Known as the Mile High City, the Colorado capital is known for its mountain views and laid-back lifestyle. Within a matter of minutes, you can be mountain biking in the Rockies or walking in a thriving metropolis. You’ll find parks around the city to get your green kick and it’s easy to get around thanks to bike share programs. The city is also known as one of the top beer destinations in the country for the number of breweries that have set up here over the last decade. Come see for yourself all that Denver has to offer for both city girls like myself as well as nature lovers.
Denver is a massive city made up of dozens of neighborhoods, many of which visitors never get a chance to see. While most of the city’s attractions are located within the Central Business District, the outer suburbs are where you’ll get a more local experience, including shops and restaurants. You can also find smaller neighborhoods within downtown. Here are just a few that I was surprised by.
LoDo is the nickname given to Lower Downtown, which runs in a square from the South Platte River to the north until Lawrence Street between Cherry Creek and Coors Field. It includes Union Station, which has become a neighborhood in its own right. Here, you’ll find pedestrian streets with shops and restaurants as well as the local art museum. Other attractions include Elitch Gardens, a local theme park. Be sure to check out Larimer Square and the historic renovations of Union Station, which is still home to active train platforms.
River North, shortened to RiNo, is an industrial area that has recently been transformed into a hip area for breweries, galleries, and street art. Artists have set up studios here and The Source is a former foundry turned food hall. Great Divide has set up a barrel bar for their standard brews and aged selections.
The Highlands have Victorian homes as well as wine shops, bookstores, and boutiques. Just across the river from Confluence Park, this neighborhood is also home to the flagship REI store, parks with river access, and the Navajo Street Arts District.
Restaurants and Cafes
Choose a type of cuisine and you’ll likely find it in Denver. The Western influences are visible in the plentiful Mexican-inspired eateries and the green city emphasizes local ingredients.
Sam’s No. 3– After arriving early in Denver, we went for a big breakfast at this New York-style diner. The breakfast burritos are larger than your head and they’re open at 5:30 am, making it a great spot for nights out or to recover from the morning after.
Vesta Dipping Grill– One of the most highly recommended restaurants is located in LoDo. Their menu includes modern American small plates, charcuterie, cheese and entrees. They also have special menus for allergies and dietary restriction as well.
Snooze– This longtime favorite eatery has multiple locations, including one at Union Station. They serve breakfast classics as well as lunch. Among favorites are the breakfast pot pie, breakfast burrito, and chilaquiles benedict. And don’t be afraid to add on a morning cocktail!
Root Down– I didn’t make it to the downtown location but loved the airport outpost, especially my banh mi burger, pictured above. Their flagship location puts an emphasis on globally-inspired seasonal cuisine by using organic and locally-sourced ingredients.
Colt & Gray– Also located in LoDo, this restaurant is locally owned and their menu changes seasonally. The meat-heavy menu feature highlights like bone marrow, Colorado lamb rack, and quail. They also serve classic cocktails alongside new favorites.
Denver Biscuit Company– For a taste of the South out West, get further out of the city for heaping biscuits, shrimp and grits, and everything topped in gravy. They even have a food truck, appropriately called The Biscuit Bus.
Illegal Pete’s– This funky fast-Mex spot has locations around town and also pay their employees a living wage, a rarity in the industry. The burritos are made from fresh ingredients and they have vegetarian options. Pair with a strong margarita.
Osteria Marco– Expect a wait at this Italian restaurant, but you can also have the same dishes at the bar. Opt for their salumi or pizza or if you’re looking for something lighter, choose the paninis and salads. They have an extensive wine list and cocktails.
Mondo Market– Just one of the many eateries in The Source, Mondo Market is a classic Italian market with the best cheeses and meats around. Their deli sandwiches can be made hot or cold on delicious ciabatta bread.
Cheba Hut Toasted Subs – Denver– For a lowbrow sandwich experience, this chain has massive sub sandwiches and all the munchies you need to get you through your stay in the Mile High City.
Bars and Nightlife
It’s easy to spend a night on the town in Denver, where you’ll find a brewery for every neighborhood. But if beer isn’t your thing, there are also wine bars and cocktail lounges.
Cooper Lounge– Swanky cocktails? Yes, please! Options at this old-school lounge at Union Station include mules, spritzes, and sours with light bites and views of downtown Denver.
Peaks Lounge– Another bar with a view is this one, located atop the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency. They’re open from late afternoon into the evening and serve Colorado-inspired cocktails, craft spirits, wine, and local craft beer.
Green Russell– For a speakeasy-type vibe, seek out this LoDo establishment that calls itself a “chef-driven cocktail joint.” The mixologists know what they’re doing, so ask them for advice when ordering.
Little Owl Coffee– Grab your jolt from the humble LoDo coffee shop. The sleek interior features a top-range espresso machine and pastries.
Happy Leaf Kombucha– Not everything that is brewed is beer, which you’ll learn at this kombucha establishment. Sample different flavors, take a growler to go, or stay for lunch.
Wynkoop Brewing Company– Just one of many breweries in Denver, this Union Station-adjacent brewpub makes their beers onsite and also has a full restaurant. Take a tour to see the behind-the-scenes process.
Great Divide Brewery– With two locations in town, you can’t go wrong with Great Divide. Their taproom is a great stop before a Rockies game while the Barrel Room makes for a stopover after a visit to The Source.
Crooked Stave– Located at The Source, this brewery came recommended to me from a fellow sour beer lover. I wasn’t disappointed with all the options. Grab a meal from a nearby vendor if you’re hungry.
Things to Do
There’s no shortage of things to do in the greater Denver area, whether you’re an arts enthusiast or a family looking for something to keep the little ones entertained. I’ve included just a few of my picks for area attractions, but you can find more on Visit Denver’s website.
Denver Art Museum– For rainy days, head to this American art museum located in the Civic Center corridor. It has one of the largest collections in the United States.
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver– If you’re tastes run more modern, the nearby MCA is a non-collecting institution, so their exhibits change frequently. They have their own cafe and rooftop deck.
Colorado Rockies– When the team is home, you can get tickets to a game for as cheap as $4 per person. The stadium is a short walk from other downtown attractions and they serve some of the best beer that Colorado has to offer.
Confluence Park– Located at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, this park divides LoDo from the Highlands. It has a number of walking and running trails and is a nice place to spend the afternoon.
Denver Botanic Gardens– For even more green space, the botanic gardens feature paths, outdoor sculptures and events like concerts and family programming.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre– I didn’t make it out to Red Rocks, but this amphitheatre, located in a nearby suburb, is carved out of the rocks. Some of the top artists in the world have performed here over the years, making it a pilgrimage site for concertgoers.
Shopaholics are in luck when it comes to Denver, as you can find a store that sells just about everything. In LoDo, you’ll find chain stores like Timbuk2 and Patagonia as well as independent boutiques.
16th Street Mall– The hub of all activity in downtown Denver, you never know what you’ll find here. The mostly pedestrian street has a number of shops as well as restaurants and public artworks.
Tattered Cover Book Store– Every city needs a classic bookstore and Tattered Cover is Denver’s. The massive selection is inside an old warehouse with countless genres and frequent author readings and events.
Twist & Shout Records– Music lovers should seek out one of the last remaining record stores. They still sell records, CDs and more as well as host autograph signings and intimate performances.
The Source– While they don’t have a large selection, The Source is the place to buy specialty items like cards, flowers, hard-to-find wines, and ingredients.
Union Station– The renovated train station has shops inside the lobby, like 5 Green Boxes and even a smaller Tattered Cover outpost. I also saw pop-up boutiques like Wanderlust, which I saw parked in a truck out front during my visit.
Larimer Square/LoDo– These areas have what I found to be the best shopping in the area with different looks for each customer. FRINJE and Blue Ruby Boutique were a few of my favorites, but there are many more.
A brief note on marijuana tourism: While marijuana is legal for recreational use in the state of Colorado for those 21 and older, this isn’t the case in most other states. That means that you can’t travel with it or risk a fine or worse and you certainly can’t drive while under the influence. However, you’ll see dispensaries all around the city if that’s what you’re looking for during your stay. And just like with liquor stores, each carries different levels of products. Native Roots Dispensary Denver Downtown comes highly recommended online.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of accommodation options in Denver for just about any neighborhood you’d like to stay in and any price range. I stayed at Embassy Suites Denver during my time in the city, which is well located next to the Convention Center and a short walk from the rental car agency. It’s ideal if you’re visiting for work, especially thanks to their included daily breakfast and nightly manager’s reception. the Curtis Denver – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel is another option nearby, offering funky themed rooms like the Star Trek and Jimmy Buffet rooms. The Crawford Hotel is located inside Union Station and channels a different age. It’s especially convenient if you’re in transit or looking to be in the middle of the action. The Oxford Hotel is one of the city’s oldest properties, hosting celebrities like Teddy Roosevelt and the Dalai Lama over the years.
And, of course, budget options are equally prevalent. Hostel Fish is the highest rated on Hostelworld for its plentiful beds, weekly activities, and complimentary WiFi. It wouldn’t be a mountain town without camping, which you can do at KOA, located east of the city. My preferred option is usually AirBnB, which has some great options in Denver. I ultimately chose to be closer to the city, but found a number of properties I’d stay in in the future. Get a discount off your first stay here.
Downtown Denver is highly walkable and, apart from a few neighborhoods, you can get around without a car. We didn’t take public transportation, but you can use the city’s bus and tram system to get to different parts of town as well as the airport. Some places weren’t that safe to walk, so instead we took Uber and Lyft, which are both prevalent in the city. Other options include B-Cycle bike share, with docking stations around town, and Zipcar, which you can rent for day trips.
Embassy Suites Denver hosted me during my stay, but all opinions are my own.