Many travelers see Denver as a jumping-off point for a Rocky Mountain getaway, using the Colorado capital for its airport and nothing else. But those folks are missing out: The Mile High City offers a mix of urban excitement and natural surroundings that other American cities can only dream of. We’re not saying you should pass on the opportunity to hike the Rockies’ trails or ski their slopes — just that you shouldn’t do so without making reservations at some of Denver’s eclectic eateries, exploring its museums or sampling a few of its famous brews. Working some of these more metropolitan enticements into your vacation will allow you to experience the Denver that locals know and love.
Denverites are much more laid back than residents of other major American cities, promoting an active, outdoorsy culture that thrives on good food and craft beer. Take a cue from the city’s residents and spend your days in the Mile High City getting to know its hiking paths, shopping streets and brewery trails. In addition to loving nature, Denver’s population also exhibits a passion for art, culture and cuisine. If Mother Nature isn’t your companion of choice, spend your time wandering around the Denver Art Museum or Larimer Square before grabbing a basket of Rocky Mountain oysters along the Capitol Hill district’s Restaurant Row. And if you happen to have kids in tow, you’ll find plenty of ways to keep them entertained here, from a world-class zoo to the fascinating U.S. Mint.
How To Save Money in Denver
- VISIT DENVER before you visit Denver The city’s convention and visitors bureau website features a whole section devoted to deals and discounts. Check it out before your trip.
- Get a Culture Pass For $52.80, the Mile High Culture Pass grants you unlimited access to seven of the city’s most popular attractions — including the Denver Zoo and the Denver Art Museum — for five straight days. The Culture Pass will also get you discounts on the city’s bike-share program and several smaller specialty museums.
- Rent skis here If you do plan on tackling the Rocky Mountain slopes, you’ll find better deals on ski rentals in central Denver than you will at the resorts.
Denver Culture & Customs
Since gold was first discovered here in 1858, the Mile High City has been attracting people from all walks of life. The former frontier town’s population comprises Latin Americans, Irish and Native Americans, as well as a burgeoning LGBT community. Denver was also home to one of America’s first African American-owned commercial areas (Five Points). Denver reflects this cornucopia of cultures in its diverse cuisine and numerous festivals — the country’s largest Cinco de Mayo festival, a stellar jazz festival and PrideFest are just some of the ways Denver celebrates its diverse residents.
They may come from different backgrounds, but Denverites have one thing in common: their love for the outdoors. Residents take full advantage of their proximity to the Rocky Mountains (as well as the abundance of green space found within the city limits), spending their spare time hiking, biking, skiing and kayaking. You should follow their example and do the same. However, while the Mile High population is used to the city’s altitude, you probably aren’t. Use the first day or so to acclimate yourself, and take precautions throughout your stay to avoid altitude sickness — drink plenty of water, eat foods with lots of potassium (like bananas, granola and even chocolate) and go easy on the booze.
Speaking of drinking, you would be remiss if you visited Denver and didn’t try it’s local brew. Yes, the city is home to Coors, but you’ll also find plenty of microbreweries serving a variety of craft beers. You can sample them in local restaurants or learn more about the ales on a guided tour like the Denver Microbrew Tour or the Culinary Connectors’ Craft Beer Tour.
On the subject of imbibing, Colorado legalized the commercialization of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014 — that means that anyone who’s 21 or older with a Colorado ID can purchase up to an ounce of pot in one of the state’s licensed retailers. (Those who purchase pot legally can share it with friends as long as no money is exchanged.) But don’t expect to see people lighting up just anywhere: Smoking is not allowed in public places. To learn more about Colorado’s new marijuana regulations, check out the “Doobie-DOs” list published by the marijuana reform group, NORML.
Back in the day, you’d be hard-pressed to find much outside the realm of steak and Mexican cuisine. But now, Denver’s culinary scene has grown to include a wide variety dishes from around the world, from Japan to the Mediterranean. However the Mile High City does have its own local specialties: For example, a visit here wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of Denver’s famous green chili, which is often made with tomato, onion, pork and, of course, green chilis. The stew can be somewhat spicy to mouth-numbing, depending on the chef. Another infamous dish worth tasting is Rocky Mountain oysters, but seafood-lovers be warned: This popular appetizer isn’t made from oysters, but rather deep-fried bull testicles.
Denver’s restaurant scene ranges from hole-in-the-wall taco joints to upscale farm-to-table establishments to rowdy brewpubs with a dinner menu, so you should have no trouble finding something to suit your taste and budget. You’ll find plenty of options lining the streets of LoDo, Larimer Square, Uptown and the Highlands, but there are a few restaurants that stand out. For high-end Colorado cuisine (think prime steak and spicy chili), head to LoDo and grab a table at ELWAY’S, the Ritz-Carlton’s signature restaurant named for former Denver Bronco quarterback, John Elway. And for some Mexican favorites, head to El Taco De Mexico. This little restaurant on Santa Fe Drive in the southeast corner of downtown is not only known for its tacos — many travelers and dining experts claim that El Taco De Mexico serves some of the best green chili in the city.
Denver is also a prime destination for beer lovers. Home to the Coors Brewery, the Mile High City is famous for its homey pubs and sports bars. Although the dining scene has become more upscale, beer is still a staple at almost every restaurant. Still, you should plan on having at least one pint (and perhaps a meal) at one of the city’s many brewpubs. To see where it all began, head to the Wynkoop Brewing Company; located in LoDo (a few blocks southwest of Coors Field), Wynkoop was the city’s first brewpub. Today, it produces more than 4,000 barrels of beer each year, which it serves alongside eats like bacon-wrapped jalapeños and sweet potato fries topped with green chili cheese curd. If you want to eat and drink like a local, make your way to My Brother’s Bar in the Riverfront district; this down-to-earth brewpub was once a hangout spot for Beat Generation leaders Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.