The secret is out: the Mile High City is more than just a gateway to the Rockies. Today’s Denver is young and thriving, combining rich cultural offerings, a booming microbrewery scene, big league sports (go Broncos!), and a lifestyle focused on the outdoors. Oh yeah, and pot is legal too. There’s a reason so many people are moving to Denver – it doesn’t take long for first-time visitors to figure out why.
Burgeoning arts scene
For gallery hopping and a peek into the studios of local artists, head to the Santa Fe (artdistrictonsantafe.com) and River North, aka RiNo, (rivernorthart.com) art districts. Both have a gritty, bohemian feel coupled with a community spirit – spot murals, tattoo parlors, converted warehouses and neighborhood gardens. On the First Friday of each month, galleries stay open late in both districts so folks can check out the local art scene and indulge in some street partying too.
Denver Art Museum has an impressive range of collections and exhibits, plus interactive displays that keep kids happy (no tantrums here). Best of all is DAM’s American Indian Art collection with nearly 20,000 objects representing almost every tribe in the United States and Canada.
Next door, the Clyfford Still Museum is wholly dedicated to the work of its namesake. In fact, the modern museum was built specifically to showcase Still’s abstract expressionist art; today, it houses 95% of his work – the most intact art collection of any major 20th century artist.
Mile High performances
Denver Performing Arts Complex is a massive 12-acre arts center in the heart of downtown Denver; it houses modern theaters, performance spaces, a concert hall and an opera house. If you’re looking for a live show – from a Broadway musical to slam poetry – this is a good bet.
For some of the best jazz and blues acts around, head to El Chapultepec aka ‘The Pec.’ A no-frills joint, it features live music every night of the week, even jam sessions. The place gets going on weekends, especially after 10pm.
OK, so it’s not technically in Denver, but the 15-mile trek to Red Rocks is well worth it. The natural outdoor amphitheater is framed by 300ft sandstone rocks that create acoustic perfection. Most concerts start at sunset, with the rocks aglow and the twinkling city lights beyond. Big name artists play here – U2, Springsteen, Dave Matthews – plus many up-and-comers. Classic films are often screened on off-nights too.
The Great Outdoors
Confluence Park is a snapshot of the Denverite lifestyle, with its miles of paths for biking, running and walking, plus grassy areas for relaxing under the sun. Kids will also love the beach and shallow waters for swimming. Up for a little more adventure? Rent a kayak from nearby REI and head out on the whitewater run. During the summer there’s a free concert series. Add all this to the picture-perfect views of Denver, and you have a great spot to while away the day.
Cherry Creek Trail takes cyclists and joggers along a 42-mile paved path that meanders through Denver’s urban landscapes and two state parks. Need a set of wheels? Rent a Denver B-cycle (denver.bcycle.com) by the half-hour. For a longer trip, try Bicycle Doctor.
Puff the Magic Dragon
Even if you haven’t blazed a doobie since college, it’s hard not to be curious about legal marijuana in Colorado. Denver has the largest number of marijuana shops in the state – over 100, at last count. The best sell weed like fine wine: scientifically cultivated and thoughtfully blended to produce specific flavors and potencies (and bear endearingly pothead names like Bubba Kush and Super Lemon Haze).
Although scoring weed is easy, partaking is a bit trickier, especially for out-of-towners. It’s still illegal to use in public, and Denver police do issue citations. Certain hotels allow pot smoking on-site though and there are numerous cannabis tours – most include dispensary hopping and tours of grow operations, utilizing smoker-friendly limos or party buses. Check out the Colorado Pot Guide (coloradopotguide.com) for info of all sorts.
There’s hardly a better place to get a craft brew than Denver, home of the Great American Beer Festival and, by some accounts, the country’s highest per-capita concentration of microbreweries.
Great Divide Brewing Company is a Denver classic. One of the first tap rooms to open downtown, the slope-shouldered icon of its Yeti Imperial Stout can be spotted on bumper stickers on beat up Subarus all over town.
A locals’ favorite, Black Shirt Brewing Company (blackshirtbrewingco.com) is in Denver’s RiNo Art District. It specializes in artisanal reds, saisons and porters; some take up to three years to be ready to pour.
Renegade Brewing Company (renegadebrewing.com) started the old-fashioned way: a guy gets a home-brewing kit for Christmas and realizes his purpose in life. Located in the edgy Santa Fe neighborhood, Renegade’s beers are creative but not foofy. Try faves like the Earl Grey Red Rye Ale and Grapefruit Triple IPA.
With seven professional sports teams – the big four (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey) plus two lacrosse teams and a soccer team – it’s easy to catch a game in Denver any time of year. Three arenas are within a stone’s throw of downtown: the Pepsi Center, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and Coors Field. The fourth, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, is just east of town.
Where to stay
Denver is a compact city. You’re never more than a couple miles from your destination regardless of where you stay. In downtown Denver, swanky Hotel Monaco gets the details right (even down to a pet goldfish, upon request). If B&Bs are more your pace, head a few blocks east to the quiet Five Points neighborhood. There, Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast is a study in Victorian meets cozy. If you’re on a tight budget, 11th Avenue Hotel and Hostel (11thavenuehotelandhostel.com) is as good as it gets – basic, clean rooms on a bustling street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.