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Boulder, Colorado: The Happiest City in the United States

This mountain town has it all—scenery, culture, and a world-class quality of life.

Journey to Happiness in Boulder, Colorado Join National Geographic Photographer Ronan Donovan on a journey of the senses through Boulder, Colorado to explore the experiences that this particular town has to offer, and why its residents seem so happy.

Looking for happiness? We know where to find it. It’s nestled in a valley in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about 25 miles northwest of Denver. Boulder, Colorado, has consistently topped lists of the happiest (and healthiest) cities in America, for many reasons. Not least among them: breathtaking scenery, a pleasant climate, a charming downtown, and enough outdoor activities to keep even the most active person busy. There’s simply no excuse not to get out and play.


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Visitors enjoy the view at Panorama Point near Boulder, Colorado.

Restaurants and shops line the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, a four-block stretch in Boulder’s historic downtown. Get fortified with coffee and a flight of pancakes at Snooze, then stroll along the red-brick road, browsing for unusual finds at local shops like Chelsea and Tough Luck Cowboy. For a look at some of Boulder’s finest artwork, pop in to SmithKlein and other Pearl Street galleries.

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Pearl Street is Boulder's beloved hub of shops, open markets, and restaurants.

After a morning spent strolling and shopping, sit down for a spell at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse just south of the Pearl Street Mall. Built entirely by hand in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, then disassembled and shipped to Boulder, the teahouse features a carved ceiling hand-painted with intricate Persian patterns, a dozen hand-carved cedar columns, and a rose garden with patio seating. Try one of the many flavorful teas or indulge in a tasty meal.

If you’re in town on a Wednesday or Saturday between May and October, stop by the farmers market at 13th Street between Canyon and Arapahoe for some local flavor. In addition to produce and wares from local farms and vendors, the market has live music and prepared foods.


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Take a morning during your stay in Boulder to climb the First Flatiron and immerse yourself in nature.

You can’t go to Boulder and not get your hands (and feet) on the mountains. The city is named after a rock, after all.

Boulder’s most iconic landmarks are the Flatirons, a series of five slanted sandstone formations along the eastern slope of Green Mountain. For the outdoor enthusiasts of Boulder (and that’s just about everyone), the Flatirons are an enormous playground. Hikers have miles to explore, slackliners can hit the ropes, and climbers can test their skills on routes of all levels. For tips on starting out in the sport—or upping your game—book a session with guides at Apex Mountain School.

One of Boulder’s jewels is Chautauqua Park, a smallish park on the southern edge of the city packed with things to do and see. Miles of trails for hiking and biking wind through the green space, with dramatic views of the mountains. There are playgrounds, picnic areas, and even a restaurant: the Dining Hall, which has been serving up hearty fare since 1898.

Head to Eldorado Canyon State Park (about half an hour south of downtown) for some of the best climbing in the country. Eldo (as locals call it) has sheer walls that climb to 700 feet and hundreds of climbing routes. If you’d rather stay on solid ground, the park’s trails connect with Boulder’s trail system. In nice weather, enjoy a picnic along South Boulder Creek, and in winter, strap on some cross-country skis or snowshoes and enjoy an actual winter wonderland.

Nancy Gupton is a freelance writer, editor, and lover of books, music, and, of course, food. You can follow her on Twitter.

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