SisterMoon (noun): A trip taken with your sister, and only your sister, akin to the post-nuptial honeymoon. Destinations can vary wildly, but the goals of thoughtful exploration, eating, drinking and relaxing, never change. You can read more about this here.
No Pants travel like these Pants travel! In a tradition that started in 2005, at least once a year Daryl and I make it a point to go on a trip together, and explore a new or familiar place with our bellies. We love the process of planning the trip and researching thoroughly every meal and activity, and we always know how to have a good time together and make the most out of every destination. We also know how to drink the most out of every destination. Past SisterMoon destinations include Anguilla, Amsterdam, Thailand, Tulum, Hong Kong, South of France…. This year we decided on Aspen, Colorado, for a mix of outdoor activities, gorgeous scenery, and many appealing options for dining and drinking. Below is our guide to Aspen, with details about what we did, insiders tips, and some additional suggestions…
We stayed at the Hotel Jerome, which was the perfect place for us. Although Aspen is a small town and easily walkable in the summer, we found the location to be ideal and the small size well -suited to us, i.e. people traveling without children. Also, the place is absolutely stunning, a perfect visual manifestation of American West luxury. The J Bar always has a bit of action at night ( and during the day, as people crave their famous burger, but more on that later.) The Jerome has a wonderful outdoor area for meals or drinks, as well as a small but pretty pool that was just what we needed for late-afternoon dunks, post hikes. There is also the Living Room bar, which must be really cozy in the winter but was chic and low-key when we were there too. Service was accommodating if not proactive, and the concierge gave us great advice regarding hikes and transportation. The spa was small but well done as well… We loved our room but barely got to spend any time in it, too much to do and eat!
The two other luxury hotels, The Little Nell and the St. Regis are definitely worth visiting as well. The Little Nell houses Ajax Tavern, which is right at the base of the mountain and the perfect spot to sit al fresco for lunch or a casual dinner. The truffle fries are legendary but the regular fries are pretty fantastic as well. The St. Regis houses the Remede Spa, and where we had out of this world treatments. They also have a truly unique feature in the spa: An oxygen room, fitted with comfy leather chairs, blankets, a fireplace and personal oxygen tanks for everyone, which helps to combat the effects of the altitude. It is a little funny to get your own nose piece and plug in for the recommended 15 minutes, but we think it helped….Also of note: The St. Regis has excellent food, and just launched a new, over the top and family friendly Sunday Brunch called Dean Street Social, which should be part of any weekend plans. The St. Regis also sabers a bottle of champagne in the courtyard every day at 5:15, so if you are into knife-play, check it out…
Hiking is the thing to do in Aspen in the summer; there are other outdoor activities avaibale (biking, paragliding, paddle boarding), but trails are everywhere and hiking provides an active way to take in the amazing scenery. ( Which I guess paragliding does as well, but since we are not competing on the amazing race we will leave that to other people.) Our thoughts:
Hike in the morning when possible; it will be less crowded and less hot. Layer, and make sure to bring water, and sunblock ( we actually bought these little backward fanny pack water-bottle- holder things that were key) and try to stay away from moose. We started with the Hunter Creek Trail to Smuggler’s which was a gorgeous introduction to hiking in Aspen, with scenery including rolling rivers and snow-capped peaks in the distance. The climb is not terrible and going down Smugglers is pretty easy, but you will still feel like you earned lunch. The next day we tackled the “Ute”trail, which may rhyme with “cute” but could not be farther from the truth. This trail is punishing on the way up and the way down, and should not be attempted until you are slightly adjusted to the altitude. If you are truly insane you can continue up past the plateau to the top of Ajax ( which I heard is easier than the beginning with less “switchbacks” and incline) and then take the gondola down. Locals use this trail as their daily exercise and can do it quite quickly, but it is definitely hard. After the Ute we limped over to Ajax Tavern and treated ourselves to some fries and rose, and then took the gondola to the top of the mountain to look around, which is definitely worth it (and they serve wine up there.) Maroon Belles is breathtakingly scenic, and a perfectly pleasant/moderate hike that won’t take too long. There are easier, scenic options as well, which could account for the large amount of tourists that like this area. Go early, or be crowded. Maroon Belles is easily accessed via the free bus in town, and then a shuttle. If we had more time we would have done the American Lake trail, as well as a bike ride toWoody Creek Tavern, but we didn’t so we didn’t.
The Aspen dining scene is refreshingly casual in the off season, although we imagine in the winter jockeying for a table or catching the eye of your favorite maitre’d could be an exercise in frustration. An important thing to note is the option of a “bar menu” at many places, with separate offerings than the full dining room menu at lower prices. We heard that L’Hostaria has a particularly good one, and locals often go early to grab a seat at the bar and take advantage of this menu. Below, our rundown.
White House Tavern- This restaurant from the Hillstone (aka Houston’s) group is an easy crowd-pleaser, with straight-forward salads and sandwiches and of course dips to die for. We loved sitting outside for lunch, and the inside looked cozy, wood -paneled and casual. They don’t take reservations and there is only a small bar, so if you need to wait, you are best served by taking a stroll and grabbing a drink elsewhere.
Ajax Tavern- The location at the base of Ajax ( Aspen Mountain) can’t be beat, and the truffle fries are practically on the list of official Aspen sites. The menu is a little odd, but there are some gems to be found, like the photo-worthy French Onion Soup and the mussels ( especially when you dip the fries in). Most people prefer this spot for lunch, but it is also well-suited for a casual dinner, inside or out.
The St. Regis- We went to the St. Regis for breakfast, which included fresh, elevated takes on the usual breakfast fare. The space is light and pretty, and you definitely feel like you are in a luxury hotel.
Hotel Jerome- Hotel Jerome has two dining options, Prospect and JBar. They both have the same menu for lunch, and Prospect has a beautiful outdoor garden in the summer. J Bar has a cool, upscale tavern type vibe and is an ideal spot for a drink any time of the day. The J Bar Burger, from whichever venue you get it, is not to be missed. A real classic, Big Mac type burger with pickles and “1000 sauce,” it will make you feel happy and American.
Matsuhisa- Matsuhisa has two (sort of ) distinct dining options: the upstairs bar/sushi bar/lounge/outside area that is strictly for walk-ins, and the slightly more formal downstairs dining room, which takes reservations. We dined at Matsuhisa twice ( first upstairs, then downstairs) and it was flawless both times. This place is a scene, but the quality of the food can not be denied. Insider tip: Ask for the off the menu Adam and/or the Crunchy rolls, you will thank us.
Campo Di Fiore- We absolutely fell in love with this charming restaurant, especially the outdoor courtyard dining area. ( They also offer a bar menu). What could be better than fresh, simple Italian food under the Aspen sky? Nothing, I mean nothing. The eggplant parm was pure parm perfection, and I could eat the arrabbiata with sausage every Sunday night. This place made us really happy…
No trip to Aspen is complete without a trip the Belly Up, a fantastic live music venue; we saw a Prince tribute band, which didn’t have us quite partying like it was 1999 but was fun none the less.
We planned to go to Cache Cache ( which shares a courtyard with Campo Di Fiore), which everyone speaks very highly of, but sushi cravings got the best of us, hence the two stops at Matsuhisa. Another option with some faff factor is Casa Tua, which has a lounge above the restaurant, but they were too busy for us, so that made our Italian decision that much easier. Also on our list of suggestions were Jimmy’s and Aspen Kitchen (which has a large patio for sunset cocktails), but we ran out of days. We got giant sandwiches from the Grateful Deli for the airplane, which were a proper send-off (get the Terrapin).
Aspen also has a lot of high-end retail, as well as the usual mountain-town stores for ski gear, biking, etc, and lots of shmancy brands. They also have special “green” stores (hee hee) that we will plead the fifth on experiencing. There is also a quirky but functional local pharmacy on the main street, as well as a full supermarket (buy water) that is easily walk-able.
Stay tuned for more of our adventures, and let us know about travels with your sister in the comments…