The Colorado city so quaint, Disneyland is designed to look like it
On the northern edge of Colorado, Fort Collins is one of two true college towns in Colorado.
And though it is home to Colorado State University and therefore nearly all the students that attend, many other people also choose to call the city home.
It's close enough to Denver to be able to drive down for an evening baseball game or concert, yet far enough away that it has its own personality: one that holds on to its agricultural roots, appreciates the gorgeous outdoor scenery and opportunities surrounding it, and that has been one of the most successful in the Colorado craft beer scene.
Follow along with out photo tour, highlighting some of the best of Fort Collins, Friday afternoon on the 9NEWS Instagram.
The history of Fort Collins
The history of Fort Collins begins with a bit of local lore. In the early 1800s, legend says that a group of French-Canadian fur traders were traveling through the area that would eventually become Fort Collins and got caught in a massive snow storm. In order to continue, they needed to lighten the load they were carrying, so found a hiding place (“cache” in French) and buried a large amount of gun powder (“poudre” in French) along the banks of the river. Thus the name of the Cache la Poudre River that runs through Fort Collins.
In 1862, the Ninth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry settled the precursor to present-day Fort Collins, at what is now the town of Laporte. Called Camp Collins, it was established to protect settlers who were traveling along the Overland Trail.
The Cache la Poudre flooded in 1864, washing much of the soldiers’ supplies downstream. So the search began for a new post, and eventually a site near present-day Old Town was selected. The fort was abandoned by September 1866, but the site continued to slowly grow.
By the time the Colorado Central Railroad arrived in 1877, Fort Collins was becoming a thriving agricultural area.
Two year later, the Colorado Agricultural and Mining College decided to build in Fort Collins. The school continued to grow and was eventually renamed Colorado State University in 1957. Today, CSU's undergraduate enrollment is 24,433. The university is considered one of the leading research universities in the U.S. in areas including atmospheric science, infectious diseases, clean energy technologies and environmental science. CSU is also known worldwide for its College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, a competitive school that affords students real-world, hands-on experience in their pursuit to become a veterinarian.
Once a quiet agricultural town, Fort Collins' downtown area, "Old Town," has really picked up in recent years.
Old Town's core is considered the area of Mason Street on the east and Mathews Street on the west, Maple Street to the north and just past East Olive Street to the south, with College Avenue as the main central street.
The quaint streets are lined with the town’s most beautiful and historic buildings. Some of the oldest blocks were built as long ago as 1884 and all feature elaborate Victorian-style design and intricate detail.
In fact, the picturesque buildings even helped inspire Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Disney designer Harper Goff was born in Fort Collins in 1911 and his parents owned a newspaper in the town called the Fort Collins Express Courier (now the Coloradoan). Walt Disney originally wanted Main Street modeled after his own home town of Marceline, Missouri, but thought they needed more two-story buildings than Marceline had. So Goff presented him with photos of Old Town Fort Collins. Disney loved them. Goff said they ended up using a combination of both towns in their final design and that Disneyland’s City Hall, bank building and more were modeled directly after their counterparts in Fort Collins.
There is also more than one might expect waiting underneath the sidewalks of Old Town. An intricate series of tunnels was built through the years, starting as early as the late 1800s as underground jail cells and tunnels for horses to pull coffins to an underground morgue basement. Later they were used for literal underground liquor trade by bootleggers during prohibition. And many were used by shop owners for transportation and storage. Needless to say, they are thought to be haunted, and visitors and residents of Fort Collins can venture into the historic tunnels through ghost tours offered year round.
Today, Old Town is a hot spot for dining, shopping and drinking in Fort Collins. For example, looking for Mexican food? Salsa Brava serves up delicious versions of all the classics, like crispy pork taquitos and Mexico City street tacos. And the Rio Grande is a classic spot that has been a local favorite since 1986.
Or maybe you're after a morning diner? The Silver Grill Café is the oldest restaurant in Northern Colorado and is known for their cinnamon rolls, and Urban Egg Eatery uses local, organic ingredients to serve up classics like eggs benedict, French toast, omelets and more (plus, they have a bloody mary bar).
The area also has quaint coffee shops, like Bean Cycle, Alley Cat Café, Mugs Coffee Lounge and The Chocolate Café, for example. And Choice City Butcher & Deli, Pickle Barrel and Taste of Philly are great places to grab a sandwich.
For evening and nighttime dining, Blue Agave Grill, a casual southwestern eatery, is a great option. The restaurant serves everything from sliders and street tacos to pumpkin-espresso bisque, to steaks, salads, pastas and more. Other local favorites are Jay's Bistro, a swanky American spot that plays live jazz and features unique art, RARE, featuring homemade Italian cuisine and Sonny Lubick Steakhouse, owned by the iconic CSU coach. Stuft a Burger Bar is also great — allowing patrons to create their own burgers and shakes from scratch.
And for cocktails, there's no shortage of options: check out Tony's Bar, The Whiskey, or Town Pump, originally established in 1909 and the first bar in Fort Collins to begin operation once prohibition was lifted in 1933.
A brewing hub
Outside of CSU, one of Fort Collins biggest claims to fame is that it is the hometown of New Belgium Brewing Co., the nation's fourth-largest craft beer-maker. The brewery is also known for being employee-owned and regularly voted one of the best places to work, and for its environmental efforts.
New Belgium's brewery tour is among the most popular in the state. Patrons explore the brewery while learning about New Belgium's history and sipping on the company's house-made craft beer.
New Belgium's growth, like all craft-beer makers lately, has exploded. In January, the brewery became the second based in Colorado to sell its beers in every state in the country.
But New Belgium is far from the only brewery in the area. In fact, Fort Collins is home to an impressive amount of craft breweries. Currently, we count 20. Add Anheuser-Busch, and that makes 21 breweries in a 54 square-mile city.
And though New Belgium is the biggest, the history of craft breweries in Fort Collins starts in 1989, with the opening of Coopersmith’s, a brewpub located in the center of Old Town Square, that is still operating today.
Learn more about many of Fort Collins breweries: We did some 'research' and checked out the breweries in Fort Collins
Living in Fort Collins
Outside of the hip Old Town, Fort Collins offers residents breathtaking views, biking and hiking trails and fun places to let dogs roam free at its many parks, such as Fossil Creek, Spring Canyon, Edora and Rossborough parks.
In fact, the outdoor vibe is so strong in Fort Collins that the town is the flagship location for the world's largest bike parade — the Tour de Fat, a September event that celebrates "bikes, beer and bemusement."
The town is also host to the Taste of Fort Collins, which features food from local restaurants and live music, the free New West Fest, northern Colorado’s largest live music festival, the Breathe Yoga Festival, the first outdoor meditation fest in northern Colorado, the Fort Collins Fall Fest and more.
The Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society also continues to run a historic 1919 Trolley Car each summer. Part of the original system that carried hundreds of residents through the town from December 1907 until 1951, the current line runs from City Park to Howes St in restored Car 21. Saturdays and Sundays from May until September, anyone can ride the three-mile trip for only $2.
The median home price in Fort Collins stands at about $339,000, up 6.3 percent year-over-year, according to real estate website Trulia.com. The median rent for all-size properties is $1,650, down from when it peaked at $1,775 in May 2016.
Given its large population of college students, renting is common in Fort Collins. A recent report ranked the city 141st nationally, with 38.4 percent of residents there renting rather than owning.