How did Denver evolve from a collection of miners’ shacks thrown up along the banks of the South Platte River in the 1850s into the Millennial stomping ground that it is today? Throughout its history, a series of booms — silver, oil, tech startups, legal weed — have drawn waves of people to the Mile High City, many of whom find a way to stay when the bust hits. Who would want to leave behind the sunny days, quick access to the mountains, and abundant microbreweries? The city’s amenities keep proliferating, and now include an expanding light rail system and, not one, but two annual taco-themed street festivals, one of which features Chihuahua racing and lucha libre wrestling.
Neighborhoods with Zing: RiNo
To experience Denver’s coursing energy and creativity, head to RiNo, short for River North, home to one of Denver’s eight art districts, just north of downtown. Every September, graffiti artists take over RiNo for Crush, a festival that leaves walls with eye-catching decorations year-round. Find something tasty to eat at The Source, a food hall in a refurbished foundry that features restaurants, merchants, and craft breweries. For entertainment, try Nocture, a lively jazz supper club, or the Larimer Lounge, an indie venue where Denver’s The Lumineers got their start.
An Art-Centered City
In 1988, Denver’s Public Art Program was launched by the mayor’s decree that for any public project costing $1 million or more, one percent of the budget had to be set aside for art and design. You’ll see the results of this everywhere, from the demon-eyed mustang that greets you at the airport to the enormous Blue Bear that peers into the convention center. Denver boasts some world-class indoor art as well, centered in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, home to the quirky and delightful painting and 20th-century design collection at the Kirkland Museum of Decorative & Fine Art; the Denver Art Museum that regularly hosts blockbuster exhibitions from Yves Saint Laurent to the French impressionists; and the Clyfford Still Museum, an architectural gem featuring the work one of America’s great abstract expressionists, on view nowhere else due to the stipulations of Still’s will.
An Outdoor Paradise
While Denver used to be a way station for travelers headed to the mountains, now outdoors enthusiasts linger. Rapids fans enjoy kayaking downtown in Confluence Park, near a flagship REI store. Eighty-five miles of paved bike trails run throughout the city, and you can enjoy them by hopping on a B-Cycle, Denver’s groundbreaking bike share system.
People grumble a little that the Colorado Rockies baseball team doesn’t win enough, but they mostly stay mellow from watching the sunset over the mountains in beautiful Coors Field.
A City That Likes to Unwind
After a day spent rock climbing, hiking, or snowboarding, Denverites feel that they’ve earned an indulgence in an adult substance or two. Denver has long been at the forefront of the craft brewing scene, with enough breweries to rank it third per capita in the US, and play host to the annual, perpetually sold-out Great American Beer Festival. The city also always ranks high on the Most Literate Cities index, in part because of its legendary Tattered Cover Book Store (with four locations), but if you want to combine literature with drinks, visit Book Bar in the happening Tennyson Street Cultural District.
Pinche Tacos serves the best innovative street tacos in town. The sign says “Tacos, Tequila & Whiskey” because the restaurant wasn’t allowed to display the Spanish profanity in its name. (1514 York Street and 3300 W. 32nd Ave.)
Linger is a quirky restaurant serving savory, classed-up street food in the renovated Olinger Mortuary, one of Denver’s oldest businesses, offering a sweet view of downtown from its Highlands perch (2030 W. 30th Ave.)
Acorn at the Source food hall offers tasty, creative, vegetable-centric new American cuisine in the jumping RiNo neighborhood (3350 Brighton Blvd.).
Book Bar is a wine bar tucked inside a cozy indie bookstore in the happening Tennyson neighborhood. Heaven! (4280 Tennyson St.)
The Cruise Room is a classic martini bar in the lobby of the Oxford Hotel whose décor predates prohibition and exudes cool. (1659 Wazee St.)
Williams & Graham is a speakeasy-themed bar with a bookstore false front serving retro artisanal cocktails. Drinkers International named it as one of the top 50 bars in the world. (3160 Tejon St.)
-To find the best views of Denver’s skyline, go to Linger, Coors Field, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, or the rooftop of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
-A great place to hang and get an idea of Denver’s current vibe is the newly renovated Union Station, a regional transportation hub and home to a variety of excellent restaurants, a branch of the Tattered Cover Book Store, the luxury Crawford Hotel, and the classy Terminal Bar.
-The Blue Mustang sculpture that greets visitors at Denver International Airport with its red flaming eyes and angry, throbbing veins killed its sculptor, Luis Jiménez. The 9000-pound work fell on Jiménez as he was completing it in 2006.
-If you’re looking for where, exactly, Denver’s elevation reaches a mile high, head to Coors Field. The row of purple seats in the upper deck amid all the other rows of green seats marks one mile high in elevation.
Want to dig in to Denver like a local? Why not plan your trip right now?