Aspen with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

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Aspen with Kids: A Family Vacation

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Its glamorous image as a ski resort for the stars may give the impression that families would be better off taking their vacation somewhere other than Aspen, Colo. But Aspen's natural setting, pedestrian-friendly downtown and well-funded amenities make it an attractive playground for every member of the family, from seniors down to the littlest juniors. In fact, Aspen will keep your young kids entertained and happy.

Families with children under 7 should have no problem navigating strollers on Aspen's city sidewalks. And while there is parking all over downtown, it's often packed by mid-day; so plan on starting your day early to secure a spot.



Morning


Start your day with a hearty breakfast at the Hickory House (730 W. Main St.; 970-925-2313), an Aspen institution. Located at the edge of the city's downtown, this restaurant advertises the "best ribs in Colorado." I'm not sure about that, because it's the smell of applewood-smoked bacon that brings me here for breakfast every time I'm in Aspen. Expect generous meals here -- eggs, sausage, breakfast burritos and hash browns. Every Colorado ski town seems to have a signature breakfast burrito; Hickory House's is smothered with pork green chili and stuffed with smoked ham or sausage. Most dishes on the menu are under $10. It just might be the least expensive meal you'll eat all day.

Insider tip: Keep in mind that the elevation in Aspen is more than 7,000 feet, where the thin air carries 79 percent of the oxygen you would breathe at sea level. Expect that you and especially your children will tire out more quickly at this altitude. Compensate for the thin, dry air by drinking plenty of water. The risk of sunburn is higher, too, so be sure to slather everyone in sunscreen.

Be glad you ate a big breakfast, because you all will need the energy exploring Aspen's waterways with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (100 Puppy Smith St.; 970-925 -5756). The nonprofit group organizes dozens of activities and camps to help adults and kids learn more about Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley's natural wonders. Those visiting Aspen with really young kids might want to join the center's Families in Nature series. The morning adventure takes families on a tour of the Roaring Fork River to look for aquatic insects, learn about raft building and study birds. Classes run 9:30-11:30AM, and cost $15 per person.

Insider tip: Save some dough by packing sandwiches and drinks. The center encourages families to stay after the class for a picnic lunch.


Afternoon


If a picnic isn't your thing, or you are eager to get a break from the Colorado sun for a bit, head downtown to Boogie's Diner (534 E. Cooper Ave.; 970-925-6610. You'll find a retail shop with designer jeans and T-shirts on the first floor and an old-time diner with red swivel seats, black-and-white checked floors and a jukebox upstairs. This is a burger-and-fries joint, but Boogie's is best known for fabulous milkshakes, a kid-friendly vibe and its cheerful wait staff. A meal will run about $10 to $12 per person.

After lunch may be a great time for mom and dad to do some browsing through Aspen's downtown shops. Put your little ones in the stroller and cruise by Ute Mountaineer (308 S. Mill St.; 970-925-2849), which has a wide selection of outdoor gear and clothing for nature lovers of all ages. The store also just happens to be located near the Aspen Fountain (Hyman Avenue mall) -- a great spot for kids to cool off in the summertime. Or swing by the popular Ink! Coffee shop (520 E. Durant St.; 970-544-0588) for a Black-and-White (basically, a blended coffee drink with mocha and white chocolate).

Of course, if your children still take naps, consider heading east on Highway 82 in the car for a scenic drive toward Twin Lakes. The drive will take you by several of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks while the young ones sleep in the back seat.

After nap or post-lunch downtime, head up on the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain, where there are daily activities for families. You can give rock climbing a try, race the family on an obstacle course or get the kids digging for silver in the "silver sandbox." Rock climbing costs $9 per climb per person and while there is no age limit, all participants must be big enough to fit in a climbing harness. Gondola tickets are $24 per adult, $9 for children 4 to 12 and free for kids under 3 during the summer.

Insider tip: Consider heading up the mountain a little earlier. You'll still have to buy gondola tickets, but most days there are free performances by jugglers or storytelling until 2PM.


Evening


Ride the gondola back to Aspen with your young kids for dinner, and walk to Mezzaluna (624 E. Cooper Ave.; 970-925-5882). The Italian restaurant has plenty of kid-friendly items like pizza and macaroni and cheese, but dishes also are given an Aspen-worthy gourmet spin that pleases adult palates, too. Try the meaty calamari appetizer, which lacks the extreme chewiness that many diners find off-putting. And don't relegate the pizza to just the kids: With grown-up toppings like spinach, grilled artichoke, truffle oil and prosciutto, you may want to order a few pies for the whole table. Entrees run in the $30 range, but the restaurant's signature pasta and pizza costs roughly half that.


Now, sated and satisfied from your perfect family vacation day in Aspen, head to your hotel for a well-deserved night of sleep.

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