Nobody wants to seem like a newbie. Or to be outed as a tourist. So we're here to help out both types at once.
First, there's nothing wrong with hitting all the so-called "tourist traps" around town, even if you've lived here for years. Most of them are popular for a reason. We might suggest grabbing your meals at one of our independent eateries, but go ahead — hand-feed lettuce to the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (cmzoo.org). It's fun!
Second, just for you, we're going to throw in a few "how to pass like a local" tips to make you feel a little bit more at home. We like to be a welcoming bunch.
Lastly, please note that there's so much more to do in the Pikes Peak region than what's listed in this story. But, hey, that's what the rest of the book is for.
If you only have a day, grab a water bottle and an extra layer (our weather changes in the blink on an eye), and get rolling.
Garden of the Gods (gardenofgods.com) has to be the one not-to-miss stop. You can drive through, hike through, bike through or simply stroll through. Start east of the park at the visitors center to learn a little history (like why the rocks are red) and to get a feel for the layout, then head outside. You'll find the tourists hanging near Balanced Rock, trying to capture photos of themselves "holding up" the formation. Stick to the outer trails, then head to the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, where a beeline to the back will land you in Southwestern art and jewelry heaven.
From the Garden, more shopping can be found in Old Colorado City (shopoldcoloradocity.com) or Manitou Springs (manitousprings.org). If you head to central Manitou, the Arcade, with its Skee-ball, old-timey machines and addictive '80s video games (seek out the high-speed Ms. Pac-Man), lets you pass a few minutes or a few hours. You can even drop the teens here and take the train up Pikes Peak (cograilway.com) if you so desire.
If the weather's crummy, (rare, but it does happen), and you'd prefer an indoor adventure, try soaking up free history at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (springsgov.com), free sports at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (teamusa.org), or free, um, salutes at the Air Force Academy Visitors Center and Cadet Chapel (usafa.af.mil/information/visitors/).
Here's when you snack with the long-necks at the zoo (if you like lettuce, that is). You can also enter an open-flight aviary filled with more than 100 Australian birds. They'll land on your shoulder or poop on your head, depending on your mood. There's no good local tip for avoiding that second bit — just "live it up," as our convention and visitors bureau would undoubtedly suggest.
History buffs may pick from these three options: seeing ancient Anasazi architecture at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings (cliffdwellingsmuseum.com), learning about the impact of rodeo on Western American culture at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame & Museum of the American Cowboy (prorodeohalloffame.com), or enjoying some Colorado mining artifacts at one of the Springs' hidden gems, the Western Museum of Mining and Industry (wmmi.org).
If you're seeking a respite, try a jaunt around the duck pond (or a signature massage at the Spa) at The Broadmoor (broadmoor.com). You'll find more water at Seven Falls (sevenfalls.com), or head underground for a guided tour at Cave of the Winds (caveofthewinds.com). To get a feel for the caves before you go, locals will insist you watch the "ManBearPig" episode of South Park (named after an area about 90 miles northwest of the Springs that's home to the towns of Fairplay and Alma). Just try not to look for Al Gore around every corner.
Art aficionados will not want to miss the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (csfineartscenter.org); as soon as you enter, look up at the gorgeous Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. The FAC features nine permanent collection galleries, two traveling exhibition galleries, and the Tactile Gallery, a touchable collection designed specifically (but not exclusively) for those with visual impairments. Your locals' tip for the FAC is that one of the city's best views of Pikes Peak can be enjoyed from the museum's restaurant patio. If the restaurant's closed, you can still sneak in for a peek.
Three days down. Exhausted yet?
If so, maybe watching some sports with a local brew in hand will be just the break you need. Some of our best teams include Triple-A baseball's Colorado Springs Sky Sox (coloradosprings.skysox.milb.com), Air Force football or basketball (goairforcefalcons.com), or Colorado College hockey (cctigers.com).
Then, at this point, if it were me, I'd take a hike.
The Springs is filled with lots of spots that make you feel as if you're nowhere near a city. Pack a picnic lunch, and see our Outdoors sections in the back of this guide for suggestions of where to go. Take your camera, slather on some sunscreen, and lace up some boots. If there's snow on the ground, take your camera, slather on some sunscreen (as it's likely still sunny), and grab some snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Otherwise, it's time to get the heck out of Dodge.
Head south to Pueblo and its Historic Arkansas Riverwalk (puebloharp.com). Or Cañon City, to visit the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (royalgorgebridge.com) and ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad (royalgorgeroute.com).
Head west to Cripple Creek (visitcripplecreek.com) for everything from blackjack to burros to brothels. OK, not working brothels, but historical ones. The Old Homestead House Museum spreads open the velvet curtains on the lifestyles of the community's former madams.
Finally, a drive north will take you to Denver, Boulder and beyond.
But don't forget about us. We'll be waiting here to welcome you back.