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Culture / Travel

Summer in Aspen

A Local’s Guide to the Hot Restaurants, the Underrated Gems and the Adventure Spots You Want to Know

BY Steffi Burns // 05.12.16

The little place called Aspen, Colorado, is originally a silver-mining town. Founded in 1879, the city was booming until 1893, when the Sherman Silver Act demonetized silver, forcing the quiet years that lasted until the 1940s, when Aspen was reborn a coveted ski town.

My parents met on a blind date in Aspen. My father proposed three weeks later, and as children, my siblings and I grew up playing in the snow and dirt. I can proudly claim I was a Powder Panda (ski school) at the ripe age of two-and-a-half years old, racing down the slopes to clock the fastest time. However, these days, I’m more likely to race to Ajax Tavern to snag a great table, and I have definitely perfected the art of après-ski avec Impatience Rosé.

The locals of Aspen often say they came for the winter and stayed for the summer. The magical winters can lure visitors to return year after year, but the summers will strike a chord in your heart and encourage you to find a way to extend your travels or perhaps stay, as some of the locals did before you.

Summer days begin cool, the crisp morning air filled with the fragrant smells of honeydew and Aspen trees. For me, an Aspen tradition is an early-morning hike up Ute, Hunter Creek, Maroon Bells, Cathedral Lake or American Lake, all offering the most glorious vistas of pure beauty. The Maroon Bells are the can’t-miss iconic peaks of the area.

Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells

For an intense, heart-thumping experience, hit Ute Trail. Ute is incredibly steep but a quick 26 minutes up (on a good day). I recall hiking Ute as a child in regular sneakers and a fanny pack with a bottle of water. Now, I am equipped with proper hiking sneakers and layers of extra clothes around my waist, as the weather always turns.

An absolute must for lunch is the aforementioned Ajax Tavern. It’s located at the base of Aspen Mountain near the gondola and has an expansive terrace and outdoor bar. On a beautiful day, and even on not-so-gorgeous days, the place is packed. You are surrounded by impeccable mountain scenery; the Ajax team is friendly and welcoming; and the food is delicious and includes everything from tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to seafood platters and hearty salads. The tavern is famous for its double double burger and truffle fries. Add a bottle of Impatience Rosé and boom, your day is complete. Arrive early, and enjoy the ambiance — chances are you will bump into a few Texans.

Other favorite restaurants include Jimmy’s Bodega, Jimmy’s UpstairsCache Cache, Grey Lady, Kenichi, The CreperieWhite House Tavern, Ellina and Caribou Club. During summer evenings, the outdoor patios of Casa Tua and Grey Lady are great for a drink before dinner. The Cache Cache patio is one of the most sought-after dinner spots. For those who prefer bar seating, it also has an excellent place to perch. (Next door, at Campo de Fiori, you can dance on the bar.) Late-night dancing involves two words: Caribou Club. The private club opened in 1989, and not much has changed since then.

Caribou Club bar
Caribou Club bar

Aspen provides many wonderful outdoor activities, including camping, cycling, fishing, river raft riding and mountain biking. A popular adventure is to bike from town to Woody Creek Tavern for lunch. (After a few margaritas, you may not want to bike home, so High Mountain Taxi will pick you up.) Pine Creek is another beautiful and adventurous dining gem in the quiet town of Ashcroft. During winter, it is accessible via horse-drawn carriage or cross-country skis only.

For music lovers, Aspen offers much variety, from the Wheeler Opera House (built in 1901) to the Aspen Festival Orchestra, which performs every Sunday afternoon in the Benedict Music Tent (pack a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers, and a blanket). There’s also Belly Up, a venue that hosts a wide variety of entertainment acts.

Aspen has definitely evolved over the years — what was originally a funky old mining town is becoming a tad fancier as the Boogie’s Diners of town are being replaced by Dior, Valentino, Gucci, Intermix and Moncler. Hopefully local gems such as Kemo Sabe, a darling Western store with the most to-die-for cowboy hats, and Pitkin County Dry Goods will survive.

Popular and memorable times to visit Aspen during the summer months include the Aspen Food & Wine Classic (June 17 to 19), the Fourth of July festivities, and JAS Experience (September 2 to 4). Happy travels, and I hope to see y’all at Ajax!

Steffi Burns is a DJ and Impatience Rosé wine ambassador. She is inspired by the secret gems, local flavors and unique beats that make travel and adventure worthy of a postcard. Find her on Instagram @steffiiburns.

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