Connection to the outdoors is part of life in Colorado Springs, but you don’t have to be a rugged outdoor adventurer to experience and enjoy the natural beauty of the Springs. You can simply immerse yourself in and among it to find inspiration, says Jennifer DeDominici, a local singer, actor and performing arts teacher.
“When I think about what drew me to this area, it’s the idea that nature is part of your everyday experience,” Jennifer says. “You can be standing in the grocery store parking lot and have a magnificent view. As someone who’s really busy, having easy access to that beauty in a regular way is super appealing to me. So everything I chose on this itinerary involves the beautiful view and how it integrates into life and your everyday activities.”
Where to Stay: Lodging
Garden of the Gods Resort and Club
You’ll find arguably the best views in Colorado Springs at the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club. Jaw-dropping. Spectacular. Choose your favorite adjective for its perch at 3020 Mesa Road overlooking Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. Guests can enjoy delicious restaurants; multiple swimming pools, including the gorgeous Infinity Pool; an expansive fitness center; the 27-hole Kissing Camels Golf Course; the Recreation Center with a splashpad, playground and Kids Club activities; and Strata Wellness medispa with a full menu of treatments and bespoke wellness services. “If there weren’t so many other cool places to see, I could just stay there the whole weekend,” Jennifer says.
For more than 70 years, Garden of the Gods Resort and Club has provided a luxury oasis merged with its spectacular landscape. “I chose this location because it embodies what I love about this region, which is that every bit of your experience here involves the integration of nature into that experience,” Jennifer says. “Just lying in bed or sitting on the patio, you get this incredible view of Garden of the Gods Park. The light changes, the weather changes, but the view is always gorgeous.”
After check-in, savor your setting with drinks and bites at the Rocks Lounge and Patio. You may want to share starters, such as Seared Ahi Tuna, or choose from full entrees, such as Ruby Red Trout or Bison Short Rib. And the signature cocktails, such as the Espresso Martini and Blackberry Fields are top shelf. “One not-to-be-missed activity is to experience some live music at the Rocks Lounge,” Jennifer says. “Great drinks, great food, live music and fantastic views — totally up my alley.”
Just save room for a stop at Cork and Cask as you head out on the town for the evening. “The vibe at Cork and Cask is elegant and whimsical,” Jennifer says. “It’s like a sophisticated, grown-up Alice in Wonderland. They have fantastic drinks and service, killer deviled eggs, a giant pretzel worth every calorie and a Vieux Carré to die for.” You’ll find it in the New South End of downtown at 60 E. Moreno Street.
Your cultural entertainment for the night is at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, a place where Jennifer frequently performs in its award-winning, regional professional theater. Located at 30 W. Dale Street, the Fine Arts Center also includes a museum with rotating international exhibitions and a noteworthy permanent collection, as well as an art school and gift shop curated by Ladyfingers Letterpress. Performances at the Fine Arts Center Theatre cover a wide range of styles, including dramatic plays, musicals, children’s entertainment, educational shows, standup comedy and occasional concerts.
“My absolute favorite performance I’ve done there was The Bridges of Madison County. It happened to be the last thing I did before the pandemic, so I got to enter the pandemic with this memory of the most beautiful theatrical experience I’ve ever had,” Jennifer says.
After your show, keep the musical inspiration going at Icons, 3 E. Bijou St. You can hear — and often sing along with — cabaret style performances late into the night at this downtown, gay piano bar. “Icons has a fun, hip, inclusive vibe,” Jennifer says. “The owners and staff are very serious about their music, but not in a way that’s exclusive. They’re serious about giving people the opportunity to enjoy music.”
Start your morning slowly at the Garden of the Gods Resort. You may want to grab a bite in the Grand View Dining Room, take a dip in the heated Infinity Pool or just sip coffee on your private patio.
When you’re ready to get out, head down the Mesa to Old Colorado City for some shopping in the quaint, historic district. You’ll find the leafy streets lined with boutiques, art galleries, gift shops and cafes, and you may catch a farmer’s market in the park, street festival, sidewalk sale or holiday festivity.
Grab your favorite beverage at Jives Coffee Lounge, 16 Colbrunn Court, facing Bancroft Park. “If you happen to be there when owner Dored Najjar is making coffee, you will be in coffee delight for the rest of your stay,” Jennifer says. It’s your call whether to sip while you stroll or linger in the casual, Bohemian shop — where there’s a good chance you can catch some live music.
If you’re looking for something to take home for a friend, family or yourself, Jennifer’s favorite shop in Old Colorado City is Eclectic OCC. “It features the art and wares of local artists, so you can go in and buy a beautiful piece of pottery or a handmade bracelet,” she says. “It’s the place I go to buy a gift for someone who already has everything. You can always find something special but not super expensive.” Eclectic OCC is located at 2518 W. Colorado Avenue in the heart of Old Colorado City.
Plan your lunch or brunch back on the other side of the Mesa at Red Leg Brewing Company, 2323 Garden of the Gods Road. Craft beer lovers can revel in the wide variety of award-winning flagship brews and seasonal specials, but there’s far more to Red Leg than beer. This veteran-owned and operated company is a community gathering space that features food, lawn games, live music, events and, yes, amazing mountain views.
“Red Leg Brewery is casual. It’s fun. And you’re in this magnificent place,” Jennifer says. “You’re enjoying this grandeur without any sort of pressure to be grand. You just get to hang out in your jeans, drink a great beer and have this community experience. You can bring your dog. You can bring your kids. You can just bring yourself. They often have really cool food trucks. Sometimes they have fitness or live music happening on the lawn. You can sit on top of a deck or down at a fire pit. You’re just able to relax, have fun and be in this beautiful place.”
Many local restaurants, including the Public House Burger Bunker, Chef Bob’s Lobstah Trap, Sasquatch Cookies and more have permanent outposts at Red Leg. More local food trucks also rotate through the space. And if you’re not a fan of beer, you can opt for local ciders on tap or a cocktail from the new Red Leg Liquor Cabinet.
If an afternoon rainstorm rolls through, don’t be deterred from your next destination: Garden of the Gods Park. “If it happens to rain, wait until the rain is about to subside and get to the park,” Jennifer says. “When the rain ends and all the people have gone back to their cars, you end up with the whole park to yourself. There are rainbows. All the animals start coming back. The light is incredible. The smell is incredible.”
Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado Springs’ most iconic locations. It has been voted the No. 1 U.S. Park on TripAdvisor for good reason. This is a spot filled with natural beauty, history and sacred culture. More than a century ago, Garden of the Gods was preserved as a park for the free enjoyment of all, and it has been designated a National Natural Landmark. Be sure to stop by the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to learn about the park’s geology, wildlife, history, culture, activities and more. You can choose from many ways to enjoy Garden of the Gods, including hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing (with a permit or guide), biking, self-driving, riding in a shuttle or Jeep tour or choosing from daily events.
“One of the things I love about Garden of the Gods is that it is accessible to all people,” Jennifer says. “There are parts of the park that are paved and easily accessible by wheelchair. And there are parts where adventure lovers can get in and hike. There are some shorter trails that families and children can easily do together. And there are longer trails for people like me who just want to be there as long as possible.”
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drawn back to Garden of the Gods again and again. “The Garden of the Gods Park never ceases to amaze me,” Jennifer says. “I keep waiting to get sick of it because I live here, and I literally go there every single day. And I am amazed every single day. It should get boring or it should stop living up to the hype, but it never does. Every time you turn a corner, you see something new. Anytime the weather changes or the light changes, it’s a new view and a new beauty.”
When dinner rolls around, pizza is on the menu. Jennifer’s standards are high, and Basil and Barley tops her list. You’ll find it on the north side of the Springs, at 9278 Forest Bluffs View in Briargate. “I could not believe that this place in Colorado Springs had pizza that literally made me cry the first time I ate it,” Jennifer says. “I grew up on the East Coast in a family that has a problem with pizza, meaning we eat it all the time. And I’m a purist. I want my pizza dough and my cheese and my sauce to be perfect. Basil and Barley has a pizza oven that they brought over from Napoli that reaches 900 degrees. The chef came from Naples. Everything in the place came from Italy, and it’s perfect.”
If you want to stay closer to the Westside, Pizzeria Rustica is another excellent option in Old Colorado City at 2527 W. Colorado Avenue. “Pizzeria Rustica absolutely passes my high standards,” Jennifer says. “It is a good Napolitano pizza, and it’s delicious every time.”
To close out your night with a cultural experience, check the schedule for the Opera Theatre of the Rockies, where you just might catch Jennifer performing.
“When people think of high opera, they often think New York City or Houston Grand Opera, Chicago Lyric or San Francisco, but we have a professional opera company right here in Colorado Springs,” Jennifer says. “One of my favorite operatic experiences was playing Carmen at the Pike’s Peak Center in a production by Opera Theatre of the Rockies.”
The company does many different types of performances from operetta to grand opera, and its summer Vocal Arts Festival in partnership with Colorado College is widely known as a leading educational and training intensive for young performers.
Your final day in the Springs includes more options for scenic views, good food and live music.
For outdoor activity, head to North Cheyenne Cañon Park, where you’ll quickly feel like you’re in the mountains. You can map your route to 2120 S. Cheyenne Cañon Road, the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center at the park entrance. The road will wind upward for about 3 miles, passing creek-side picnic tables, trailheads and Helen Hunt Falls. Any stop along the way is beautiful, but head to the top parking lot to set out on Jennifer’s recommended hike to St. Mary’s Falls. “This is a rigorous, beautiful start to the day,” she says. “It makes you feel like you’ve done a workout and you get the reward of the gorgeous view as you’re hiking and a waterfall destination.”
Rated as an intermediate to difficult hike by local standards, St. Mary’s Falls has some steep sections that will have you huffing and puffing, especially if you’re from low elevations. The out-and-back trail is just over 6 miles long, so plan on several hours. You can read more details about the hike in our article here. The rest is singletrack that ascends through ponderosa pines and occasional aspen groves, and there are multiple spots to dip your feet in the babbling creek. You’ll be rewarded with natural beauty no matter how far you go before turning around, but those who reach the top will enjoy a 30- to 40-foot cascade of water over rock faces and views of the city far below.
Hiking will work up an appetite, so get your reward at Edelweiss German Restaurant. It’s located at 34 E. Ramona Avenue at the mouth of Cheyenne Cañon, but Jennifer says, “Sitting in the biergarten after a hike makes you feel like you’re actually in Germany.”
She and her partner, Jonathan Hays, discovered it by accident, driving back after a hike, and they were happy to join the Bavarian tradition of having a good meal and a good beer after a hike.
“Everything at Edelweiss is superlative,” Jonathan says. “I recommend having a schnitzel for the main course. Order a Helles beer for your beverage. And then get something traditional like German chocolate cake for dessert. If you’re really starving and you want an appetizer as well, the sauerkraut balls are fantastic.”
For a final activity during your stay, catch a matinee concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, another organization Jennifer performs with. “The Chamber Orchestra concerts are always amazing with interesting programming in beautiful places,” she says. That might be in the Great Hall of the historic Glen Eyrie Castle, the scenic outdoor spaces of Hillside Gardens, concert halls such as the Ent Center for the Arts at UCCS, stately cathedrals or other local venues.
“They do such interesting programs,” Jennifer says. “They have a great way of mixing very accessible music that people recognize and love with music they might not have heard before.”
It will be another high note of inspiration to carry with you from your Creative Stay in Colorado Springs.
Map Your Itinerary
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For up-to-date event information when you’re in town, be sure to visit PeakRadar.com, the cultural calendar for the Pikes Peak region.