There’s a stark contrast between the urban center of Denver, Colorado and the crisp air of the adjacent Rocky Mountains, and it’s this duality that makes the Mile High City such an appealing destination. All in one quick weekend getaway, visitors experience cosmopolitan delights in the restaurants, breweries, cafés and shopping, plus plenty of picturesque parks, hiking trails and some especially Instagram-worthy views of nearby Boulder and the Rocky Mountains.
The raw beauty of the mountain vista that sits as the backdrop for this cutting-edge city will be sure to garner you plenty of “likes” on social media, but the real treasure is in the locals who are more than happy to suggest a café to check out or a special trail to explore.
Throughout a recent weekend in Denver, I discovered trendy breweries in River North (RiNo), truly upscale eateries in the Business District and the literally breathtaking (altitude sickness does exist!) hiking trails in Chautauqua Park.
Here are my suggestions if you’re looking to sample the town’s highlights:
Friday: The drive from Denver International Airport (DEN) to downtown Denver ranges from 30-45 minutes. The good news is that you will have spectacular mountain landscapes to admire along the ride. Your destination is The Crawford Hotel, an independent, luxury hotel located inside the revitalized Denver Union Station. The hotel’s philosophy is “Like no other,” so you know you’ll be in good hands.
After checking in, spend a little time getting comfortable in your impeccably decorated room. All 112 rooms reflect the different eras of the building’s history. You’ll find “Pullman-style” rooms, “Classic” rooms inspired by the Victorian era and “The Loft” rooms which feature exposed wood timber and charming vaulted ceilings.
Grab a bite to eat at Denver Union Station‘s Great Hall. The eclectic train station is full of Colorado-based restaurants and cocktail bars. The Cooper Lounge is a swanky spot, perfect for a light bite and a stylish libation to take the edge off before bed.
Saturday morning: Start your day with a tasty breakfast at Pigtrain Coffee, a staple for the locals. You can find fresh pastries and locally roasted coffees here to enjoy on the large patio overlooking Wynkoop Plaza.
The best time to visit Denver is during May or June, when the temperatures are around 70 degrees and you’ll have extended daylight. The fall season is also especially beautiful with cooler temperatures and colorful mountain-scapes.
Saturday afternoon: If you’ve rented a car for your stay, you must enjoy an outdoor adventure. Take the 40-minute drive from Denver to Boulder for a hike through Chautauqua Park. For the more experienced hikers, trek a bit further to the iconic Rocky Mountains and you will find more challenging trails. At Chautauqua Park, you’ll be able to park your car, visit the Ranger Cottage and map out the hike best suited for you.
The Royal Arch Trail is one of the steeper paths, climbing to an elevation of about 1,000 feet. Be sure to stay hydrated throughout this three-mile journey. Upon arrival at the top of the arch, you will stand in awe at the rock structure that forms an actual “Royal Arch.” Snap some pics and enjoy the view before making your way back down.
After your hike you will definitely have worked up an appetite. Once you arrive back in Denver, head over to Los Chingones, a neighborhood staple featuring a twist on Mexican cuisine. There is a rooftop patio at the RiNo location, allowing you to soak up every last drop of the fresh, Colorado air.
Saturday evening: Denver’s history is best chased with a pint of beer. Since the 1800s, the miners and pioneers who flocked to Denver would congregate in Larimer Square and quench their thirst at the many saloons and barrooms in the area. During prohibition, the people of Denver survived the dry years by enjoying their drink of choice in a more discreet fashion. Today, on any given day, more beer is brewed in Denver than any other city in the U.S.
You can make your way to two of the largest breweries in the nation: the Wynkoop Brewing Company and the Rock Bottom Brewery or you can check out a smaller establishment, Epic Brewery. Arrange for a tour of the Tap Room, which features 25 taps of beer, or savor a pint at the bar before heading to dinner.
A dinner reservation at Guard and Grace in the heart of Denver’s Central Business District is very necessary. A modern American steakhouse featuring local grass-fed cuts of beef and the freshest seafood, this upscale restaurant serves only the best. Not to mention the 4,000-bottle wine cellar that will leave you absolutely speechless.
Sunday morning: Make your way to the iconic Red Rocks Park this morning. At about 6,450 feet above sea level, the park is one of the most Instagrammable places in Denver. The Ampitheatre itself is a geological phenomenon – the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect theatre in the world. Visit the Ampitheatre for a concert or enjoy the peacefulness of the empty arena in the daytime. Past performers include Glass Animals, Florence and the Machine, LCD Soundsystem, Bob Dylan and His Band, Cage the Elephant and Lana Del Rey.
Sunday afternoon: You cannot leave Denver without indulging in Sunday BBQ at Executive Chef Steven Redzikowski and Beverage Director Bryan Dayton’s restaurant, Acorn, located at The Source in the River North District (RiNo). The reclaimed 1880s refinery has been transformed into a trendy epicurean marketplace. Acorn boasts two glass garage doors that open to reveal a 35-seat outdoor patio. The restaurant is typically closed on Sundays but they host a pop-up BBQ series from 11:00am – 2:00pm, offering pork ribs, smoked chicken and house-made sausage.