Thinking about Denver, Colorado probably conjures up images of leftover hippie stoners, ski bums, and the Patagonia/REI/North Face lifestyle. Those types are definitely there in Denver, but the city has so much more to offer than stereotypes. What is now a modern metropolis has roots in the gold rush and pioneer era of America: a discovery of gold in 1859 brought an influx of settlers to the area. Now, Denver is a capital city full of robust art museums, creative restaurants, craft breweries, and plenty to do in addition to the never-ending outdoors scene. We’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in Denver, Colorado — like where to stay, where to shop, and other important sites to visit. Read on to learn more about this great spot for a weekend getaway out West.
Denver is the capital of Colorado and is located 12 miles from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was once known as the ‘Wall Street of the West’ because of the many flourishing industries and banking that made it into a hub for commerce. In the 1860s, miners sought gold in the region and its rapid growth led to other industries’ taking root, most notably, the railroad. In August 1870, the Denver Pacific railroad line became the first intercontinental railway line, connecting the east and west coasts of the US by rail. Denver’s Union Station is still in use today as a transit hub and gathering space, with shops, bars, restaurants, and a hotel on site.
Colorado is known as the Centennial State because it joined the United States in 1876, during the country’s centennial anniversary. By this time, Denver had become a hub for silver and gold mining, transportation, manufacturing, livestock, ranching, trade, and other industries, making the region prosperous. Many of the beautiful buildings in downtown Denver were built around the late 1800s during this industrial age, including the Brown Palace Hotel. Over time, the city began to grow. Investments in the region’s airport and transit systems made it easier for people from elsewhere to visit and take advantage of the average 300 days of sun per year.
While Denver has a more diverse economy now, manufacturing is still a big part of the city. Companies such as Molson-Coors, Sherwin-Williams, Nike, and Tesla have manufacturing facilities in town. Other important sectors include energy, food and beverage manufacturing, aerospace, and health and wellness. The U.S. Mint has a location in Denver, one of the two facilities in the US that manufactures circulating coins, and there is a bank of the US Federal Reserve in Denver, making it a hub for financial services and banking.
Even the state’s best-known winter activity traces its roots back to the miners. Skiing was originally used as transportation for the miners to get from place to place in the backcountry. Scandinavian immigrants who came to Colorado for work in the mines taught their peers how to ski. Over time, this became part of the local way of living: even the mailman delivered mail by ski. Skiing, snowboarding, camping, Overlanding, hiking, rafting — there’s no limit to the number of outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in Colorado, given its diverse topography including mountains, rivers, streams, woods, and lakes.
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Now, Denver resembles many other modern American cities. It has the industrial underpinnings of a well-established metropolitan area, with several neighborhoods downtown undergoing revitalization efforts. There are historical buildings adjacent to contemporary ones, and the stable economy plus several colleges and universities in town make it a draw for people from all over the country. The end result is a dynamic mix of everything: from high-end sushi to casual food trucks; from glamping to five-star hotels; from speakeasy-style cocktail bars to craft breweries. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in the Mile High City.
A direct flight to Denver from the NYC area is about 3.5 hours long. Or, take Amtrak for an extra-special journey.
What To Do
It would be sacrilege to not mention craft beer in a discussion about Denver. While Denver is home to the largest single-site beer brewing facility in the world in the Coors Brewery, there are over 140 microbreweries in town. Since there are so many breweries to visit, there are a variety of tour options available to visitors. Several tours are walking tours where participants sample beers while visiting a handful of breweries. The Denver Microbrew Tour company has set options and will work with guests to create something custom, like all seasonal beers or sours only.
Or, if you’d prefer to be driven from place to place, check out eTuk Ride, an electric version of a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a small, three-wheeled vehicle and on this tour, the guide will chauffeur guests from spot to spot. In addition to standard itineraries, the team will work with guests to create something custom.
Denver Art Museum | 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway
The Denver Art Museum began in 1893 as the Denver Artist’s Club and now boasts a collection of over 70,000 works of art in over 12 collections. The museum has an incredible collection of works by international artists in different media and from different eras. What we enjoyed the most was the architecture of the building and the exhibits that focused on the West.
The Museum is spread out over two buildings that are connected by a sky bridge. Both buildings have windows in places that might seem to not make sense, but once the viewer gets up close, it all aligns. The Museum has incredible views of the Rockies in one direction, and the Capitol Complex in the other. These unexpected vistas make for a visual palette cleanser while viewing art, and they also serve as a reminder of exactly where Denver is: in between commerce and the wilderness. The Western American Art collection has pieces from white artists as well as Native artifacts. In addition to paintings, there are sculptures, articles of Native dress, items from Native religious rituals, and authentic totem poles.
Denver Botanic Garden | 1007 York Street
A walk through the York Street location of Denver Botanic Garden makes it easy to forget it’s located in the middle of a major city. This 24-acre garden is full of outdoor sculptures such as Chihuly glass works, indoor exhibits, and an incredible variety of gardens in different styles. There are five types of gardens: Gardens of the West, which feature native plants; Internationally Inspired Gardens, which are designed in different traditional styles from around the world; Ornamental Gardens, which feature vibrant, seasonal blooms; Shady Gardens, which attract valuable insects; and Water Gardens, which feature aquatic plants. Some of the indoor spaces There is also a large children’s garden with interactive exhibits and a play area. There are dining options onsite, including a cafe overlooking one of the water gardens, making the Botanic Garden a great place to spend a few hours.
Hammond’s Candy | 5735 Washington Street
Hammond’s Candy is a Denver-based candy company that has been making sweets since 1902. The company was a local favorite until the late 1990s when Williams-Sonoma started selling Hammond’s candy in its stores: the peppermint pillows from Hammond’s are now synonymous with the holiday season at Williams-Sonoma. Now, the classic candies are found nationwide at all types of shops, from mom and pop stores to chain retailers. Visitors can tour the factory and learn more about the company, where workers still hand-shape many of its candies. The tour is free, and the factory store is worth bringing an extra piece of luggage for. While Hammond’s is known for its hard candies like lollipops and candy canes in bold colors and inventive flavors, the factory also makes chocolates, popcorn, marshmallows, gummy candy, and other goodies.
Denver has an incredible amount of public art, and it is frequently changing. As if the vistas of the Rocky Mountains needed any adornment, many buildings and public spaces have local artists paint oversized murals on the exterior walls of the buildings. Visitors can keep an eye out as they cruise about town, or take a guided tour. We like the Denver Graffiti Tour and the RINO Art District Tour. In addition to murals, there are statutes and other creative installations throughout town. The First Friday of every month offers visitors another chance to see a neighborhood through its artworks. Several neighborhoods offer First Friday Art Walks, where visitors can walk themselves through the neighborhood, stopping to enjoy live music, food, and drinks along the way, while visiting galleries or seeing what’s new.
Where to Shop
Larimer Square | 1430 Larimer Street
Larimer Square is in one of the oldest parts of downtown Denver, built in 1858. The streets are blocked off to vehicular traffic, so pedestrians, musicians, and restaurant tables fill the brick sidewalks and streets. Shops and restaurants line the street, while the center of the street plays host to live music performances, street artists at work, and special events like yoga. It feels like a street festival every day of the week. We like Garage Sale Vintage for a curated selection of vintage goods, sold alongside margaritas at the in-store bar. Pups will like Dog Savvy Denver, a boutique stocked with premium treats, any gear that Fido may need, and a grooming salon.
Rockmount Ranch Western Wear | 1626 Wazee Street
In 1946, Jack A. Weil founded what is now one of the most iconic Western wear brands in Colorado. The brand is still owned and operated by his descendants. Jack and the Rockmount brand are credited with popularizing Western fashion by designing shirts with snaps, and being the first to commercialize bolo ties. Over the years, Rockmount has designed beautiful and durable Western wear for Coloradans and celebrities alike, and outfitted the casts of many Western movies, including the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain. Some of the most popular performers of the 20th century and today wear Rockmount such as Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, and the Avett Brothers. Even New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen has been known to wear the brand. The shop is in a historic building, built in 1909 in downtown Denver, making for the perfect backdrop for these classic styles.
Studio Colfax | 2418 E. Colfax Avenue
Studio Colfax is an airy, plant-filled boutique stocked with handmade items from local Denver artisans. Everything from pottery to art to jewelry to handmade candles is available here. The first Wednesday of each month, the store hosts a workshop led by the makers whose goods are sold in the shop. Recent workshops have included CDB bath bombs, jewelry knotting, and plant-based skincare. The patio at the back of the store frequently hosts pop-up sales and other special events. In particular, we liked the ultra-fuzzy handmade blankets available.
The Tattered Cover | 8 Locations Throughout Denver
This independent bookstore was founded in 1971 with a 950-square-foot retail space. Today, the local chain has eight locations throughout the Denver metro area. The Tattered Cover hosts over 500 book signings and author events a year. Each location has a cafe inside, making it an inviting spot to spend some time. Both new and used books are available here, from current bestsellers to vintage finds. The store’s mission is to be a place for ideas to be shared in a safe and supported environment, and to enrich the community through literature.
Wax Trax Records | 638 E. 13th Avenue
Wax Trax Records is a staple of Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s been in the same location since its founding in 1975, and its walls are lined with albums and music memorabilia. The store has long been committed to featuring independent music and is a key player in Denver’s music scene. In 1978, the store’s founders created their own record label, Wax Trax! Records. The award-winning 2018 documentary, Industrial Accident: the Story of Wax Trax Records, tells the story of the brand, from its beginning in Denver to the launch of the record label in Chicago.
Where to Eat
City O’City | 206 East 13th Avenue
It’s hard to be all things to all people, but City O’City gets it pretty close. This neighborhood spot offers coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, outdoor patio seating, and a full bar every day of the week. The decor is eclectic: much of the art is from local artists who are showcased in on-site gallery shows once a month. The team behind the restaurant has its own urban micro-farm, where much of the restaurant’s produce is sourced in the summer months. Other vendors and suppliers are almost all local producers. The end result is a space with a homey vibe with an incredible menu. There is really something for everyone, including those with dietary restrictions. We like the creative cocktails at the bar, as well as the late-night food menu.
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Denver Biscuit Co. | 3 Locations in Denver
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Brunch every day is the name of the game at Denver Biscuit Company. The signature item here is a fresh-baked buttermilk biscuit, and the biscuit’s versatility is showcased throughout the menu. A variety of usual suspects like a breakfast sandwich or a biscuit with gravy are available alongside more surprising options like a BLT on a biscuit, a pork belly sandwich on a biscuit or a strawberry shortcake served on a biscuit. Perhaps what’s most surprising about this restaurant isn’t how many amazing things can be served on or with a biscuit, but how many of the options are vegan or vegetarian. Sausages can be swapped for Impossible patties and vegan gravy is available, made with mushrooms. Everything that can be made in-house is, like jams and of course the biscuits, while everything else is from premium suppliers like local apiaries for honey, Tillamook Dairy for cheeses, and Duke’s Mayonnaise.
Sushi Den + Izakaya Den | 1487 South Pearl Street
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Imagine two sisters, each with their own strengths, working together. That’s what happens at Den Corner, the nickname for the intersection of Pearl Street and Florida Avenue. The original restaurant is called Sushi Den — opened in 1984 by Toshi and Yasu Kizaki. It became known as a premier destination for traditional sushi. Next came Izakaya Den, which is the hip, younger sister. Izakaya Den serves traditional Japanese food alongside international flavors, in a ‘global tapas’ style. Both restaurants serve the same premium seafood, which is flown in daily from Japan.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey | 1514 York Street
The menu at modern Mexican restaurant Tacos Tequila Whiskey is filled with classics like carne asada or citrus chicken tacos, alongside inventive flavor combinations like spicy ahi tuna and fish and chips. That variety plus an always-changing list of specials means there’s never a dull meal to be had. Everything is made fresh in-house, including the wide selection of salsas. There are several vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items available. Brunch is served on the weekends, and there is a special brunch menu with tacos filled with breakfast classics like eggs and potatoes. Guests place their order on a menu that is formatted like a sushi restaurant, by marking how many of each taco is desired. Now for drinks. The margaritas have their own section of the menu, and there are plenty of specialty cocktails to choose from. The hardest part will be to pick which one.
Where to Stay
The Art Hotel | 1201 Broadway
This boutique hotel is an art lover’s dream. Not only is the hotel itself located within walking distance of several downtown galleries and museums, but the hotel is also filled with art in both the common areas and guest rooms. Even the entryway is something special: a custom-built light installation greets guests at the front entrance. The Rockies are within view of the hotel, making for the perfect palette cleanser after a day of viewing art.
The Brown Palace | 321 17th Street
The Brown Palace is a throwback to Denver’s role in the Gold Rush. The hotel was built in 1892 and has become an iconic part of the city. It is opulently decorated in the Italian Renaissance style, and many of the hotel’s original design elements are still there. Even though the hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Denver, the service and guest experience are all modern. Even if you don’t stay at The Brown Palace, it’s worth a stop in for afternoon tea on the weekends, or to enjoy live music every night of the week, from jazz combos to a pianist.
The Oxford Hotel | 1600 17th Street
This hotel has historical bona fides for days. It was completed in 1891 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. This boutique hotel has 80 rooms and is located next to Denver’s Union Station. A 2018 renovation means the hotel feels fresh and new, despite its long history. Pets are welcome at this chic spot, and guest rooms have an actual key instead of a keycard. There are free activities in the lobby each night, and past events have included whiskey tastings and live music.
Magnolia Hotel | 818 17th Street
The building that currently houses the Magnolia Hotel started life in 1910 as the American Bank Building. The original architecture of the exterior was preserved, as well as the building’s trademark clock on the outside, when the building reopened as a hotel in 1995. The Magnolia Hotel now has close to 300 guest rooms plus event and meeting facilities on site. The hotel is also pet-friendly, so guests’ pups can take advantage of the fresh mountain air as well.
The Source Hotel | 3330 Brighton Boulevard
The Source is located in what is called RiNO, the River North neighborhood, that many call the Brooklyn of Denver. This formerly industrial neighborhood is now home to artists, bars, restaurants, food halls, microbreweries, and more. The building that is now the Source Hotel was built in the 1880s and renovated to its current state in the 2010s, opening in 2018 with a sleek industrial style. The Source Hotel is home to 100 guest rooms, event spaces, and a Market Hall that features local vendors. The rooftop at the Source is an incredible spot to take in the city skyline and the mountains — and The Woods restaurant and bar is open daily and has live music for brunch on Sundays.