Ten reasons why everyone should visit Pueblo and Colorado

With a rich history that includes heartbreak and resilience, the city of Pueblo, in the southeastern part of the state of Colorado, offers a lot for visitors. With influences that come from native peoples and immigrants from other parts of the world, the food and experiences that are authentic to this city, are varied and offer something for just about every interest and taste. Ron Stern, our Hospitality Editor, visited recently and lays out a fine list of reasons we’ll want to visit.

Pueblo’s cultural and historical roots were forged by steel mills, agricultural production, ranchers and cattlemen, and an abundance of military heroes. Today, this small city along the Arkansas River has been transformed into a world-class, family-friendly travel destination boasting unique attractions, diverse cuisine, outdoor recreation, and a thriving visual arts scene.

Here are 10 Reasons to Plan a Visit Pueblo CO:

1. Patriotic City

Considered one of the country’s most patriot cities, Pueblo honors veterans and military service like few others. It is the home to not just one, but four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients including William Crawford, Carl L. Sitter, Drew D. Dix, and Raymond “Jerry” Murphy. This prompted President Dwight Eisenhower to comment, “What is in the water out there in Pueblo…all you guys turn out to be heroes.”

The Walk of Valor further pays homage to America’s veterans with seven other locations that include the Medal of Honor Memorial, Center for American Values, and the Veteran’s Bridge. The latter is located along the Riverwalk with names of more than 6.900 military members from all five branches inscribed on a granite monument.

2. Historic Arkansas Riverwalk

Native Americans, trappers, ranchers, farmers, and cattlemen depended upon this life-sustaining, liquid artery known as the Arkansas River for nearly 300 years.  After a flood devastated the area in 1921, a renewal project returned the river to its original location.

Currently listed as the number one attraction on Tripadvisor, the 32-acre Historic Arkansas Riverwalk is one of the most popular and scenic sections of the city. Families can now enjoy an array of dining opportunities, musical events, and outdoor movies. You can stroll along the riverbank, do some kayaking or rent a paddleboat. If, like me, you love history, you can learn all about the river on some floating historical tours. You have your choice of a private, romantic gondola ride while being serenaded by the gondolier ($1-$10) or a 25-minute historical boat excursion ($1-$7 May-September). Can’t decide? Neither could I, so do both.

3. Arts and Culture

It has been quite a while since my last visit to Pueblo. I was overwhelmingly surprised at how their art and culture venues have grown from a few mom-and- pop shops to a big-time Creative Corridor.

The award-winning Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center, for instance, features art exhibitions, performing arts, dance arts, and a children’s museum. You can also find an abundance of other museums, street sculptures, soothing fountains, and sidewalk cafes. These areas are focused on three of the original distinct neighborhoods: Downtown Main Street, Union Avenue Historic District, and the Mesa Junction. Corridor and public art maps can be found on the VisitPueblo website.

4. Neon Alley

Neon lights, once commonly used to advertise businesses in the 1920s-1950s have become more of a rare vanishing art form. In Pueblo, one man’s love for these beautiful glowing colorful tubes of light has transformed a simple city block into what is now called “Neon Alley.”

Founder Joe Koncilja says he has “one of the largest assemblies of neon art west of Times Square and east of the Las Vegas Strip.” With more than 100 of these historical signs in his collection he has been slowly adding new lights in the alley which currently numbers 72.

I always seem to be mesmerized by neon signs and here you can find some really cool ones. These include an original Tommy’s Hamburgers from Los Angeles, a green-glowing Pasadena Police sign, a gigantic pencil that has been retrofitted with neon, and a Veges Shoe Repair sign from a business still in operation today in Pueblo. Koncilja says that “there’s something magical about neon.” This is one place where you can truly be illuminated.

5. Pueblo, Colorado Restaurants

Part of Pueblo’s diverse history and economic growth in the 1900s was spurred by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Steel Mill. Immigrant workers from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, and Russia worked at the plant and at one point there were as many as 40 languages spoken in the community.

Much of Pueblo’s culinary landscape can still be found and here is a sampling of some of my tasty discoveries. Gus’ Place has been a local icon since 1933. Weary steelworkers, who worked in shifts, flocked to Gus’ for a beer or a shot and at one point they were listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not as selling the most beer per square foot than any other bar in the world.

They still serve beer in a frosty schooner and I also ordered their longtime favorite called the “Dutch Lunch.” My red linoleum tabletop was quickly piled with an assortment of soft white bread, ham, salami, provolone cheese and a side of tomatoes and onion. Simple, filling, and delicious, don’t pass this one up.

Right near Gus’ is Gagliano’s Italian Market and Deli. For more than 100 years, they have carried many hard-to-find Italian specialties. I grabbed a bunch of these for gifts as well as for cooking back home. While I’m on the subject of Italy, Joe Tomato Italian Market and Deli is where to find some fantastic chocolate-dipped cannolis. The secret, according to owner Mark Frankmore, is that they make these sweet creamy desserts fresh several times each day from scratch.

Solar Roast Coffee uses the sun to power its solar coffee roaster and also offers breakfast items such as quiche, lox and bagels, cakes, and other local goodies. For a taste of Slovenia, try the Potica Breakfast Sandwich at B Street Café. The traditional nut roll filled with brioche dough, walnuts, and cinnamon is served with ham and fruit.

When you stroll along the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, grab a huge slice of New York-style pizza at Angelo’s Pizza Parlor. The crust is divinely crunchy and the cheese and sauce tasted just like the ones I have had in New York City.

Mr. Tandoris Urban Bar and Grill is situated right on Neon Alley and serves up some authentic Indian fare. Together with friends, we shared several dishes that included vegetable samosa, chicken curry, and chicken tandoori. We washed it all down with some of the best Mango Lassi I have had, prepared with homemade yoghurt.

Pueblo also has plenty of sweet indulgences. At Bite Me Cake Company / Flip A Coin Arcade Bar they have some wonderfully creative cupcakes, the most popular of which is their “pink champagne” flavor. They also sell ice cream and during chile season in August/September, they sell out, believe it or not, of their Pueblo Chile ice cream. Downstairs you can find an arcade filled with new and vintage arcade games.

Taffy’s has served generations of Puebloans in its brightly-colored store on Abriendo Ave. They are known for their orangeade, limeade or lemonade, made from scratch and oh so good! The local favorite here, however, is their chocolate-dipped gummy cinnamon bears. These babies are addicting from the first bite so plan on bringing home a few pounds of these sweet, little darlings.

One of the most iconic meals to have in Pueblo is the “Pueblo Slopper,” an open-faced cheeseburger ladled with Pueblo chili. While you can get one at many restaurants in the city, the original is served at Gray’s Coors Tavern that has been in existence for more than 100 years! The Coors in the name is because the Coors Brewing Company was looking to expand its distributorship after the end of prohibition and sent one of its employees to open one in Pueblo. Adolf Otterstien opened a pub that would sell the beer. Under a different owner, in the 1950’s, a regular asked for his burger smothered in Red Chili, which his family called a “Slopper” when they made it at home. The name stuck! Wash it down with a Schooner.

6. Station on the Riverwalk

Have you ever spent a night in “The Clink?” Don’t answer but if not, you can experience way better accommodations in Pueblo’s former Police station and jail. In use from the 1940s to 2010, this building has been retrofitted into a hip and trendy boutique hotel, Pueblo’s first.

Outfitted with plush bathrobes, slippers, down pillows and Eco-friendly products, the seven cells have been converted into your own personally-themed rooms, beautifully integrating the past and the present. Names such as the Man Cave, Glitsy Glamour, and the Honeymoon Suite have been thoughtfully designed with all the modern conveniences along with a bit of nostalgia.

My room, for instance, (Cell 3) was called ‘Stay and Play.’ Unlike other jail cells that might have a metal bed frame and worn-out mattress, this one was outfitted with a King-Size bed, fireplace, and a retro bubble chair hanging from the rafters.

The Clink Lounge is where you can enjoy some craft cocktails, aperitifs, wine, and upscale snacks. This is the perfect spot to chat with your fellow cellmates while planning your next big travel caper.

7. Farm Stands

Between June 1 through the end of October, you can take advantage of the vast agricultural resources Pueblo County has to offer. Fresh produce is available at a number of farm stands throughout the region including, asparagus, beets, peppers, melons, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, herbs, onions, plums, pumpkins, summer squash, and sweet corn. I counted at least eight of these in close proximity to the city center.

One of the most popular of these is Millberger Farms along East Highway 50. With more than 280 acres on St. Charles Mesa, what started with a young man owning little more than a small plot of land and a tractor has evolved into a full-fledged “Organic Certified” farm.

They have an on-site deli and bakery with everything from pancakes to burritos to sandwiches and burgers. They also sell their farm-grown produce including the famous Pueblo Chile which has heat comparable to jalapeno peppers.

Each year they have a huge Chile Festival and in 2021 more than 150,000 people made their way here to attend. Bands, beer gardens, samples, and hundreds of vendors are all part of the excitement and fun. This year’s Chile and Frijoles Festival will be held on September 22, 2022, and will feature judged events for the best Green Chile and Salsa.

8. Pueblo War Memorial Ghost Tours

Unlike other ghost tours I have encountered, this is the only one held on a former military base. The Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum is loaded with WWII-era vehicles, memorabilia, and more than 50 aircraft from Vietnam and the Cold War.

Offering the chance to have a real-life (or death?) encounter, their Ghost Tour is a spooky and fun way to experience the museum. They outfit you with flashlights and EMF detectors with lights that come to life in the presence of electrical energy. They claim hundreds of sightings over the years including orbs, and actual pilots still manning their craft, all backed up by videos on their site. If you have the supernatural bug, this is the tour of choice.

Volunteers work all hours of the night renovating vintage aircraft in two hangers, bringing them back to life. The museum has some wonderful finds and can rival many of the larger aircraft museums in the United States. Some of their planes include a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, F-104 Starfighter, Huey Helicopter, F-15, F-16, and many others of historical interest to air aficionados. Some of Hollywood’s most famous leading men were trained at this airbase including Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and possibly even Gene Roddenberry from Star Trek.

While many may regard this as just another interesting museum, to others, the sight of these historic planes evokes memories of the war that have long since been buried. Staff members told me stories of veterans who, upon seeing and touching their former airplanes surrounding the complex, break down and openly weep. Sometimes, this can last for hours before they are ever able to enter the hangers. For these brave veterans, this can be a cathartic experience and one they will remember for the rest of their lives.

9. Goodnight Barn

Constructed in 1871, the Goodnight Barn is one of the most historically significant ranching structures in Colorado. Located west of Pueblo on the Rock Canyon Ranch, the owner, Charles Goodnight is a name with which you might not be familiar.

Raised in Texas, Goodnight learned all about cattle ranching from a young age. In later years he partnered with Oliver Loving and they were the first to move Longhorn cattle to Colorado, Wyoming, and Kansas in the 1860s. The famous Goodnight-Loving Trail was named after both pioneers and the route covered a distance of 2,000 from Texas to Cheyenne. Charles “Chuck” Goodnight was also the inventor of the chuck wagon, used to transport goods and act as a kitchen for cattlemen.

These accomplishments might have been lost to the annals of history had it not been for what was arguably one of the most popular western TV series of all time—Lonesome Dove.  The main characters, Texas Rangers Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McCrae were based on Goodnight and Loving. Goodnight was a scout and Texas Ranger and Loving had a vast knowledge of cattle operations.

Many of the stories seen in the series were based on actual events. One of these included Loving, played as McCrae, being ambushed by what some have said to be 500 Comanche Braves along the Pecos River. Seriously wounded and narrowly escaping, he managed to make his way to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, where he ended up dying of gangrene. Goodnight stayed by his side until the end and kept a promise to transport his body to the Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford, Texas.

Also buried in the same cemetery was Bose Ikard, a former African-American slave turned cowboy who is played by Joshua Deets in Lonesome Dove. Ikard became one of Goodnight’s most loyal cowboys and friends and in his honor; Goodnight inscribed the following on his gravestone:

Bose Ikard (1859–1928)
“Served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior. C. Goodnight.”

Today you can make an appointment to see the Goodnight Barn. They have also started an annual Chuck Wagon Rendezvous at the ranch featuring period Chuck Wagons, barn tours, camp music, and of course a full campfire meal.

10. Pueblo Levee Mural Project

Can you guess where the world’s longest painting was? France? Amsterdam? Nope, right here in Pueblo. Well, at least that was the case between1995-2016. The 2.8 mile-long mural along the Levee of the Arkansas River was listed in the Guinness Book of Records in 1995.

The story while fascinating and tragic begins on a stormy night on June 3, 1921. As heavy rain started to overflow the levee, warnings were given that the river was about to overflow the banks sending a wall of water downstream. The police department tried to warn those nearest the river using whistles to try and alert the population. There are also reports of heroic actions taken by Boy Scouts going door to door and PBX operators staying at their stations until the last possible minute. But, in the end, it was too late and at 8:30 pm, water was rushing over low-lying areas of Pueblo sending people scrambling to higher ground.

Houses were torn off their foundation, businesses were flooded and two passenger trains with wooden cars toppled into the waters slowly rolling over in the current, crashing into buildings along the way. In the end, hundreds lost their lives and the waters caused a 300-square mile path of utter destruction to the Kansas state line.

In 1925 to avoid a repeat of the disaster, the river channel was moved and a new Levee was constructed. It fell into disrepair over time in the 1970’s. Students from Colorado State University–Pueblo began painting unauthorized murals over existing graffiti under the cover of darkness to avoid detection by the authorities. Due to government regulations, the entire Levee ended up being demolished and a new one replacing it.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers such as Cynthia Ramu from the Pueblo Levee Mural Project, the community is once again trying to reclaim its status as the longest continuous painting.

The current levee is smaller than the original being 30-feet in height and a length of 2.89 miles with a 45-degree angle. They currently have 67 completed murals with 12 more in progress. Artists work on ropes, rappelling down the steep sides to create some truly inspirational works of visual art.

The walking/biking path along the levee is a prime spot to view the murals and, if you’re lucky, see artists at work.

When finished in the spring of 2023, the Levee will have 200,000 square feet of artwork and will include whimsical and colorful murals of Bob Marley, Peacocks, Ukrainian Sunflowers, and many others.

Like many other cities, Pueblo has survived a devastating flood, the crashing of some of its major industries, ravishes of war, and the recent pandemic. Despite all this, it has emerged stronger than it was before. Resiliency, it seems, is part of the strong bonds that tie this diverse community together and transformed it into a world-class tourism destination. Offering one-of-a-kind attractions, culturally diverse food choices, abundant sunshine, and a warm, welcoming population, Pueblo should be on everyone’s next must-visit vacation destination.

Photo and content credit go to the respected owner

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