In 1859, at the height of the Colorado Gold Rush, settlers found one town so auspicious that they named it Golden City.
By the early 1860s, the town, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and flanked by two prehistoric sedimentary rock mesas known as North and South Table Mountains, had become the federally recognized capital of Colorado.
Nearby Clear Creek drew countless prospectors. Accessibility to Golden was surprisingly easy, given that the creek aligned with the Colorado Central Railroad; today, it runs alongside Interstate 70. Mountain men built their camps in and around Golden, seeking to strike it rich. Many did. The adventurous spirit of these Wild West entrepreneurs remains strikingly present in the culture of Colorado to this day.
The hospitality industry in resort towns like Boulder, Vail, Aspen, and Golden itself, and the increasing rate of cannabis tourism since Amendment 64 was passed in 2014 (which legalized recreational marijuana use), have helped to bolster a strong economy.
Golden City was eventually renamed; today, it is known as simply Golden. Colorado officially became a state in 1876, and Denver, a more populous metropolitan area, was chosen as state capital over smaller and lesser-known Golden.
Though the modest residents of this sleepy gold rush town below the mountains couldn’t possibly have known it then, this was a turning point in history, and a whisper of what was to come.
Today Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, with an estimated population of nearly 6 million by the end of 2019. Though the distance between the mountain metropolis of Denver and the idyllic step back in time that is contemporary downtown Golden is a mere 15 minutes by car or rail, the two locations could not be more different.
For ambitious young professionals, at least, Denver and Golden seem to have a symbiotic relationship: the city provides a vast labyrinth of creative, intellectual, and academic resources, while the little resort town directly northeast offers a provincial step back in time for overworked and burnt out millennials.
Denver may have Red Rocks, an airport with alleged Illuminati connections and more craft breweries than any other city in America save Chicago, but Golden, population 20,571, is where the elite go to unwind.
Much of Golden’s appeal is its authenticity. The town’s commitment to tradition is evident from the moment you arrive at the city gates, where an old-fashioned wooden sign greets visitors: “Howdy folks! [sic] Welcome to Golden, where the west lives.”
Some towns couldn’t pull off such unironic kitsch, but in Golden, it somehow works — perhaps due to the fact that the sign in question perfectly frames the majestic North Table Mountain in the distance, a breathtaking and humbling sight.
While Golden boasts some of its own long-standing quintessentially small-town traditions, including the Olde Golden Christmas festival held every holiday season, tourists are likely to see a different side of the town. Golden’s famous Washington Avenue has become a popular spot for craft brewery hopping.
In fact, it’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that Golden may have contributed more than most American cities to the craft beer revival. In a way, they kickstarted the trend — hundreds of years ago.
The largest single-site brewing company in the world is located in Golden: Coors Brewing Company, which opened to meet the needs of thirsty gold miners way back in the 1870s, now provides extensive tours highlighting the stages of the manufacturing and bottling process.
If midday beer samples don’t go down so easily, there is a hidden gem for the outdoorsy types who have a few hours to kill in Golden. The Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve, elevated above Golden, is a designated hiking trail in the shade of the Colorado ponderosa pines. The preserve is teeming with wildlife that is comfortable around visitors; it is not uncommon to see various birds of prey, along with bluebirds and jays.
While taking the leisurely loop trail, you will inevitably pass by the Boettcher Mansion. Constructed in 1917 by a Denver business owner named Charles Boettcher, the historic lodge was Boettcher’s personal hunting lodge throughout the early twentieth century.
The lodge is now owned by the county and rented out for special events. Unsurprisingly, the majesty of the natural surroundings coupled with the intricacy of the building itself has made the mansion an extremely popular wedding venue.
The rustic yet elegant landmark building is surrounded by soaring evergreens and expansive fields of wildflowers. The romantic setting is a dream venue for many couples, most of whom have said their vows on the outdoor Fireside Room Patio beneath the wide Colorado skies. If the walls of the Boettcher Mansion could speak, they would surely tell countless love stories. With every marriage in the foothills, the rich history of Golden continues to unfold.