Denver, Colorado is known by locals as the Mile High City, as its official elevation is 5,280 feet (one mile) above sea level. 650,000 residents live within the city limits, and over 2.5 million live in the surrounding Denver county. With the Rocky Mountains to the west and the High Plains to the east, this laid-back city offers a little bit of everything to residents and visitors alike. Denver was founded as a Western mining town during the Gold Rush, but it has grown to become a bustling metropolis, with an acclaimed music scene, four major sports teams, nationally recognized museums, and tons of local breweries. The newly legalized marijuana shops have also created a spike in tourism- Denver’s hotels have experienced a major jump in occupancy. Check out tips for a fun weekend in Denver below, courtesy of Denver local, Caitlin.
THE LOCAL: Caitlin
WHY YOU SHOULD TRUST HER: 30 year old Caitlin has lived in Denver for eight years, and for three of those years, she worked for 5280 Magazine, the Denver city magazine. She and her husband, Sam, spend their nights and weekends in search of their next favorite restaurant, the best cup of coffee, and the coolest new shop in town.
1. Favorite Street to Wander/Stroll in Denver?
Broadway, from 2nd Avenue to Alameda. Broadway has tons of restaurants, bars, shopping, and great people watching. Some of my favorite spots: Decade boutique (women’s & men’s fashion, home accessories and unique gifts), Gozo (great small plates!), Sweet Action Ice Cream (get a scoop of the fluffernutter), and Ironwood (build-your-own terrarium!).
If you’re staying downtown, head to Larimer Square (between 14th & 15th Street) for a stroll under the lights strung across the street. Larimer Square has great local shops (including womens & men’s clothing, jewelry, and home decor boutiques), markets and restaurants. After shopping, refuel at Euclid Hall with a German beer and some appetizers!
If you’re in search of the hippest restaurants, shops and bars in the city, look no further than RiNo (River North Art District). RiNo has experienced major growth over the past few years, changing from an industrial neighborhood to the new hot spot for creatives. Located just north of Downtown Denver, RiNo is packed with art galleries, wineries, small-batch breweries, urban agriculture, boutiques and studio spaces. A few faves: The Populist for affordable small plates, Infinite Monkey Theorem– an urban winery, Los Chingones for casual Mexican and RedLine, a non-profit contemporary art center.
2. Best Coffee Shop?
Aviano Coffee in Cherry Creek North is my favorite because of their hip atmosphere and their perfect pour over coffee (they brew Intelligentsia). Order their Cold Brew in the summertime. However, a close second is Little Owl, downtown in the SugarCube building. Try their vanilla latte and grab a Mast Brothers chocolate bar. And if you’re strolling through RiNo, stop into Huckleberry Roasters on Larimer.
3. Best Area to Shop Local?
Highlands Square at 32nd & Lowell has lots of unique storefronts. Not-to-miss shops include paper & card store Wordshop, women’s apparel shop Rustic Thread, all-natural beauty boutique Vert, and artisinal cheese shop St. Kilian’s. If you’re into resale stores, Second Love has a great selection of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, all lightly worn. Stick around for lunch and margs at El Camino or a delish sammy at Salt & Grinder. If you need a gift, you’re sure to find something special at Perfect Petal.
4. Favorite Sunny Day Agenda?
Start with a sweat! Either hike or do a stair workout at Red Rocks. (Or yoga!) Then, shower up and head downtown for burgers at My Brother’s Bar, the oldest bar in Denver. After lunch, walk down Platte Street to grab a beer outside on the picnic tables at Denver Beer Company, one of Denver’s many brewpubs. If there’s an afternoon or night game, head to Coors Field to watch the Rockies. If not, walk or grab a quick Uber to have dinner at one of Union Station’s great restaurants. (My pick would be award-winning Chef Alex Seidel’s spot, Mercantile Provisions). Denver also has a great music scene. So if you’re into live music, check the Westword to see who’s playing at Odgen, Fillmore and Bluebird theaters.
5. Most essential Denver Tips?
Drink lots of water!! If not, the Mile High City’s elevation will get to you (especially if you plan on visiting any of our famous breweries during your stay). I drink two glasses of water right when I wake up to avoid dehydration or headaches. Oh, and don’t buy beer at the grocery store, unless you want the 3.2% alcohol variety. If you want the real stuff, you’ll have to go to a liquor store. 5280 Magazine explains the regulations best, so check out their article here. Finally, Denver is pretty casual. You can dress up in the evenings if you want, but jeans and Patagonia jackets are accepted pretty much everywhere except for select fine dining restaurants. So if heels or a formal change of clothes don’t fit in your carry on, leave ’em behind.
TripAdvisor’s Top Five Denver Attractions
1. Mount Evans– Thumbs Up…
…but only if you have access to a car. Here you’ll see beautiful views of the Rockies and lots of fresh mountain air. About an hour and a half dive from Denver, this is the highest paved road in North America. If you don’t want to rent a car but want to visit a mountain town, there are shuttles to most popular locations, including Boulder, Estes Park, Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and Vail. Visit Denver also has a nice list of options how to get around Denver without a car (although the most obvious these days is Uber or Lyft!)
2. Denver Botanic Gardens– Thumbs Up!
Check before your visit about special exhibits. Some of installations from special exhibits have become part of the garden’s permanent collection, including a beautiful glass blown sculpture by Chihuly.
3. Mount Evans Scenic Byway- Thumbs Down.
This is basically the same as number one, so shouldn’t also be in the top five! If you’re looking for a beautiful drive, I would recommend Lookout Mountain. It’s a quick drive from Downtown Denver and from the top, you’ll see views of Denver and Golden, with Buffalo Bill’s gravesite at the top. Plus, as you ride by the bikers slowly pedaling up the hill, you’ll understand how committed Denver-ites are to their health and fitness!
4. Denver Museum of Nature & Science– Thumbs Down.
If you’re into museums, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) downtown. The museum opened in 2007 and has five galleries on two floors. They also have a beautiful rooftop cafe that has Friday night happy hour. The Clyfford Still Museum is another gallery to check out. It holds nearly all of the work by the famed American Abstract Expressionist, which prior to his death had remained hidden from the public.
5. Gear Shops– Thumbs Down.
But don’t skip #6 (Coors Field)! Coors Field is RIGHT downtown- walking steps from the bars! And, the newly added rooftop bar inside the stadium makes it a great place to watch the game and catch up with friends.
TripAdvisor’s Top Five Denver Restaurants
1. Fruition– Thumbs Sideways.
I would go to Mercantile Provisions instead, Seidel’s newer restaurant, for a better atmosphere and location. If you’re set on trying this restaurant, make a reservation in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly on weekends. And if you go, do NOT skip the Pasta Carbonara, Seidel’s riff on the pasta dish, made of pork belly, hand-made cavatelli, and a six minute egg.
2. Snooze– Thumbs Up…
If you’re willing to wait up to three hours for brunch. If not, go to Devil’s Food Bakery in Wash Park on Saturdays or Table 6 in Congress Park on Sundays. If you’re with a group and want a boozy brunch, I’d suggest Zengo in Riverfront Park. The $25 all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch is served to your table (not buffet style). For $39 you can add bottomless mimosas, sangria and a Bloody Mary bar.
3. Williams & Graham– Thumbs Up!
Best known for their drinks, not the food. Know that it might be very hard to get into this popular speakeasy. They only take reservations on Sunday through Wednesday. If the hostess at the entrance tells you there will be a long wait, go to Old Major in the meantime for a glass of wine (just down the street).
4. Root Down– Thumbs Up.
If you can’t get a reservation here, restauranteur Justin Cucci also has a cool spot a few blocks from here, called Linger. If it’s nice, head to the rooftop patio for an impressive view of the city.
5. Tables– Thumbs Down.
If you’re only visiting for a short time, I’d skip it. There’s not much to do in the neighborhood, so unless you’re set on the menu, I’d pick another restaurant in Union Station, LoHi, the Highlands or at The Source, an artisan food market in RiNo.
One addition to this list should be Avanti Food & Beverage in LoHi- a marketplace with seven shipping container stalls serving different food concepts, plus two full bars and a ton of seating. Think of a mall food court turned hip- and with food you actually want to eat. If you’d rather enjoy a formal dinner, the rooftop patio in the summer is a great place to grab an after-dinner drink.