By Heather Shoning
Enjoy a romantic weekend getaway in FABULOUS FORT COLLINS
You can’t beat the quaint charm of historic downtown Fort Collins for a
Valentine’s Day getaway—or any ol’ weekend. You won’t get to experience it all, but you can pack a lot into 48 hours, and we’ll tell you where to go so that you’ll have excellent memories to share at the end of your weekend. Knock off early on a Friday and head north.
5 p.m. Take a Gallery Tour
Fort Collins is host to many galleries and museums showcasing everything from handicrafts to fine art. For a unique—if not morbid—experience, visit the Museum of Art Fort Collins, where the current exhibits include “To See Inside: Art, Architecture, and Incarceration.” Boulder-based artist Sarah McKenzie painted large-scale paintings of prison interiors that are showcased alongside a variety of other works of art and creative writing by artists affiliated with the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative. The unique exhibit reflects on the places and spaces of the U.S. prison system and its impact on the people confined within them. A second exhibit, “A Year of Killing” by Brooklyn-based artist and food photographer Henry Hargreaves, documents the final meals of men executed in the U.S. in 2016.
On a lighter art note, the Trimble Court Artisans gallery features works from more than 50 local artists in mediums such as fiber, jewelry, mixed media, pottery and more. The Global Village Museum exhibits art and objects from diverse world cultures in part to build mutual understanding and greater cultural competence. Its main gallery features rotating exhibits, while a permanent collection of world folk art, fine art, artifacts and musical instruments donated by local collectors and founding members of the museum are on display in the museum’s two other galleries.
7 p.m. Tequila Tasting and Dinner
Warm up on a crisp February eve at Blue Agave Grill. Serving up contemporary southwestern fare since 2014, the menu is packed with creative, fresh, made-from-scratch options. Start with an order of Queso Fundido with its signature “Kiss of the Devil” salsa. The blue corn enchiladas with grilled chicken are melt-in-your-mouth good—and don’t skip the cilantro rice. Looking for something vegan? They’ve got that, too. Tofu walnut enchiladas will hit the spot with chile-lime marinated tofu and a chorizo-spiced walnut crumble.
In addition, there are more than 75 tequilas and mezcals to try, with weekly rotating flights. Or choose from 13 types of fresh margarita options, such as the Pom-a-rita with Pom Wonderful and champagne, several other signature tequila cocktails, plus a handful of wines.
8:30 p.m. Visit a Speakeasy
Ace Gillett’s is Fort Collins’ beloved underground cocktail and music lounge in the lower level of the Armstrong Hotel, and it’s the perfect spot to wind down on the first night of your romantic weekend away—especially if you’re staying at the hotel. The sultry vibe and ambiance are complemented by a live DJ spinning vinyl tunes from the restaurant’s vintage collection. The venue recently had a comprehensive renovation, and it has an updated menu. Of course, you can expect creative cocktails such as the Ruby Soho with vodka, Aperol, grapefruit cordial, lime, elderflower and seltzer or The Roof is on Fire with Ace’s Old Elk bourbon, demerara, angostura and flamed rosemary.
It will be nice to simply head up the beautiful, curved staircase or the elevator to your room. The Armstrong Hotel opened in 1923 and was the tallest building in town, boasting two elegant dining halls, 41 guest rooms and various retail shops. After a long and storied past, including serving as home to the chapter of the American Automobile Association, barracks for the U.S. Army during World War II, changing and changing hands again, the hotel fell into disrepair and the doors were closed in the early 2000s as growth in the city moved south.
However, in 2002, Steve and Missy Levinger purchased the hotel and began a renovation to preserve and restore as much of the building’s historic fabric and character as possible. They recreated the original storefronts and the 1940s-era neon sign using historical photos, reproduced interior doors and transoms, and lovingly refinished the beautiful Douglas fir floors. Later, under ownership by Crystal Creek Capital, the building received yet another refresh, but the charm remains. In your room, you’ll see the old radiant heaters (although not in use today), beautiful antique-style rugs, steamer trunks-style side tables and, of course, those lovely, creaky historic wood floors. But these hints to the hotel’s bygone era are paired perfectly with today’s modern amenities you’d expect from a high-end hotel.
PHOTO BY of JACK GILLIUM
7:30 a.m. Fuel Up for the Day
It’s hard to pass by a spot dubbed “America’s Best Breakfast” by Esquire Magazine, and it happens to be the perfect place to charge up for a fun-filled day. After more than 93 years, the Silver Grill Café has breakfast and cinnamon rolls down pat. It’s the kind of place you can expect to see farmers (in boots and cowboy hats) getting ready to go to work—but you’ve got to get there early to dine with those folks. And if you don’t, expect to stand outside waiting in line for your morning meal. You’ll find all the usual diner fare with a southwestern twist: corned beef hash and eggs, chicken fried chicken and eggs, veggie breakfast quesadilla, Benedicts, pancakes and, of course, the famous cinnamon rolls. Breakfasts are served with bottomless hashbrowns—and no, they aren’t some out-of-the-freezer food service hashbrowns—they are freshly seared, golden-crisp chunks of boiled potatoes seasoned to perfection.
When John Arnolfo purchased the Silver Grill in 1979, the 1-room diner sat just 40 customers. It struggled for 7 years until Arnolfo saw cinnamon roll franchises taking off and decided to create his own unique version. After a long evolution of fine-tuning recipes and developing a baking technique, today, the diner serves an astonishing 12,000 cinnamon rolls each month.
Photo Courtesy of Silver Grill
9 a.m. Snowshoeing or Fat Biking
Lory State Park, just west of Fort Collins, offers more than 20 miles of trails with beautiful views and ranging difficulty levels. Trails are open year-round and are open to hiking, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and fat biking. Unless you brought your own, local rental businesses can have you easily covered for snowshoes, but if you want to rent a fat bike, do your homework and secure your bike rental before you go—those can be trickier to find.
Photo courtesy of visit Fort Collins
1 p.m. Take A History Tour
Franklin Avery founded First National Bank and was instrumental in developing water projects that enabled northern Colorado’s agricultural industry to flourish. In 1879, he and his wife Sara built a family home on the corner of Mountain Avenue and Meldrum Street, now known as the Avery House. Over time, the home was added onto to accommodate the couple’s growing family—a hallmark of the renovations being its distinctive Queen Anne tower.
Members of the Avery family lived in the house until 1962. Poudre Landmarks Foundation, Inc., was formed in 1972, and the organization worked with the City of Fort Collins to purchase the home in 1974. It then took responsibility for overseeing the restoration of the house. In 1981, it organized the Avery House Historic District Guild to assist with the project. The Avery House, Margareth Merrill Memorial Gazebo, a fountain and a carriage house are part of the Avery House Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The home is filled with significant artifacts and pieces of art that are part of the Avery House collection.
Photos By of Richard Haro
2:30 p.m. New Belgium
Finally, beer—in the town that’s known for it! Food & Wine names Fort Collins No. 11 on the list of cities with the most breweries per capita. And although its present-day moniker is “Napa Valley of beer,” Fort Collins was a dry town until 1969—count ’em—36 years after Prohibition ended. Anheuser-Busch opened here in 1988, but the craft brewery movement started with the opening of CooperSmith’s the following year. Although it was the first, many more have followed, including New Belgium Brewery.
After a bike trip through Belgium, founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch had the idea to bring the Belgian brewing traditions home. In June 1991, they tested Fat Tire and Abbey Ale, the latter of which garnered a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. In January 1999, New Belgium launched its branded bicycles. In the summer of 2003, they became a Certified B-Corp and 1% for the Planet member, with more sustainable practices to follow. In August 2020, Fat Tire became America’s first carbon-neutral beer.
Tours occur every hour on the half-hour from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. through March (hours may change after that). It includes a stroll through the brewhouses, the iconic Foeder Forest and Thunderdome and beer sampling. Reservations are encouraged, and you must wear closed- toe shoes.
7 p.m. Comfort Food Feast
Austin’s American Grill’s tagline is “Comfort Food, Crafted with Care and Culinary Expertise,” and you can taste it in every bite. This is the kind of food designed for warming you up after your morning in the snow and for soaking up any excess beer you might have had after the tour! Start with the crispy fried Brussels sprouts laced with bacon and bleu cheese. For your hearty main, how about a 14-ounce prime rib or grilled bison meatloaf? The chicken pot pie with a wedge of cornbread will hit the spot. Warm up from the inside out with a harvest cider spiced rum cocktail or one of the partnership drinks. The restaurant paired with Stranahan’s Whiskey and Maestro Dobel Tequila to craft spirits exclusive to Austin’s by aging them to its specifications in proprietary oak barrels. Try the smoked maple old fashioned or a sea salt caramel martini.
9 a.m. Caffeinate at a Locals’
Mugs coffee shop, next door to the Armstrong Hotel, has been a locals’ favorite since 2002. McCabe Callahan opened the shop, and today, he and his wife Marli run the place. They are deeply entrenched in the community and proud Colorado State University alums and Rams fans. Power up with a delicious breakfast burrito and caffeinate with your favorite morning joe.
11:30 a.m. Go to the Moon
You won’t want to miss “The Apollo Story” at Northern Colorado’s only 360° dome theater: the OtterBox Digital Dome Theater at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Explore what it took to get humans to the surface of the moon and the challenges engineers, scientists and astronauts faced in achieving the goal. Kick back and relax under the massive 39-foot diameter overhead dome screen and revel in the dome’s state-of-the-art laser projection featuring ultra-high–definition imagery and a booming spatial audio system.
12:30 p.m. Power Brunch
On your final morning, power up for some end-of-the-trip shopping with brunch at Restaurant 415. The food is fresh and delicious—and there’s plenty of it. Choose from breakfast pizza, chorizo breakfast sandwich, migas bowl and more. Of course, there are mimosas and bloody Marys—brunch staples.
2:00 p.m. Retail Therapy
Walk off brunch as you peruse some of Old Town Fort Collins’ eclectic shops. Stop by The Cupboard for anything and everything kitchen related. The store is packed floor-to-ceiling with pots, pans, kitchen utensils and gadgets, baking supplies, gourmet foods, small appliances, and so much more. Kansas City Kitty’s tagline is “Clothing & stuff you can’t live without,” and they are probably right. The store is a unique collection of curated jewelry, home goods, clothing and gifts. Finally, if you need a new read, Bookstore on the Square is the place to go. What started as a pop-up bookstore (called On The Road Bookstore) in 2022 and became a brick-and-mortar in 2023, is an LGBTQ & woman-owned indie bookstore carrying an array of titles you might not find on the big box shelves. The cozy, quiet atmosphere might make you want to sit for a while and start your new book.
Photo Courtesy of Colorado Shoe School
Sunday Option 2
10 a.m. Make Your Own Sneakers Workshop
If you’re not one for shopping and instead want to partake in a truly unique experience, check out the Colorado Shoe School’s workshop for making your own personalized pair of Chuck Taylor–style sneakers. You’ll get to design, glue, sew and assemble your very own unique sneakers! The program is excellent for beginners, and you’ll learn the sewing skills needed for the endeavor. You can choose to make high tops or low tops with soft milled leathers and colors of your choosing. It’s a full-day workshop with an hour lunch break. You must register and pay a deposit beforehand, so plan ahead for this option!
Photo courtesy of Sunset Lounge