Denverites don't need to be told to get up and get moving — it's part of the charm of the Mile High City. While the mountains in the city's backdrop always beckon, there's plenty of adventuring to do at its urban core, too. Explore the booming beer scene, check out the latest food hall, stretch it out at an outdoor yoga class or ride a bike pretty much anywhere. Welcome to the Colorado lifestyle!
1. Run or Ride From LoHi and LoDo
There's a lot to see, do and eat jammed into just a handful of blocks on either side of the Platte River in downtown Denver. Lower Downtown, or LoDo, is a place of endless revitalization and change, while across the river the Lower Highlands, or LoHi, is a slightly quieter but equally hip neighbor.
There's a good reason to begin an active day downtown: Two of the city's major trails intersect here, and there are multiple ways to get your hands on a bike nearby, making this an ideal place to start a long pedal or run. Stay in a hotel near or in Union Station, such as the classy Crawford (in the train station), or at the playful, eclectic Hostel Fish (near the ballpark). Or interesting Airbnb options abound in LoHi — just a walk away.
Some locals might insist that you start your day with pineapple upside down pancakes at Snooze in Union Station, but waiting in line for the hottest brunch in town takes time.
To get going and have a satisfying breakfast, grab a quick coffee and bite at Pigtrain Coffee in Union Station before heading out to Kindness Collective's Platte Street yoga studio in LoHi for a morning class. Head around the corner to ProsperOats afterward for a replenishing bowl of quinoa and oatmeal with a dash of Colorado honey and loaded with fruit, nuts, granola — whatever you like. This is a build-your-own-delish situation.
After breakfast, get ready to ride or stroll. Two of Denver's major trail systems follow the water and come together where the waterways converge, in aptly named Confluence Park. The South Platte River Greenway Trail runs north-south through the metro area, while the Cherry Creek Trail extends southeast out of downtown.
You can put in some serious mileage on these trails as a runner or a cyclist. The Cherry Creek Trail is 42 miles long, and the Greenway (and its connecting paths) is around 30 miles from one end to the other. Like to shop? Use the city's bike-sharing program, Denver B-Cycle, to Cherry Creek Shopping Center, where you can dock the bike and hit the boutiques of Cherry Creek North.
For longer jaunts, rent your ride from nearby Confluence Kayaks (rentals include a helmet and bike lock) to pedal the more than 12 miles from Confluence Park to Cherry Creek State Park, where you can ride through open prairie around the reservoir, or, on the Greenway, ride about 16 miles south to Chatfield State Park — where you could also rent standup paddleboards on a hot day. A shorter option for a stroll is to walk north through the parks on the east side of the river.
Hang out for some prime people-watching in Confluence Park (you may even get to see kayakers playing in the whitewater), then head into the three-story REI flagship store to shop or try the climbing wall.
By now you've worked up an appetite. Find lunch — and Jack Kerouac-era Denver nostalgia — at My Brother's Bar, which doesn't have televisions, doesn't take credit cards and doesn't have its name on the building (just look for the address — 2376 15th Street — on the corner of Platte and 15th).
What it does have is a note from Neal Cassady, Kerouac's inspiration for "On the Road," asking a friend to pay off his bar tab because he's stuck in the state pen. Order a bison burger, take in the classical music playing in the background and start a conversation that could inspire a wild tale.
For modern fare with a mordant twist, head into LoHi to Linger, an eatery occupying the old headquarters of the Olinger family's ("Linger" comes from dropping the "O") funeral-home chain. Legend has it that Buffalo Bill Cody's body was interred here while Colorado and Wyoming fought over it a century ago (his grave is now in nearby Golden).
Head for the rooftop if it's a nice day and order a Corpse Reviver, a gin, ginger and absinthe kick in the pants to go with one of the globally inspired lunch options — chef Justin Cucci isn't afraid to go from bao buns to garam masala to manchego all in one menu.
In front of Linger, get a scoop from Little Man Ice Cream, where the flavors run from classic to creative and include sorbets and vegan choices. An ice-cream sandwich — chocolate cookies with salted Oreo ice cream, perhaps — to go will keep you moving. Hang around in this neighborhood long enough and you'll also want to check out Forest Room 5, which stays true to its name with a jungle of lounging options for guests.
And while craft-beer fans might have trouble choosing from the city's many stellar brew options, the taproom at Denver Beer Co. on Platte is a no-brainer, both for its breezy beer hall feel and quality options. For a special dinner, nearby Colt & Gray is the place for fine dining and seasonal, local fare.
It's time to walk back to LoDo, with two stops for arts appreciation along the way. The first is the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, or MCA, which, in addition to its interesting array of modern works, also serves up events like a summer rooftop concert series with local musicians and craft brews. The Tattered Cover Book Store is a local institution in the literary arts. Stop at its LoDo location to browse the well-curated offerings and sink into a comfy chair — you've been on your feet a lot today.
For dinner and drinks, LoDo has options aplenty. Head to Avelina for delectable shared plates and an impressive wine list. For Mediterranean flair, try Larimer Square's Rioja, which consistently lands on Denver's "best restaurants" lists. The Kitchen is a farm-to-table favorite, and ChoLon is a consistently amazing choice for Southeast Asian fare.
Just northeast of this cluster of classics is the new Milk Market, where Denver's booming food-hall trend has arrived in LoDo's Dairy Block. All 16 offerings in Milk Market — from a salumeria to a salad stall to a pizzeria and a coffee spot — are the creation of chef Frank Bonanno, who now has a hand in 26 restaurant concepts in the city.
2. Grit and Glitz in the Golden Triangle and South Broadway
High art meets urban grit in the Golden Triangle and South Broadway. You'll see it all if you head down Broadway, from Denver's stalwart civic institutions to a revolution of books and boutiques, music and meditation.
If you're staying downtown, hop on the MallRide, the free shuttle up and down the 16th Street walking mall, to its end point across from the Colorado Capitol and Civic Center Park. You'll need sunglasses to shield your eyes from the glow of the capitol's recently renovated gold dome as you head up Capitol Hill (if via the front steps, look for two official mile-high markers) to Sassafras for a Southern-inspired breakfast.
If it isn't too early, pop into Capitol Hill Books to peruse the stacks. (This place is as a used bookstore should be — there's a whiff of old paper in the air, and you'll stumble upon something you'd forgotten you wanted.)
Cut down Grant Street behind the capitol to 13th Street to spend the morning in the museum district — the blocks south of Civic Center Park. Start with the Denver Art Museum, whose curators keep an eye out for artists of the west, or head to History Colorado to see how Coloradans have lived, past and present.
Two museums in this arts cluster stand apart: the Clyfford Still Museum and the Kirkland Museum. The Still is one of the few places to see the abstract expressionist's work: The museum claims to house 95 percent of the artist's output, including hundreds of paintings spanning 1920 to 1979 and works in other media he used.
The Kirkland is home to an array of design art spanning the early and mid-19th century. Eames chairs are at every turn in the salons (as are signs reminding visitors not to sit on them), surrounded by art deco glassware, against a backdrop of oil on canvas from Colorado artists, including Vance Kirkland.
Kirkland's studio building was moved eight blocks and attached to the museum space, so visitors can walk past the entryway where fedoras still hang by the front door and into the artist's studio, where webbing that suspended the painter in midair is rigged over one of his "dot" paintings.
Art fanatics will also want to head to the Museo de las Americas, Spark Gallery and other gems of Denver's Santa Fe arts district, which is near the Golden Triangle. But if looking at all of this art has made you hungry, head to City O' City, an eclectic cafe in the neighborhood. The food is vegetarian, but don't fret — the creative menu won't leave carnivores hungry. Tuck into a savory waffle and grab a coffee and a vegan Ho-Ho for dessert.
If you'd prefer more classic fare, head down to the Governors Park neighborhood, just under a mile to the south. Racines is a Denver classic (natives will tell you it's been around way longer than most of the city's transplant residents) with the menu to match. At the dinner hour, nearby Bones and Mizuna offer fancier options.
Plenty of Denverites would call up a ride share to buzz down to South Broadway from the Golden Triangle, but Denver B-Cycle offers a more active option. Take a side street, such as Bannock, which has a bike path most of the way, or even ride over to the Cherry Creek Bike path for a slightly longer diversion. Drop your B-Cycle at the station at First and Broadway.
South Broadway is a hive of boutiques, bars, coffee houses and secondhand stores. In the blocks around Broadway and First Avenue, you'll find a heavy-metal brewery with artisan ales, TRVE Brewing (technically on North Broadway, but in the neighborhood), bespoke dining at Beatrice & Woodsley and the radically dug-in Mutiny Information Cafe (go for used biographies, cassette tapes — they still exist! — pinball and a moon pie).
Test any of the noshing staples, such as Denver Biscuit Company and Sweet Action Ice Cream, or go shopping, perhaps picking up a combo of vintage and handmade purchases at Sewn Denver, whose clothing makers mix genres.
Pop into Rosehouse, a woodsy-green space that calls itself a "living apothecary," to engender some inner peace, and then head to Lotus Meditation Studio for even more zen. Check the schedule ahead of time for classes in energy flow, gratitude, chakra balancing or beginning meditation.
Nighttime is the right time to hit up 3 Kings Tavern for your live-music needs. Finish off this grit-and-glitz tour back up in the Golden Triangle and have a craft cocktail with a view at the Art hotel's Fire terrace.
3. The Brewing Arts Scene in RiNo
Once a warehouse district where starving artists could survive on nominal rents, River North, or RiNo, has grown into a popular behemoth of breweries, food halls and, yes, artist spaces. Cranes are on the rise here, as they are just about everywhere on the Denver skyline, and construction is a constant. Watch for closed sidewalks and byways, but use them as an excuse to explore a detour.
Two main streets run parallel and a block apart through the southeast side of RiNo; the main drag on the other side of the train tracks is Brighton Boulevard. The A Line on Denver's Light Rail stops between the two, at the 38th and Blake station, and a pedestrian bridge crosses the tracks and connects the Brighton side to the southeast side. RiNo also has several B-Cycle stations.
For brunch, stop into Stowaway Kitchen, where the coffee is artisan and the food is fresh and travel-inspired, from the Levant to Japan. For lighter fare, park yourself in Crema Coffee, order a pour-over and a breakfast burrito and do some people-watching while a barista perfects your cup of joe. (Also ask if the artist in the studio behind Crema is around. Trust us, just ask.)
Fully caffeinated, pop into some RiNo shops. Modern Nomad, a design-furnishings collective near Crema, will have you wanting to redecorate your home. FICE Gallery (closer to Stowaway) will have you buying your tired feet some new kicks. And Topo Designs, a Colorado classic, is where you'll want to pick up a backpack to carry all the stuff you bought.
Pursuing great brews is a worthwhile diversion in this neighborhood. For a time in recent history, RiNo was synonymous with Colorado's craft-beer boom. Now breweries are popping up all over the city (and state), but RiNo still bears the fruits of beer's push into the warehouses here at Our Mutual Friend, Ratio Beerworks, Black Shirt Brewing, Epic and Bierstadt Lagerhaus, just to name a few. A proper beer tour in this neighborhood would take days, not because of the distance covered but the variety of ales and lagers (and the ensuing inebriation).
Try a few, and remember: If you're visiting the Mile High City, the altitude and dry air can take you out of the tasting game faster than usual. One way to fight that (other than staying hydrated, of course) is to eat. Continuing the beer theme, try Chuburger, an Oskar Blues eatery that specializes in grass-fed burgers. Its Hotbox Roasters Cafe (next door) is also an option for another boost, this time from coffee and tasty, not-too-sweet doughnuts.
For gluten-free folks, RiNo still has your back — just check out Stem Ciders. Or short-circuit your beer tour by hitting up First Draft Taproom, where you'll find beer and wine on tap via a self-service pouring system.
If you're seeking a retreat from the streets at this point, head to RiNo Yoga Social, a space where teachers are encouraged to build their client base — which translates into lower-cost and donation-based classes for yogis.
Despite rising rents in the neighborhood, RiNo is, without a doubt, still an arts district. As such, it is home to interesting artist spaces, such as the thought-provoking exhibits often on display at Dateline and the modern ceramics at Plinth Gallery. First Friday Art Walks are a terrific way to experience RiNo's artist offerings. Check out the schedule to plan your visit.
Head into happy hour and dinner at one of RiNo's food halls. The Source, on Brighton, was the original (only five years ago), but it has been joined by the all-brick Denver Central Market (at the heart of the bluster on Larimer) and modern Zeppelin Station, just across the pedestrian bridge over the tracks from Blake and 36th streets, on Wazee. Each has its own character. Why not check out all three?
With your belly full, settle in for a night of live music at the Meadowlark or Larimer Lounge. OK, you might not be settling in. You might be on your feet, screaming for a band and dancing the night away. You might have one more brewery to hit, one more bike ride home. Congratulations! You did the Mile High City right.
About the Author
Jenn Fields is the former travel and fitness editor at the The Denver Post. In addition to writing for Boulder's Colorado Daily and Daily Camera newspapers (where she worked as a staff reporter and editor), she has written for several magazines, including Bicycling, Backpacker and Climbing, and worked as a researcher for Yoga Journal. In her most recent book-editing project, she worked with author Michael Maciel on The Five Vows. You can follow her on Twitter @jennfields.