"Oh my God, it's fabulous!" This heard from a shopper on first discovering Fabulous Finds Emporium, a store jammed to the rafters with eclectic treasures, reflecting the essential character of its hometown, Salida. This is a town of surprises and seeming incongruities, with more to do than one day allows.
A once ramshackle railroad hub, Salida is Southern Colorado's SoHo. Getting there is part of the adventure, but instead of a dark journey through New York's subway, Springs' residents can enjoy a spectacular two-hour drive along the Collegiate Peaks, past hot springs, winding along the roaring Arkansas River.
The Arkansas courses along Salida's northern edge and 14,000-foot peaks provide a stunning backdrop. Downtown, art galleries and trendy cafes sit alongside rustic bars and old-fashioned convenience stores adorned with kitschy 1950s signs.
Salida grew up servicing a burgeoning mining industry; its boom years followed the 1860 discovery of gold at Oro City, just south of Leadville, and the silver strikes of the 1870s. The falloff in mining and the reduction of rail lines led to a decline in the region in the early 20th century. Salida's rejuvenation came about through its late-20th century reinvention as the home of a vibrant arts community and a launching pad for mountain adventures.
Artist Paulette Brodeur is part of that reinvention. Seeking a refuge, Brodeur made Salida her home 10 years ago after many heady years in San Francisco. Her business thrived and she is now the proud owner of a self-named gallery, Brodeur Art Gallery on First Street. Brodeur's work covers the gamut of styles from contemporary abstracts and Picasso-esque portraits to commissioned pet portraits.
The gallery is one of the 20 or so that Salida boasts. Other highlights include Articulation Gallery and Cultureclash, both located on First Street.
Interspersed between the galleries are some fascinating stores ranging from traditional antique shops to the wild collection of memorabilia and Americana at Fabulous Finds.
To replenish an art-fatigued, antique-weary mind, the range of beckoning cafes and restaurants is impressive for a town this small. Cornucopia Bakery and Caf on F Street offers good coffee and pastries. For something more substantial, try nearby Dakota's Bistro or First Street Caf. Both offer full menus and a selection of wines.
For a more entertaining experience, check out First Street's Laughing Ladies Restaurant, where the sign boasts: "Martinis are available." A 101-year-old brick building houses the cafe/restaurant, which opened its doors 11 years ago. Its name commemorates the workingwomen who plied their trade nightly in Salida's more rustic days.
Ladies' offers a tantalizing Sunday brunch selection and extensive lunch and dinner menus.
One of Salida's most exciting features is the river that runs through it. After weeks of midsummer rain, the Arkansas River is running high, but it's easily accessible for swimmers and kayakers.
For the less active, or those suffering from an excess of rich food or Ladies' martinis, at the end of F Street is a lush park that stretches along the riverbank. Pleasant tree-lined walkways and welcome shady spots provide the perfect place to watch aquatic revelers.
If the water is too enticing, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center rents kayaks, Duckies (inflatable kayaks) and protective gear, as well as guides and instructors for excursions.
For a drier adventure, a bike is the best means to explore Salida's neighborhoods or to climb some mountain trails. Absolute Bikes on West Sackett Street rents fat-tire inner-city cruisers and mountain bikes.
At the end of a day spent strolling through art galleries, rummaging in antique emporiums, paddling the Arkansas or biking trails, the best place to unwind is Bongo Billy's Salida Caf, a Southern Colorado institution. Serving its own roasted coffee and microbrews on tap, Billy's also offers eclectic, well-priced cafe food. On Friday and Saturday evenings, musicians perform for an optional $5 cover charge.
A good alternative to Bongo Billy's is a wood-fired pizza at the trendy Amcas. The rustically decorated Second Street restaurant brews its own beer -- try the green chili ale -- toasts panini and prepares a range of salads to go along with its aromatic pizzas. Naturally, there is a list of Italian wines and diet-busting desserts.
Salida has evolved from a rusty railroad town into an artists' haven and a gourmet's delight in recent years. We recommend an overnight stay, but book in advance as the high season can make accommodations hard to find.
-- Wayne Young
Absolute Bikes, 330 W. Sackett Ave., 719/539-9295
Amcas, 136 E. 2nd St., 719/539-5219
Bongo Billy's Salida Caf, 300 W. Sackett Ave. 719/539-4261, www.bongobillys.com
Brodeur Gallery, 151 W. 1st St., 719/221-1272 www.brodeurart.com
The Cornucopia Bakery and Caf, 216 N. F St., 719/539-2531.
Dakota's Bistro, 122 N. F St., 719/530-9909. Closed Sundays
Fabulous Finds Emporium, 243 F St., 719/530-0544
First Street Caf, 137 E. 1st St., 719/539-4759
Laughing Ladies Restaurant, 128 W. 1st St. 719/539-6209
Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, 800/255-5784, www.rmoc.com.
Salida Artists, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details on upcoming art events