In “5 Things,” I’ll ask some of my favorite bloggers in cities all over the world to share insider travel tips on where to eat, shop, stay, and play in their neighborhoods (plus, what to pack to make the adventure complete). This week, Sarah Ann Noel shows us the sights in Denver, Colorado.
5 Things: Denver
Denver is a town I have liked enough to live in twice. We’re really the gem of the West, and I’m likely to get in big trouble with all the locals by divulging some of these secrets. While most people hear “Denver” and think of snow,what I’m not supposed to tell you is that we are a thriving cultural city full of art and music; experts in healthy, delicious food and drink; and—most surprising to people—lovers of the mild, gorgeous weather with 300+ days of sunshine per year.
Denver proper is really quite sprawling, and it’s all divided up into neighborhoods, each with its own flair. In fact, characteristics vary so much from neighborhood-to-neighborhood, it would almost be easier to talk about each one separately. But, as it’s still a mid-sized city, we don’t stick to one place, and get to take advantage of the variety hidden behind simply crossing Broadway or traveling far enough down Colfax. I think one of the best things about Denver is that there really is something for everyone: while the rumors are true, and we’re near the mountains and love being outside, there is also much to do in the city by way of dining, shopping, and sightseeing.
I didn’t know how much I loved food before I moved to Denver, and that’s saying a lot because I have also lived in New York, where you’re required to rave about the dining scene.
What makes food in Denver so special is that much of it it made from local meats and produce, and that many of the chefs have come from larger cities, carrying all that experience in their back pockets. We are bursting with cozy little restaurants that serve up exciting, experimental dishes; and since Colorado, generally, is a very active, health-conscious place, even the most meticulous diets are easily satisfied (says the food-loving vegetarian). No matter how many restaurants I list, someone will accuse me of missing something, so here are my top choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with links to too many other places following).
If you ask me to breakfast, I will respond, “At which Snooze location?” When I first moved here, Snooze was a tiny, futuristic-looking nook in the Ball Park district, and all I knew was that you could get pancake flights there. They’ve since expanded into multiple locations, all cute; and I’ve since perused the rest of their menu. I highly recommend the breakfast tacos, the breakfast pot pie, and any of the seasonally-rotated bennies. (And for the love, still get the pancake flight too!)
Lunch hour means taking advantage of the day’s intense sun, and plenty of Denver spots have space for dining al fresco. Los Chingones in RiNo has an amazing rooftop patio, not to mention great tacos and margaritas. It’s basically vacation on your lunch break!
If I’m craving a casual dinner, my go-to is always City O’City, primarily because their burgers are so delicious, you’ll want to be a vegetarian if you aren’t already. Don’t let the weird decor and ultra-hipsters scare you away; the food is fantastic. For a nicer dinner, I really love Potager. It’s tucked into a quiet corner of Capital Hill, and it’s tough to get in; but the Tuscan-inspired venue and the thoughtful dishes are worth the effort.
Other must-taste breakfast joints include Denver Biscuit Company, Crema, and Jelly. For more brunch, lunch, or dinner, I love Linger, Root Down, Avanti (which gives you lots of options!), and Acorn. And for a really whimsical girls’ night out, stop by Beatrice and Woodsley. It’s fun.
Denver is, admittedly, a drinking town. Primarily? Beer. Take yourself on a little brewery tour—but remember that the mile-high altitude will effect your tolerance considerably! Must-stops are: Great Divide, Our Mutual Friend, Declaration, and Former Future. If you’re down to drink, but beer isn’t your thing, check out Infinite Monkey Theorem, one of the first urban wineries and purveyors of canned wine; or pop into Mile High Spirits for something a little stiffer.
Not an alcohol drinker? Don’t worry—coffee abounds! Such good coffee, and I am completely guilty of two to…five cups a day. Some of my favorites are Huckleberry; Black Eye (they also have stunning cocktails!); Pablo’s; Steam; and, for the friendliest face, Fluid.
Since you’re on vacation, don’t forget treats. We’ve got pie! Humble Pie and Long I Pie, to be exact. Liks is my favorite ice cream, but Little Man and Sweet Action are high up in the running. In our neighborhood, we love Pajama Baking Company and Sweet Cow. And for a more savory dessert, try New World Cheese or Denver Truffle.
Shopping is where Denver’s unique neighborhoods really shine. Each area boasts its own little commercial strip, dotted with local boutiques and wonderfully dusty bookshops. Typically each popular restaurant has a coffeehouse and some shopping right nearby, so it’s fun to make a day out of each neighborhood.
And if you walk a ways, you’ll make it to Antique Row where it’s fun to dig through the stuff of yore; and there are a few great secondhand bookstores, including Printed Page (where they give you free water bottles on a hot day!).
LoHi has great shopping, including Lulu’s; Reverie Living; Goldyn; and my favorite, Wordshop. Check out our marketplace, The Source. My friend Tran has a great shop and art gallery there called Svper Ordinary. (She also owns an all-natural nail salon, Base Coat, if you fancy a mani-pedi during your shopping spree.) And if you’re wandering around RiNo, stop by the Backyard for made-in-the-USA clothing at Judith + Joe and delightful soaps and spa goods made in Denver by the Spinster Sisters.
If you feel like getting really touristy, people will point you to the 16th Street Mall downtown. I don’t particularly love the downtown scene, especially for shopping; but the newly renovated Union Station is an exception to that opinion. Just down the street from there is heaven on earth, Tattered Cover.
Speaking of Union Station, this is the home to the lovely Crawford Hotel, which would put you within steps of cute bars and restaurants, plus train access to get all over the greater-Denver area. But if you’re looking for a little excitement, you might try the Oxford Hotel instead—rumor states it’s haunted—and I’ve had a first-hand experience to prove those rumors true! For a cheaper option, look into the very hip Hostel Fish, conveniently located near Great Divide Brewery.
Or, if you’re willing to be out of the city, I’ve noticed a cute new motor lodge, Amigo, floating around my Instagram.
Of course, Airbnb reigns supreme in this town. If you’re looking for a neighborhood that’s walkable and has good public transportation access, try Platt Park, Capitol Hill, Cheeseman Park, or the Highlands.
The main thing you should know, Denverites like to be outside, no matter the time of year. Our milder climate means that, even in January, we enjoy surprise 70-degree days; and if the summer’s desert-like heat is too much for you, all you need is a moment in the shade to cool off. With that in mind, it’s completely worth it to visit some of our gorgeous parks: City Park, Wash Park, Riverfront Park. Each has it’s own vibe and cutesy park activities like paddle boats, interesting playgrounds, and events (hint: we love City Park Jazz, every Sunday night, all summer). City Park and Union Station also have really fun splash pads for kiddos to run around when it’s hot.
Each neighborhood hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday or Sunday, where it’s usually easy to find a hearty collection of fun food trucks. You can also look out for regular flea markets and handmade bazaars that pop-up year round, especially in the RiNo neighborhood.
To keep up with outdoor spirit, make like a Coloradan and bike everywhere! Denver was one of the first cities in the United States to install citywide bicycle rental stations, and with B-cycle you can ride a bike from station-to-station without having to worry about getting back.
For more cultural activity, the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Clyfford Still Museum are all worth a look. The DAM, in particular, is great for kids, with lots of interactive exhibits. There is also a lot of theater action in this town, and you can purchase tickets for shows at multiple theaters at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Actually, “Frozen” opens here next year, even before it hits Broadway in New York!
In the same musical vein, we’re pretty famous for our Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and even if you can’t get tickets to a concert, it’s worth it to go and take in the view!
Denver is a great city, but we’re surrounded by some really great stuff too. You could drive to other towns like Golden, Boulder, Estes Park, or Colorado Springs, all in an hour and a half or less, and you’d be amazed at the different vibes and scenery in each. And naturally, when you think of Colorado, you think of mountains, hiking, and other outdoor sports. All of this is doable without traveling too far out of town. Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are both easy (and pretty!) drives. And here is a list of day hikes near Denver.
Of course, if you’re coming out this way, I think it’s worth it to put in the two-hour drive time for views like these (just outside of Breckenridge here)—but that’s just one girl’s opinion.
As much as I like dressing up, I’ve got to tell you: Denver is an incredibly casual town. People wear jeans everywhere. (Some people also wear those weird toe-shoes? But don’t get me started on that.) Even the most on-point fashionistas tend to ditch their heels for more comfortable walking shoes. Like I said, we like to be outside. The main thing to remember when packing for Denver is to prepare for all weather, in multiple layers. The forecast may say rain, but it will only rain for 15 minutes. And the predicted high may be 90-degrees, but it will still dip below 70-degrees once the sun goes down. This holds true, even in the winter, when the air is cold but the sun is still intense, and you find yourself sweating in January. If you plan to be on the trails, make sure to pack sturdy shoes—Colorado hiking can be intense. And no matter what time of year, don’t forget your SPF. The sun burns quicker at higher elevations!
One more little tip that sort of fits into this category, but is worth mentioning because altitude sickness is real. When I was young, my family would travel from the midwest to Colorado every year to ski; and let me tell you, the Kincheloes hit the runs on DAY ONE. To prepare our bodies for the altitude and climate change, my dad would have us take a baby Aspirin every day for about two-weeks leading up to the trip. It thins your blood just enough. Also drink at least 64-ounces of water a day, even before you get here, to combat dehydration.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Denver!
Thank you so much Sarah. I feel like everyone I know is moving to or making plans to visit Denver of late—and I can see why! Looks amazing.Huckleberry Roasters | Hazel & Dewey | Crawford Hotel | Amigo | B Cycles | Red Rocks | Riverfront Park|