12 off the tourist path things to do in Vail, Colorado:
1. Eat at the Bus Station
Most city center bus stations are not known for their food but most cities are not like Vail. Looking for legitimate, cheap food that rarely has a wait? Hit La Cantina in the Vail bus station. While all the tourists are waiting in line for the bus to take them home to eat you can be scarfing down a plate full of delicious comida Mexicana and washing it all down with a pitcher of margaritas.
2. Sushi Happy Hour
Starting when the lifts close and going until 6 pm, Nozawa Sushi, located in West Vail inside the Holiday Inn has a happy hour. While most of Vail is standing room only and drinking Coors Light out of plastic cups you can have loads of sushi and saki while giving your sore butt and legs a break in a chair. (Note, happy hour discounts vary as the seasons do – might want to check ahead of time for exact details.)
3. Hit Towns You Have Never Heard Of
Looking for a change of scenery? Perhaps want to see how the real people live? Hit the Minturn Saloon (located a 15 minute drive west of Vail). It is true saloon local style + free chips, salsa and a creek side terrace.
Feeling more adventurous? After you eat some chips and salsa at the Minturn Saloon keeping heading south on the road you came into Minturn on and before you get to the big green bridge take a left. This one lane-ish road will take you right to Red Cliff, Colorado – population 266. Mango’s, the only bar in town, can serve you up some local culture, beer, food and even a rooftop terrace view if the weather is right.
4. Head to the East Side
Before living in East Vail I always thought staying there was just wayyyyyyyy too far from the action. Then I learned about the free bus (offered throughout Vail) that runs all but about 3 hours of the day and then I learned about the Vail Racquet Club was not only a home for me but a hotel with what I need when guests were in town – two outdoor hot tubs, an outdoor pool opened year round, tennis courts, free yoga and exercise classes, workout room, restaurant, bar and coffee shop. If you are there in the summer there is a great little walk from East Vail to the center (and of course the free bus to drive you home.) Another summertime bonus? Loads and loads and loads of East Vail hiking trails.
Money burning a hole in your pocket now that you discovered the unknown joys of eating at the bus stop? Head over to Sweet Basil to treat yourself for being so damn financially clever thus far. Sweet Basil does no wrong. If you are heading there for lunch or during the summer ask for a table with a creek side view.
6. Munch the Best Burgers
Bully Burger at the Bully Ranch in the Sonnenalp Resort of Vail. Enough said.
7. Ride and Ski the Frontside
While all the Texans are scampering wildly to Blue Sky Basin on a powder day the smart kids stay near the front. Why? Less crowds, less wait, more powder quicker, more powder longer and a helluva a shorter commute. I find Northwoods especially divine on such days.
8. Dance, Dance, Dance
You can rest your legs when you are home. Go get your dance on. Head over to Samana (think nightclub in ski boots) or Whiskey Jacks (or Whiskey Yacks as the Argentinians who hang out there refer to it as).
9. Drink with the Locals
Funny how you don’t see any lifties in your hotel lobby isn’t it? That is because they and everyone else that made your experience happen on the mountain are at The George sitting on comfy couches, playing pool and drinking beer they can afford.
10. Go to Mongolia
When all those must-get-to-Blue-Sky-Basin-first-thing-in-the-morningers are moaning about leg cramps the clever ones on the mountain head over for some secret 2 pm pow. Yes, it involves the ever-annoying-to-snowboarders-lift-in-the-form-of-a-disk-that-pulls-you-along-the-side-of-the-mountain-thing and a bit of catwalk at the end of the run but the wide open bowls and powder that is just sitting waiting for you makes it well worth the trip.
11. Get a Massage that Does Not Cost $300
If you are willing to exchange a short drive for saving $235 on a massage head over to Simply Massage in Avon. You can book appointments online and you won’t be disappointed.
12. Go on Great Hikes
My go-to hike was up Vail Mountain. The trail starts at the gondola in Lionshead and takes you to the top of the gondola (where beer, snacks and a free ride down await you.)
A favorite for when friends and the family were in town was Mountain Meadow trail which starts at the Holy Cross Ranger Station shortly after getting off of I-70 heading into Minturn. There are cabin ruins and wild flowers and beautiful views along the way and when you arrive at the top an open cabin (cot included) in the middle of a beautiful mountain meadow (get it?). On a hike a few years ago we arrived to find two Fat Tires and a bottle opener waiting for us!