Grand Junction is the largest city on Colorado’s Western Slope—however, it’s often overshadowed by its more well-known neighboring CO cousins of Boulder and Denver. But don’t let that fool you; Grand Junction is truly a hidden gem: a perfect spot to explore the natural beauty of northwestern Colorado; its outdoor activities and recreation are second to none, while its charming downtown is a burgeoning hotspot of local businesses, restaurants, and cultural attractions that make it a fun and exciting destination for any visitor to the Centennial State.
While the proximity of the Colorado River and the surrounding rugged landscapes make Grand Junction the ideal place for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, climbing, and white water rafting, it’s the city’s agricultural prowess that sets it apart from its contemporaries. Located in the heart of Colorado’s Grand Valley, its temperate climate is the perfect place for the area’s plethora of wineries and farmer’s markets. With so much to see and do in this lovely Colorado town, it’s no wonder Grand Junction is becoming a top tourist destination and oasis in the heart of northwestern Colorado—and it all starts with its charming downtown area.
Downtown: A Certified Colorado Creative District
To be dubbed a certified Colorado Creative District is no small feat—the honor is only given to communities that boast a unique appreciation of the arts through their galleries, events, artists in residence, cultural institutions—and Grand Junction is just one of twenty-six such places in the state. Described as having “a wealth of cultural treasures,” GJ’s downtown is bursting with artistic inspiration in the form of galleries, outdoor exhibits, and performances and festivals all year round.
Start at the historic Avalon Theater. Though recently renovated to its original splendor, the Avalon has stood in the heart of downtown for nearly 100 years and is one of Western Colorado’s largest performing arts halls. A destination for everything from dance, theater, lecture, and variety shows to foreign and independent film series on the big screen; this cultural hotspot is the cornerstone of Grand Junction’s bustling arts district.
One only needs to stroll through Grand Junction’s quaint downtown to experience the arts—no museum necessary. The city’s Art on the Corner is a diverse outdoor exhibition and display of over 100 sculptures located along Main Street and throughout the downtown area. Consisting of both temporary and permanent pieces, the sidewalk sculptures have been installed every fall since 1984. Eclectic, engaging, and consisting of a variety of styles (including abstract and multi-media pieces), Art on the Corner is one of the best ways to embrace Grand Junction’s artistic side.
Want to sample some of the area’s best local art contributions? Then check out one of the many galleries that make Grand Junction their home. The Art Center is known for its diverse range of both national and local artists—a self-described “social hub for Western Slope artists and the art-curious,” this haven for the arts is a must-see for any art lover. Want a more local feel? Then check out popular galleries like the Art Bar, a gallery and event space where visitors can show off their own artistic flair; the 437CO Art Gallery, which features artwork from Colorado Mesa University students as well as national and international artists; and the James Howard Fine Art Gallery, where visitors can explore local artist James Howard’s diverse catalog of unique and colorful landscapes. The Art Center of Western Colorado is another great spot to explore—their permanent collection is ideal for learning more about Colorado’s rich history and culture, and their rotating exhibits include local, national, and international talent.
Grand Junction’s cultural attractions go way beyond Art—there’s plenty of music here, too. In addition to the Avalon Theatre, the Grand Junction Symphony is a great spot to catch live performances by the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra, known for their indoor and outdoor concerts, unique performances, and annual gala. A Grand Junction institution since 1978, the GJSO is one of the top cultural spots in the city. The Mesa Theater is also a great spot to catch live music and shows that are a little alternative and offbeat; whereas the High Desert Opera is a community theater devoted to full-stage productions of musicals and broadway classics. In Grand Junction, there’s truly something for everyone, from musical mavens to symphony supporters.
Take A Journey Through History: From Flora and Fauna to Dinosaurs And Cowboys
Exploring Grand Junction’s arts and cultural scene is not the only way to learn about the area and its local history. There are several museums and historic attractions where visitors can learn more about GJ’s storied history—from the time of the dinosaurs through the Wild West— and beyond.
Though the town wasn’t permanently settled until the 1880s, it’s still known as “dino country”—in part because paleontologists have been unearthing dinosaur fossils here since the early 1900s. Part of the “Dinosaur Diamond,” Grand Junction is known for its vast collection of fossils, including one of the largest Triceratops skulls ever found—all on display at the Dinosaur Journey Museum. Jump forward in time from the Jurassic age to the age of the cowboy—the Wild West. At the Museum of the West, there’s plenty to see and do, from interactive exhibits to Art and artifacts from the Fremont Indian culture. Historically accurate settings from the Pastime Saloon to the Park Opera House will both entertain and educate visitors looking to learn more about the area’s Wild West days. The Cross Orchards Historic Site is another spot where you can get a taste of pioneer life—listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Cross Orchards includes renovated historic buildings; vintage farm equipment and railroad cars; and beautiful, lush grounds.
Science and scenery combine at the Western Botanical Gardens where visitors can learn all about the area’s native plants, and see samples of exotic flora from around the world. Don’t forget to visit the Butterfly House and the lovely landscaped rose gardens. Another historic garden paradise awaits at the Ute Learning Garden, where visitors can learn about the Ute culture and history, including plants native to Western Colorado.
Take A Sip And Have A Bite With Locally Grown Favorites
Grand Junction is an agricultural paradise due to its location in the Western Slope—temperate weather and sunny skies make this the ideal spot for homegrown faves and locally sourced delights. And it’s not just food that sets GJ apart; situated in the heart of Colorado wine country, the area is known for its plethora of wineries—the perfect pairing for fresh local cuisine that is bursting with signature Colorado flavor.
Seasonal, fresh, and oh so Colorado, Bin 707 Foodbar prides itself on responsible sourcing from “local, Colorado, and domestic sources”—and it shows. Since 2011, this local favorite has been serving up the goods like The Binburger, Bison Ribeye, and Elk Tartare, along with fresh inventive cocktails to match. Looking for great vibes and even better brews? Then head to Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery—slinging suds and locally sourced meals since 1994, this spot is as welcoming and fun as the town itself. A class act in Grand Junction for almost 50 years, The Winery Restaurant is located in a 100-year old historic building that was once home to a horse-drawn fire station. Elegant, romantic, and delish, The Winery is a great spot to grab a steak and soak up the classic atmosphere—including warm wood paneling, stained glass, and exposed brick.
Grand Junction and the surrounding areas are known for their abundance of craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries—you could easily spend your entire trip touring them, and still not see (and taste!) all the region has to offer. A great place to start is Whitewater Hill Vineyards, with its spectacular views of Colorado River’s Grand Valley and wide selection of top area wines. Another scenic Grand Junction winery is Two Rivers Winery & Chateau, perfectly situated within the gateways of the Colorado National Monument. Take a tour, have a sample, and delight in the spectacular views at this family-operated winery.
Not a fan of vino? In Grand Junction wine is not the only tasty beverage on the menu—there are plenty of local breweries where hops lovers can wet their whistle. Edgewater Brewery has got the goods—a great craft beer selection and a lovely location along the Colorado Riverside Trail. A perfect haunt for those who like their brews with a side of scenery; it’s also a great place to grab a bite as Edgewater has a delish selection of hearty sandwiches and apps. Stop it at the award-winning Gemini Beer Company, a local craft beer fave known for its friendly vibes and signature, eclectic brews. The perfect intersection of Art, craft beer, and outdoor appreciation, Monumental Beer Works prides itself as being a showcase for local Art—as well as an outstanding local brewery known for its events and fun atmosphere. Don’t forget to bring your pooch—Monumental is dog-friendly, too.
Grand Junction may be one of the best places to visit in Colorado—perfectly situated near the Colorado River amid the state’s Western Slope, its bustling and vibrant downtown has a myriad of fun things to see and do. A haven for the arts; museums galore; and an eclectic, fresh restaurant scene light up this beautiful city in the heart of Colorado’s wine country.
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