Visitors to Manitou Springs once immersed themselves in the ‘60s hippie culture while indulging in old-fashioned entertainment. You can still do that, but the new Manitou, 4 miles west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is more “hippie chic” than “hippie chick.”
You still can buy tacky souvenirs, hemp clothing and patchouli incense, eat saltwater taffy and nosh on vegetarian fare. You also can visit upscale restaurants and stay in a lovely historic hotel, shop for fine art and find designer clothing.
“It’s not just a tomahawk town any more,” says Susan Wolbrueck, president of the Business Improvement District.
Shopping is a favorite pursuit of visitors to this resort town at the foot of Pikes Peak. Popular shops that bring visitors back time and again include the Leprechaun Shoppe (for all things Irish), Mushroom Monday Gifts and Ruxton’s Trading Post. And for decades, no visit felt complete without buying a sack of handmade chocolates from Patsy’s Chocolates and Gift Shop or throwing a few nickels (yes, really) into the antique pinball machines at Arcade Amusements.
A lot of Manitou’s shops are new – some relocated from big shopping malls or nearby downtown Colorado Springs. You can build your own teddy bear. Buy a real fossil. Find vintage dresses or taste a truffle from Pikes Peak Chocolate. You might see tourists trying out the hula hoops at RetroMoto Toys, or relaxing with a glass of wine at Black Cat Books.
“Manitou is a happening place,” Wolbrueck says. “It doesn’t shut down at sunset any more.”
The town recently completed a redevelopment project. It upgraded the infrastructure, took the main street from four lanes to three, and widened the sidewalks.
“The traffic used to zoom by at 40 miles an hour,” Wolbrueck says. “Now the traffic is calmer, the pace more leisurely. And the wider sidewalks are safer and more pedestrian-friendly.”
Off-street parking has lightened congestion on Manitou Avenue. Outdoor seating areas, replete with flowers and other landscaping, offer a place to sit and chat, eat an ice cream cone, or soak up the high-altitude sunshine.
The old Manitou Spa building, once slated for demolition, has been renovated into shops and parking. The Loop, a longtime local watering hole, expanded into the building next door.
And the Cliff House, a historic 1873 hotel that was revived a decade ago, built an addition that includes a stellar spot for weddings and other celebrations, as well as a new fitness center and more meeting space.
The Cliff House offers fine dining, as do Mona Lisa, the Craftwood Inn and Briarhurst Manor. If you love historic buildings and great food, any of these will fit the bill. But longtime standbys such as Adam’s Mountain Café, now relocated to the spa building, also enjoy a faithful clientele. Also in the spa building is D’Vine Wine, a “personal winery,” where you can taste wines or have one blended to suit your taste.
In addition to the eclectic array of shopping and dining, visitors can enjoy the town’s various attractions, such as tours of the historic Miramont Castle, a towering abode built by a French priest in the late-1800s as a home for himself and his mother. There, you can get tea and see such marvels as a fireplace big enough to walk into. From here, you can take the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway up Pikes Peak, a trip that offers an opportunity to see wildlife, such as marmots and bighorn sheep.
Feeling a bit silly? Check out the – hiss! boo! – melodrama at the Iron Springs Chateau. Visitors also can hike or ride horses into the adjacent Garden of the Gods, a stunning park with gigantic red sandstone formations. Or explore the Cliff Dwellings Museum, or go underground at Cave of the Winds.
At the Business of Art Center, watch artists at work and buy their masterpieces. The Commonwheel Artists Co-op features pottery and other crafts made locally. Mountain Living Studio showcases the works of more than 150 Colorado artists. And you can visit artists like sculptor Fred Darpino in his new studio/store in the renovated Manitou Spa Building.
“I wanted a location in Manitou – there’s a good vibe here – and this space is perfect for me,” says Darpino, who often works on very large pieces. His shop also carries the works of other artists he admires – workers in wood, glass, photography, painting, pottery and other media.
And guess what…
There really are mineral springs here, some restored as part of the redevelopment. People come from all over with their own water jugs to take some home with them, believing it’s good for what ails them.
There’s no McDonald’s in Manitou, and no chain motels or stores in the historic district.
“Manitou is unique,” says Wolbrueck. “You really can’t compare it with anyplace else.”
If You Go
Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau
354 Manitou Ave.
Manitou Springs, Colorado 80829
719-685-5089 or 877-340-6071
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer who lives in Colorado Springs.