An enthusiastic yet apprehensive young woman from a big city in the grumpy, crowded, materialistic Northeast arrives in a small, quaint town in Colorado nestled under the beautifully snow-capped mountains. She’s new in town, a stranger, yet she is welcomed warmly and greeted with smiles by the pleasant people of the town. She is in awe of the sweet and picturesque main street lined with beautiful homes and small shops. She is in shock over that famous Midwestern hospitality and warmth she had heard about, but never believed, from the locals. Can she build a better life for herself here? Can she find an amazing job? Can she find a simpler, happier way of living here than she could ever find back in New Jersey and Pennsylvania? Can she find true love, the true meaning of Christmas? What wonderful adventures and opportunities await her in this perfect little town called… Manitou Springs in Colorado!?
Ok, that may have seemed a little over the top but it’s actually mostly a completely accurate description of my very first day living in Colorado. It started in January when I had just made the long, arduous drive cross-country to follow my biggest dream- living in Colorado. Yes, I have always had a deep affinity for this state and also for Hallmark Christmas movies. So, when I first arrived and drove into adorable Manitou Springs next to Colorado Springs, I truly felt like it WAS the set of my favorite Hallmark movie. I was looking for Candace Cameron Bure or Lacey Chabert. They HAD to be here. Why has Hallmark not filmed a movie in this town, it has all the elements they look for? Small town charm- check! Kind and friendly locals- absolutely! Christmas spirit- yup! Lovely small-town shops- you got it! Old-fashioned architecture- yeah! A warm, light and positive energy- yes! And here I am, providing the perfect, all-too-predictable and cliché storyline- a girl from the big, mean city moving to charming, small-town, Midwestern America with the hopes of starting a new life. A wide-eyed girl looking to find fulfillment and deeper meaning in life beyond the materialism, greed and selfishness that pretty much controls life in the crowded Tri-State Northeast. (Sorry, Northeast, but it’s true and we all know it! Philly, New York, DC- looking at you!) But, no, I am already aware of the true meaning of Christmas and am fully in-touch with the spirit of giving and loving. We can skip THAT storyline at least. Looking for true love with a down-to-earth boy-next-door with a heart of gold type, yes, that would be wonderful, but one step at a time.
I have visited Manitou Springs before; this was not my first encounter with its charms. But this time I arrived right after the holiday season and the lights were still lining the city streets, the greenery was still wrapped around every cute lamp post, red bows popped out everywhere, the trees still were decorated, it was still full-on Christmas spirit. This place, though, could easily be the setting of a Hallmark movie without the Christmas spirit filling the air and decorating every square inch of the town. The main street area of Manitou Springs is a perfect place to walk around and admire the beautiful Victorian homes and architecture, to look at vibrant and unique street art, to get a coffee and delicious scone at a small coffee shop, to grab a beer at the local brewery or a glass of wine from the local winery, to shop for anything and everything in a small-business run by a very amiable store owner, to check out the skills of local artisans…I think you get the point here. It’s basically quintessential Americana. And all beautifully settled and kept safe under mountain peaks. The mountain views in the background are what really tie this place together.
Growing up I was a huge fan of the critically acclaimed show, Everwood. That fictional town was classic Colorado for everyone. And what made it so inspired and heavenly was this small town made even smaller in size by the mountains guarding its charms and gifts. Almost as if the mountains were protecting the innocence of the town from the mean outside world. Keeping the charisma, warmth, kindness, love and bliss in and the negativity out. The mountains surrounding Manitou seem like guardian angels, keeping this perfect place safe and keeping the integrity of the town intact. Towns like this, to me, are like a little piece of heaven on earth and they symbolize what I believe our society has gotten away from, what really matters in life. The splendor in the simplicity, the closeness to nature’s beauty, the warmth and openness of the people- this is what matters. It’s love, it’s bliss, it’s peace, it’s joy, it’s recognizing that TRUE HAPPINESS COMES FROM SIMPLE LIVING. For me, this town, and many others like it throughout Colorado and other places, symbolize that state of happiness and peace we all want to find and thrive in. It’s not found in big cities for someone like me, maybe it is for others, but for me I truly believe that happiness and fulfillment that we all want is found in corners of the world like this, small towns without pretentiousness. Small towns that appreciate their own charm but don’t get an ego about it, they celebrate the art of simple living and fulfillment. They celebrate the small business owner who works daily at their shop greeting their customers and learns their names. They celebrate the joy of meeting at a local coffee shop and just people watching. They celebrate the peace found in walking down the street every day and still being captivated by the mountain scenery. They celebrate finding genuine meaning in the art of daily living and activities and not through material things or the need to be better or impress others. They celebrate not needing a lot, because all you need is love and fulfillment which are found in the small, simple moments. They celebrate simple, ordinary (yet no so ordinary) people making a difference with a smile. Mountains + small town America= Paradise to me, it’s towns like this that ARE America. Archetypal America isn’t found in cities, it’s found in places like Manitou Springs. Happy people, fulfilling lives and peace are found in towns like this. This is where it’s at!
If you’re looking for a warm, cozy, happy, peaceful energy in a town- Manitou is 100% the place to look. And there is a lot to look at and explore as you meander the main streets and side streets for the day. If you get hungry getting lost appreciating the character of Manitou, there are many restaurants of all different types here to enjoy. All different cuisines- Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, American, Indian and BBQ. Yes, even a small town can be really diverse! Adds to its appeal even more. And the shops, you’ll find a little bit of everything. From the PERFECT crystal shop (Barefoot Native Jewelry, absolute MUST for my crystal aficionados), to an apothecary with holistic products, to the typical but fun tourist trap stores, to local artisan shops with amazing pottery, wall art, jewelry, etc., to chocolate and candy stores. It’s all here! There’s even an arcade to get in touch with your inner child or bring your actual kids to! There are some really fantastic local artisan co-ops to check out if you are like me and want unique items and to support local artists. There are many talented artisans displaying their work throughout the stores in Manitou. There is also a quirky shop I love that has great Mexican handmade artisan crafts for the garden and the home and they also have amazing tapestries (all authentic!) called Camino Real Imports- you could spend hours in this store. It’s like a rainbow exploded it’s so colorful and fun! And, of course, there are Christmas-themed shops to stock up on beautiful ornaments. Those are just SOME examples, I can’t get into every store here, but I will in future posts.
Some of my highlights are: For wine lovers- D’Vine Winery (it’s a little tucked away but there are signs pointing you in the right direction). For beer lovers the Manitou Brewing Co. is a great spot. Both places have outdoor seating and the winery has a Australian Shepherd that hangs out and begs for pets- which I happily oblige. Colorado is very dog-friendly and many stores and restaurants allow dogs. This state is perfect and really gets what happiness means- they love dogs!! One of my favorite restaurants here is The Loop. I love Mexican food and their margaritas are not only fantastic in my opinion but are award winning and beloved. I also love Swirl Wine Bar- because I love wine- but the food is also great, and the décor is adorable. They have colorful parasols and umbrellas covering the ceiling. The vibe here is very upbeat and whimsical which I love. Heart of Jerusalem and Sahara Café are great for Middle Eastern style food, can’t go wrong here! There are cafes dotted throughout the area like Good Karma Café and Red Dog Café which I recommend for grabbing a quick bite to eat and coffee, Red Dog also will serve mimosas of all types throughout the day 😉. I haven’t gotten a chance to eat everywhere yet because of the pandemic shutdowns so there will definitely be MORE TO COME with great places to eat here in Manitou. For all specialty chocolate lovers and enthusiasts of superfoods and healthy eating (or dietary restrictions)- Radiantly Raw is a great choice. Not only do they have a wide variety for whatever your dietary needs may be, but the chocolates are too pretty to eat! Many of the chocolates have lavender infused into them. In Colorado, lavender is infused into pretty much everything, I’m waiting for the lavender burger!
But truthfully, whether you to come shop from local artisans or to grab a bite to eat or a beer- just walking around this town is a perfect day. Look around, don’t just look at the sidewalk. Notice the intricacies in the architecture (the Victorian homes are to die for), take in the ambiance and energy, breath in the clean air, appreciate the mountain views surrounding you, admire the brick buildings, dip your feet in the little creek, embrace the friendly shop owners and strike up a conversation (seriously, everyone is friendly so you could easily get wrapped up in an hour long conversation with the person at the table next to you or the store associate-it’s happened to me many times!). Just admire and appreciate the true loveliness and splendor of simplicity and living in the moment, that’s Manitou!