Thanks Denver. I'll never forget the first flight I've ever missed in my life! You were quite the struggle to get to, but I have a great time regardless. I will forgive you.
A majority of my time is spent rushing to and from airports, and I have to say that I have that routine down pretty well by now. But as luck would have it, our alarm did not go off the morning of our flight, and by the time we rushed to the airport and got through security (why was there no TSA line when you need it most?? smh), we missed our gate closing by 3.5 minutes. Luckily, we were re-booked onto another flight, this time with a layover, which only set us back around 3 hours by the time we arrived at Denver International Airport.
Blake and I have been planning this trip to Denver for several months since I had a bunch of Delta points and he had expiring Southwest points to use up. After much discussion, we decided to split up our 4.5 day itinerary to visit both Denver and Boulder. I will be making a separate Boulder post since I think that beautiful city deserves it's own special highlight, so watch out for that soon after this post! Our original plan in Denver was to explore the city for a day, and then head out to the slopes for a ski-day or snowmobiling for the last weekend of ski season. However, we decided last minute not to since we weren't really prepared clothing wise, and because we wanted to make another trip out here in the future just for winter activities. With that extra day, we were able to see more of Denver and relax in the Mile High City.
Honestly, I've never really had the biggest desire to go to Denver, particularly because I don't love skiing and have always associated a trip out to Colorado with winter sports (I've always just preferred being active in the warmth). But over the last year or so, more and more of my friends have visited the Mile High City to explore outside of ski season and it made me curious as to what was out there!
Our itinerary in Denver was pretty loose since we only have a general idea of the places we wanted to hit in the few days we were in town. If you're looking for some ideas and things to do, check out some of our itinerary here along with my food recommendations!
THINGS TO DO
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater
Red Rocks Park is perhaps the most recognizable landmark in Denver (for me at least), and I was super excited that this was our first stop right after picking up our rental car near the airport. Owned and maintained by the City of Denver, the 900 acre Red Rocks Park is part of the Denver Mountain Parks system. The Park is known for it's beautiful, red-hued sandstone formations and for some incredible hiking trails and views. Unlike where we live in the East Coast where getting to a mountain can be quite a lengthy drive, Red Rocks is located only 16 miles west of Downtown Denver and a very easy and scenic drive.
Red Rocks Amphitheater, located in Red Rocks Park, opened in 1906 as an open air amphitheater that frequency hosted (and continues to host) concerts. It has a whopping capacity of 9,525 and sits at an altitude of just over 6,000 feet! The Beatles actually performed there in 1964, which is the one concert that did NOT sell out during their U.S. tour. Hundreds of private and public performances have been held in this iconic venue, and it was really cool to see it so empty, with just a handful of tourists and few locals using the steps as part of their exercise routine. If I lived around the area, I could totally see myself coming here all the time for sunset runs and stair drills for leg day.
After checking out the amphitheater, we stopped by the visitor center (Trading Post) for some information on which trail to hike. We ended up choosing the ever-so-popular Trading Post Trail, which is an easy to moderate hike boasting some amazing scenery along the way. For 1.4 miles, I almost felt lost in another world because the buttes looked almost fake! The hike only took us about an hour, and we even stopped for some cool photos along the way. Since we came on a Thursday in April, especially in the early evening, there were basically no crowds and we had the trail almost completely to ourselves. We passed and chatted with a few locals walking their dogs, and really just enjoyed the peace and quiet that we never get living in New York. I wish we had more time to check out some of the other trails, but I highly recommend the shorter Trading Post Trail we did if you are looking to cover the basics of Red Rocks Park and don't have an entire day to spending hiking.
Park Hours: Every day from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset
Visitor Center Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May through September and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from October through April
Denver Art Museum
While NYC has some very unique eye-catching architecture, Denver holds its own with the beautiful Denver Art Museum, coming in at #2 in my iconic Denver landmarks list. The Hamilton Building was designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind, who is an international figure in architecture and urban design.
I went to college close to Washington D.C., explored a larger part of of Europe, and now live in NYC, so I've been spoiled with have too many art museums to be able to visit in the last couple of years! The museum has an extensive art collection and is currently displaying Degas: A Passion for Perfection through May 11th. It is the only American venue displaying the paintings, drawings, and sculptures by French artist, Edgar Degas. Tickets cost about $10-$15 more on top of the $13 general admission ticket. Blake and I really weren't too interested in checking out this special exhibit, so we just opted for the GA and spent an hour or so checking out the 4 stories of the museum.
16th Street Mall
Located just steps from our hotel (Aloft Denver Downtown), the 16th Street Mall is a mile-long, pedestrian-friendly Mall with plenty of dining, shopping, and attractions. It stretches across the southern end of the LoDo district and bypasses Larimer Square.
We ended up walking down this street many times in our few days in Denver and I just really enjoyed not having to worry about cars while strolling (always on HIGH ALERT in NYC). There are plenty of options for those who like to do day-time activities like shop and brunch, as well as the night owls who want a few beers (or an ice cream, like me) before bed time! I would say it's definitely a must to at least walk through a little bit of this street because I think it has the most charm and character in Downtown Denver.
The Union Station closest to my heart has always been Union Station in D.C. since I was always going back and forth between New Jersey and D.C. for school. I was pleasantly surprised and also quite curious what the Union Station would look like in a town across the country from the only one that I know. While I wouldn't spend too much time here, Union Station is definitely worth checking out, especially since it is in the heart of downtown Denver and is home to many restaurants and boutique shops. It also houses the 112-room Crawford Hotel. I could definitely see how waiting for a train here can be a very enjoyable experience given the entertainment options.
Golden Triangle Creative District
The Golden Triangle is a neighborhood near uptown Denver and is home to many civic and cultural institutions (Denver Art Museum, Justice Center and Jail, Denver Public Library, Etc.). We strolled through after brunch one afternoon, just passing all these beautiful buildings and admiring the architecture before heading to a brewery for a mid afternoon pick-me-up.
Denver Central Market
I’m definitely a sucker for markets, my favorite in the world being Borough Market in London. We came across Denver Central Market coincidentally since we were at First Tap just next door. In a nutshell, it is a cute indoor marketplace with local vendors selling chocolates, cheese and ice cream! It reminded me a lot of Union Market in D.C. and a bit like Chelsea Market in NYC for reference. I wish we had to time stop by for a meal here but we had already eaten lunch and it wasn’t the most convenient to come back for dinner. Trust me, I was eyeing that cheese board!
Comedy Works Downtown
While going to a comedy show wasn't on our list of things to do in Denver, we realized that it would be super fun night-time entertainment to check out a show on a whim that same night the idea came to us. Bobby Lee, from MADtv, happened to be headlining a show at the Comedy Works Downtown, just a 7 minute walk from our hotel. We took a chance and grabbed the last two seats in the house as walk-ins and laughed our butts off the whole night! I snacked on some truffle fries and sipped on piña coladas, while carefully trying not to spill anything because I was laughing so hard. As an Asian American, especially in an interracial relationship, I found many of Bobby's Lee's jokes to be quite relatable. I don't watch MADtv at all, and honestly didn't really know who Bobby Lee was, so that was cool to experience a show without any expectations at all. I highly recommend checking out who is playing a show in one of Denver's many comedy clubs because this city is known for bringing in some funny and popular talent.
If you’ve noticed, I usually don’t take pictures at all in the evening since I prefer natural daylight. I didn’t take any of Bobby Lee at all since they were super tight about phone security so ours were locked up in a bag. Contrary to popular belief, I actually enjoy time away from my phone, especially when I’m on vacation (despite posting everyday). I love getting some quality time without technology.
Blake and I live in a city that we unanimously agree has the best food options out of all the places we've been to. But while it's hard to beat out some of the best that NYC has to offer, I always enjoy trying out the local favorites in every new city. Denver, as advised by a few friends who have visited, actually has a pretty vast food and bar scene. I've always been the bigger foodie of the bunch when I travel, so I made sure to bookmark a few thinks of YELP! before our trip to make meal times a little more seamless.
Guard & Grace
This was the best first meal of Denver!! We started off with steak tartare and shared a wedge salad, which were both DELICIOUS! Since both of us weren’t starving since we snacked on the Red Rocks trail, we also decided to share a large rib eye that we both agreed was BOMB. It also looked like this place serves up some incredibly fresh seafood and impressive charcuterie boards, so I will definitely have to come back to sample more of the menu.
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
Talk about a popular brunch spot here in Denver. Snooze Is actually a (local?) chain (which I later found out) and already had a decent line going before 9 on a Friday morning. I mean seriously, do people not work here? We shared a steak eggs Benedict and the pancake flight. I don’t remember what all the flavors were but the best was by far the blueberry danish. The menu is extensive and it was definitely hard to pick just 2 items! We ended up visiting the Snooze in Boulder too on our last day and really enjoyed it there as well.
Little Man Ice Cream
It wouldn’t be a complete travel post without an ice cream mention now would it? I’ve been trying to cut back on my sugar (lol) but sometimes I have 0 self constraint. Thanks to my friend Kevin, who wrote up a little itinerary for me and suggested Little Man Ice Cream! The line here is constantly busy and we even had to wait outside for 10-15 minutes when it was freezing and windy out one evening. I can’t even begin to imagine the crowd this place attracts in the summer. They have a bunch of unique flavors to choose from, and although I liked what I chose, it wasn’t memorable enough for me to remember the flavor names. I definitely would like to go back and try some others in the future.
5280 Ice Cream
While one ice cream mention may be enough for some, I wouldn't be me without two! 5280 Ice Cream was right on the 16th Street Mall and was the perfect nightcap for day 1 of Denver. We did hit up a bar later that night which was an interesting experience itself, but that was some good post-dinner ice cream! While I don't remember what the top flavor was, I did get mint chocolate chip which is a very rare flavor for me to choose. I've never been the type to pick the classic flavors because I like trying the unique ones!
Stowaway Coffee & Kitchen
Cute cafés are easily my kryptonite, and while I love checking out new cafes in NYC, I equally enjoy trying new places in different cities. I will be traveling to Boston for the next couple of months, so I want to make sure that I cover some good café ground there as well. The Stowaway café was one of the few coffee shops we stopped by on our Colorado trip, but it was definitely the most aesthetic (which is always important too). While I don't really need a caffeine fix and just like the idea of grabbing a yummy drink to go, Blake is definitely more attached to his coffee, so we checked out quite a few places in a our few days in Colorado. I loved my mocha because I decided to substitute cashew milk instead, which made it extra creamy and yummy! Almond milk is usually my go-to but I may oft for cashew when that is available instead now.
The Truffle Table
I could eat meat and cheese pretty much for every meal if I had to, so I was really looking forward to our dinner at the Truffle Table for some a yummy charcuterie board. The cute and bright restaurant is located across the South Platte River, so it was just a quick drive from our hotel. Parking was a bit challenging to find due to lots of street construction, but we eventually found a spot and walked right over. I loved the butternut squash soup and biscuits and goat cheese stuffed red peppers. The star of the show (meat and cheese) wasn’t too shabby either! They do have special happy hour deals so I would make sure to check out the times for that since it’ll save you a few bucks on drinks and food. We totally left enough room for ice cream.
First Draft Taproom & Kitchen
Denver is essentially a brewery heaven, so make sure to stop by of the many in the city for a pint during your visit. Personally, I am not a fan of beer at all, but we did visit a taproom before hitting up the Denver Central Market for a spin. By paying for each beer (categorized by light/dark/sour/hoppy/etc.), it made trying many different kinds a fun experience. I personally liked the cherry kombucha at the very end the most! OK, it was nonalcoholic. Also, I had mentioned in an earlier post that I will be writing up a how-to kombucha post and I totally did not forget. It is coming soon!
For a full list of breweries in Denver, check this out!
Thanks for reading everyone! Can't wait to write and share Boulder, CO next.
Everything I've never done, I want to do with you