Thinking of moving to Boulder, CO? Here’s what you need to know – from someone who did it!
I grew up in Lakewood, Colorado and moved to Boulder for many years in my 20s. It’s a wonderful place to live, with incredible access to the Rocky Mountains and plenty of things to do without leaving the city. Boulder’s history is rooted in the counterculture movement, and you still see vestiges of it today.
There’s a palpable sense of community in Boulder – one that you’ll start to feel like you belong to as soon as you arrive. If you move to Boulder, before long you’ll know the names of several neighborhood dogs and you’re bound to have a few favorite local haunts. Even though it’s not a small town, the neighborhoods of Boulder feel close knit.
While I was living in Boulder, I met some of the kindest, most interesting, and most passionate people I’ve ever known. Boulder attracts people who love to be outside, care about the environment, and love to debate.
Table of Contents
Things you need to know before moving to Boulder, CO
What’s it like to live in Boulder, CO?
Things to do in Boulder
Weather in Boulder
FAQs: Moving to Boulder
Conclusion: Moving to Boulder, CO
15 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Boulder CO
Here are some of the things that you need to know before deciding whether or not to move to Boulder, Colorado.
1. Boulder is expensive
Boulder is an expensive city, whether you’re visiting for a few days or looking to make a permanent move. The cost of housing, groceries, entertainment, and transportation can really add up, especially if you’re looking to buy a house.
2. Boulder is a college town
The University of Colorado Boulder campus is located right in the middle of the city. This enormous public university is the flagship of the University of Colorado system, with student enrollment of approximately 37,000 students.
3. Pearl Street is the heart of Boulder
Pearl Street is the main pedestrian shopping area in Boulder, full of shops, restaurants, boutiques, and cafes.
It’s one of the most popular places to visit and is full of locals and tourists during the summer. When the weather is warm, you’ll sometimes even see street performers eating fire or contorting themselves into a small box in front of the small audience that has gathered.
Two of my favorite stops on Pearl Street are Piece, Love and Chocolate – Boulder’s local chocolatier – and Liberty Puzzles, where you can find handmade wooden jigsaw puzzles. Both PLC and Liberty Puzzles are great spots for gifts or simply a treat for yourself.
4. People who live in Boulder love the outdoors
Almost everyone in Boulder loves to spend time outside. Either they grew up with it, or it’s what drew them to Boulder in the first place.
Rock climbing, running, cycling, hiking, and skiing are all very popular in Boulder. On Monday mornings, work meetings often start with a rundown of the outdoor activities that people did over the weekend.
One downside of Boulder’s love for the outdoors is that trails can get quite crowded, especially in the summer. You’ll get used to being passed and passing others as you make your way towards the summit.
5. Locals are highly educated
Boulder routinely ranks as one of the most highly educated cities in the United States per capita. According to Boulder’s Economic Council, over 75% of adults 25 and over who live in Boulder have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national average of 29%.
This is no doubt partly due to the presence of the University of Colorado Boulder, which is located in the center of the city. Many students come to study at CU Boulder and decide to stick around because the city is such a nice place to live.
Boulder’s highly educated workforce attracts tech companies of all sizes. For example, Google spent $130 million to open a Boulder campus in 2018.
6. The population is very liberal
Boulder leans far to the left, so you can expect lively debates about progressive candidates and policies. Lawn and window signs for progressive political candidates and ballot measures are common, even on local businesses.
7. Alternative lifestyles welcome
Members of the counterculture movement have long found refuge and acceptance in Boulder. During the 1960s and 1970s, many young people moved to Boulder to escape mainstream culture.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see vendors offering tarot readings from small card tables along Pearl Street. The Buddhist-inspired Naropa University is also located in Boulder and continues to attract students with its model of contemplative education.
The Trident Cafe on Pearl Street is an excellent place to see “Old Boulder” with some modern twists. On a given evening, this cafe is usually full of students writing papers and studying for their exams, Boulder locals playing quiet games of chess, and young professionals reading or working on their laptops.
8. Tech, education, and science are top industries
Many people you meet in Boulder will work in one of a few industries: tech, education, and natural sciences. Boulder is home to a Google campus, several coworking spaces, and NCAR – the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
9. Always lock your bike
Boulder consistently ranks as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US. There are cycle lanes throughout the city, and locals love to bike to work or go for longer road cycles in the Rocky Mountains.
Unfortunately, as many locals will tell you, bike theft is a big issue in Boulder. About 1,000 bikes are reported stolen each year, a staggering number for a city the size of Boulder.
Always take care to lock your bike and avoid leaving it outside at night, if at all possible. Students at CU Boulder are advised not to bring expensive bikes to campus, as they’re often particularly targeted for thefts.
10. Beware of the wildlife
Mountain lions and black bears are both native to Boulder, Colorado, so you’ll want to take care to avoid encounters.
Avoid walking in the foothills at dawn or dusk when these predators are most active, and never run if you happen to encounter one. Instead, back away slowly to avoid triggering their natural instincts to chase and attack.
In many parts of Boulder, trash cans are fitted with bear-resistant locks. On trash days, it’s common to see bear scat and remnants of rifled-through trash cans in residential areas.
11. Boulder is dog friendly
People in Boulder love their dogs and take them everywhere. Many offices have dog friendly policies, and it’s common to see dogs sprawled out under patio tables at restaurants throughout the city.
You’ll also see lots of dogs out on the hiking trails, especially the Flatirons and in Chautauqua. For the most part, the dogs in Boulder are friendly and happy – but always ask before you pet them.
12. Boulder is not very diverse
A common complaint among people living in Boulder is that the city is not very diverse. The population is overwhelmingly white, affluent, well educated, athletic, and liberal.
According to US Census data, Boulder County has a population of 327,000 people and is 89.5% white. The mean household income is $92,000 and 10.7% of the population lives below the poverty line.
For a place that prides itself on being welcoming and accepting, many black residents have reported incidents of discrimination and an overall level of fatigue from existing under a white gaze. In 2020, the City of Boulder paid a $125,000 settlement to a then-Naropa student who was confronted by an armed officer while picking up trash in front of his residence.
13. You’ll need a car
Although Boulder has a much better public transit system than nearby Denver or Golden, you’ll still want a car when you move. Most people love to spend their weekends exploring the mountains on hikes or ski trips, both of which require a car in most cases.
14. Boulder is much safer than Denver
Safety is a big concern to weigh when choosing between Denver or Boulder. For all of its problems, Boulder is generally a safe place to visit and locals enjoy relatively low levels of crime. When I lived in Boulder, I usually felt safe walking home alone at night – which is not always the case in Denver.
I consider Boulder to be much safer than Denver and Colorado Springs.
15. Boulder has a significant transient population
One common complaint that you’ll hear from people in Boulder is that the city has a significant transient population. This group often moves into Boulder in the summertime, sometimes camping along the Boulder Creek or in other areas of the city.
If you’d like to support an organization that is working to end homelessness, I’d recommend the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. This organization offers comprehensive support to those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, including medical care and affordable child care.
The Boulder Shelter is also a worthy cause, providing direct shelter and other services to those who need it.
What’s it like to live in Boulder CO?
Boulder is a great place to live. It was even voted one of the best places to live by US News and World Report for two years in a row.
Locals are typically friendly, often congregating at the cafes, restaurants, and bars in town. On a given night in Boulder, you’re likely to see busy restaurants along Pearl Street.
On big weekends for CU Boulder, you’ll see students and their families around town – whether it’s move in day or a big game for The Buffs, CU’s football team.
The dress code in Boulder is decidedly relaxed, even in business meetings. You’re likely to see people wearing big outdoors brands like Patagonia and Marmot throughout the week. For a big night out on Pearl Street, most people will feel comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.
Things To Do in Boulder
There are so many fabulous things to do in Boulder throughout the year. Although summer is arguably the best time to get outside, you’ll see people hitting the trails and enjoying the outdoors year around.
Unfortunately, you won’t find hot springs in Boulder, but you can go for a day or weekend trip to the mountains for a soak.
✔ Explore Pearl Street
Pearl Street is the heart of Boulder. You can spend a few hours shopping, sipping coffee, and eating your way along the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare.
✔ Tube down Boulder Creek
If you’re looking for a little adventure – and to beat the heat – in the summertime, you might enjoy buying inner tubes and floating down Boulder Creek.
Do this activity at your own risk and always follow posted signs. I’d also recommend that you ask about conditions from locals before getting in the water.
✔ Go hiking
I can’t remember meeting anyone who lived in Boulder and didn’t enjoy hiking. Whether you go for a calm walk through the woods or wake up before dawn to tackle a 14er, you’ll be in good company in Boulder.
My favorite trail near Boulder is the Walker Ranch Loop Trail. It’s about 8 miles long and includes about 1,600 ft of elevation gain. I prefer to hike it clockwise, so most of the elevation gain is concentrated in a short burst.
✔ Visit a brewery
Locals in Boulder love microbrews, and there are a number of breweries to choose from. One of the biggest and most popular is Avery Brewing Company, located a ways outside of the city.
✔ Shop at the Saturday Farmers Market
The Saturday Farmers Market in Boulder is always a lively affair, with stalls from vendors across the county. You can find fresh produce, prepared foods, sauces, and other goodies at the farmers market, sometimes even accompanied by live music.
Weather in Boulder
The weather in Boulder is similar to Denver, but with slightly cooler temperatures and more snow because of its proximity to the mountains. There are sunny days throughout the year, so you’ll need sunscreen even in January.
In the summer, Boulder is prone to flash flooding along Boulder Creek and forest fires in the nearby hills. Smoke from wildfires can be hard to live with in Boulder, so you may need to buy an air filter and stay inside when the air quality is particularly low.
There are blizzards and snowstorms most years in Boulder, so it’s always a good idea to have some supplies on hand. Drinkable water, candles, flashlights, and non-perishable food can help you weather particularly nasty storms that take down the electrical grid.
Late spring snowstorms can be especially damaging because the warmer weathers lead to heavier, icy snow. If you have any trees on your property, go outside and shake off as many of the branches as possible to keep them from snapping under the weight.
FAQs: Moving to Boulder, CO
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about moving to Boulder, Colorado.
Is moving to Boulder a good idea?
It really depends on your situation. For me, it was the perfect place to land after finishing grad school and I very much enjoyed my time in Boulder. Although the city is expensive, I loved the sense of community and ample opportunities to get outside when I was in Boulder.
What salary do you need to live in Boulder?
Again, I’d say this really depends on your lifestyle. If you’re just looking for a place to land and willing to share an apartment or house with roommates, you can get by on a much lower salary than if you’re planning to buy a house.
Is it expensive to live in Boulder?
Yes, it’s expensive to live in Boulder, Colorado. Pretty much however you slice it, the costs are higher in Boulder than they are in other areas of Colorado or even the US.
Is Boulder a walkable city?
Yes, Boulder is a walkable city, especially in central areas. There are sidewalks, bike lanes, and even pedestrian areas to make walking more pleasant.
If you decide to visit Boulder before you move, choose a hotel on Pearl Street for the best experience.
What are winters like in Boulder, Colorado?
Winter in Boulder, Colorado is usually snowy but with plenty of sunny days sprinkled in. Locals in Boulder love to get outside, and you might even see them cross country skiing along the sidewalks after a big winter snowstorm.
Conclusion: Moving to Boulder, CO
Boulder, Colorado is a wonderful place to live and it’s easy to see why many people would consider moving there. It’s a great destination for anyone who loves spending time outside and wants to be around others who spend their weekends hiking, climbing, or cycling.
Unlike other cities in Colorado, the public transportation is generally reliable – especially if you’re going to Denver or the airport. You’ll often see lines of working professionals heading to Denver in the morning and returning in the evenings because the bus is more convenient than driving.
I can’t say whether moving to Boulder is the right move for you, but it’s a special place that’s definitely worth a visit.