Breckenridge is a striking mountain town. More laid back than Aspen or Vail, its Main Street is not so much hip or chichi, but a welcoming center from which to explore the mountain glories surrounding the town. Less than a 2 hour drive from Denver, it’s all too easy to make a quick jaunt.
Breathtaking views from my home base of The Lodge & Spa at Breckenridge invigorated me with renewing inspiration. Rooms are homey and comfortable, mine with a fireplace, couch and lounge chair from which to contemplate the peaks.
Though roughly a 45 minute drive from Breck in the town of Leadville, White Mountain Tours, which offers zip lining and snowmobiling, is well worth a detour. I’m decidedly not athletic but I’d gladly snowmobile in these conditions any time. A fresh layer of just-fallen snow added to the mystique on a Saturday morning in April. It was unforgettably perfect weather – sunny and crystal clear – allowing us to zip and speed above treeline at over 12,000 feet elevation with panoramic vistas across multiple mountain ranges.
As a town known for its brewery (Breckenridge Brewery) and distillery (Breckenridge Distillery), there’s a couple notable festivals. Twice a year, in April and July, the Breckenridge Beer Fest packs a few blocks with tents and tastings from mostly CO craft brewers and a handful of beers from other states. Though rowdy, it’s a fine way to sample brand new and classic Colorado craft beers in a mountain town setting. In October (this year, it’s 10/4-10/6), the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival offers tasting of some of CO’s best craft brewers (representing the state’s burgeoning scene) and a few national craft distillers.
Bracing mountain air – and beer sampling – means an increased appetite. Here are some notable Breck bites and watering holes.
BRIAR ROSE CHOPHOUSE & SALOON
The Briar Rose stands out with rosy pink exterior, and a historic dining room just off Breck’s main street. Old West elegance, stained glass, woods and a multi-room setting is both homey and classy.
There are steaks, game, fish (like Rocky Mountain trout), generous sides, and key lime pie for dessert. Classic Cesar salads ($8), mac ‘n cheese ($9), and steaks ($21-45) stand alongside curry mussels ($12), green chile creamed corn ($8), and mustard-herb-crusted Colorado rack of lamb ($39).
Owners and brothers, Ken and Todd Nelson, offer one of the more upscale dining experiences in town, while retaining Breckenridge’s relaxed vibe. The brothers run three other nearby restaurants (Giampietro’s, Park & Main, Empire Burger), and Ken is president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association.
PARK & MAIN
Park & Main, another spot owned by the aforementioned Nelson brothers, feels like a casual urban eatery set in a mountain town. Ideal for breakfast/brunch and lunch, eat-in or take-out, there’s a solid international wine selection, affordable and conveniently also available by the half glass. Check the board for craft beers on draft. They happen to make the best (proper Italian style using Lavazza coffee) espresso in town.
On the food front, their gourmet breakfast sandwiches ($6-9) are worthwhile fuel before a day of mountain activity, as are their all-day sandwiches ($6-15), from a grilled cheese selection, to the likes of a zucchini parm or Vietnamese bahn mi.
ABSINTHE BAR & SWISS HAVEN
With an extensive absinthe collection from Switzerland to the US, Absinthe Bar’s basement div-iness adds to its charm, housed in a soft, yellow Victorian house. Pours of absinthe (and appetizers) are half price during a daily 4-7pm happy hour.
Upstairs from Absinthe Bar is Swiss Haven, from the same owners. Pricey, tiny portions of cheese fondue do not compare to my beloved fondues in Switzerland or the authentic Matterhorn in SF. But in brisk mountain air, there’s little I want more than melted cheese and chocolate – even with small portions and lackluster sides, Swiss Haven satisfies the craving.
Angel’s Hollow is an absolute dive – one where far-from-gourmet fish tacos and margaritas are what’s on order. Go for the mostly-local crowd, a peek behind the tourist veneer passing by on Main Street, via this low key, insider’s hangout.
MARY’S MOUNTAIN COOKIES
Mary’s Mountain Cookies, with a South Main Street storefront, have been a Breck mainstay since 1998. Don’t be deceived. These cookies look leaden, dry and dense. Old school? Yes – particularly with flavors like M&Ms or Snickerdoodle. But to taste, they’re chewy and down home, particularly oatmeal raisin or peanut butter.