I’m in a Colorado state of mind this week – probably because I had so much fun there. I was lucky to get a surprise extension on the end of my trip, so I got to explore a new city, Denver! The original plan was to drive back from Vail Monday afternoon, spend an evening in a nice hotel in Denver for some R&R and fly home Tuesday. However, when Southwest cancels your flight, you know there must be something terribly wrong (I’m a big fan of Southwest), and unfortunately, that something was Polar Vortex Round II. So, while the East Coast was being pummeled with freezing air and snow, I was “stuck” in Denver enjoying the sunshine and 60 degree weather. Things could be worse, right?
First thing worth mentioning – the drive between Vail and Denver is absolutely beautiful. It’s an attraction in itself! It takes about 2 hours in good weather, and I took approximately 400 photos during that time. Luckily I will only make you endure this beauty…
The Mile High City is not big by any means (particularly compared to my present home of New York City), but there is definitely enough hustle and bustle to keep tourists and locals entertained. It’s trendy, new and clean and kind of reminded me of a small, outdoorsy Chicago…if that makes sense to anyone.
Since my trip to Denver was a surprise, I had not planned anything to do (very unlike me). This meant that I was left to explore somewhat aimlessly. Don’t let that stop you from reading this blog post though because Denver offers so much to do, that my aimless wandering quickly developed into full on exploration (very like me).
I arrived at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Denver, still in my ski clothes, expecting to take a shower, eat some dinner and go straight to sleep. Fortunately, I wised up and thought, why waste a perfectly good night in Denver because I’m tired? It also helped to motivate me that from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. every evening the Hotel Monaco has a FREE wine and appetizer hour. Since I am not one to ever turn down free food….or wine, free or otherwise…I rallied.
The Hotel Monaco is a small, boutique-ish seeming hotel with flair that’s still finding their footing in Denver, so they’re trying really hard (hence the free vino and coffee in the morning). But, to be honest, I wasn’t super impressed. It was fine. If I did it again, I probably would stay elsewhere though, and maybe not even in downtown. I mean…the city has a Four Seasons in it. What was I thinking staying somewhere else?! Oh right…budget.
After a delightful savings of approximately $17 (?) in wine at Hotel Monaco, J and I freshened up and headed out to dinner in SoBro (this is a term coined by our taxi driver, I do not claim that it is actually a term used by Denverites….nor do I claim that is the correct word for Denver locals). It’s considered the “hipster” (I hate that word) neighborhood with lots of cute vintage shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. Despite hating things dubbed as hipster, I actually thought this area was really cool.
And to top it off, we went to one of the most interesting restaurant I’ve ever been to called Beatrice & Woodsley. Upon entering, you are completely transported into a forest-like fantasy land with floating lanterns and actual tree trunks running up to the ceiling inside. The bar is decorated with chainsaws and lit up green bottles and don’t even get me started on the bathrooms with the sink water running down from the ceiling (took me a solid five minutes to figure out how to turn it on).
You know, though, how there’s those restaurants that are all ambiance but the food sucks? This one was NOT like that at all. Their food is American if you had to categorize it, but really its just creative mixtures of lots of inspirations. I had the crawfish beignets because I was being picky and thought, hey if I hate it, at least I was being daring. I did not hate it. I actually loved it. The rest of the meal was a similar experience as you could probably imagine.
Day two brought on the swift realization that Denver is a driving city, and most of the best tourist attractions were out of our reach on foot. However, Denver has recently implemented a bike sharing program, so to at least get out of the center of downtown, we splurged (spent $8) and rented bikes for 24 hours. While this didn’t get us to the attractions around the outside of the city, it was 60 degrees and sunny, so we could at least take full advantage of not being in a Polar Vortex.
Alongside a great bike sharing program, Denver also is home to the best public transportation system in the country, RTD. It’s free on certain roads and connects a good portion of the city. I did my fair share of riding the RTD as well.
Now with bike in tow, I headed to Larimer Square in downtown for breakfast. It’s the oldest, most historic block in Denver, and is home to many great restaurants and bars. The best part I think are the twinkly lights that have been strung overhead and come on every night, no matter the season. I went to The Market, a quaint little grocery store for breakfast. They serve all sorts of food and have little tables you can sit at in the front room where the sun streams in. Great bagels too…
Afterwards, I walked up 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian road (with a free bus on it!) right down the center of downtown. There’s some main stream shops like H&M there, but mostly its not that great. If you want great shopping, you’ll have to head to Cherry Creek Mall, a real mall. There’s a great walking/bike path through the city that leads straight to it in about 20 minutes.
Cherry Creek is one of the best malls I’ve seen, actually (and I’ve seen quite a few). It’s not only massive, but it has a nice combo of high end and mainstream stores. Think Neimans, Nordstrom, Tiffany’s etc. mixed in with JC Penney and Forever 21. I basically never wanted to leave this place…especially since the Neimans winter sale was on.
By the time I did finally leave, credit cards still intact, it was almost dinner time (I know I know, I have a problem), so J and I headed back to the hotel. It was Tuesday night, and University of Kentucky was playing that evening (basket ball….read A Kentucky Christmas to learn more). On 16th Street Mall there’s a fun bar called Yard House. If you’re looking to watch a sports game and you want to try interesting beers, this is your place. It’s got great energy and the servers were so nice – they let me try three beers for free!
My last worthwhile shout out from my trip to Denver is a little local restaurant called Illegal Pete’s. We went there just before heading off to the airport the next morning, and its an experience worth having while visiting Denver. They are the originals to do the burrito assembly line, so you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
For my next trip to Denver, I’ve already started planning, and here’s what’s been recommended to me. First and foremost, rent a car! Then, go see:
- Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: 15 miles from central Denver
- The Coors Brewery: in nearby Golden, Colorado for a tour and free beer sampling
- Colorado Railroad Museum: in Golden also, mostly because J has a weird obsession with trains
- Boulder, Colorado: Pegged the happiest city in America, for that reason alone, worth a visit
- Rocky Mountain National Park: For beautiful hiking and climbing
- The Oxford Hotel’s Cruise Room: The first bar opened in Denver after prohibition and modeled after a bar on the Queen Mary (what can I say, I like a little history with my martini)