Denver isn’t exactly the most conveniently located town. Far from any ocean, one must intentionally venture across the plains or deserts to get into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. For years, the Queen City of the Plains was written off as a forgotten cow town by flatlanders—when in reality, it was one of the west’s best-kept secrets.
These days, the secret is out. The city is rapidly evolving into a cultural breeding ground for chefs, entrepreneurs, artisans, and musicians. And thanks to an evolving food and beverage landscape, a flourishing marijuana industry, and a booming tech and startup scene, Denver is becoming a destination for those pursuing their own version of the post-modern American Western dream.
Chances are you know somebody who’s moved here in the past year or so. To help plan your trip to visit them, here’s your itinerary.
Denver loves its green…spaces, that is. In fact, the City and County of Denver maintain more than 200 city parks, 100 miles of trails, and 11 dog parks. That’s over 5,000 acres of urban parkland to explore. For starters, tie up your running shoes and head to Cheesman Park, just southeast of downtown. The quick 1.5-mile jog on the tree-lined paths will remind you you’re 5,280 feet above sea level, but at least the park’s dirt-lined perimeter is easy on the knees.
Perennial favorite Snooze, an A.M. Eatery—a homegrown chain with outposts in California and Arizona—is just as great as people say it is. Try the breakfast pot pie, made with rosemary sausage gravy atop a flaky puff pastry, along with the Bangkok Bloody Mary, sure to waken your taste buds with ingredients like Sriracha and fish sauce, among others.
If you want to pretend you’re a local, hit up newcomer Onefold, located in the Uptown neighborhood. The cozy, farmhouse-inspired haunt serves up a simple, yet surprisingly diverse menu that includes bacon fried rice (it’s just as good as it sounds), congee (a traditional Chinese savory rice porridge) with duck confit, and a massive breakfast burrito that includes green chili, duckfat fried potatoes, and your choice of local bacon or house-made sausage.
Be warned: The place is tiny. So if you’re put on the waiting list, walk a few blocks southwest to the Denver Bicycle Café for a cup of local coffee. The relaxed, friendly spot includes an in-house bike shop (hence the name), and a completely Colorado-sourced espresso and draft beer selection.
Denver has a formidable art scene—and one that is growing exponentially as more and more transplants migrate to the increasingly progressive town. The Denver Art Museum, which opened the geometric, Daniel Libeskind-designed Frederic C. Hamilton Building in 2006, has established itself as the city’s go-to institution. One of the biggest museums between the Pacific coast and Chicago, the DAM boasts an impressive collection of American Indian and Western art, in addition to international displays, and rotating traveling exhibits.
Just around the corner is the small but impressively comprehensive Clyfford Still Museum, which celebrates the life of the celebrated abstract expressionist painter.
If you have time, and crave a more homegrown art experience, head a few blocks southwest to the Art District on Santa Fe, one of the city’s celebrated cultural gems. Vibrant storefronts, colorfully painted alleyways, and unique street art populate this micro-hood. Check out the Museo de las Americas—which pays homage to the arts and culture of Latin America—and choose from an assortment of contemporary galleries such as Michael Warren Contemporary, which celebrate local artists.
For a true Denver experience, head just outside the city to South Federal Boulevard. A long-time fixture for truly authentic cuisine, the thoroughfare contains some of Denver’s best hole-in-the-wall, family-run spots. In the mood for Vietnamese cuisine? Check out either Pho Duy for a wonderfully warming bowl of pho or Ba Le Sandwich for an outstanding (and super cheap) banh mi. How about authentic Chinese? Star Kitchen is a fixture for weekend dim sum as well as real deal Cantonese dishes. And in a city known for its Mexican cuisine, Tarasco’s New Latino Cuisine shines with its award-winning dishes, which run the gamut from mole to posole.
You may have to look extra hard to find some of these hidden gems, but it’s well worth the time. Trust us.
Over the past few years, South Broadway has evolved into one of the Mile High City’s premier shopping destinations. And we can’t think of a better place to showcase Denver’s burgeoning artisan scene. Starting at the corner of Ellsworth and Broadway, hit up the legendary punk enclave Mutiny Information Café for secondhand books, comics, and vinyl. Walk three doors south to Ironwood, where succulents, terrariums, local art, and other oddities artfully clutter this distinct shop. Just blocks apart, local ski/surf lifestyle brand Steadbrook and Fancy Tiger—a boutique that carries both Colorado and international brands—prove that aesthetics do matter in Denver.
If you haven’t noticed already, Denver is in the midst of a cultural explosion—and perhaps no single building is a better representation than the newly revamped Union Station. The transportation hub, which was established in 1881, recently unveiled its $54 million renovations, and has since served as the crown jewel of downtown Denver. Make sure to come early to tour the station’s new digs and grab a drink at the opulent Terminal Bar, located in the Great Hall. Once your reservation is ready (you made one, right?), head next door to Mercantile Dining & Provision for acclaimed chef Alex Seidel’s take on elevated, seasonally-inspired comfort food.
Between Union Station’s elaborate, lavish rebuild, and Mercantile’s expansive, open dining room—which doubles as an in-house, artisanal market—it becomes clear that Denver has never been this classy.
With an exorbitant amount of breweries in the greater metro area, it’s no secret that Denver is a beer town. And currently, nowhere in Denver is more representative of craft beer (or general redevelopment) than the River North Art District.
While you could easily start your tour on Larimer and its surrounding streets (and sample damn fine brews from Our Mutual Friend, Ratio Beerworks, Epic Brewing Company, and Beryl’s Beer Co.) save some semblance of sobriety and travel a few blocks north to Brighton Boulevard. Start your night at newcomer Mockery Brewing to try some of Denver’s most unique brews.
Next, walk a few blocks to the legendary Great Divide Brewing Company’s new 65,000 square-foot facility and sample their flagship Yeti Imperial Stout. End your night in the old 1880s building directly across the street at The Source, a hopping artisan food market that features 13 vendors including (you guessed it) a brewery in Crooked Stave.