If you’ve been to the Pikes Peak region, you may have been to Manitou Springs and not even known it. The tiny mountain hamlet blends seamlessly into the greater Colorado Springs area, but is indeed its own incorporated town. Nestled directly beneath Pikes Peak, Manitou is the gateway to America’s Mountain and home to the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
Quirky, eclectic and funky, Manitou Springs is also proud of its independent identity. The community loves its celebrations, from its annual Wine Festival, Ice Cream Social and Pie Baking Contest, and Commonwheel Arts Festival to its offbeat Emma Crawford Coffin Races, Great Fruitcake Toss, and Carnivale Weekend. If you’re there during the holidays, you’ll feel like you stepped into a snow globe, and you can meet Santa at the historic Town Clock. Manitou is also a creative hub where art is woven through public and private spaces as a priority, adding to the community’s unique personality.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Natalie Johnson. “When you come here, you feel the quirky atmosphere and you are welcome to participate in that. Manitou Springs is a good place to be yourself.”
Natalie is a perfect guide to a Creative Stay centered in Manitou Springs. The 20-year resident is the Executive Director of the Manitou Art Center, a City Councilor, and a member of the Manitou Springs School Board. Natalie knows Manitou. Her itinerary for a weekend stay will give you an insider’s view into the Westside’s creative culture.
Where to Stay: Lodging
SunMountain Center Bed and Breakfast
Want to base yourself in the true creative spirit of Manitou? Then the SunMountain Center is a perfect place to stay. The historic estate is perched in the pinon-forested hills above Manitou Springs with a beautiful view of Pikes Peak, or Tava, the Indigenous name meaning Sun Mountain that is preferred by many locals. Each room in the bed and breakfast is eclectic and unique. A wide variety of original art adorns the walls. Goats and chickens reside out back on the biodynamic micro-farm, which grows produce for the kitchen. And you can swing in hammocks beside the clay pizza oven shaped like a giant tortoise.
“Kat Tudor, one of the owners, is a local visual and performing artist, as well as a yoga instructor,” Natalie says. “She has a very playful spirit, so anything that’s happening at SunMountain, or its sister property SunWater Spa, has that element to it. If you’re taking a yoga class, everyone might loosen up by growling and pretending to be animals. You can feel that free spirit here through the wellness offerings and hospitality.”
After you’ve checked in at the SunMountain Center, it’s a short walk or drive down the hill into the heart of downtown Manitou Springs.
Make sure you stop by the Manitou Art Center (MAC) at 513 Manitou Avenue to inspire your creativity. Look for the murals on the wall and the giant red chair out front. If it’s the first Friday of the month, there will be First Friday Art Walk events featuring live music, artist receptions, makers markets and exhibition openings. Any other time you can browse the work of local artists in the galleries, and you might meet them working in a variety of studios at this community makerspace. You might also run into Natalie.
“There’s a lot of depth to the opportunities here,” she says. “We have galleries. We have studio spaces, and there’s a whole variety of ways to participate here. We currently have about 150 classes each month, and access is free to anyone with a library card when it comes to our equipment.”
That includes power tools, 3D printers, laser cutters, textile supplies, metal- and jewelry-working equipment and much more. But you’ll need an extended stay to get set up for any classes.
You don’t need any special access for dinner, drinks and live music at the Armadillo Ranch. It’s easy to find at 962 Manitou Avenue, Manitou’s main street. And if it’s open, there most likely will be someone performing at some point in the day or night. “They have fantastic food and affordable drinks in a very comfortable atmosphere,” Natalie says. “It’s the kind of place where if you were to come two or three days in a row, you would become a regular.”
Like any good Manitou establishment, the Armadillo Ranch is funky and welcoming. You’ll hear a lot of jam bands, bluegrass, folk, blues and Americana variations, mostly from local or regional artists. “They sometimes have visiting musicians that are fantastic, but often people come to hear their friends and neighbors,” Natalie says. “Some of my favorites are All Aboard, and they’re hilariously fun. James Wallace does that bluesy thing. We’ve got Curtis Boucher, a singer-songwriter, Kiera Lynn, Julian Dillon (Family Elephant), Joy Maples (Manitou Strings) and Korben Mitchell (Moon Veil). There’s a whole variety of musicians I really appreciate who play there.”
Before or after dinner, stop in at the Manitou Penny Arcade, a much-loved local institution with fun for all ages at 930 Manitou Avenue. Within its collection of rooms and open-air breezeways, you’ll find hundreds of arcade games spanning 80 years or more. “It is hard to believe that the Penny Arcade exists in this day and age, and it is everything you want it to be,” Natalie says. “You literally can put a penny into some of these machines and have a fun experience. People of all ages can walk in and remember something about their childhood.”
Besides the ’80s classic videos games, Natalie’s favorites are Skee-Ball and Horse Racing. The latter fills an entire wall. Players sit on stools and roll balls to advance their mechanical racehorse. “In the horse races, you might be competing against 12 different people, and you can win a cup. It’s a big deal to win the cup,” she says. “It has that fun participation for anyone, all ages. It’s amazing.”
After your breakfast at the SunMountain Center, head back to town for some shopping and exploring. There’s something for everyone in the independent shops and boutiques that line the walkable, historic downtown streets, whether you’re after art, souvenirs, gifts, home accessories, jewelry, fashion, sweet treats or more. “Brazen Bee Beauty’s skin care line is great,” Natalie says. “And at Skye Candle Company, you can make your own candle or just wander throughout.”
While you walk around town, be sure to sample Manitou’s mineral springs. Naturally carbonated, each of the eight springs has a different flavor and mix of minerals. They flow continuously from fountains, so all you have to do is catch a sample in a cup or water bottle. Stop by the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau at 354 Manitou Avenue for a reusable souvenir spring water cup, a map and a detailed chart of the mineral make-up of each spring. During the summer, you can join a guided tour, but it’s easy to take your own self-guided tour anytime. You can also download a map and get information about each spring from the Mineral Springs Foundation.
Natalie’s favorite is Twin Springs, which is a short distance up Ruxton Avenue from the downtown traffic circle. “It’s got a little effervescence to it, which I think is nice,” she says. “It makes amazing Manitou lemonade. You can actually purchase Manitou Springs mineral spring lemonade at some of our restaurants because they recognize how fantastic it is.”
Another unique place worth stopping is the Rockey Art Museum. Before his passing in 2019 at age 87, CH Rockey embodied the heart and soul of Manitou. The beloved artist painted, sketched, sculpted, carved, wrote, created and left a lasting impact on the Manitou Springs community. Rockey’s work was best known for its fantastical, nature-inspired style, and the artist himself looked like he could have stepped out of a Tolkien novel. His former home and studio now displays much of his work at 10 Canon Avenue across the street from the Town Clock.
You can also see a large collection of Rockey’s work at the Miramont Castle Museum, 9 Capitol Hill Avenue. Make reservations there for high tea in the Queen’s Parlour Tea Room. The historic estate is a scenic and fitting setting for the multicourse Victorian tea. “They even have fancy hats and accessories you can wear if you really want to get into it,” Natalie says.
Owned and operated by the Manitou Springs Historical Society, Miramont Castle is also home to exhibits devoted to the Manitou Springs Volunteer Fire Department and Pikes Peak Hill Climb. “It’s like everything in Manitou: You go in and you’re like, This is a little odd and a little awkward,” Natalie says. “And it is all of those things, and it’s fantastic.”
Spend your afternoon soaking or joining a yoga class at the SunWater Spa. Located at 514 El Paso Boulevard, SunWater draws water from the 7 Minute Spring and uses solar power to heat it for its collection of soaking tubs. The multi-tiered spa boasts spectacular views of Pikes Peak and other mountains surrounding Manitou. Its atmosphere is an oasis of relaxing wellness.
“Soaking in the hot water at SunWater is a regular part of my life,” Natalie says. “I am a fan of the evening soak. You have your own designated tub and amazing views. You’re in the heart of Manitou. You can be part of the drum circle experience while you’re soaking, listening and watching the people at the drum circle going on in the park below. It is a fantastic way to become a part of Manitou by soaking in the mineral water.”
(You can read more about the SunWater Spa in “Relax. Renew. Repeat. Find Your Perfect Spa.”)
For dinner, your go-to is Adam’s Mountain Cafe. The locally owned eatery has been a community favorite for decades, and it’s Natalie’s dining room away from home. Located at 26 Manitou Avenue, Adam’s is on the east side of Manitou closer to Garden of the Gods. The quiet, comfortable restaurant boasts a collection of Rockey artwork on its walls, and it has a brand-new patio for outdoor dining. “Adam’s is known for their vegetarian food, their slow food, their local food,” Natalie says. “But also they’re known for original cuisine that meets your comfort food needs as well as sort of challenges your palette in some interesting ways. When I go there, I’m never disappointed. I can’t say enough about it.”
When asked about her favorite dishes, Natalie says it’s complicated and lists the Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, the Thai Noodle Salad for lunch, and for dinner: everything from the Harvest Crepes, Vegan Street Tacos, Rural Italian Lasagna, Creamy Mac and Cheese to the Senegalese Vegetables and Turkish Tempeh Kabobs. “I do think about it for hours before I go there, so that I know exactly what I want,” she says.
If you want to extend your night, head up the street to Lulu’s Downstairs at 107 Manitou Avenue for live music and cocktails. In a building that was once, yes, an old pirate bar, there is now a retro chic, intimate music venue that draws nationally touring artists. Its red vinyl seating is a hallmark that makes you expect to see members of the Rat Pack smoking at a corner table between sets.
“Mark Benning and Grant Sabin, the owners, have so many connections internationally and nationally,” Natalie says. “We get really impressive musicians coming through as a result of who they know and how long they’ve been in the business.”
You can read more about the club’s unique vibe in “Lulu’s Downstairs Offers a Sonic Getaway.” “I love to go there. Their decor is amazing. Their drinks are affordable, and I feel comfortable there,” Natalie says. “It’s got that kind of old-school feel that you can’t experience anywhere else.”
On your final morning in Manitou, make sure to grab coffee or brunch at Good Karma Cafe, 110 Canon Avenue. “They have a fantastic breakfast burrito you can have made to order, and Rey, the owner, is almost always there,” Natalie says. “Sometimes he’ll be playing guitar and singing. It’s just a really nice place to stop by in the morning and feel good about starting your day.”
If you can’t quite make it to Good Karma, don’t worry — you have other options for convenience. “Good Karma is where I tend to meet my friends. The Loft Espresso is where I tend to have my business meetings, and Red Dog Coffee is where I tend to go when I’m on hikes,” Natalie says. “You honestly can’t go wrong in Manitou, but each coffee shop has its own place in my day-to-day world.”
Manitou Springs has a long history of wellness and restoration. Generations of the Southern Ute tribe knew the healing benefits of its mineral springs, and its Colorado founders established the town as a scenic health resort that attracted many tuberculosis patients in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As you’ve already seen at the SunMountain Center and SunWater Spa, Manitou still provides a wide variety of health and wellness treatments, therapies, classes and opportunities.
Another option to take advantage of before leaving town is a sound therapy session at Echo Studio Sound Therapy, 411 Manitou Avenue. Owner and certified sound practitioner Stephany Butts-Boucher offers a variety of therapeutic options, and her sound sessions provide cellular resonance blended with forms of tapping, acupressure, reflexology, guided meditation and aromatherapy. “I honestly can’t exactly explain the nuances or scientific benefits of sound therapy,” Natalie says. “I can just tell you that I feel great when I leave her space, and I know that you will too. It is just one of those opportunities you have when you’re here to relax and recover and feel better.”
Finally, make sure you get out into nature on your way out of town — or earlier in your stay — at Red Rock Canyon Open Space. It offers miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, running and exploring gorgeous views of Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, downtown Colorado Springs and more. The popular area is known for interesting sandstone rock spines, cliffs and towers, so don’t be surprised to see rock climbers here (permit required). From the main parking lot at 3550 W. High Street, you can access a variety of trails, from wide walking paths to steeper singletrack. Trails are rated like ski slopes: green for easy, blue for intermediate and black for difficult, so it’s easy to choose.
“Red Rock Canyon is great for visitors because you can walk side by side with someone and you don’t necessarily need to have the correct shoes to experience the hike,” Natalie says. “It’s accessible, so you can get pretty far depending on your mobility needs. It’s vigorous without being too strenuous. So if you’re acclimating to the altitude, I think this walk and experience will work for you and your family.”
Officially, Red Rock Canyon lies just beyond Manitou’s eastern border, but that’s no problem for Natalie. It’s still on the Westside, and a worthy part of the best side for her Creative Stay in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
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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.