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NY Times: 36 Hours in Aspen, Co

Published in the New York Times, By BONNIE TSUI  Published: July 21, 2011:   It's an open secret that Aspen isn’t just a glamorous winter resort. As the lineup of private jets at the tiny airport will attest, summer is when the mountain town’s festival scene brings in celebrities of almost every category — the likes of Yo-Yo Ma for the seasonlong Aspen Music Festival, Mario Batali for the Food & Wine Classic and Sandra Day O’Connor for the Ideas Festival. Along with them come classical-music fiends who carry their own scores and Food Network fans who go wild for live knife-skill demos from the stars of “Iron Chef.” Your seatmates on the puddle-jumper from Denver, however, are just as likely to be semi-pro cyclists or whitewater hounds sniffing out the best place to shoot the rapids. They know that summer in Aspen is when nature is in full swing, and the glowing fields of wild blue flax, prairie smoke and sunflowers, framed by snowcapped peaks and groves of aspen, do a fine job of wooing attention away from the glitterati. Not that you have to choose one world over the other. It’s entirely possible to go high-adrenaline by day and highbrow culture by night.

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From Left: A former hotel at the Ashcroft Ghost Town near Aspen, the starting place for a four-hour nature walk; in the kitchen at the Aspen branch of Matsuhisa; hiking along Cathedral Lake

Friday
4 p.m.  MEET THE LOCALS
The nonprofit Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, or ACES, offers a bounty of guided hikes, beekeeping seminars, mushroom-foraging classes and photo safaris. Stop in for a late-afternoon visit at the Hallam Lake Center (100 Puppy Smith Street; 970-925-5756; aspennature.org; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday) to get acquainted with rehabilitated birds of prey — currently a golden eagle and a great horned owl — that call the center home. Check the ACES calendar for programs that might coincide with your visit; outdoor classes in astronomy and field sketching are scheduled for August.

5 p.m. DOWNTOWN ORIGINAL
After you stop by Ute Mountaineer (210 South Galena Street; 970-925-2849; utemountaineer.com) for last-minute gear, maps or guidebooks for your excursions, head to the Aspen Brewing Company’s new downtown tasting room (304 East Hopkins Avenue; 970-920-2739; aspenbrewingcompany.com), where framed old photos and hand-drawn maps line the walls and a relaxed T-shirt-and-flannel atmosphere rules. At the polished teak bar, order a pint ($4) of local craft beer, like the Ajax Pilsner, Ajax being the nickname for Aspen Mountain. This is a true Aspenite bar — as Brad Veltman, an owner, will tell it, a place where “you can bring your dog, watch an old Warren Miller ski video and enjoy a beer.”

6 p.m. A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
The summerlong Aspen Music Festival (980 North Third Street; 970-925-9042; aspenmusicfestival.com; $10 to $76 for ticketed events) offers opportunities to watch classical stars perform at venues ranging from the Victorian-era Wheeler Opera House to the local library. Many of the events, which include symphonies, chamber music, master classes and lectures, are free. Grab a seat on the lawn at the Music Festival campus for one of the evening concerts, frequented by picnicking families and other music lovers who bring wine and cheese to pair with the crisp notes sailing out into the cool night air (those with paid tickets sit inside the tent). Coming in August: the violinist Sarah Chang, and a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet with the Aspen Concert Orchestra.

8:30 p.m. TASTE OF ITALY
The jet set will be excited to see an outpost of the Miami hot spot Casa Tua (403 South Galena Street; 970-920-7277; dinner for two, $100), a restaurant and private club created by the Italian-born hotelier and restaurateur Miky Grendene. The recently opened location has a lovely outdoor patio, creamy burrata straight from Italy (with basil and heirloom tomatoes, $22) and colorful house cocktails. Try the Casa Tua Aspen, a bubbly mix of prosecco and Martini & Rossi rosato ($15).

Saturday

8:30 a.m. FARM FRESH
Pick up smoothies and fresh croissants at the Aspen Saturday Market (corners of East Hyman Avenue, South Hunter Street and East Hopkins Avenue; 970-925-1940; open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; aspenchamber.org) for a breakfast picnic in nearby Wagner Park. Then return to the market, which fills three downtown blocks and sells everything from mountain goat cheese and locally raised lamb to hand-blown glassware and antique bicycles. The bikes are restored by Billy Taylor and his son, Michael, under the moniker Re-Cycle Art Aspen (970-948-9888; recycleartaspen.com), adding such touches as Japanese Crane brass bells, vintage saddles and retro chrome pedals (from $490).

10:30 a.m. A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Eleven miles out of town is the Ashcroft Ghost Town, in the spectacular Castle Creek Valley. It is the starting place for a four-hour naturalist walk called Green World Day Hike, with ACES (aspennature.org; reservations required; 3.5 miles round trip; $75); the price includes lunch, which may be venison and smoked trout at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, overlooking the still-snowy peaks of the Elk mountain range. You are likely to see great blue herons cruising above the creek, beavers in their ponds, and maybe even elk or a bear (as evidenced by markings on trees along the path).

3 p.m. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
Stand-up river paddleboarding is becoming all the rage in water-sports-crazy Aspen, and Charlie MacArthur, the owner of Aspen Kayak Academy (970-925-4433; aspenkayakacademy; half-day class, $85), is leading the charge. An adventure racer and champion kayaker, he tested and co-designed the first stand-up paddleboard for the river. Sign up for a lesson paddling the pristine Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River, five minutesfrom town along the meadows of theNorth Star Nature Preserve, an elk migration corridor and calving ground.

7 p.m. DINNER SCENE
After 13 years, the Aspen branch of Matsuhisa (303 East Main Street; 970-544-6628; matsuhisaaspen.com; dinner for two, $120), a collaboration between the chef Nobu Matsuhisa and the designer Nobuko Kang in a renovated downtown Victorian, still dazzles a packed, corporate-card-wielding crowd night after night. Knockout dishes include thinly sliced scallop dotted with chile and yuzu ($25) and mussels in spicy garlic sauce ($12), and there is a laid-back upstairs lounge with an acid-jazz soundtrack. The eclectic wine list includes a fine syrah ($75 a bottle) from the Colorado-based Infinite Monkey Theorem label (pair it with the tender Washugyu beef tataki, market price: about $17 an ounce).

9 p.m. SWEET TREAT
The light lingers until after 9 p.m., so stroll over to Paradise Bakery (320 East Galena Street; 970-925-7585; paradisebakery.com) for an ice cream cone; each one comes topped with a chocolate-chip cookie ($3.50 for a single scoop); try the cappuccino and toffee crunch. Then, head over to the Belly Up Aspen (450 South Galena Street; 970-544-9800; www.bellyupaspen.com), a beloved live-music club that attracts an energetic crowd to its intimate all-ages shows; recent acts include Matisyahu, Chris Isaak and Maceo Parker.

Sunday

7:30 a.m. HEAD START
Grab an espresso ($2.75) and a breakfast sandwich with organic eggs ($10) at Victoria’s Espresso Wine Bar (510 East Durant Avenue; 970-920-3001; aspenespressobar.com) before setting out to the trailhead for 11,866-foot Cathedral Lake, one of Aspen’s most iconic hiking trails. It is a 5.6-mile round trip with a lung-busting 2,000-foot elevation gain (White River National Forest, Aspen Ranger District, 970-925-3445; fs.usda.gov/whiteriver). Start early and you’ll have this amazing trail, edged with delicate white and lavender Rocky Mountain columbine (Colorado’s state flower) and wild sage, to yourself.

11:30 a.m.  FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Back in town, refuel at Pyramid Bistro (221 East Main Street; 970-925-5338; pyramidbistro.com; lunch for two $50), an open-air cafe that serves organic fare with fresh, bright flavors: cashew-crusted kale chips ($6), free homemade bread with pesto spread, lemon grass tofu with black (“forbidden”) rice ($12). Later, get lost downstairs in the well-curated stacks of Explore Booksellers (970-925-5336; explorebooksellers.com), where the bohemian feel is deliberately cultivated; go ahead and camp out in the memoir section with a copy of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” — she’d approve.

For full article, slideshow, links and more, visit http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/travel/36-hours-in-aspen-colo.html.