Manitou Springs: Colorado Springs' Eclectic Neighbor

This charmingly quirky, art-filled town is worth a day-trip if you're visiting Colorado Springs.

Manitou Springs is an artsy, eccentric town of 5,100 just west of Colorado Springs. It’s populated by aging hippies, young, hipster families, artists and creative types from all walks of life and offers a contrast to conservative Colorado Springs.

The houses in Manitou are mostly Victorian, dating from the days in the late 19th century when the town was a health resort centered around the mineral springs in the area. Several Plains Indian tribes considered the area and the springs sacred and wintered there before Europeans came.

Manitou slipped into stagnation in the 1960s when a new highway bypassed the town, but it underwent a rebirth in the 1970s when artists came looking for cheap studio space. Much of the downtown was declared a historic district in 1983 and now its 19th-century buildings house shops, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. Manitou Springs has been reborn as a tourist destination. It’s close to Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods, a public park dotted with stunning red rock formations, and its bubbling mineral springs are once again attracting visitors.

Streets in Manitou wind up hillsides and curve precariously around structures that perch on tiny lots. Springs are scattered throughout the town and spring from special taps; there’s Seven-Minute Spring, Shoshone Spring, Navajo Spring and Iron Spring.

A local described Manitou as a “hippie Mayberry” in a 2007 New York Times article. And Manitou is one of those tiny, funky enclaves one finds so often in the Western mountains. It offers rural and suburban living, and it’s not as remote as some mountain towns. Colorado Springs is only 4 miles away so many Manitou residents commute there to work.

Just up the hill from the pretty downtown but still within the city limits are a couple of ritzy neighborhoods -- Crystal Hills and the exclusive, gated Cedar Heights.

Manitou Springs has its own brand of nightlife, with restaurants and bars and stores that represent its eclectic residents. Mom-and-pop motels still have the original neon signs and there are shops housed in former tuberculosis quarantine huts.

There’s a posh historic hotel, The Cliff House, and a funky game room, Arcade Amusements, that includes antique favorites like Skeeball and 10-cent pinball machines. Restaurants range from the rustic Keg (730 Manitou Ave., 719-685-9531) to the one of the state’s best vegetarian restaurants, Adams Mountain Cafe (110 Canon Ave., 719-685-1430), to the elegant Briarhurst Manor (404 Manitou Ave., 719-685-1864).

Fountain Creek rushes through town and a recent renovation project has upgraded the sidewalks and landscaping, making it a charming place to live or spend and afternoon or a weekend.

Funky stores are the norm here. There are no chains of any kind. There are herbal tea sellers, coffee shops, stores selling handmade or educational toys, and art galleries. And Manitou has a great farmers' market here in the summer. If you’re looking for a granola neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Manitou is your place.

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