With world-class skiing and hiking just a short drive away, Denver has always been the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. But it’s also a destination in itself, with enough culture and fuel to keep you distracted from the calling mountains, at least until the next powder day. Denver resident and journalist Josie Sexton shares her Destination Guide below.
This jewel-box stay, draped in velvet and lit by chandeliers, is the prettiest homebase for a few-day jaunt around the Queen City. The lobby is a scene at night and the perfect spot to work remotely during the day – order a killer burger and any of the house cocktails from Death & Co. Upstairs, 50 guest rooms feature views over the River North Art District or towards downtown. A trendy rooftop deck is your destination for photo ops.
The Dairy Block is a pedestrian alleyway in the heart of Denver, lined with shops, food, and drink stalls and this main artery of a hotel. The lobby itself is a work of modern art. Check in to feed off the buzz of Denver’s Union Station and Ballpark, both just a stone’s throw away. While staying in one of 172 rooms, you have your pick of some of the city’s best – morning coffee at Huckleberry Roasters, dinner at Bruto, and drinks at Run for the Roses, below ground.
Chef Caroline Glover won the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mountain region. Her happy hour at the snug restaurant, named for Glover’s great-aunt, is a local favorite. Start with shoestring fries and spiced popcorn, then stay for a dinner of indulgent yet homey chicken liver toast and sunchoke gratin, best enjoyed on the year-round patio.
This airy LoHi space is an all-day favorite helmed by chef Linda Hampsten Fox. Start with weekend brunch of Dutch babies, breakfast cacciatore, or house yogurt with pear compote and quinoa granola. Come dinner, you’ll want to order seasonal dishes that draw inspiration from Mexico to Italy – pappardelle with wild boar, or cocoa nib-crusted pork belly.
Tucked away in Denver’s northside, this tasting menu spot will surprise you with a mix of fresh-milled grains, ferments, and charcoal-cooked main dishes. The tasting menu is called “entrust,” and that’s exactly what you’ll do with chefs Kelly Whitaker and Taylor Stark. Tip: Reserve one of the tents for an outdoor experience year-round.
The team behind this sleek vinyl record bar really know their food and wine. They operate the award-winning restaurants Frasca and Pizzeria Locale in Boulder, and Tavernetta (next door to Sunday Vinyl) in Denver. But this wine bar is the place to have fun with their sommeliers, to try some new-to-you glasses, and to pick your way through the addictive food menu as you go. People-watching from the windows onto Denver’s Union Station platform is prime as well.
Spanning two blocks of downtown Denver are three of the best art museums in the West. You could easily spend an afternoon or morning walking around the Gio Ponti-designed (and newly renovated) Denver Art Museum, featuring Indigenous North American art and 19th Century European art, in addition to rotating exhibitions. But save time to stop in the life-size curio cabinet that is the Kirkland Museum, and to see the abstract expressionism of Clyfford Still at his eponymous gallery on the same block.
Denver’s outpost of the wildly popular Santa Fe-based Meow Wolf is a relatively new cultural draw, opened in 2021. It’s best described as a trippy, immersive art exhibit, where children and adults and everyone in between can play their way through the maze-like halls.
A former industrial corridor along and around Denver’s Larimer Street is home to local murals, breweries, galleries, shops, and restaurants, all with enough edge to make this the de facto daytime and nightlife hub. If you want to look the part, buy some urban-outdoors gear first from Topo Designs. Plan to stop at Denver Central Market, Our Mutual Friend, Ratio Beerworks, and Odell Brewing for street art and pints. Then take a slight detour to unwind at the The Beer Spa, which ingeniously combines local brews on tap with private soaking tubs (yes, they’re steeped with hops and more beer ingredients).
For a more posh setting, find the tree-lined streets of Cherry Creek North, where stately Denver homes lead to designer showrooms and local boutique shops. Check out stores such as Haven (clothing and jewelry), Aillea (clean beauty), Bloom by Anuschka (flowers, gifts), Homebody (imported decor), and the beloved Hermitage Antiquarian Bookshop. Stop by the Clayton Members Club & Hotel for a caffeinated or boozy beverage on your stroll.
No trip to Denver would be complete without a drive to one of the world’s best natural amphitheaters and its surrounding rust-colored trails. During spring, summer, and fall, you can catch a national act performing onstage. Off-season, the rocks are still swoon-worthy without the big-name bands. Do as the locals do and test your lungs at altitude with a morning workout up the stadium stairs.
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