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Fort Collins, Colo., might be the happiest place on Earth

If you've walked Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., Fort Collins, Colo., might seem familiar: Its downtown served as one of the inspirations for the theme-park thoroughfare. But Fort Collins, a Civil War-era U.S. Army post, is anything but saccharine. Downtown thrives with independent businesses, funky artisanal shops and creative cuisine. Fort Collins is also the largest beer producer in the state (brewing 70% of Colorado's beer), a destination for bike enthusiasts and a springboard to the spectacular Rocky Mountains. The tab: Our family spent four days last summer visiting relatives, and aside from airfare (and free lodging), we spent about $200 a day on food and fun.

The bed

We lucked out on the bed, but should our relatives kick us out, we could crash at the Edwards House (402 W. Mountain Ave.; (800) 281-9190), built in 1904 for an East Coaster looking to start a new life in Colorado. Walking distance from Old Town Fort Collins, the Edwards House offers a respite from chain-hotel predictability, with individually named rooms decorated with antique furniture, claw-foot bathtubs and private fireplaces. There is also a garden patio and porch where you can enjoy a homemade breakfast. The Edwards House is open to families with children ages 10 and older. Rates from $99 to $175 a night, depending on the room.

The food

Himalayan curry at the Sherpa-owned Mt. Everest Cafe sounded tempting, but we instead chose La Luz Mexican Grill, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers a kids menu (140 E. Boardwalk Drive; (970) 267-9444. Entrees $8-$10). La Luz makes its margaritas from scratch, serves local microbrews such as New Belgium Brewery's famous Fat Tire and can accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets. Feeling carnivorous? There's the Atomic Burrito stuffed with chicken and steak. Or sample the breakfast burrito, which changes daily, Mondays through Fridays.

The find

Coloradans love the outdoors and exercise (the state has the lowest obesity rate in the nation), but they do splurge on beer. Colorado beer culture is best experienced by taking the New Belgium Brewery factory tour (500 Linden St.; (888) 622-4044. Reserve tickets online for free tours Tuesdays through Saturdays), where the samples also are free and abundant. The swirling slide at the end of the tour is best enjoyed after imbibing. Land on your rear end smiling. We did.

The lesson learned

Fort Collins is anything but bland, offering culture and university town sophistication in the Rockies. Its multimillion-dollar Fort Collins Museum of Discovery opened last fall and houses 16,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits for kids and adults. Fort Collins is an hour's drive from the Denver airport, but once there, ditch the car and rent bikes to get around. Go to Fort Collins Bike Library to learn more.

travel@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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