Golden is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty just 12 miles from Denver. To the east are rugged, high buttes formed 60 million years ago by lava flows. To the west, Lookout Mountain looms above Golden. The 7,379-foot-high summit offers panoramic views in every direction. It was at this picturesque spot that the famous frontier scout and showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, was buried in 1917.
But what really makes Golden special is the pretty (and perfectly named) Clear Creek, which flows through the center of town. In 1872, a young brewer from Germany was walking near the river when he discovered springs of crystal pure water bubbling up from the ground. He knew water was a major ingredient in beer, so with a partner, he bought the land around the springs and turned an abandoned tannery into a brewery. His name was Adolph Herrman Coors. Today his brewery is the largest single-site brewery in the world.
Coors Brewery produces 13 million barrels of beer a year. That translates into 4.3 billion bottles — or about 221,000 bottles of beer for every resident in Golden. And Coors isn’t the only brewery in town. There are five other award-winning craft breweries, as well as a distillery.
But there’s more to do in Golden than stop and smell the hops. Here are some ways to experience the town, whose slogan is, “Where the West Lives,” while also sampling a beer or two.
Well, of course you have to start here. The brewery has a free, 30-minute, self-paced tour of its malting, brewing and packaging. You get to explore a room of giant copper kettles and then stop in the packaging room, where thousands of cans and bottles whirl by, marching one-by-one on treadmills to be filled with beer and slotted into six packs. After the tour, those 21 and over can sample three free glasses of beer.
Sample Some Samplers
The way you drink at the five craft breweries in Golden is by ordering a tray of samplers — usually six different four-ounce beers that let you taste a variety of handmade brews. The breweries — Golden City, Barrels & Bottles, Mountain Toad, Cannonball Creek and New Terrain — don’t serve food, so you can bring your own food in or order from food trucks that park directly outside. Because there’s no kitchen, dogs are allowed on the patios and it’s a rare day when there aren’t a half dozen dogs or more enjoying the Colorado sun at these outdoor beer gardens.
Rock the Red Rocks
The 9,000-seat Red Rocks Amphitheatre, just 10 minutes from Golden, has hosted everyone from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, and was declared by Rolling Stone Magazine to be the nation’s top bucket list outdoor concert venue. It is the only completely natural amphitheater on the planet. Downtown Golden is the perfect spot for a pre- and post-concert bite and beverage — two of the local favorites are Abejas and Indulge Bistro & Wine Bar. You may also want to make it your home base if you plan to stay near Red Rocks. Check out the Golden Hotel and Table Mountain Inn for great lodging options.
Meet Buffalo Bill
Buffalo Bill Cody was the world’s first super star — a 19th-century Elvis. In the early days of the West, he was a buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider and scout for the U.S. Army. Beginning in 1883, he put the West under a tent with his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which performed in more than a thousand cities in 12 different countries, bringing along 640 cowboys, Indians, Vaqueros, ropers, trick riders and sharpshooters. His funeral in 1917 on top of Lookout Mountain was the largest in Colorado history. Today, the Buffalo Bill Museum near the grave brings his incredible story back to life with costumes, guns and posters and pictures from the show. The drive to the grave site on top of the mountain begins in historic downtown Golden on the Lariat Loop Trail.
Walk or Ride a Train into History
In addition to providing water for beer, Clear Creek also yielded gold — millions of dollars of it. Today, you’ll find modern prospectors with gold pans still trying their luck. The paved Clear Creek Trail follows the creek from the mountains, through Golden for 20 miles to Denver. You can bike or hike along the creek, or float down it on a tube or kayak through an ingenious manmade whitewater course with rapids and gentle falls. Two miles down-river, the Colorado Railroad Museum lets you sit back and let someone else do the pedaling. The museum has a half-mile circle track — sort of a giant’s toy train set — on which they run steam locomotives and the famous Galloping Goose, a 1928 Pierce Arrow limousine put on train wheels with a bus welded on the back.
Learn How to Climb Mount Everest
Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Golden is the perfect home for the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum, the first and only museum in the nation dedicated to mountaineering history. You can see the actual clothes worn by the first American to summit Mount Everest, then study the routes up the world’s highest peak on a 12x12-foot model. There are exhibits on every aspect of mountain climbing — including a Colorado favorite, bagging a fourteener, which means climbing to the top of one of Colorado’s 58 peaks that soar to 14,000-plus-foot elevations.
After the museum, stop for lunch at Golden’s Sherpa House Restaurant and Cultural Center for some Himalayan cuisine served in an authentic representation of a Sherpa house in the Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal. Try the Sherpa stew made with yak meat, and wash it down with a Sherpa beer. No – the beer wasn’t brewed in Golden. It was made in Nepal. But the Nepal brewery is owned by our friends down the block at the Golden City Brewery, Charlie & Janine Sturdavant. Stop by their backyard for a beer and ask them how they came to own a brewery in Nepal. It’s just another amazing story about Golden … and beer.
A version of this story originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com.