02/ 26/ 17

What To Do in Denver: An Insider’s Guide

Enjoying a night in Denver's Union Station

Denver, Colorado is one of those rare places where there’s no “best time” to visit. With 300 days of sunshine, you’ll get 70-degree days in the dead of winter, but can drive two hours West to find powdery, snowy bliss at world-class ski resorts. In the summer, Denver is synonymous with poolside barbecues on tall city rooftops, microbrewery hopping, and riding bikes absolutely everywhere. And, from peeping stunning panoramas of foliage, to blazing trails in the Rocky Mountains — there’s no shortage of things to enjoy in between.

I thought it was about time to pay homage to this dope and totally underrated city that I now call home. So, without further ado, here is an insider’s guide to visiting Denver, Colorado.

Where To Stay

If you’re looking for a hotel experience, opt for downtown Denver. I highly recommend the Curtis Hotel and The ART. Both are eclectic, boutique hotels with impressive art collections and convenient locations. The Crawford Hotel is also pretty swanky, and located smack dab in Union Station.

Personally, downtown Denver (or LoDo, as the locals call it) actually isn’t my favorite place to frequent. It’s a bit overrated in my opinion, as Times Square is to NYC. There are a few gems in LoDo (like Larimer Square and Union Station), but if you’re looking to stay in a neighborhood with more character, try finding an Airbnb in The Highlands, Wash Park, City Park, or Cheesman Park .

No matter where you stay, getting around central Denver is pretty easy. You can rent a car2go, grab a Lyft, or ride a bike around town.

Cheesin’ at Cheesman Park wearing a Madewell top, Paige denim, and Jeffrey Campbell booties

What To Eat

Denver’s foodie culture is burgeoning, with new restaurants popping up faster than I can keep track of. And, as a former resident of New York and San Francisco, I was floored by the quality of food Denver has to offer at, what I like to call, “no-coast” prices. While there are some notable gaps in Denver’s food scene (like a legit dim sum place), the town of Aurora is only 20 minutes away, where you can find authentic pho, KBBQ, and Filipino food galore.

Here’s a list of my favorite restaurants in Denver. (Note that this is by no means comprehensive. For further investigation, check out Denver Eater and 5280 Eat & Drink.)

Eating pasta at Denver Central Market Doing what I do best – eating.

Brunch Spots:

  • Snooze: A mandatory spot for visitors. Check out their pancake flight.
  • Denver Biscuit Co: Biscuits. Need I say more?
  • OneFold: Get the duck confit congee and Vietnamese iced coffee.
  • Bacon Social House: Because bacon.
  • Linger: Converted from a historic mortuary, Linger is known as Denver’s finest “Eatuary.” If you can get over its slightly macabre origins, the restaurant serves delicious street food dishes from around the world.
  • The Noshery: Try their vanilla latte — they make their vanilla in-house!
  • Duo: New American cuisine; great elevated rustic atmosphere for a ladies brunch
  • Rosenberg’s Bagels: Not quite as good as New York bagels (I’ll always be biased), but still great nonetheless.

Coffee Shops:

  • Black Eye Coffee: Amazing avo toast!
  • Crema: Their quiche is to-die-for and they also have a great outdoor working space
  • Stowaway: Hipster joint in RiNo with amazing breakfast food
  • The Molecule Effect: They serve your drinks in science beakers!

Lunch:

  • Biju’s Little Curry Shop: think, “Indian Chipotle,” but WAY better
  • Bubu: bowls, bowls, all kinds of bowls (healthy bowls doe)
  • Masterpiece Deli: I’m not a sandwich person but these sandwiches are bomb
  • Olive & Finch: a bakery that also has great breakfast and lunch (and juice!)
  • Zoe Ma Ma: really yummy Chinese street food
  • Postino: They’ve got a perfect patio for enjoying a bruschetta platter and a glass of rosé in the sunshine
  • Ohana Island Kitchen: Hawaiian food with must-try spam musubi
  • Avanti: A modern day food hall featuring an eclectic mix of food vendors, and a beautiful view of downtown
  • Sweet Ginger: This largely unknown place has amazing sushi lunch specials
  • Maria Empanada: for a mouth-watering selection of empanadas

The Uovo Pizza at Vero in Denver Central MarketThe Uovo Pizza at Vero in Denver Central Market – one of my favorite pies in the city!

Curio Bar at Denver Central MarketCurio Bar at Denver Central Market

Dinner:

Because this is a biggie, imma break it down by cuisine for y’all.

  • New American
    Root Down, Avanti, Euclid Hall, Postinos, Acorn, Work & Class, Cart-Driver
  • Mexican
    Lola Coastal Mexican, Comida, Dos Santos, Adelitas, Torchy’s Tacos, Los Chingones, Tacos Emmanuel (shady but delicious), taco stand on Curtis & 18th
  • Italian
    Coperta, Bar Dough (I take everyone who comes to visit here), DiFranco’s, Shells & Sauce
  • Asian
    Hop Alley (in my top two Denver faves along with Bar Dough), Zengo, Bones
  • Sushi
    Sushi Den, Mizu Izakaya, Sushi Sasa, Okinawa, Sushi Ronin, Matsuhisa
  • Vegetarian
    City o’ City, Watercourse Foods, Moxie
  • Spendy places that are well-worth the money
    Bistro Vendôme, Colt & Gray, Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Blue Island Oyster Bar, Gumbo’s

Dessert:

  • Voodoo Donuts: for inventive donut creations
  • Habit Donuts: I think of these donuts at least once a week.
  • Sugarmill: THEY HAVE PEANUT BUTTER MOUSSE
  • D Bar: the “D” stands for dessert
  • Little Man Ice Cream: The line can get cray in the summer — you’ve been warned!
  • Bonnie Brae Ice Cream: More delicious than Little Man in my opinion, and a much quicker line.

Posing with a mural in RiNoPosing with a mural in RiNo wearing Tobi’s Brooklyn Fleece Sweater Dress and Nike kicks

What To Do

One of my favorite things about living in Denver is that my repertoire of weekend activities has majorly expanded. From the thrifter, to the party animal, to the outdoorsman (or outdoors-lady!), there’s something for everyone in Denver.

Here are a few activities that I always recommend to those visiting Denver:

  • Visit Larimer Square. It’s the city’s most historic block and the place where Denver was founded. Adorned with twinkling canopy lights, Larimer Square has an abundance of top-notch restaurants, irresistible shops, and lively bars.
  • Also downtown is the newly-renovated Union Station, which is likely more gorgeous than any train station you’ve stepped foot in. Wander into the Great Hall to find people leisurely playing shuffleboard, enjoying a cocktail at The Terminal Bar, or reading on a leather sofa. It’s also a great place to eat, with a variety of options ranging from high-end dining to quick, comfort food.

Union Station, Denver

Enjoying an evening in Union StationEnjoying an evening in downtown Denver wearing Tobi’s Up All Night Bodycon Set

  • For soaking up the sunshine, visit Cheesman Park, Washington Park, or City Park. The Denver Botanic Gardens is also gorgeous year-round. Lastly, I’ve never been (caged animals make me sad), but I hear the Denver Zoo is great for kiddos.
  • One of my favorite little loops starts at Confluence Park. From there, you can walk across the bridge to the Lower Highlands (LoHi). Walk along Platte street and pop into one of the many boutique shops. DO NOT forget to get a donut from Habit Donuts. You can also visit the flagship REI store — even if you’re not looking to buy something, it’s pretty cool just to window shop! Finally, walk one more block north to grab ice cream from Little Man. It’s a charming area for a leisurely stroll.
  • Another great loop I recommend is Larimer Street and Walnut Street in RiNo. Swathed in colorful street art, RiNo is Denver’s newest “art district.” Stop by the market, try on fresh kicks at Fice, or browse Coloradan-crafted goods at Topo Designs. Some of my absolute favorite bars are here, like The Populist, Bar Fausto, Ratio, First Draft, Meadowlark, and Cold Crush. There’s also a great little karaoke bar called Voicebox.
  • To fill your art cup, visit the Denver Museum of Art, the Clyfford Still Museum, or MCA Denver (who just premiered a Basquiat exhibit that I am dying to see!). There are smaller art galleries sprinkled across the Santa Fe Art District, which also hosts a free First Friday Art Walk every month, complete with a complimentary luxury shuttle.
  • If you feel like spending hours sampling artisan creations, definitely check out the South Pearl Street Farmer’s Market. Other must-see markets include The Denver Central Market and The Source.
  • For shopping, Cherry Creek is your go-to. It’s a bit bougie, and I hear that’s where all the cougars go to land sugar daddies, but has great stores nonetheless. If you’re looking for more unique pieces, explore Denver’s many vintage shops like Second Love, Boss Unlimited, and Common Threads.
  • Lastly, outdoor activities deserve an entire blog post on it’s own, but a must-see location is Red Rocks Ampitheater. It’s an open-air theater that hosts concerts, film screenings, and thousands of yogis for yoga on the rocks. If you’re willing to venture further outside of Denver, check out Garden of The Gods and Pike’s Peak. And even further? The Great Sand Dunes, Strawberry Hot Springs, Rifle Falls State Park, Blue Mesa Reservoir — the list goes on!

Terminal Bar, Denver

Hidden Message Necklace Hidden Message Necklace by Beth Macri Designs

If you’re planning on visiting Denver, I hope you found this guide helpful! And one last insider tip — the altitude here is REAL. Plan on drinking lots of water as you fly in, and enjoy getting tipsy off of one drink.

Did I miss any must-see Denver spots? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @katerinajeng.

 





Hello! I'm Katerina, and I'm on a quest to complete my bucket list. Follow along for travel stories, happiness tips, and inspiration to make your life worthy of your dreams.

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