The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder for short), is home to over 33,000 students. It is easy to see why so many are drawn to this laid-back mountain town, nestled in the foothills of the Flatiron Mountains. If CU Boulder is on your college list, use this guide to plan a visit to the University of Colorado Boulder.

Located just 30 minutes northwest of Denver, Boulder is a hip city with a cute downtown and was dubbed “America’s Foodiest Town” by Bon Appetít. Boulder is also a great destination for those seeking outdoor adventures, from hiking and mountain and road biking to stand-up paddleboarding and rock climbing. 

University of Colorado Boulder Center for Community exterior

Getting to University of Colorado Boulder

If you are flying into Denver International Airport, you can rent a car and drive 45 minutes up to Boulder. However, if you (or your student) need public transportation, CU Boulder is an hour away from the Denver International Airport (DIA) via the RTD SkyRide bus service.

There are also other affordable options such as shared-ride service shuttles, which pick-up and drop-off from Jeppesen Terminal Level 5, island 5, outside doors 505-507 (east side) and 510-512 (west side). For those that prefer rideshare services, an UberX will cost about $75 one way.

CU Boulder Recreation Center

Taking a Tour of University of Colorado Boulder

You need to register in advance for University of Colorado Boulder tours, and spots fill up quickly so be sure to secure your spot before booking your travel. If you are not able to visit, there are a number of virtual tour options available through the website. These include virtual information sessions, student panels, and live virtual tours.

Luckily, CU Boulder is not a closed campus, so you can also always visit and self-tour the campus, you just won’t be able to go inside any of the buildings. We visited this spring and it was still very beneficial to walk the campus and get to see in person the buildings we saw during the virtual tours.

Norlin Library at CU Boulder

Make sure to walk past the Center for Community, with its extensive dining hall and 10 micro-restaurants; Old Main, the first building on campus; the Case Center; University Memorial Center; Norlin Library; the Recreational Center; Fiske Planetarium (you may also notice the solar system model throughout campus); Macky Auditorium; and Farrand Field, where the students like to hang out.

Of course, CU Boulder is a great sports school, so you have to walk around Folsom Field and rub the horn on the statue of Ralphie, the renowned Buffalo mascot.

Fiske Planetarium at CU Boulder

Where to Stay Near CU Boulder

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Embassy Suites by Hilton in Boulder Colorado exterior

Since you are visiting Boulder for a campus visit, you will want to pick accommodations close to the school. If you want to be within walking distance, I’d recommend either the Boulder Marriott Hotel and Spa, Residence Inn Boulder Canyon Boulevard, Hilton Garden Inn Boulder, or the Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder.

For our first visit, we decided to use some Hilton points to book a one-bedroom suite with a balcony and mountain view at the Embassy Suites. I expected the typical dated Embassy Suites with a pyramid-like atrium and decor from the 1990s, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the Boulder property. It was modern and fresh, with beautiful views over Boulder and the Flatiron Mountains.

Every two-room suite has a private bedroom and separate living room with a sofa bed and dining table and includes an HDTV, Keurig coffee-maker, refrigerator, microwave, and complimentary WiFi along with hydration stations on every floor. The hotel includes a free made-to-order breakfast and an evening reception with drinks and snacks in the Brickstones Kitchen & Bar. The suite setup was perfect when traveling with a young adult, giving everyone privacy without requiring two room reservations. The free breakfast, including hot breakfast sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, juice, coffee, and snacks was also a money saver.

On our second visit, we stayed next door at the Hilton Garden Inn Boulder. Also a new property, we enjoyed the fresh new decor and the community spaces in the lobby for working, studying, or relaxing. Located right off of 28th Street/ Route 36, it is a convenient spot for exploring or walking to campus.

Where to Eat in Boulder

Tacos at Santo Boulder
Tacos at Santo Boulder

Boulder’s downtown Pearl Street was ranked among Food & Wine’s 10 Best Foodie Streets in America. With 22 craft breweries and a burgeoning wine and spirits industry, Boulder’s food and drink scene is hopping. For Food Network fans, “Top Chef” winner Hosea Rosenburg has two restaurants in Boulder — Blackbelly and Santo. Cafe Aion’s chef/owner Dakota Soifer was a winner on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

Frasca Food and Wine have earned a James Beard award, and the less expensive Pizzeria Locale next door is owned by the same people. For casual dining with your teen, the food trucks park at the Rayback Collective, where you will find indoor and outdoor seating, yard games, a stage for live music.

If you really want to explore Boulder’s best food options, try a Taste of Boulder Food tour with Local Table Tours. A local foodie will take you to some of Boulder’s most popular restaurants on and around Pearl Street.

Two places that I would highly recommend are Oak at Fourteenth and Santo. Oak at Fourteenth is a stylish neighborhood restaurant off Pearl Street featuring local and seasonal New American cuisine. The clean style and open kitchen are warm and inviting, and the wood-scented aromas from the oven and grill will whet your appetite. The food is innovative and full of flavor. I’d recommend the olive-oil whipped ricotta appetizer and either the wild mushroom and potato gnocchi or the Piri Piri roast half-chicken.

You will need a car or an Uber to get to the next recommendation, but dinner at Santo is well worth the short drive and disregard the strip mall setting. Once you walk in you can appreciate the New Mexican-influenced design, from the light fixture that resembles the NM state flag, to the artwork and the use of natural materials. The big question when choosing from the menu is whether you want green, red, or Christmas (both kinds of chilis — personally I’m a fan of green!)

For a more casual dinner, try Post Chicken and Beer in the Pearl Street Mall area. Known for its fried chicken and craft beer, this is a perfect spot to bring a potential college student. We recommend the chicken thigh fries with curry ketchup!

Egg skillet breakfast at the Buff in Boulder

A must-try for breakfast is Boulder is The Buff. You may need to wait in line but you need time to build up an appetite for the giant portions (I’m sure it makes a great hangover remedy!)

Things to do Near CU Boulder

Male snowshoeing through Rocky Mountain National Park

The University of Colorado Boulder is a great choice for outdoor lovers. The school is only an hour from the Estes Park entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can enjoy hiking, biking, winter sports like snowshoeing, fishing, and horseback riding. Just be sure to check out the Park’s website before you go to check for road closures or to see if day pass reservations are required.

If you are looking for a guided hike, I strongly recommend Rewilding Expeditions. The owner Nick is a former park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park and extremely knowledgeable about the park and dedicated to conservation.

Chataugua Park in Boulder
Chautauqua Park in Boulder

If you don’t want to go that far, take a hike on one of the many trails that start at the Chautauqua Trailhead, many of which will offer great views of the campus from above. Another great scenic overlook is Panorama Point on Flagstaff Road. The Boulder Creek Path, which runs through town and campus along a babbling creek, is also a good place to bike, jog, skate and walk.

Pearl Street Mall in Boulder

Downtown, you will want to stroll through the Pearl Street pedestrian mall, take a downtown walking tour, check out the goods at the Boulder Farmer’s Market, or pop into the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you are a tea fan, you may want to check out the Celestial Seasonings Factory tour and then refresh at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

Fascinated by weather? Stop in for a tour of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Visitor Center for an informative view of weather, climate, and the broad spectrum of atmospheric research at a world-class laboratory. After the tour, head outdoors on the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, or take a longer hike on one of the extensive trails in the 40,000+ acre Boulder Open Space area.

Of course, if you are looking for other day trip options, from Boulder you are only 30 minutes from Denver and 40 minutes from the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where you can go climb the amphitheater steps, hike a network of trails, or visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. 

One hour away you can reach the otherworldly landscape of Roxborough State Park, where you can hike among the slanting ochre sandstone formations, watch for wildlife, and spot wildflowers alongside the trails.

A forty-minute drive will take you to Golden, Colorado. This former gold rush town has a unique Western-flavored culture surrounded by rugged mesas and is home to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, with 12,000 acres of high mountain landscape with aspen trees, granite boulders, tall grasses, and fields of wildflowers.

People on a path curving through Garden of the Gods Park

If you are willing to drive an hour and a half to Colorado Springs, you can hike through the towering sandstone rock formations at the Garden of the Gods Park.

Visiting other Colleges?

Check out recommendations for planning campus visits to:

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