To commemorate the past three and a half years I spent at school in Denver, I decided it was about time to share a blog post rounding up my favorite restaurants and activities in the Mile High City. I used to feel like I didn’t get out of my campus bubble very much—especially freshman year—but I realized I’ve done a lot of fun exploration throughout my time in Colorado, even given the complications of the pandemic. I hope you enjoy this Denver travel guide!
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WHAT TO DO
I don’t get out much, so I’m sure Denver has so much more to offer than I even know. But with that said, I do feel like I’ve experienced a lot of the Mile High City’s quintessential tourist attractions as well as some more unique outings for those who are up for an adventure. Both kinds of activities are included in my round-up below!
This might be mundane to some people, but coming from what I call a faux-city (too big to be a town but too small to be a ‘real’ city), riding public transit can be an experience all on its own. I used to love zipping around town on the light rail freshman year and exploring what different stops had to offer. Plus, when parking downtown is difficult and expensive, riding the light rail is a great alternative. And you never know who you’ll meet! Or what kind of fun people watching you’ll enjoy.
I have now had two friends visit me from Boise during my time in college and the first place I took both of them was downtown to Union Station. There’s so much history and so many cool old buildings downtown that I love taking the light rail to Union Station, walking down 16th Street Mall, and ending up at…
I live in a capitol city year-round, whether I’m at home in Boise or at school in Denver, and I always love showing off the capitol building in either place when I have visitors. Maybe that makes me nerdy, but capitol buildings have such unique architecture and history, and the Denver one is significantly different than the one back home in Boise. I’ve been in Denver’s capitol building a handful of times to meet with state representatives for my criminology classes, and the inside of the building is spectacular. Plus, you can’t miss the one-mile marker! On the stairs of Denver’s capitol, you can snap a pic at a spot that is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level—the quintessential tourist photo-op.
While you’re downtown exploring Union Station and the capitol building, you should swing by the Dairy Block, which is a cute little alley with a coffee shop, ice cream, the Milk Market food hall, and a couple of stores. What I like most about this fun little area is that they have the cutest decorations! Whether that be pretty Christmas lights draped between the buildings or sparkly hearts for Valentine’s Day, they always have some festive new display.
This is a classic place to take guests when they’re visiting Denver. While Red Rocks is located in Morrison instead of Denver proper, it’s worth the 20-40 minute drive to hike around the incredible geology or to see a concert. While I’ve wandered around Red Rocks several times, I only just saw my first concert there back in September, and the venue is amazing (acoustics aside).
I would never be interested in watching baseball on TV, but I would watch just about any sporting event in person—I love the energetic atmosphere and the heart-stopping food one can only find in a stadium. This is a fun and cheap date night for the summertime, as nose-bleed tickets are usually only $10-15. It’s fun taking the light rail there and getting a drink before or after the game at one of the many surrounding bars downtown!
This is a special-occasion activity that should be on any Denverite’s list. My aunt and my grandma took me to high tea my freshman year to celebrate my birthday, and it’s one of my favorite memories! We got dressed up, sat in the gorgeous and historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver, and sipped on tea in the afternoon while eating from towers of decadent finger foods and treats. They even made me my own gluten-free snackies. It was such a fun time and makes for a great gift for the girly girls in your life (my aunt and I seriously considered wearing fun fascinators like the British). You can check out a whole blog post about the experience here.
Now this is a really fun and unique way to spend the evening if you’re looking for something different to do. While I’ve never actually eaten or had anything to drink at the Mercury Café, the real reason to go is the dancing. They offer different swing dancing lessons on various nights of the week, or you can just pay for the dance without the lessons! I went a handful of times freshman year and danced with all sorts of different guys, some who knew what they were doing and some who did not. It’s a lot of fun but definitely requires pushing yourself out of your comfort zone! The best way to learn to dance is to dance with as many people as possible, so if you go there with your partner or on a date, be sure to branch out, too.
This is a really pretty and affordable place to spend the afternoon. I have now been to the gardens in the spring, summer, and fall, and it has never disappointed! They have such a variety of plants and flowers, and they have an incredible greenhouse building that makes you feel like you just walked into a rainforest (or onto the set of Jurassic Park). The Botanic Gardens also hosts a variety of cool events and always has fun decorations around the holiday season—they filled their reflecting pool with skeletons on pool floaties for Halloween and it was one of the inexplicably funniest things I’ve ever seen. You can see a full blog post featuring some of the garden’s spring blooms here.
I’ve also been to the art museum several times and always enjoy its rotating exhibits, although none compare to the incredible Dior exhibit they had a few years ago. The Art Museum is a really cool building downtown and is just a great way to spend an afternoon if you don’t have anything else going on. Plus, they have a great gift shop for yourself or friends/family! Check out more pics from the Dior exhibit in this blog post.
I’ve only been here once but I would love to go back. The Grizzly Rose is a country bar/dance hall where Coloradans throw on their big hats and boots and hit the dance floor. It is SUCH a fun vibe and very different than what you would expect in a big city. They do line dancing which was, boy, sure fun to watch but extremely difficult to learn if you don’t already know the moves. They sometimes host concerts here, too!
The arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf recently opened a permanent exhibit in Denver called Convergence Station. If it was more affordable, I would recommend the psychedelic and interactive art installation as a fun and unique date night idea, but it was just too expensive in my opinion… I thought I would still include it here, though, because there seems to be quite the hype around Meow Wolf—everyone I talked to was so excited to hear my thoughts on it. I even wrote a review on the exhibit in the University of Denver’s Clarion newspaper, which I recommend reading here before purchasing your tickets.
Annnnd for my Catholic peeps, the Mother Cabrini Shrine off I-70 is a really peaceful way to spend a morning. There is a church where you can attend mass, a gift store, several gardens, a grotto, and stairs/the Stations of the Cross leading up to a giant statue on the hill. It’s a really pretty place to pray or meditate.
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WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
I admittedly haven’t eaten out *that* much over the years (college budget, ya know?), but there are a few places I’ve returned to time and time again, either with friends on a night-out or with family when they’re in town visiting. Naturally, most of the places are located in the University of Denver/Cherry Creek area, but I also included a few downtown spots and elsewhere.
This is hands-down my favorite restaurant in Denver. I always go here for my birthday, celebratory events, the start of the school year, etc. It’s an Italian restaurant that makes its own pasta, has great gluten-free options, and is located in the cutest neighborhood with a few other restaurants and stores on the same street. I highly recommend either the lobster corn pizza or the honey pie! Delish!!!
Adrift is located on Broadway in a spot that’s hoppin’ on the weekends but also a little sketchy, fyi. Regardless, this tiki bar is the perfect island getaway in a landlocked state. The drinks cost around $15 on average, which is expensive, but unlike a lot of bars in Denver… you actually get a lot of drink for that price. And they come in the coolest tiki glasses and other fun shapes. The vibes are amazing here and all the servers wear Hawaiian shirts (but in a chic way, the bar isn’t tacky at all). It’s a great place to go with friends or to celebrate a 21st birthday because you can order a giant melon-full of punch to share! I’ve even seen a few drinks lit on fire (purposefully, of course).
If you love Indian food, this is the place for you. I first discovered Little India because the Southeast Asian Student Alliance on campus would always have them cater their events, and the tikka masala is delish. For my fellow University of Denver folks—Little India is way better than Serene, fight me.
This is a neighborhood favorite around campus. They have so many delicious flavors of ultra-creamy ice cream and make the best banana splits. And while the line always looks super long (stretching outside and down the street), I’ve found that it usually moves really quickly. Grab your ice cream and walk a few blocks to Wash Park to catch the sunset!
Jelly is a yummy brunch spot right near the University of Denver. They make GF donut bites and can do gluten-free French toast and pancakes as well. So yummy! I went there for my birthday breakfast this year and have been several times before. Service can be a little slow sometimes—and the line is always ridiculous on the weekends—but I think the donuts and GF options are worth it.
This farm-to-table steakhouse has been a 10/10 every time I’ve been—great service, cool atmosphere, and most importantly, absolutely delicious food. It’s pricier for sure, but it’s worth the splurge on a special occasion. Plus, the Urban Farmer is located in the heart of downtown right next to the historic Oxford Hotel (more on that later!).
I’m including Linger on this list because the restaurant is located in a building that was once a mortuary, so the playfully morbid atmosphere is really unique. It’s pricy and really only offers small plates (I would not recommend Linger if you’re starving), but it’s a cool and hoppin’ restaurant to try if you’re looking for something out-of-the-ordinary with unique flavors.
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WHERE TO STAY
Last but not least, I thought I would share my two favorite hotels in Denver. I’ve stayed in a handful of places over the years—during tours of the university and when my parents come to town—but these are the only two places I found noteworthy enough to share here.
This hotel is located in the heart of downtown near Union Station and was built in 1891. It’s a beautiful old building and has a lot of history, plus the service was just fantastic. They also have an old typewriter where you can write your future self (or a friend) a letter! Mine was written in November 2018 and is still in an envelope in my desk at home. The Oxford also has the *prettiest* Christmas decorations this time of year.
This is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever stayed. Castle Marne is a stone mansion that was built in 1889 and is a National Historic Landmark. Beyond the fascinating history and beautiful grounds of this B&B, the best part was definitely the second B—the breakfast. Everyone who was staying in the building ate breakfast at one grand table in the dining room. We all talked together and got to know one another, and it was such a cool experience. I was nervous for the breakfast—it was out of my comfort zone and very unusual to openly dine with strangers like that—but it was so, SO worth it. You can see some very old blog pics from the B&B grounds here.
And that’s a wrap—some of my favorite spots and activities in Denver! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these places or if you plan on visiting Denver soon. As always, you can ask me any questions or leave a comment if you think there’s something I should add to this list!
Miles of smiles,