Why go now: A spring day downtown is the best place to catch the up-and-coming art scene in bloom.
Old-school Springs: Fancy homes, the military (the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson are here), and conservative values.
The wilder side: Young artists and gallery owners are shaking up the Springs' staid reputation, and new galleries, shops, and cafes have created an artsy pocket downtown.
For the uninitiated: "If you talked to anyone five years ago about the art scene here, they would have laughed at you," says gallery owner Brett Andrus. Co-owner Lauren Andrus agrees: "This is becoming a place-to-be for art. The younger art scene is really rising up."
Picture it: A mix of high-rises and Old West architecture sprawled over several square miles best explored by car.
See it: Download the downtown Art on the Streets map (artonthestreets.com) for a walking tour of 52 outdoor sculptures.
Inspired eats: Miso-maple sausage and spicy pear sangria at Nosh ($$; closed Sun; 121 S. Tejon St.; 719/635-6674).
Alleyway art: Part of the fun of the Modbo and S.P.Q.R. galleries is that they feel like a secret. The two sister hubs are in a downtown alley known as the Alley Arts District. Owners Brett and Lauren Andrus have emerged as unofficial cultural ambassadors for the city, booking local artists and packing the galleries at night with live music, painting, and art-history classes. 17B and 17C E. Bijou St.; 719/633-4240.
A cafe with an artistic soul: A flock of white oragami cranes dangles from the ceiling of Shuga's, a sweet little cottage bistro on a residential street. Waiters will shuttle lavender-blossom martinis and Nicoise salads to your outdoor table under bright red umbrellas. $; closed Sun; 702 S. Cascade Ave.; 719/328-1412.
The art king: The Taylor Museum at the Fine Arts Center is the artistic big gun of the whole city. Outside, it's glass-and-concrete mod; inside, a mix of Old West cowboy paintings alongside newer pieces like Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. Wander the galleries and outdoor sculpture garden, then swing by Amuze at the FAC ($$$) for a bison pastrami Reuben and knockout views of Pikes Peak. $10; 30 W. Dale St.; csfineartscenter.org
Coffee, books, and vino: Poor Richard's has long been our go-to downtown bookstore, and it's still the bohemian haunt where local writers and artists hang. Next door, the coffee shop and wine bar, Rico's ($$) is the spot to sip java and eavesdrop, or catch live jazz. 320 and 322 N. Tejon St.; poorrichards.biz
Take home something you won't find anywhere else: Five minutes from downtown by car, Yobel Market is a new kind of indie store for Colorado Springs, with fair-trade accessories like Ugandan beaded necklaces and Cambodian silk purses. Bonus: The items you buy directly benefit the artisans who make them. 2528B W. Colorado Ave,; yobelmarket.com
Don't leave without hitting the classics
Hike in a red rock garden: The sandstone cliffs and spires rise almost from out of nowhere at Garden of the Gods. The wild red rock formations against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks in the distance guarantee a wow. Bring comfy shoes and a good camera, and keep an eye toward the sky to see rock climbers scaling the cliffs. Free; 1805 N. 30th St.; gardenofgods.com
Summit a mountain: The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is a train up to the sky. The bright red train chugs up the steep mountain in about an hour and a half, and drops you at the top of the 14,000-foot summit with see-forever views. Insider tip: Catch a morning train to avoid afternoon rainstorms at the top. $34 round-trip; cograilway.com
Hang with gold medalists: Take a guided tour of the U.S. Olympic Complex, where you might catch a glimpse of the athletes in training. Then stock up on Team USA swag at the gift shop. Free; no tours Sun; teamusa.org
Make it a weekend: The Broadmoor is a five-star grande dame with sprawling, country club-style grounds at the base of the foothills. Our perfect day includes a trip to the spa, a walk around the lake, and a beer at the hotel's Golden Bee pub ($$). From $300; broadmoor.com