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Bolder in Boulder

A tagline that suggests ‘hip since 1859’ says it all

By Beth Buehler

Boulder is a lot of things, but staid and stodgy are certainly not part of the narrative. This is the town that shows up at trade shows with a bright orange, retro Volkswagen van that doubles as a photo booth. Healthy, sustainable, outdoorsy, and vibrant are more accurate descriptors for this foothills college town that continues to grow in capacity to host groups.

Image of downtown Boulder with Flatirons in background. May 1, 2023
The Flatirons overlook downtown Boulder. CREDIT Visit Boulder

 “There is something to offer for any group or visitor,” says Angela “Fig” Wirkler, CMP, director of sales for Visit Boulder. “A rich food and beer scene; strong academic, technology, and science communities; an abundance of arts and culture; and more are all located right in nature at the base of the Flatirons.” 

The big venue news is happening in the University Hill district, located near the University of Colorado campus. Hill Hotel is slated to open in 2024 with 189 rooms, 9,000 square feet of retail space, and two large outdoor plazas. The 250-room Limelight Hotel Boulder is expected to launch in summer 2025 and will have 25,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 15,000-square-foot ballroom. A LEED Gold certification for green building construction is the aim for this property, which aligns with the sustainability goals of Aspen Hospitality, the owner of the Limelight brand. 

Boulder Marriott, Hotel Boulderado, St Julien Hotel & Spa, and the dual-branded Hiltons on Canyon (Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder and Hilton Garden Inn Boulder) are full-service properties that work well for groups due to an ideal blend of accommodations, meeting and event space, and amenities.

Judy Thayer, an independent meeting and event planner, organized two leadership summits last June for a telecommunications trade association headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is working on a third for 2023. About 70 people from around the country attend the three-day gathering held at St Julien Hotel & Spa, with optional morning hikes and yoga classes available and off-site dinners held at Flagstaff House or Corrida. 

The Outdoor Courtyard at Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder. May 1, 2023
The Outdoor Courtyard at Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder CREDIT Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder

With a prime location downtown near the pedestrian-only  Pearl Street Mall, the St Julien has 201 renovated guest rooms and more than 16,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. “The initial event [in 2019] used the typical indoor ballroom space, with receptions and meals outdoors when possible,” Thayer says. “The 2022 event took place entirely outdoors, with indoor function space held as backup. The same plan is set for June 2023—weather permitting.” 

The beautiful surroundings and conducive atmosphere for networking keep Boulder on the association’s calendar. “Boulder and the St Julien are the group’s only repeat [destination] in my 19 years of working with them,” she notes. 

Boulder’s first luxury hotel, Hotel Boulderado, opened its doors downtown with a gala on New Year’s Eve in 1908. The thoughtfully restored lobby is overlooked by a beautiful stained-glass ceiling and a mezzanine level with meeting space. In combination with the conference center that is in a newer addition, the total amount of function space is 10,000 square feet. Private dining is available for up to 30 guests at Spruce Farm & Fish, and License No. 1 is an underground speakeasy-style lounge that can host up to 300. 

“We’ve had a lot of unique events in License No. 1, including full buyouts for company holiday parties and a buyout for a Mad Hatter tea party,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Mia Opalka. “With a full buyout, the client is able to bring in their own band and buy out the bar games for the night, which includes our photo booth, jukebox, and Skee-Ball.”

The Grand Assembly function and meeting space at The Colorado Chautauqua. May 1, 2023
The Grand Assembly function and meeting space at The Colorado Chautauqua CREDIT The Colorado Chautauqua

Longmont-based Beth Witzak, team director and global account executive for ConferenceDirect, has booked corporate clients at Hiltons on Canyon for quarterly manager meetings and board meetings involving 15 to 25 attendees. Together, the properties feature 376 guest rooms, about 8,400 square feet of meeting and event space, shared courtyards, and a heated rooftop pool. “Boulder worked well for my clients’ meetings because it is easy to get to from all over the country, unique, and has really great restaurants and an amazing, energetic vibe for meetings,” Witzak says.

Her groups enjoy going off-site for dinner in small groups and strolling Pearl Street Mall. For Witzak, a real bonus is working with an experienced destination marketing organization. “Visit Boulder is so wonderful to work with,” she emphasizes. “They are kind [and] accessible, and [are] professionals who are real experts at their craft.”

The Boulder Theater Auditorium. May 1, 2023
The Boulder Theater Auditorium CREDIT Visit Boulder

While The Colorado Chautauqua also offers lodging and meeting and event space, it’s in a category all its own. In 1898, the Chautauqua movement took root in Boulder when a group of Texans chose the town as a retreat. Today, the venue is a National Historic Landmark with groups able to book the Community House, Mission House Lodge, Chautauqua Dining Hall, Auditorium and Auditorium Terrace, the 10-acre Chautauqua Green, and the Picnic Shelter for open-air gatherings. Accommodations are in two historic lodges and nearly 60 cottages, and activities include history tours, mindfulness sessions, yoga, forest bathing, tennis, pickleball, basketball, and cultural events.

From the same era is Boulder Theater, constructed in 1906. Organize a meeting or private concert for your group and admire historic touches like murals inside and the iconic marquee on the exterior of the building. Other unique spaces downtown include Rembrandt Yard, with two floors of rental space featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, and eTown Hall, home of a nonprofit, nationally syndicated radio broadcast and podcast, multimedia, and events production company. Located in a renovated church, eTown has several options for booking including a live music venue, cafe and bar, community kitchen, and dining area. 

For something beyond the city core, consider Greystone Castle nestled in a 70-acre meadow on Flagstaff Mountain, or The Colorado Mountain Ranch. The ranch has a rustic turn-of-the-20th-century log lodge, outdoor amphitheater, and barn, and hosts various activities such as a ropes course, horseback riding, archery, lawn games, mountainboarding (a cross between skateboarding and snowboarding), and more.

License No. 1 space at Hotel Boulderado. May 1, 2023
License No. 1 at Hotel Boulderado CREDIT Tim Romano

It’s easy to get out on Boulder’s 300 miles of bike lanes, multiuse paths, and designated bike routes with local outfitters. Beyond Boulder Bike Adventures offers Bike-N-Brews Cruises, Panorama Bike-N-Hike excursions, and Bike-to-Farm tours, and can also provide road, mountain, and electric bike tours.

If your group prefers grapes over hops and spokes, connect with Bookcliff Vineyards to practice the art of winemaking while engaging in friendly competition. Attendees learn about mixing varietals and are split into groups to create their own blends and label designs for the bottles they get to take home. For additional team-building choices, Colorado Wilderness Corporate & Teams offers a Wilderness Amazing Race Challenge, Colorado Olympic Challenge, ice sculpting, and other rewarding options.

For something headier, start with a champagne picnic breakfast and soar into the sky with Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Flights. Or take a 35- to 40-minute scenic drive to Eldora Mountain Resort near Nederland for downhill skiing, snowboarding, and Nordic skiing. 

Boulder is proud of its slightly quirky and uber-fit reputation, even poking fun at the moniker “The People’s Republic of Boulder.” It’s a combination that is highly appealing to groups, and like Judy Thayer’s client, they keep coming back for more.