Local politicians, visitor industry spokespeople and media folks have long been entranced by best-of lists. Regardless of the source, our leaders will happily trumpet any list that ranks our fair city at or near the top. Best place for Millennials/retirees/to start a business/to buy a home/to find a job/to get a haircut/to raise a family/to go to college/whatever.
And so it was a few days ago when The New York Times released its list of 52 places to visit in 2020. Colorado Springs was No. 13, leading our civic warriors to proclaim that we’re the 13th-best travel destination in the world. OMG — finally those snooty coastal liberals have admitted that we’re not just another flyover, but a world-class destination!
Slow down, guys. The list doesn’t pretend to be a definitive, all-time list of the 52 best places to visit worldwide. It’s an annual listing for explorers and travelers that focuses on places you’ve never heard of (Bell-Ile, France) or places that you might never consider visiting (Colorado Springs).
The Times’ explanatory paragraph cited the Olympic Museum, the new Pikes Peak Summit House, our culinary scene (Four by Brother Luck and the Nightingale Bakery), The Broadmoor hotel and our long history as a visitor destination. That’s fine, but you can’t describe a city and region in a paragraph.
We’re a lot more than a couple of remarkable new buildings, a hotel and a budding locavore culture. Like all cities, Colorado Springs is a work in progress, an ongoing collaboration of generations past, present and future.
As the city approaches next year’s sesquicentennial, we who live here rejoice in our complex, delightful and fascinating little burg. Here are a few suggestions for visitors who might like to stray from the Tourist Trail, avoid the crowds and have fun.
Colorado Springs began as an invisibly gated suburb for wealthy culturati, deliberately excluding the vulgar hustlers, gamblers and drunkards of nearby Colorado City. It has since become a living museum of the history of American suburbanization. Start with the stately 19th- and early-20th century neighborhoods of the North End, then the 1920s bungalows of Patty Jewett and Knob Hill, the post-WWII Bonnyville development and the sprawling growth from the 1960s to the present day. Canny developers created scores of new suburbs, and each is still vital, livable and relevant.
And what happened to Colorado City, that unplanned mishmash of mining magnates, saloon keepers, attorneys, dreamers, schemers and working people? The city went broke in 1917 and was annexed by its snooty neighbor, but it’s still quirky and fun
Old Colorado City is a national historic district featuring scores of locally owned shops, bars, restaurants and galleries housed in restored 19th century buildings. It’s the heart of the Westside, the largest historic neighborhood in Colorado. Thousands of homes, ranging from tiny prefab “Chicago Houses” of 500 square feet to grand three-story Victorians, were built during the Cripple Creek boom years from 1891-1902. The boom ended, but the deep-rooted neighborhood endured and prevailed. Take a look at the 1200 blocks of West Kiowa Street and West Pikes Peak Avenue, then head over to the 500 block of Colorado Avenue where the cool Millennial bar-restaurant 503W is a few doors down from Benny’s, an even cooler 1950s dive bar.
And then there are the mountains. We locals rarely bother with Pikes Peak (been there, done that), instead sticking to less crowded trails and lesser summits. Try Mt. Muscoco, or drive over to Cheyenne Mountain State Park. If you’re a cyclist, start in OCC, ride south on 26th Street for a couple of miles, turn right at Lower Gold Camp Road, and keep going for another 3 miles until the pavement ends. Little or no traffic, 1,000 feet in altitude gain, great views and a fast descent back!
It’s great to be 13 of 52, but many of the appealing international destinations in the list are unaffordable or distant. Of American destinations, only two are ranked above us; Washington, D.C., at first place and Paso Robles on California’s coast in at sixth place.
Colorado Springs is the American bronze medalist, as befits the headquarters of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. We’re also easily accessible and relatively inexpensive — in fact, probably the cheapest of the 52! And in any competition, third beats 13th — especially if you can’t afford gold or silver.