The small town of Vail, Colorado is set within the White River National Forest. And although not a thrifty trip, a visit to Vail is one worth taking. With its mountain vistas and picturesque views, Vail is a destination come summer or winter. If you were to visit Vail during peak ski season (December through March) our only recommendation would be to spend every minute on the ski hill — because with 5,289 acres, there is plenty to cover on skis. For those looking to visit in the summer, we give you a more diverse itinerary of dining, hiking and exploring. Vail is a family-friendly town with activities aplenty. See what we have planned for you.
Check into Sonnenalp
A lucky few will find flights that allow them to land at Eagle County Regional Airport, but for many, the more feasible option is to fly into Denver International Airport. Hop on an early flight into the big city and rent a car for the two-hour drive into the mountains. Shuttle services (CME and Peak 1 Express) are also available if you are not comfortable driving the mountain roads solo.
The accommodations that Vail Village and Lionshead Village have to offer are outstanding. You could spend the upcoming 48 hours hotel hopping and still leave happy. If cost is not an issue, book a stay at the Arrabelle in Lionshead or The Ritz-Carlton Club or Sonnenalp in Vail Village. For this trip, let’s plan to stay at Sonnenalp, but remember that more affordable options do exist. Located in the heart of Vail Village, Sonnenalp offers bedroom suites, five in-house dining options, a spa, off-sight golf course and more. Check in and drop your bags, we have places to go and things to do.
Lunch at Sweet Basil
Wind your way through the Village before stopping at Sweet Basil for a sophisticated lunch. With a menu of creative, modern American food, you are sure to find something to please your palate. Choose from sharable plates, appetizers and main dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences and a stellar wine menu. Settle into your vacation over oysters, charred octopus and a Colorado burger.
Explore Vail Village
Stretch your legs, take advantage of the pedestrian-friendly streets in the Village and familiarize yourself with the town you will call home for the next day and a half. The charm of the cobblestone streets and European-style architecture is guaranteed to make you want to stay a little longer.
Vail first gained popularity in the mid ’70s for its skiable terrain. In the early ’80s, Vail became a destination not just in the winter, but year-round — mainly for its landscape. Although you will have a chance to sightsee and head up the mountain you keep hearing about, it is time to enjoy the town’s retail center at the base of the mountain. Stroll the streets and visit popular high-end stores, such as Designer Furs, The Golden Bear and Gorsuch; shop for ski and outdoor gear; pay a visit to local galleries and pick up a few souvenirs.
Drink a beer at Vail Brewing Co.
Solaris Plaza is home to bōl, an upscale bowling alley and eatery; Matsuhisa; CinéBistro, a movie theater with burgers and a bar; galleries; boutiques and Vail Brewing Company. It is here at Vail Brewing Company that we urge you to sit back and enjoy a beer as you revel in the fact that you are enjoying a summer getaway in Vail. This independent craft brewery is a go-to spot for après skiers and summer visitors alike. Start with one of their staple beers: Gore Creek IPA, Kore Shot Kolsch, Pete’s Stash Pale Ale, Hot Mess Blonde, Tourist Trap Double IPA, Alpenglow Amber Ale or Down River Brown Ale, before testing out the specialty selection. Knock one back before heading to the hotel.
Refresh at the hotel
Take a quick shower, change clothes and primp for a night on the town!
Dinner at Mountain Standard
East Coasters will likely be ready for an early dinner as your internal clock is still set to Eastern time. With food cooked over an open and live wood fire, Mountain Standard will sate your hunger. The folks behind Sweet Basil are also to thank for Mountain Standard. The sister restaurant differs in everything from food to atmosphere, but both are worthy of a visit. While Sweet Basil offers understated décor with white tablecloths and modern elements, Mountain Standard is a rustic space anchored by the open kitchen.
The dinner menu brings the rustic flavors of the fire into dishes such as calamari, Rocky Mountain trout and duck breast. For those from the South, biscuits with country ham and pepper jelly, pimento cheese and shrimp and grits bring flavors of home to the table. The dinner menu also features a raw bar selection of oysters, crab, shrimp and tuna. We suggest sharing dishes so you can get a taste of everything!
Drinks at The Red Lion
This is one of Vail’s go-to spots for live music, and it’s not to be missed. The Red Lion, which first opened in 1962, is divided into different sections: an open-air terrace, jazz lounge, dining room and basement. Through mid-September, local singer/songwriter Brendan McKinney takes the stage at The Red Lion each Friday night. Order a drink and join the crowds in enjoying the live entertainment. Don’t stay too late as tomorrow promises to be a big day.
Breakfast at Ludwig’s
One benefit of staying at Sonnenalp: you don’t have to travel far to dine. Grab a seat on Ludwig’s terrace and dig into a European-style breakfast buffet. Fuel up for the long day ahead!
Head into Lionshead Village
If you are feeling lazy, hop on one of the free shuttles that travels between Lionshead and Vail Villages. Or enjoy the short walk via the Vail Recreation Path that runs along Gore Creek. Lionshead Village, like Vail Village, sits at the foot of the mountain, and it is here you will find the iconic gondola and more shops and restaurants.
Hike up Vail Mountain
Now is your chance to see what the mountain is all about. Even without snow, you will be able to see what makes it so attractive to skiers and outdoor enthusiasts. Make your way to one of the mountain’s eight hiking trails or 17 bike trails. For beginners, we suggest Berrypicker, a trail that starts in Lionshead and takes you to the top of Vail Mountain. If you need less of a challenge, ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola to Eagle’s Nest and hike down via the Berrypicker trail. Find more of the best hikes in Vail here. With varying skill levels, each trail offers views of the beautiful mountains from a higher vantage point.
Hiking might be the most popular of Vail’s summertime activities, but you can also go rafting, fishing, biking and golfing. There are plenty of summertime activities to keep you busy, so pick what’s best for you!
Lunch at Les Delices De France
Truth be told, I had no idea this eatery had a name other than The French Deli, and I have been visiting Vail regularly for 13 years. If you plan to call it by its formal name, don’t be surprised if you receive a few confused looks. No matter what you call it, you are sure to fall in love. The small café, which is tucked away in a corner of Lionshead Village and is only open for breakfast and lunch, is the perfect post-hike spot. Replenish lost calories with a sandwich served on French bread with options that are more affordable than you’ll likely find elsewhere. End your meal with a ball of cookie dough from the pastry section — win, win.
President Gerald R. Ford, an avid skier, was an early supporter of Vail and Beaver Creek and brought attention to the ski town in its early years. Gerald and his wife Betty later purchased a home in the area and helped established Vail as a well-known ski spot for folks from Colorado and beyond. Betty Ford was an avid gardener, so it is only fitting that a botanical garden in Vail was named in her honor. The garden sits at 8,250 feet above sea level and can be accessed via the Vail Recreation Path (about a 20-minute walk from Lionshead) or by public transportation.
Within the garden, you will find more than 3,000 species of high-altitude plants spread across four sections: Mountain Perennial Garden, Mountain Meditation Garden, Alpine Rock Garden and the Children’s Garden. Additionally, there is an educational center that offers information displays, activities for children and a state-of-the-art alpine house featuring plants from around the world. Stroll the gardens and consume nature’s beauty.
Relax at the Sonnenalp Spa
Head back to Sonnenalp and prepare to relax at the spa, where you can choose the spa service of your choice, whether it be a massage, body scrub, facial or manicure and pedicure. You can also sign up for a spa package that will give you the opportunity to mix and match services. We suggest you book an 80-minute massage followed by some time in the steam rooms, sauna and whirlpools.
Have a glass of wine at Root & Flower
After you have gotten your treatment, relaxed in the spa, showered and changed into your Saturday best, ease into the night with a glass of wine at Root & Flower, an elegant wine bar. Choose from a large selection of champagne and wines by the glasses to pair with a small plate or appetizer to tide you over until dinner. The wine bar is filled with light and likely others looking for a crisp glass of wine before heading to dinner. Grab a seat at the bar and engage with the bartenders to get more local knowledge about Vail.
Dinner at Yama Sushi
Next door to Root & Flower, you will discover the perfect place for dinner. Yama is an upscale sushi restaurant with a lively atmosphere. The sounds of jazz and patrons fill the space, so expect higher noise levels. The sushi selection is diverse, but each roll features fresh fish. We are partial to the yen yen and boom boom rolls, although we don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu. Alongside sushi, they serve a small selection of starters and entrees. And don’t overlook the cocktails. The selection is tiny but mighty, with creative combinations.
Grab a drink and do some bowling at bōl
Chances are, you will leave Yama with the desire to keep the fun going — it tends to have that effect on people. Continue your night at bōl with a round of bowling (be sure to book one of the 10 bowling lanes in advance). While bowling, indulge in dessert and more drinks (if you so choose). You can reserve the lane for 1, 1.5 or 2 hours — and kids are welcome.
Brunch at La Tour Restaurant & Bar
Sleep in and sleep off the food, drinks and bowling from the night before. Once you are feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, head to La Tour for their Sunday brunch. Start your day with an egg dish, such as the burrata cheese omelet or lobster Benedict, traditional pancakes or bananas foster French toast.
Visit the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show
Before you hit the road, take time to visit the Vail Farmers’ Market and Art Show. For 16 weekends each summer, the market welcomes locals and visitors to shop the selection of fresh produce, baked goods, meats and cheeses, artisan goods, jewelry and more. During market hours, you can also enjoy live music at Solaris Terrace and The Secret Garden. At this point, you will feel like a local among locals. Soak it in as your time in paradise is winding down.
During the summer, Vail hosts annual events (such as the GoPro Mountain Games, Vail Craft Beer Classic, Gourmet on Gore and Oktoberfest) and weekly events (such as Saturday Sundown Series, yoga at Mid-Vail and dinner series). Check the calendar and take advantage of these events during your visit!
If you’re ready to book a getaway in Vail, make your first stop Visit Vail Valley, an online resource for all things Vail.
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