Golden, Colo.: Where the West Lives

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Golden, Colo., provides great outdoor opportunities and a small-town feel.
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Golden combines Old West charm with up-to-date eco-consciousness.

A small, vibrant city with easy access to the great outdoors, Golden has fine geological “bones.” Two prominent lava-formed mesas lie on one side of town, and the foothills complete the scenic semicircle that defines the city’s shape. Just 15 miles west of Denver, Golden is rich with history. During Prohibition, when Adolph Coors had to dump Coors beer into Clear Creek, Henry Foss — now 95 years old — was allowed to sell “medicinal” alcohol at his wood-floored general store, which thrived for 94 years as Golden’s downtown hub. The store opened in 1913, four years before showman Buffalo Bill was buried on Golden’s Lookout Mountain, and closed in 2007. A large mural depicting the history of Golden covers one wall of what was Mr. Foss’ drugstore for so many decades.

Golden still honors its colorful history with events such as Buffalo Bill Days, a four-day late-summer bash complete with historic re-enactments, a parade, live music, classic cars and a pancake breakfast. The city’s museums include Clear Creek History Park (a vintage log-cabin neighborhood relocated at citizens’ insistence when its buildings were threatened by development) and the Foothills Art Center, which hosts world-class exhibits such as the blown-glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly.

In recent years Golden has also hosted one of the stages of the U.S.A. Pro Cycling Challenge — the U.S. equivalent of the Tour de France. This bike- and pedestrian-friendly town features 9 miles of bike lanes and 29 miles of bicycle/pedestrian trails. Recreation is evident all around: Colorado School of Mines students play Ultimate Frisbee on the campus’s grassy quad, kayakers in wetsuits finesse the kayak course on Clear Creek, skiers pack up for the slopes, and runners, walkers and cyclists are everywhere. The county’s exemplary open space program comprises 51,000 acres, 28 regional parks and 210 miles of trails. Nearby Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, where exposed rock is 1.5 billion years old, features world-renowned performers and is considered one of the finest outdoor concert venues anywhere. Cultural attractions include lively history and art museums such as Golden Oldy Cyclery and the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, which collects and preserves quilts and educates people about the art and craft of quilting. Soon residents who want an urban experience will have a green option: Light rail connection to the Denver area begins in 2013.

Residents will tell you it’s the people that make Golden a great place — such as the citizen-activists who “saved the mesas” from development, preserving roughly 3,400 acres of open space. In the same city where the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory researches and incubates solar, wind and other green technologies, councilors recently passed a resolution calling for 50 percent of city facilities to be powered by renewable energy by 2017. At Golden’s MillerCoors brewery — where the aluminum can was invented and first recycled — five large boilers do double duty by supplying hot water for industrial processes and steam for turbines, as well as providing a portion of the School of Mines’ heat.

Stats: Golden, Colorado

Population: 18,070

Climate: Four seasons; 18 inches avg. annual precip.; January avg. high: 44 degrees Fahrenheit; July avg. high: 86 degrees

Median Household Income: $82,392

Median Home Price: $338,000

Check out the other towns featured in our 2012 installment of 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.