06/ 19/ 18

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, Capitol Hill, 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 there’s 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.

Top Ten Favorites:

If you get overwhelmed by choices like I do, here are my TOP 10 places to eat at. Ordered in preference, and updated whenever a new restaurant inches its way in.

  1. Bar Dough: I take everyone who comes to visit to Bar Dough. Incredibly tasty Italian food, especially their inventive, homemade pastas. They also just added a pasta tasting to their menu, which is on my “TO-DO ASAP” list. It can get rowdy on weekend nights.
  2. Coperta: Coperta and Bar Dough alternate for my top two spots depending on the season — they’re both that good! Coperta has a cozier atmosphere, and they change up their menu regularly to focus on different regions in Italy. Protip: get two half-servings of the pasta plates, so you can try as much as possible.
  3. Hop Alley: Elevated family-style Asian food, a cocktail menu based off the Chinese zodiac, and a dope playlist + ambiance curated by restauranteur Tommy Lee. Hop Alley would be my #1 if I weren’t so pasta obsessed.
  4. Avelina: A chic and elegant spot that focuses on seasonal, new American cuisine. Located in the heart of downtown, right next to Union Station. They have a great happy hour too!
  5. Stoic and Genuine: These guys are situated in Union Station itself, and have incredible seafood. Always get the whole fried fish. Always.
  6. Hedge Row: I’ve only been here once, but it was one of those EPIC meals where I got ridiculously full but could not stop eating. Wonderful wine list, refined but approachable new American plates, and amazing service. I have a good feeling Hedge Row will travel further up this list upon future visits.
  7. Root Down: Artsy restaurant with yummy, organic, farm-to-table plates. They make a taco look fancy as f*ck. They also have a location at the Denver Airport, so be sure to stop by if you have time before your flight! Service is quick, and the food is 100x better than any of the other airport restaurants. Terminal C.
  8. DuoNew American cuisine with a great, elevated rustic atmosphere. Perfect for a ladies brunch!
  9. Bistro Vendôme: Really well done classic French food. Both Dan and I have celebrated birthdays here.
  10. Denver Central Market: This spot is great for visitors because you can find something for everyone. I personally beeline for Vero, the Italian spot, and snag the bucatini or The Uovo pizza.

And here are other notable restaurants, organized by category.

Brunch Spots:

  • Snooze: A mandatory spot for visitors. Check out their pancake flight.
  • Tupelo Honey: Southern spot in downtown. Their honey-dusted fried chicken won all sorts of awards.
  • Denver Biscuit Co: Biscuits. Need I say more?
  • OneFold: Get the duck confit congee and Vietnamese iced coffee.
  • Jelly: A quirky breakfast cafe with yummy donut holes!
  • 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. Also has a great rooftop view!
  • The Noshery: Try their vanilla latte — they make their vanilla in-house!
  • Rosenberg’s Bagels: Not quite as good as New York bagels (I’ll always be biased), but still great nonetheless.

Coffee Shops:

  • Amethyst Coffee: Best matcha I’ve ever had. Also a great ambiance for getting work done.
  • Little Owl: Small chic spot downtown with locally sourced beans
  • 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
  • Blue Pan Pizza: Deep dish like you’ve never seen it before. Fluffy dough with a cheesy crust! They have a two-for-one special on Mondays.
  • Fire on the Mountain: Laid-back neighborhood wing joint. Love that you can taste the sauces at the register before choosing.

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
    Avanti, Euclid Hall, Postinos, Acorn, Work & Class, Cart-Driver, Colt & Gray
  • Mexican
    Lola Coastal Mexican, Comida, Dos Santos, Adelitas, Torchy’s Tacos, Los Chingones, Tacos Emmanuel (shady but delicious), taco stand on Curtis & 18th
  • Italian
    DiFranco’s, Shells & Sauce
  • Asian
    Uncle (acclaimed best ramen in Denver), Bones
  • Sushi
    Sushi Den, Mizu Izakaya, Sushi Sasa, Okinawa, Sushi Ronin, Matsuhisa (v expensive)
  • Vegetarian
    City o’ City, Watercourse Foods, Moxie
  • Other
    La Chiva (Amazing Colombian!), Blue Island Oyster Bar, Gumbo’s, Cuba Cuba

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.
  • Sweet Cow: Their gatorade sorbet is so refreshing in the summertime!

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.
  • For my last loop, I gotta shoutout my new hood, Highlands Square. There’s a wonderful farmer’s market if you come on a Sunday morning (oftentimes with free yoga!), and shops & restaurants galore. It’s also close to Sloan’s lake, which is only 2.5 miles in circumference — grab some some coffee and walk around the lake for some light, scenic exercise!
  • 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, Stanley Marketplace, Zeppelin Station, and The Source.
  • For shopping, I love the boutiques on Tennyson (shoutout to Lady Jones) and Highlands Square on W 32nd Ave. South Broadway also has some amazing vintage shops like Meek VintageSecond Love, Boss Unlimited, and Common Threads. If you’re looking for name-brands, head to the Cherry Creek shopping center. It’s a bit bougie, and I hear that’s where all the cougars go to land sugar daddies, but has great stores nonetheless.
  • 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. Another great outdoorsy day adventure is Boulder. Hike the foothills and walk around historic Pearl Street, which as some incredible restaurants and shops. 

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.

 

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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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