Whenever we visit somewhere new with our girls, I spend hours googling things to do with two year olds, and often come up empty handed. There are so many travel guides for older kids, but there aren’t as many for toddlers. (Or maybe I’m just not finding them – if you have a go to travel blog for toddlers, please point me in its direction!) I’ve decided to write up my own little guides whenever we travel with the girls, and hopefully I can help other toddler parents in the process.
We just returned from a week in Boulder, Colorado with our 2.5 year old twin daughters, and I found it to be an incredibly toddler friendly place. Here are the highlights.
Where we stayed: An AirBnB two blocks from the Pearl Street Mall. I think at this age, AirBnBs are definitely the way to go. Having a kitchen is vital, as is the girls having their own bedroom since they nap in the middle of the day and go to bed at 7pm. After they went to bed, we cooked dinner for ourselves and sat on the porch watching the sunset with a glass of wine.
Boulder is a very walkable and bike-friendly city, and we loved being so close to the heart of it. While we still had to drive many places, we were within walking distance of a lot of great restaurants and shops. Coming from NYC, we like to set off on foot to explore whenever we can and staying downtown, we were able to do that everyday.
Where we ate: We did a lot of cooking at our AirBnB and packed picnics for some of the days we spent hiking and exploring nature, but we went out to eat a few times.
- The Rayback Collective (Boulder) – We loved this place! The Rayback Collective is a very kid-friendly beer garden. Our girls sat in high chairs and snacked on french fries while we enjoyed local beer and tacos.
- Salt the Bistro (Boulder) – We stumbled into this restaurant out on a walk one day and really enjoyed it. The food was great, we had local beer, and they had crayons, kids’ menus, and high chairs for our girls. In NYC we don’t often feel welcome bringing our kids into restaurants, but in Boulder, we couldn’t believe how many places were happy to accommodate us.
- Claire’s on the Park (Estes Park) – We stopped in Claire’s on the Park for lunch after spending the morning at Rocky Mountain National Park. It was fine – decent food, decent service. Not the most kid-friendly place we visited. One of my kids laughed loudly at something and we got shushed by someone, even though we were outside and my girls had been quiet the whole meal. (I don’t know if it was an employee or another patron – I didn’t see the culprit.) They brought my kids giant glasses of juice, filled to the brim, and although my girls generally don’t have a problem using glasses, these inevitably were spilled all over the table since they were so big and full. If you have toddlers or babies in tow, I probably wouldn’t recommend this place. If it’s all older kids and adults, it is probably a nice place to sit outside and take in the view while you eat.
- The Kitchen (Boulder) – My father-in-law was with us for the first couple days of our vacation, so he babysat one night while John and I went out for a kid-free dinner. We ate at The Kitchen and LOVED it. Great food, great wine, great service. Highly recommended if you have a child-free night in Boulder.
- Ozo Coffee Company (Boulder) – I found this coffee shop on a walk on our first day there and visited just about every day after that. Amazing service, friendly baristas, and excellent coffee. Coffee is a vital part of my life since I had twins, so finding a good coffee shop is important whenever I visit someplace new.
What we did: There is so much to do in Boulder and the surrounding areas. We had a long list of things we wanted to do, and we didn’t accomplish it all, but these are the major things we were able to fit in.
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Estes Park) – While I think my kids are still slightly too young for RMNH, we were able to take them on a short, flat hike around Sprague Lake. It is a really easy trail and there are bathrooms and picnic tables nearby, making it a good spot for families. My kids mostly did great until the very end of the hike. If your kids are experienced hikers already or will happily ride on your back, you’ll probably be able to see/do a lot more here. Otherwise, I would probably wait until they’re a little older. The best part of our visit to the park was spotting elk. We saw a mother and baby wading in the lake, and just around the corner from where we parked our car, we came upon an elk eating grass. We stood back and watched her for a while, and my kids were just in awe.
- Eldorado Canyon State Park (Eldorado Canyon) – Our venture into Rocky Mountain National Park went well enough, so we decided to attempt another short, easy hike with the girls at Eldorado Canyon State Park at the end of the week and it did not go very well. The park is beautiful, but probably not great for toddlers who don’t have a lot of experience in nature. (i.e. My city kids!) The coolest thing about this park is watching the rock climbers scaling the cliff walls – we were all amazed. We attempted to hike Fowler Trail which is flat and less than a mile, but we didn’t make it very far before one of my kids tearfully declared she didn’t like nature and we turned back. Toddlers. What can you do? If you have older kids, toddlers who will ride on your back, or no kids at all, Eldorado Canyon State Park is definitely worth a visit.
- Denver Zoo (Denver) – Full disclosure: I have very mixed feelings about zoos, and always said I probably wouldn’t take my kids to one. No judgment on anyone else, they just kind of bum me out. But then I had a daughter who developed an obsession with bears, and well, I just really really wanted her to see a bear in person, so we went. My girls were in heaven. It is super toddler friendly, easy to navigate, and yes, there are bears. And elephants and rhinos and monkeys and every kind of animal a toddler could want to see. (Even a robotic dinosaur.) There is also a train and a carousel. We were there on Memorial Day, and even though the zoo was clearly packed, it didn’t feel claustrophobic. We had plenty of room to roam. We rented a little cart for the girls, and they happily rode around looking at animals for most of the day. I still feel kind of guilty about it, though.
- Butterfly Pavilion (Westminster) – This place is amazing and extremely toddler friendly. The Butterfly Pavilion is basically a bug zoo, and you can see just about any kind of bug imaginable. From hissing cockroaches to tarantulas to butterflies… it is incredible. If you are so inclined, you can hold Rosie the tarantula. One of my girls got in line to do it, but got a little freaked out at the last second. I was proud of her for even attempting it though – that’s more than I would do! There is a huge room where the butterflies fly around you and a little tank where you can see horseshoe crabs and starfish up close. There is also a toddler friendly play space inside and a picnic area. It’s a small place, and you can probably see it all in an hour or so. Highly recommended!
- Pearl Street Mall (Boulder) – Several blocks of Pearl Street in Boulder are closed to cars and it is a great place to take your toddlers for a walk. There is a splash pad at one end of the mall, a play area with rocks and a bridge for kids to climb on, and a little train that goes around in the morning. There is also a shop with a robotic dinosaur that my girls LOVED and lots of vendors selling ice cream and snow cones. We took a walk over here almost everyday with the girls because it was so close to where we were staying.
- Foothills Community Park (Boulder) – I found Foothills Community Park after googling “toddler friendly parks,” and we weren’t disappointed. With lots of open space to run, lovely community gardens, and a very safe and toddler friendly playground, this park was a huge hit with my girls. While the girls played, John and I chatted with several local parents who were incredibly lovely. I could not get over how friendly everyone was! There are two playgrounds, but the more toddler friendly one is at Cherry Avenue and 8th Street, by the community gardens.
A few final thoughts on traveling with toddlers: Unrelated to Boulder, but this is the first flight we’ve taken with the girls that we’ve checked our car seats and used a CARES harness instead and I can’t recommend it enough. It gave my girls so much more freedom to move around, but kept them in their seat. They didn’t get quite as antsy on the plane as they have in the past, and I am really glad we got the harnesses.
The other thing I got for this trip were Skip Hop backpacks with leashes, and they were great. I filled them with snacks and surprises for the flight, and having the leash to grab if one of the girls started to take off was so useful. I know you are probably rolling your eyes at the idea of a leash on your kid, but one of my children thinks she’s invincible and likes to run away, so I am pro-leash when necessary. (Or “restraint,” I guess. Tomato/tomahto.)
Finally, while we took our travel cribs (we have used the Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playardsince the girls were babies and love them – they are easy to travel with and set up), once we got to Boulder, we decided to rent high chairs and a gate to block access to the kitchen in our AirBnB. We were so glad we did this as it made our stay in an unfamiliar house so much easier and safer. We rented from ZBaby Gear in Boulder, and they were fantastic. My only regret is that we didn’t rent a stroller from them as well.
All in all, it was an awesome week. We had the usual ups and downs – tantrums, whining, etc. – but for the most part, the girls rolled with the punches and were delighted to explore a new city. I definitely recommend Boulder for families with toddlers, and we can’t wait to go back!
(Full disclosure: this post contains Amazon affiliate links.)