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Caroline in the City Guide to Denver

guide to denver

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.

guide to denver

The Source, RiNo

The Neighborhoods

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.

guide to denver

Vietnamese sliders, Root Down

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.

guide to denver

Entrance to Green Russell

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.

guide to denver

Colorado Rockies

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.

guide to denver

Union Station

Shopping

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.

guide to denver

Embassy Suites Denver

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.

guide to denver

B-Cycle Station

Transportation

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.

PIN IT

CITC Denver

Embassy Suites Denver hosted me during my stay, but all opinions are my own.

Mentioned in this post
  1. Elitch Gardens Loop
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    Denver County Colorado
  2. REI
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    1416 Platte Street
    Denver Colorado
  3. Sam's No. 3
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1500 Curtis St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 534-1927
    http://samsno3.com/
  4. Vesta Dipping Grill
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1822 Blake St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 296-1970
    http://www.vestagrill.com/
  5. Snooze
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    2262 Larimer St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 297-0700
    http://www.snoozeeatery.com/
  6. Root Down
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1600 W 33rd Ave
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 993-4200
    rootdowndenver.com/
  7. Colt & Gray
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1553 Platte St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 477-1447
    http://www.coltandgray.com/
  8. Denver Biscuit Company
    Restaurant in Denver County Colorado

    3237 E Colfax Ave
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 377-7900
    http://www.denbisco.com/
  9. Illegal Pete's
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1530 16th St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 623-2169
    http://www.illegalpetes.com/
  10. Osteria Marco
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1453 Larimer St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 534-5855
    http://www.osteriamarco.com
  11. Mondo Market
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    3350 Brighton Blvd
    Denver County Colorado
    (720) 722-0566
    http://www.mondofood.com/
  12. Cheba Hut Toasted Subs - Denver
    Restaurant in Denver County Colorado

    1531 Champa St
    Denver County Colorado
    (720) 974-1880
    http://www.chebahut.com/
  13. Cooper Lounge
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1701 Wynkoop Street
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 460-3738
    http://cooperlounge.com/
  14. Peaks Lounge
    Restaurant in Denver County Colorado

    650 15th St
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 436-1234
    http://www.denverregency.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/PeaksLounge.html
  15. Green Russell
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    1422 Larimer St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 893-6505
    www.greenrussell.com
  16. Little Owl Coffee
    Restaurant in Denver County Colorado

    1555 Blake St
    Denver County Colorado
    http://www.littleowlcoffee.com/
  17. Happy Leaf Kombucha
    Restaurant in Jefferson County Colorado

    5700 W 25th Ave
    Jefferson County Colorado
    (720) 708-4954
  18. Wynkoop Brewing Company
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    1634 18th St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 297-2700
    http://www.wynkoop.com/
  19. Great Divide Brewery
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    2201 Arapahoe St
    Denver Colorado
  20. Crooked Stave
    Restaurant in Denver Colorado

    3350 Brighton Blvd
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 550-8860
    http://www.crookedstave.com/
  21. Denver Art Museum
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    100 W 14th Ave
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 865-5000
    http://www.denverartmuseum.org
  22. Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    1485 Delgany St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 298-7554
    http://www.mcadenver.org/
  23. Confluence Park
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    2250 15th St
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 913-1311
    http://www.denvergov.org/parks
  24. Denver Botanic Gardens
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    1007 York St
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 865-3500
    www.botanicgardens.org/
  25. Red Rocks Amphitheatre
    Attraction in Morrison Colorado

    18300 W Alameda Pkwy
    Morrison Colorado
    (720) 865-2494
    http://redrocksonline.com/
  26. 16th Street Mall & Wynkoop St
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    Denver County Colorado
  27. Tattered Cover Book Store
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    1628 16th St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 436-1070
    http://www.tatteredcover.com/
  28. Twist & Shout Records
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    2508 E Colfax Ave
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 722-1943
    http://www.twistandshout.com/
  29. The Source
    Attraction in Denver Colorado

    3350 Brighton Blvd
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 443-1135
    http://thesourcedenver.com/
  30. Union Station
    Denver County Colorado
  31. 5 Green Boxes
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    1570 S Pearl St
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 777-2331
    http://www.5greenboxes.com/
  32. FRINJE
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    1408 Larimer St
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 623-7774
    http://www.frinjefashion.com/
  33. Blue Ruby Boutique
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    1428 Larimer St
    Denver County Colorado
    (720) 259-0031
    http://bluerubydesignboutique.com/
  34. the Curtis Denver - a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
    Hotel in Denver Colorado

    1405 Curtis Street
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 571-0300
    http://www.thecurtis.com/
  35. The Crawford Hotel
    Hotel in Denver Colorado

    1701 Wynkoop St
    Denver Colorado
    (720) 460-3700
    http://www.thecrawfordhotel.com/
  36. The Oxford Hotel
    Hotel in Denver Colorado

    1600 17th St
    Denver Colorado
    (303) 628-5400
    www.theoxfordhotel.com/
  37. Hostel Fish
    Hotel in Denver County Colorado

    1217 20th St
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 954-0962
    http://www.hostelfish.com/
  38. KOA
    Attraction in Denver County Colorado

    4695 S Monaco St
    Denver County Colorado
    (303) 713-8000
    http://www.850koa.com/

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3 Responses to Caroline in the City Guide to Denver

  1. KareninCalabria July 18, 2016 at 1:51 am #

    Hello! And greetings back at you from Denver, where I happen to be visiting a good friend this week. LOVE the Denver Art Museum, particularly its wonderful Native American collection! And as you say, there are a ton of parks and the mountains are nearby – lots of hiking from easy trails to ultra difficult. And don’t forget the Tattered Cover Bookstore!
    KareninCalabria recently posted..The Bergamot: Calabria’s Incredible CitrusMy Profile

  2. Morgan August 15, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    This is awesome! I love Denver, and I can’t wait to check out some of these cool spots when I go back in October! Thanks so much for all the info!

  3. Josheph August 7, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    Thanks for sharing nice information

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