to San Francisco for dim-sum? Who am I to complain: I love dim-sum too. Delicious and worth the wait. Get the soup dumplings, the potstickers, a pot of tea, some shumai, and anything else that looks good. The guy at the table next to us asked me if Yuko and I were on a date. Sort of: I consider everyday a date with my wife.

Avoiding the 101: The traditional way to get from SF to Sonoma is to take the 101 all the way. There was some sort of car racing event that caused lots of traffic. Google Maps took us on a route through the hills to the west, which prevented Yuko from getting a quality car nap due to the undulating terrain, but which was way more fun and scenic than the 101. I couldn’t really tell you where we drove, but it sure was squiggly.

Flamingo Hotel: Pass. We stayed here due to a wedding room block. Terrible bathroom, uninspired room, noisy with lots of bros attending other weddings.

 SingleThread Farms rooftop beer

SingleThread Farm: With no tables available for the night we actually intended to stay in Healdsburg and despite staying 17 miles away, I decided we had to go to this restaurant with two Michelin stars. I’m glad we did: we started on the gorgeous roof deck overlooking Healdsburg by having a house beer made in collaboration with Russian River and then were seated to a long list of delicious treats. The rest of the meal was simply spectacular and the service was wonderful. Book well in advance; reservations open on the 1st of every month at 9am PST for the following month. Required visitation; I hope to come back.

Russian River Brewing: Knowing that this would be my one and only available night in Santa Rosa, I got dropped off at Russian River to make a pilgrimage and to have a quick beer (which all-too-quickly became two quick beers) and to pick up some goodies to take home. Pliny the Elder has been consistently rated one of the best beers in the world for many years, though I prefer Blind Pig. The new brewery that opens later this year looks awesome.

Saturday

Breakfast at the Flamingo Hotel: The breakfast burrito was actually pretty good. Our server has been working at the hotel for 40 years and is still going strong.

Patroni Vineyards: One of our close friends attending the same wedding had the foresight to arrange a reservation at this vineyard that is well off the beaten path. They only give private tours and tastings, unlike the horse trough-like tasting rooms of most wineries in the area. Our host was great and was accompanied by his super-cute great dane, Gracie, who became the star and focus of our visit. Recommended; book in advance. As usual, prepare to get tipsy and order hundreds of dollars more wine that you expected to. (My caring wife later opened the best bottle we purchased while I was in Tel Aviv!)

El Dorado Kitchen: Our amazing friend also made reservations for calories after drinking. This place was lovely, with a good beer list. Make an early-ish reservation and ask to sit outside. All of the food looked and tasted delicious, though it’s hard for me to trust anyone who serves a lemon with fish tacos (which were still tasty).

Sweet Scoops: Our friend hit the trifecta by suggesting that we go to the nearest scoop shop after lunch. The flavors are interesting and everyone seemed happy. I appreciate that they have a “tiny” size. We sat in the park across the street and almost got taken out by some falling, gigantic tree nuts.

Valley of the Moon at Madrone Estate: The wedding ceremony and reception was here. It was a pretty nice setup: pre-ceremony refreshments took place on the patio and the olive tree grove, the ceremony had a gorgeous backdrop of the vineyard (though the sun was setting behind us, literally cooking the poor girls’ bare shoulders in front of our eyes), cocktail hour was on the path to the tasting room, and the tasting room served as the dance hall. The food was tasty; get the chicken and waffles.

Sunday

Harmon Guest House: After staying at the neighboring sister hotel a couple of years ago for a super-romantic cycling trip with one of my bromances, I booked a room for a night at this brand new place. We arrived at around 1pm, knowing check-in wasn’t until 3pm (which was claimed to be “guaranteed”). “We’ll text you when your room is ready,” they said. At 3:00pm: “Come back in 30 minutes,” they said. 3:45pm rolls around and we head back to the front desk to find that our room was finally ready. \
The room was actually quite well-appointed. Contemporary-but-comfortable, the only downsides were the noise from the nearby highway, the music playing outside (At the pool? From the deck of a neighboring room? Not sure), and the body hair scattered along the walls and in the bathroom from the last guest.

 Oat milk cappuccino at Flying Goat Coffee

Flying Goat Coffee: Yuko got a delicious nitro cold brew and I got a delicious oat milk cappuccino, and we sat outside. Highly recommended. I wanted to buy all of their t-shirts, too.

Healdsburg Running Co.: A great shop. Another place where I wanted to buy all of their t-shirts. Visit their website for some great local route recommendations.

Healdsburg Bar and Grill: Needing to kill some time and, noticing the Russian River sticker in their window, we saddled up at a table outside for some chipotle fries (surprisingly spicy!) and a Pliny the Elder. Recommended.

Noble Folk: The menu at this pie and ice cream shop looked amazing with very unique flavors. We had a mixed reaction: the pie was fine and the ice cream was good, but neither were as amazing as their Instagram pictures.

 Spoke Folk Cyclery's cat

Spoke Folk Cyclery: This is a well-appointed bike shop and worth a visit. While we were there the mechanic was changing a tube for a customer, but instead of just doing the work, he took the time to explain the procedure in detail so that the customer could do it themselves; I appreciate that. They have a super-cute shop cat who followed us around. I’d rent bikes here next time I’m in town just to pet the cat again.

Barndiva: Some of their food is photographically gorgeous. It was all tasty; the salmon was done particularly well. The beer list needs work. Recommended, but maybe not as a first choice in town.

Monday

Breakfast at Spoonbar: Breakfast came included and we needed to head to the airport relatively early. They serve up eggs and pancakes from the kitchen and a spread of pastries and bagels is on the counter.

Other Recommendations

This trip snuck up on us and we didn’t do a whole lot of research, plus we mostly got to all the places in Healdsburg we wanted. The one recommendation we overheard that looks good is:

Duke’s Spirited Cocktails: Apparently, this place is owned and operated by some folks who are really passionate about cocktails. Plus, this is where all the other bartenders and waitstaff seem to hang out after their shifts, so it must be good.