Mountain Fun for Pipsqueaks: Nibble+squeak’s Guide to Aspen
There’s something about Aspen that’s a little magical. The picturesque town, though quiet in the off-season, is a perfect place to visit year-round. There is no denying that the actual skiing is phenomenal — thanks to the almost endless terrain of four distinct mountains — but it’s more than just a ski town. There’s a lot more to do and see than just winter sports and we’ve got recommendations for our favorite places to stay, eat, and things to do for every time of year.
Where to Eat
The food scene in Aspen is hearty (you can work up an appetite on those slopes!), surprisingly vibrant, and definitely high caliber dining. With minimal chains, we encourage you to try the local restaurants, many of which are luxurious but also kid-friendly.
This original Colorado outpost of Matsuhisa brings top notch sushi and other staples of the famous Japanese chef Nobu straight to the heart of Aspen.
A bistro that serves French American cuisine, Cache Cache is sophisticated in its casualness.
High-energy trattoria serving high-end Italian eats in chic yet relaxed digs, perfect for jovial family dinners.
Chef Chris Latner of Cache Cache doubled down with this new place in the Inn at Aspen at Buttermilk. The smoked meats are definitely the highlight but sides and salads are also a draw.
Aspen’s Only French Alpine Bistro, the restaurant kitchen is currently managed by an accomplished international team, led by Bass Kritnikron, who has mastered French cuisine under the guidance of Michelin star chefs.
Handcrafted cocktails & New England–style seafood are served at this buzzy, beach-themed eatery.
Elevated sandwiches, burgers, salads & craft cocktails in an intimate, 19th-century miner’s cottage.
Mountain food has a tendency to be carb- and dairy-heavy, so Pyramid’s healthful salads and veggie-heavy entrees always come as a welcome break from the constant barrage of pizza, fondue, and pasta.
Jimmy’s has been known as an “Aspen Institution” since opening 1997, and both nothing and everything has changed.
A darling of the food-obsessed in the hills, Meat & Cheese seems to have it all: From farm house cuisine, craft beers, and an eclectic wine list, to fresh juices and coffee, plus everything from meats, seafood, cheeses, cured meats, and artisan bread to take home.
Located at the base of Ajax and above The Little Nell resort, this is an Aspen classic for casual fine dining in an unbeatable atmosphere. Arrive and let the people-watching begin; there’s no better seat in town.
A local favorite which has been serving up breakfast and lunch fare for more than 40 years. Order their famous oatmeal buttermilk pancakes.
A family pizza spot with a focus on gourmet iterations of the classics.
This is where to head if you’re craving Italian comfort food in Aspen (and the comfort of an extensive wine list). Another great thing about the restaurant: Acquolina is open year-round — just note that the kitchen closing time may vary depending on seasonality and busy-ness.
Where to Stay
There are a plenty of lodging options in Aspen. We tend to enjoy properties that are kid-friendly but still feel indulgent, with plenty of amenities and hotel options (activities, dining, etc.). Here are a few to check out:
(Note that home rentals is also great option when traveling in a large group but not covered here)
The historic Jerome has been part of Aspen’s story since it opened as the town’s first hotel more than 120 years ago. Since being purchased by Auberge in 2012, it has been renovated with an updated interior and expanded wing (but is still housed in the original building) and now offers Auberge-style amenities yet still retains its small-town charm. Enjoy a delicious meal at two full-service restaurants, in-house ski rentals through Gorsuch, and a luxe spa.
The land on which The Little Nell sits today has had quite a history over the past several hundred years. Summer hunting ground of the Ute Indians. Miners’ retreat. Railroad stop and depot. Grazing pasture for the Aspen Dairy. Ski lift. Skiers’ watering hole. In 1989, history was made again as Aspen’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotel rose to prominence on the site. It has gone through a couple of renovations and refreshes since and famously remains the most luxurious of Aspen’s resorts.
Just steps from the gondola, this St. Regis offers the same level of service you’d find in any of their properties (including a not-to-be-missed spa if you get the chance), Incidentally, the St. Regis is also a favorite for foodies. Their signature in-house Chefs Club, a partnership with Food & Wine, brings in the country’s best up-and-coming chefs as consultants for a menu that is endlessly changing in style and scope.
Nestled at the base of family-friendly Snowmass, the Viceroy is probably one of Aspen’s best options for those traveling with pipsqueaks-in-tow. It is conveniently ski-in-ski-out and with amenities like complementary ski valet, plenty of suite options with multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, and in-room washer/dryers, it is basically a family’s dream ski vacation. If that weren’t enough, there’s also full-time daycare service in the hotel and a heated outdoor pool that’s open year-round.
The least steep of the four mountains, Buttermilk is typically a favorite of beginner skiers (perfect for little ones or grown ups who are just getting started). In the spring, this mountain hosts the X Games competition. If you happen to be in town that week, ask your concierge to arrange for your and the kids to see a few of the events – fun for those budding adventurers!
Aspen Mountain (aka Ajax) is the original resort here, and the closest of the mountains to town, with its lower runs spitting out skiers right at the doors of the Little Nell. It’s a favorite among locals for its convenient location and its steep, bumpy style.
For experienced skiers, Highlands has some of the most challenging terrain in Aspen, offering steep runs and the legendary Highlands Bowl. It’s not a big mountain, but on a sunny powder day, it’s definitely where you want to be.
While it’s the farthest from Aspen proper, Snowmass is actually the largest of Aspen’s four mountains – with more than 150 miles worth of skiable trails, and offers the most diverse mix of terrain as well as stunning views of the valley. During peak season, the mountain is also home to a busy tubing hill. Pro-tip: Go during the day with youngest pipsqueaks for a pleasantly fun ride (when the ice freezes in the evening, it can get a bit more adventurous).
What to Do (other than ski)
Skiing is obviously the name of the game in the winter, but if you’re taking a break from the slopes (or just aren’t that into it to begin with) or are visiting during the off-season, there is still plenty to do and lots of other exciting activities to enjoy.
Aspen is famous for their art galleries and there are quite a few in town that are worth a gander. The Aspen Art Museum is a must-visit, both for the art and for the views from its rooftop café. Take in a show at the Wheeler Opera House where there’s always a lineup jam-packed with great events for family, music-lovers, comedy-fans, and more. Enjoy the great outdoors with a guided hike from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (they also offer a nature camp for kids), or take a 30-minute drive to Ashcroft Ghost Town where Families are invited to explore the past with kids-friendly activities and stories led by the AHS Education staff (think candle-making, butter-churning, and potato branding). Then continue on foot for about a mile to take in the beautiful views and grab lunch – or a mug of hot cocoa for the littles and hot toddies for the grown ups – at the Pine Creek Cookhouse.
For a really special experience that the kids will love, go for a twilight dogsled ride with Krabloonik. During the fall season, they offer ATV Safari and kennel tours. What’s more, Krabloonik Restaurant in Snowmass provides an enjoyable meal after your dog sledding adventure. Morning and afternoon rides include a prix fixe lunch and Twilight rides a prix fixe dinner (they do have a kids menu).
Aspen is changing and growing. And while it’s true that the hard-core skiing culture is much the same (and that Aspen still has some of the finest skiing in the world), it is evolving to become a place to hang year-round.