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. 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: 31 year old Caitlin has lived in Denver for nine 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. Make sure also to stroll through the Central Market, a European style food hall with multiple vendors and an open bar.
2. Best Coffee Shop?
So many amazing coffee shops to consider! 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. If you’re in LoHi, Black Eye roasts great coffee, and if you’re in RiNo, check out Crema or Stowaway.
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. (Or, if beers aren’t your thing, check out sandwiches and salads at Brider.) 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. 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. Also, they often have concerts in the summer- check out the schedule here.
2. 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!)
Another beautiful drive that’s a bit closer to Denver is Lookout Mountain. 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!
3. Coors Field- Thumbs Up!
Coors Field is RIGHT downtown- walking steps from the bars! And, the recently added rooftop bar inside the stadium makes it a great place to watch the game and catch up with friends.
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. And, if you’re not into museums but can appreciate art, pop into the ART, a hotel in downtown Denver with a supposed 8 million in art installations on display throughout the property (plus, an exceptional rooftop terrace restaurant:)
5. Denver Art Museum – Thumbs Up!
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 ravenous after a night on the town, Denver Biscuit Company has insanely massive breakfast sandwiches served on their buttery, flaky biscuits. And if you’re in Uptown, try Onefold. The 35-seat brunch spot churns out dishes you wouldn’t believe were made in such a tiny kitchen!
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. Creative, vegetarian options in a cool atmosphere.
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.
P.S. If you have a hankering for pizza, you’ve got to try Pizzeria Lui. A bit off the beaten path, but the Rosemary & Salami Pizza baked fresh from their wood-fire oven is, no lie, the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.