A winding four-hour drive from downtown Denver, the ski town of Crested Butte is among the Rocky Mountains’ most elusive little enclaves. Local businesses of all colors line the streets—historic preservation guidelines prevent chain stores from settling in—and further expansion of the town is limited by local conservationist efforts. The resulting charm is less cookie-cutter than quirky, and for snowbirds who enjoy a side of culture with some of the steepest runs in North America, there’s no more idyllic adventure town in the west.
Camp 4 Coffee
402 ½ Elk Avenue
This small roaster has won The Denver Post’s title of “Colorado’s Best Coffee” despite its remote locale; one sip of their drip coffee is all you’ll need to believe. Photographers will also love the patchwork of license-plates lining its Elk Avenue exterior, making it one of the town’s most snapped shops.
Crested Butte Museum and Store
331 Elk Avenue
Even if you don’t fork over the five dollars to check out the museum, stopping into the shop for a chat with the clerks is one guaranteed way to learn a bit more about the town’s history. Perusing the glass cases and vintage posters is a must, and any gift shopping you do will go to a good cause, as the museum runs entirely on sales from the store, the entry fee and donations.
Mountain Earth Whole Foods
405 4th Street
Health nerds, rejoice: we found the bulk bins. From every kind of nut and dried fruit to chocolate-covered pumpkin seeds, this is the perfect place to cure your snack attack. Keep a lookout for the local Mountain Oven baked goods here as well, especially the sourdough everything bagels.
212 Elk Avenue
“Sweet” is among the first words one usually uses to describe rum, but this local distillery has an entirely new approach to the spirit. Newcomers are offered a free tasting of the house’s three different ages of rum, which taste more like whiskey than something crafted from sugar cane. If you’re chasing that with cocktails, opt for the “Boat Shoes,” a shaken cinnamon-, passion fruit- and pineapple-forward drink. Or keep things classic with the boldly gingery “Dark + Snowy.”
Zacchariah Zypp & Co.
317 Elk Avenue
While most people know Crested Butte for its iconic peak and epic snowfalls—or, in the summer, its wildflower hikes—one of the town’s other unique resources is its stores of lapis lazuli. Mined only in Afghanistan, Chile and at the Butte, this beautiful blue stone takes on a whole new dimension when set in artisanal Native American designs like you’ll find at this local shop.
First Ascent Coffee Roasters
21 Elk Avenue
On the far end of town, this cozy coffee shop boasts space to curl up with a book or your laptop. As the home of Mountain Oven bakery, it’s also the best place in town to purchase fresh bread—and we’re also big fans of their spicy, nutmeg-forward house chai.
Dogwood Cocktail Cabin
309 3rd Street
When it comes to the coziest après-ski spot in town, this craft cocktail bar is our top pick. With lush fabrics and romantic lighting—not to mention a solid happy hour—there’s really no reason to refuse. Try the “”Winter Squash” with house-infused roasted butternut squash vodka, sage and spices. Or go tropical with the “Thai One On”: rum with coconut, basil, lime and fizz.
425 Elk Avenue
While the local Nepalese Sherpa Café is a beloved ski town standard, we lean toward the warmth of Ginger Cafe’s Thai flavors—and mango mojitos. If you’re waiting for a table at the bar, order the raw spring rolls with peanut sauce. Once you’ve grabbed a seat, you can’t go wrong with Lamb Biryani, a rice dish fit for a royal.
214 Elk Avenue
Last, but certainly not least, this charming restaurant is our absolute favorite spot on Elk Avenue. If you swing by for dinner, make sure to say hello to Natalie, the exceedingly charming host and co-owner. She and her husband, Chris, run the dinner service along with Chef Kalon Wall, and his dishes match their hospitality step-for-step. From unique Colorado cheeses to hand-picked produce from local farms, every dish is a perfect balance of beautiful details and the menu changes regularly with the seasons. On our recent visit, we particularly loved the beets with sunflower risotto, the signature house salad with lemon-almond dressing, and the absolutely stunning desserts. Pro tip: Reserve in advance for dinner. Then, grab sandwiches to go on your way out of town. The housemade chips alone are worth the wait!
Can’t make it to Crested Butte for ski season? Don’t hesitate to visit during the summer. Known as one of the nation’s wildflower capitals, it’s just as famous for its colorful hikes and mountain biking as it is for winter sports.