Pueblo is a sunny playground nestled on the banks of the Arkansas River, but it was once a rough-and-tumble mining town inhabited by cowboys, gold-seekers and infamous ruffians like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Immerse yourself in Pueblo’s history and culture, play outdoors in what is often one of the state’s warmest locales and savor some of the best green chile in the world.
Kick off your visit in the quaint and colorful Union Avenue Historic District, the town’s original city center, which once housed trading posts, gambling saloons and second-story brothels. Today, the area’s beautiful brick and sandstone buildings, 70 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places, house a collection of boutiques, art galleries and sidewalk cafes. The neighborhood is one of three that make up Pueblo’s Creative Corridor, hubs of museums, live music, galleries, public sculpture, fountains and more.
Arts Alliance Studios is one of the biggest and most exciting new developments here. More than 40 creatives work out of this newly established studio collective. Each month on First Friday and Second Saturday the artists host open houses and events such as raku firings, poetry readings and receptions.
Check out the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, a 32-acre waterfront plaza with a riverwalk, a nature center and the world’s longest painting — a new miles-long mural being created by artists around the world. Enjoy a morning stroll along the picturesque riverwalk, or get your heart pumping on one of the bike trails, many of which connect to nearby Lake Pueblo State Park, one of the state's most popular. If you’d rather be in the water than next to it, head to the river’s Whitewater Park, where you can kayak, bodyboard and surf.
If you’re traveling with children, your next stop should be The Buell Children’s Museum, part of the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center and ranked the No. 2 children’s art museum in the nation by Child Magazine. Little ones will have a blast exploring the museum’s several galleries, such as Sensations, a high-tech display devoted to stimulating the senses, and the Artrageous Studio, a hands-on art space where kids can create their own sparkly, feathery, beribboned works of art.
Next, head to the Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum by the Pueblo Memorial Airport. Originally a World War II army air base in 1943, the museum boasts nearly 30 vintage aircraft, including a massive B-29. Other can’t-miss museums include the El Pueblo History Museum, a re-created 1840s adobe trading post and archaeological excavation site, and the The Steelworks Museum, rated in the top five industrial collections in the nation.
Find a fresh-air reprise at City Park, where the 30-acre Pueblo Zoo houses more than 420 animals, from naked mole rats to African lions. After meandering through the zoo’s lush landscaping, take a ride on the park’s historic carousel.
Watch the city melt into gold, red and orange during a sunset gondola cruise or pedal boat down the river or splurge on a romantic dinner tour.
Afterward, head into historic Old Town for a bite to eat, making sure to sample the town’s de facto mascot, the chile pepper. Livability.com recently named Pueblo a top-10 Surprising Food City, in part because of this spicy, fire-roasted treat, which is perhaps best enjoyed in savory pork green chile. For a unique Pueblo culinary experience, try a Slopper, a hamburger patty served open-faced in a bowl on a grilled bun and smothered in green chile.
To get chile goodness to bring home with you, take the Pueblo Chile Farm Stand Tour along US Highway 50 east of town July through October.
A long tradition of Italian, Greek, Croatian, Polish, Irish, German and African-American Puebloans have also shaped the city’s menus.Stop in at one of the longtime local restaurants and shops, like Franks Meat Market, Paleteria Y Neveria Durango, Tortilleria Delicias or Giodone’s Italian Bar and Grill.
If there’s still time, stop into the Songbird Cellars tasting room on S. Union for handcrafted fruit wines and find out what’s on stage at the Steel City Theatre Company, Impossible Players or Grupo Folklórico del Pueblo.
Take a scenic drive west of Pueblo to the towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, nestled between the Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo range. The quiet area, home to 200 miles of hiking trails and 54 alpine lakes, has an air of the undiscovered, and you’re likely to spot real cowboys and gals herding cattle on horseback. Peek into the Westcliffe Depot railroad museum and stop for a performance or movie at the Historic Jones Theater. For fine dining and spectacular views, make a date at Westcliffe’s Alpine Lodge. The area is also an International Dark Sky Community, so plan for some stargazing and a stop at Smokey Jack Observatory.
Colorado City, south of Pueblo along I-25, anchors the southern leg of the Frontier Pathway Scenic Byway. The road, 104 miles along the splendid Sangre de Cristo Mountains, travels through the San Isabel National Forest, by Hardscrabble Canyon and by the 40-acre Lake Isabel, an ideal spot for fishing, hiking and picnicking. Head west 24 miles along Hwy. 165 to Bishop's Castle, billed as "The Largest One Man Construction Project in the Country," or quite possibly the world. Jim Bishop has been building this quirky stone-and-iron fortress for more than 40 years.