There’s a neighborhood in Boulder to suit everyone.

And since the Colorado mountain town of just over 100,000 was recently ranked U.S. News & World Report’s number-one place to live in America for the second consecutive year, there are plenty of people flocking here.

Contrary to what its name might suggest, Boulder is far from monolithic. From bustling Pearl Street and college-focused University Hill to the hip breweries of East Boulder and arts-heavy North Boulder, here are the best neighborhoods to get to know on your next trip. Just be careful: you might end up moving in.

For shopping and nightlife head Downtown & to Pearl Street

The beating heart of Boulder’s downtown, the iconic Pearl Street pedestrian mall stretches for four blocks from 11th to 15th Streets. The colorful amalgamation of quirky shops, restaurants, bars, and street performers provides ample shopping and nightlife – and also some of the finest people-watching in town.

Start with a festive cocktail plus a superb view of the Flatirons on the rooftop of the West End Tavern, before stopping in at local Pearl Street favorites like Pearl Street Pub and gritty dive bar Sundown Saloon. Boulder’s high-end food scene is epitomized by such swank restaurants as FrascaOAK, SALT, and Kitchen Bistro (founded by Boulder resident Kimbal Musk, brother of Elon). There’s even a German beer hall around the corner, not far from the historic Boulder Theater. 

Downtown is also home to some of Boulder’s top accommodations, including the deluxe St Julien and Hotel Boulderado, both of which make for excellent choices for those wishing to stay in a prime location. The adjacent residential area of Mapleton Hill is a top neighborhood to walk around and admire the historic Victorian and Queen Anne architecture.

People walking on the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall with mountains in the distance in Boulder, Colorado
The center of Boulder, Pearl Street Mall offers shopping, street performances and plenty of people watching © Page Light Studios / Getty Images

The CU campus and University Hill have the best live music

The University of Colorado campus and University Hill district (aka The Hill) are the center of the college action in Boulder. Exploring 13th Street from Broadway to College Avenue, you’ll get a slice of campus life as you pass hallowed such cheap-eats spots as The Sink and Illegal Pete’s. Also on this strip is the iconic Fox Theater, which hosts Boulder’s top independent live music acts in a cozy space. It’s nearly impossible to have a bad time there.

Folsom Field on the CU campus hosts larger events and touring acts, in addition to must-attend University of Colorado football games in the fall; basketball fans will want to make their way to the nearby CU Events Center. Accommodations in the area lean toward the more affordable, with options including Boulder University Inn and Basecamp Boulder

North Boulder is the hub of the art scene

No neighborhood in Boulder has been growing faster in recent years than increasingly hip and ever-expanding North Boulder. Formerly a sleepy residential area on the outskirts of town, this area has become a new hub for the local arts scene in recent years. Visitors and residents can tour the galleries of the NoBo Art District during First Friday art walks, in between snapping pics of area murals and shopping like a local at independent favorite Lucky’s Market.

While nowhere in Boulder is far from the outdoors, North Boulder is most accessible to Estes Park and the 45-minute route north to Rocky Mountain National Park. Wonderland Lake is also in close proximity to North Boulder, providing an excellent base for exploring unique nearby mountain towns such as Jamestown and Gold Hill.

A couple enjoys a picnic on a green lawn by a creek at a park in Boulder, Colorado
Like most Boulder neighborhoods, Martin Acres offers plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors © MediaNews Group / Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

South Boulder is great for families

A large area enfolding several smaller neighborhoods, South Boulder encompasses Chautauqua and the Flatirons, the area around Boulder’s most impressive mountain peaks. Hike the trails of Chautauqua Park for an up-close-and-personal glimpse of Boulder’s landmark mountain range. Then head south to explore the rest of South Boulder in laid-back, family-friendly neighborhoods like Martin Acres and Table Mesa.

While this section of town is mostly residential, there are a few top-choice bars and restaurants where you can mix with locals: we recommend the famously tie-dyed Southern Sun Pub & Brewery. For outdoor options, head to nearby Harlow Platts Community Park for disc golf with lake views, or make the short drive south to the criminally underrated Eldorado Canyon State Park.

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East Boulder/Gunbarrel is up-and-coming 

The up-and-coming East Boulder neighborhood has also been booming in recent years, as both new transplants and longtime residents seek out the area’s (relatively) cheaper housing. Local breweries pack the neighborhood, including Avery, Asher, and Gunbarrel Brewing.  The perennially popular Blackbelly Market and the vibrant BDT (Boulder Dinner Theater) Stage also draw crowds.

East of Foothills Parkway, this vast section of town offers ample open space and gently rolling farmland – which also makes for a well-placed jumping-off point into more rural East Boulder County. It’s hard to resist the lovable little hamlet of Niwot, while enticing recreation attractions in the area range from East Boulder Community Park to the often-overlooked Boulder Reservoir (or just “The Rez”).

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