There are lots of pretty places in the world.
But there’s nowhere I’d rather be in summer than Aspen.
The town's history is deep, its sense of place strong, evidenced by the beautifully preserved Victorian buildings from the mining days and historic ski chalets. There are also Modernist buildings from the Bauhaus designers that modern day town founders the Paepckes brought to help shape the look of the town in the late 1940s/early 1950s. And today there are many contemporary buildings and influences.
Like Aspen, I’m eco-minded, and obsessed with nature and outdoor pursuits. Aspen’s obsession with fitness may be why so many professional athletes, from skiers to bikers, call this ski resort home. If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Aspen is the town that never rests.
And despite its reputation as a destination for celebrities—it’s that too, especially in winter—Aspen also possesses a relentlessly highbrow, cultural side, which is in full bloom during summer. What first inspired me to make my home in Aspen back in 1987, still inspires me today. Aspen is a place to lift yourself out of your usual, everyday self; well, this is more easily done when on vacation, I admit. The town’s “personal best” ethos dovetails perfectly with my own “personal best” motivation. There’s something about this place that inspires you to leave your comfort zone and try new things. To push your knowledge. Your physical abilities. Your sense of adventure. Your vision of what a life well lived is.
YOU STEP OFF THE PLANE...
No matter how long I’ve lived here, I never tire of the crystalline air and brilliant light. It hits you immediately. Beauty will initially take your mind off of how thin the air is at town’s base elevation of 7,900 feet.
FIRST THING I DO
Saunter about downtown. Its small size, laid out on a mining days’ grid often surprises visitors.
With a perfect location at the base of Aspen Mountain, The Little Nell is both posh and comfortable. A remodel a couple years ago transformed it from more formal chintz in to a mountain palace with verve and style. Picture sleek Holly Hunt furniture and wood floors, with bold contemporary art and comfy fur throws. And impeccable service. Splurge on one of its six ultra-luxe suites. Check in to its 2,500 square foot one-bedroom Paepcke Suite. With glass in hand, retreat to its private balcony, with big views of Aspen Mountain.
Victoria’s: best coffee and chai latte in town. I love the house-cured lox—on a bagel or with scrambled eggs, and the breakfast wraps. And don’t forget to come back for its wine bar.
Peaches: a local gathering spot, with a lively outdoor patio offering great people watching. The menu is strong on comfort foods, made with local and organic ingredients.
Spring Cafe: an organic vegetarian menu, including some gluten-free and vegan dishes—with a comfy outdoor patio. My picks are the huevos rancheros; tacos; and scrambled tofu; and my go to for smoothies.
Ajax Tavern: my spot for a languorous lunch after a hike or bike ride, when I’ve earned its In-N-Out style Double Double burger. And when I’m not in the mood for a meat fest, I order the oysters with a crisp Chablis. Ajax is part of The Little Nell, so its wine list is superb.
The historic Hotel Jerome: its Prospect Terrace in the garden, with a gorgeous view of Aspen Mountain, and famous for its Cobb Salad.
Meat & Cheese: owned by the valley’s Avalanche Cheese Company, there’s more to this local and global menu than excellent fromage. It ranges from house made charcuterie boards to the best rotisserie organic chicken in town. It’s my go to for packing a picnic too.
Matsuhisa: Named after celebrity chef Nobu’s original LA spot, this restaurant is not part of the Nobu chain. Rather it's part of a local group that also owns Matsuhisas in both Vail and Denver. Downstairs is the scene and hard-to-get res. I love to sit on the upstairs patio (they don’t take reservations, so sip cold sake while you wait.) If you’re lucky, alpenglow will illuminate your view of Aspen’s famous Red Mountain as you dig into Matsu’s signature yellow tail jalapeño sashimi.
Element 47: named for silver, the precious metal that first put Aspen on the map. In a go-go world, the Little Nell’s restaurant is a place to experience Slow Aspen and the pleasures of the table. It’s heaven for oenophiles, with more than 18,000 bottles of wine in its big rep cellar. Nothing better than putting your Burgundy destiny in the hands of Master Somm/Wine Director Carlton McCoy.
Chefs Club at the St. Regis: While it has its own menu, its speciality is spotlighting dishes from Food & Wine magazine’s annual list of Best New Chefs, including special event dinners with these chefs throughout the year. Get a seat at the countertop that looks out on the open kitchen, and let the in-house longtime local chef Todd Slossberg cook a meal just for you.
Cache Cache: this longtime restaurant has a dedicated clientele and amazingly good French bistro fare, like Escargots a la Bourguigonne. Also, a top notch wine list, especially for Burgundies and Champagne. Its patio and open air bar are the places to sit.
Ellina: I particularly love its intimate, open air bar, and bar menu. Its artichoke dishes—bruschetta, as well as steamed whole artichoke with aoli—are my must have dishes.
Creperie du Village: small and inviting—I feel as if I'm in the Alps— with some outdoor seating. Serves classics like raclette, as well as specials, with aplomb.
I CAN'T DO ASPEN WITHOUT
Clarins Sunscreen and Creme de La Mer Reparative Face Sun Lotion
Clothing I can layer, from a Moncler pouf to a Frauenshue fleece with a Patagonia windbreaker.
A wide brimmed hat
My sensible but cool Nike black sneakers
My big Robert Marc sunglasses
Drinking more than eight glasses of Aspen tap water a day
7 THINGS I LOVE
1. The weather—blue bird skies, sunny days, humidity-free air, and especially the inky night skies, as I love watching the stars!
2. The people: you’ll meet and make friends with some of the most interesting, quirky, and successful, all in one tiny places.
3. The cycling: I’m an avid road bike rider, and the Aspen area offers some of the best biking on the planet. One of my favorite rides is up Castle Creek Valley, a stunningly beautiful valley that was the sacred ceremonial grounds of the Ute Indians. Then linger over lunch at the rustic Pine Creek Cookhouse.
4. The Aspen Meadows: a dairy farm eons ago, this aspen tree lined parcel of land is home to the esteemed Aspen Institute, a non-profit that offers programs in leadership and ideas. Its campus is home to the Aspen Music Festival; and the Aspen Physics Center. Most of the buildings, originally designed by Bauhaus architect Herbert Bayer, were rebuilt in the 1990s with a Bauhaus look and spirit. Get a map at the front desk of the Meadows and do a self-guided tour of its outdoor art, including a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome.
5. JAS Cafe: the intimate concerts presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS), which holds a major summer and Labor Day festivals. This moveable series takes place in three locations: The Little Nell; the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum; and at the new Cooking School of Aspen.
6. The Saturday downtown Farmer’s Market: the produce comes from nearby, lower-elevation Western Colorado town.
7. The Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop cafe, So, for a midmorning cappuccino with sweeping views of Independence Pass.
I’m a member of the Caribou Club, Aspen’s first and best private club. Many don’t realize you can buy special weekly membership; ask your hotel concierge. One of my favorite places for dinner, with some of the best food in town.
The wine cellar at the Little Nell.
The Little Nell gets its yummy honey from beehives on Aspen Mountain tended by a ski patroller.
MY FAVORITE LOCAL EXCURSIONS
I love The Little Nell’s Adventure Shop, with knowledgeable, fun guides. Experience Aspen’s high country by Jeep, from Little Annie’s to Taylor Pass, along with a picnic of culinary and wine bliss.
The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) offers free hiking tours led by experts on anything from wildflowers to local fauna and flora and mushrooming.
Aspen has many of the luxury brands you’ll find in NYC—from Prada to Dior to Vuitton and more. But my favorite locally owned, interesting stores are:
Nuage: owner Mary Moyer has a great eye, with a speciality of finding emerging designers
Performance Ski: chic but functional active and sportswear you won’t find elsewhere.
Gorsuch: a classic for ski and outdoors wear, and also fashion brands that work with the active but stylish Aspen lifetyle
Ute Mountaineer: my go to for all my outdoor clothing and supplies, from Patagonia to Northface and more
Dubbed the “Daily Double”—first I hike to the 11,212 foot summit of Aspen Mountain, then take the gondola down; followed by an afternoon bike ride up the Maroon Bells or Castle Creek valleys.
The tk year old Aspen Music Festival is dubbed the “Julliard of the West,” because the 600 some international students at its affiliated school study with world-class musicians. It’s a local tradition to bring a blanket and sit on the lawn, which is free, though I prefer sitting in its iconic Benedict Music Tent. Features talents like Joshua Bell, the Emerson String Quartet, Sarah Chang, and others.
Baldwin Gallery: long a trailblazer for contemporary art, it has the big rep as one of best galleries both locally and internationally.
The Aspen Art Museum: Aspen’s commitment to the arts, and its vast wealth, has no better symbol the Pritzker Prize-winningShigeru Ban’s building. You can’t miss the hulking size of this three-story glass-walled building with its distinctive basket-like wood-clad exterior and wood truss roof.
Anderson Ranch Arts Center your inner artist at the nearby Snowmass ski resort. A former sheep and cattle ranch, it houses artists’ studios and offers workshops in photography, painting, ceramics, and more.
Belly Up is THE place for live music. Checks its website before your trip; many top shows sell out quickly, so buy tickets in advance.
Don’t rent a car. The downtown is highly walkable, and the public transportation, called RFTA, can get you most places.
I'M NOT TELLING...
For a town that so into sports and health, there is a surprising lack of outstanding massage therapists who do actual body work. The Remede Spa at the St. Regis—the best spa in town— is my go to for pampering services. But I have one shiatsu body worker who is so good and so fully booked.