Looking for the best things to do in Denver and Colorado? Here are 18 ideas. Looking for even more suggestions? Check out Best Things to Do in Denver #6 or #5 or #4 or #3 or #2 or #1 for more CO love.
What is better than being a part of the urban gardens National Geographic considers 3rd best in the United States of America? Being a part of the urban gardens National Geographic considers 3rd best in the United States of America – delightfully decorated in lights. Open until January 1, 2014 from 5:30 to 9:30 nightly, the Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light is THE place to take a stroll, sip hot chocolate (adult beverage add-ons available), listen to the songs of carollers and celebrate all that is light (and right) about the holiday season.
Most Genius Ski Goggles. Ever.
To be fair, I have not field tested them, but the simple act of seeing them (and realizing their complete genius) makes it impossibly irresistible for me not to mention them. To explain, Zeal Optics (a Boulder-based company) created not just ski goggles but ski goggles with a built-in (built-in!!!!) camera AND video camera.
Does it get more clever than that? What is next? Goggles that will microwave your lunch? Well, if anyone is going to hook the ski world up with warm mac n’ cheese on the mountain – it is going to be Zeal.
Best Dance Party in Denver
Rolling Stone ranks Denver’s Beta as the best dance club in the U.S., but this can only be because they have not visited Tracks. Located in an enormous warehouse-ish building on 35th and Walnut, Tracks has multiple rooms cranking out tunes from DJs around the globe. Consistently rated Denver’s best gay bar, Tracks is the Mile High City’s 100% guaranteed good time.
Best Cozy Cappuccino
Damn good cappuccino + a full bar + a terrace + big windows + a wonderfully cozy atmosphere. Find it all at Gallop Café on the corner of 32nd and Zuni.
Best Saturday Afternoon Lazy Bike Ride Get-Away
For the Saturday afternoon that you want to get out of Denver, but don’t want to go too far and are not in the mood for really exerting yourself – throw the bikes in the back of the car and head to the Boulder Bike Trail – 300 miles of trails that take you through the campus, the town, along the river, up the canyon (although some of it is closed due to the floods and does require a wee bit of exertion), to the parks and beyond. When you are ready for a rest, all of Boulder is waiting to food and drink you.
Best 4D Movie
The Living West, the newest exhibit at the History Colorado Center, explores the history of Mesa Verde, The Dust Bowl and modern day environmental issues facing our state.
The short movie (8 minutes if memory serves me correctly) on The Dust Bowl is worth seeing in and of itself. Shown inside a re-constructed home typical of the time, this movie shows viewers exactly what people experienced during the infamous “Black Sunday” and does not fail to include all dimensions – including a 4th one.
Best Indian Food
Located in a south Boulder strip mall, Tandoori Grill puts out the best Indian food I have found in the Denver metro area. Some of my Tandoori Grill favorites include – Chana Saag, Baingan Bharta and of course, Tikka Masala.
Best Denver Christmas Tradition. Ever.
Beyond my adult comprehension Judy, a dear family friend, would take my young sisters and I to see The Nutcracker every year in downtown Detroit – by herself – alone, solo, no back-up. (This was well before the advent of cellular technology, people.)
The net-effect of Judy’s bravery was The Nutcracker became one of my most cherished Christmas traditions. I have seen it in multiple states and in countless venues. This past weekend I saw the Colorado Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Elle Caulkins Opera House.
Even my husband, who would have likely classified himself as “not very ballet-y” audibly, and more than once, said aloud, “WOW!” upon watching the dancers, the set – the entire performance.
To note, I am quite certain Judy also gave me nice gifts wrapped in pretty packages that I loved, but honestly – I have no recollection of any of them. The gift of taking me to The Nutcracker, however, decades later – continues to give. (Photo courtesy of Mike Watson.)
Best Adult Beverage Holiday Gift
Breckenridge Distillery’ Bitters are described with phrases such as, “hand-harvested alpine herbs…ancient bitter roots…a symphony of aromas…aperitif…” Frankly, I don’t know what the hell any of that means, but what I do know is you would have to be a bloody damn fool not to love the stuff.
Best “American” Food in Denver
True Story: You know who loves “American” food the most? The Europeans. At least is the case with my European husband.
Passing a burger place without entering, “You know, to try something new,” he will tell me – is simply not possible. This holds especially true when we are in the vicinity of Park Burger in the Highlands. Even the mention of it today elicited comments of, “That place is good.” Pause. “That place is really good.” His favorites are the El Mariachi and the El Chilango with the parmesan and truffle fries (of course). Veggie options also available.
Best Website to Make You Want to Quit Your Job. Today.
Denver’s Beth Marbach wanted something many do – a way out of corporate America. On the side she started selling books, CDs, DVDs and, of all things, dog jackets on eBay. It was when she was on a mystery shopping trip to DSW and eyed a pair of designer shoes on sale – that her whole life changed.
Thirteen years later, she had sold 23,000 (23,000!) pairs of shoes and grossed $4 million to (pun) boot. Her stories of how she did it, the practically unbelievable entanglements the world of luxury got her involuntarily wrapped up in and all the business lessons she learned along the way – will inspire those looking for a different way to do life and will entertain those who want a peek into the secret world of luxury. Devour it all at: downtowngal.com.
Best Sugar Fix (x2) in Denver
What is better than one dessert? Two.
Enter D Bar Dessert’s Cake and Shake (which has also, deservingly, found itself on the cover of a 5280 issue). Described as a “3-layer choc cake [with] madagascar chocolate frosting [served with a] vanilla or chocolate milk shake or malt.” Ummm, yes please. I will take two. I mean one.
Best Legs in Denver
Spoiler Alert: If the Avalanche, Nuggets, Rockies, Rapids, Broncos and Colorado Ballet had a Best Legs Contest – the Colorado Ballet would win – and by a lot. I mean, not that they wouldn’t be up against some serious competition, but when your job requires you to repeatedly launch yourself in the air – while doing the splits and touching your toes all the while in costume with a smile on your face that seems to be saying, “I actually enjoy this.” That is going to give you, (pun) hands down, the best legs in Denver.
Denver’s Five Star Coffee Experience
What defines a five star coffee experience?
- A-M-A-Z-I-N-G coffee
- An atmosphere that makes you want to never leave
- Availability of a drink vessel that is not the completely disgusting and environmentally disastrous paper cup and plastic top option
- Thoughtful coffee presentation
- Terrace availability
- Baristas who believe the preparation of coffee is not a prescribed process but a finely tuned art. (Personally, I would like to start a campaign to have the name changed to bARTistas.)
And who has nailed them all? Aviano Coffee on Detroit near 2nd in Cherry Creek. Bravo Aviano! Bravo!
Best Half-Day Outside of Denver
A quick drive up I-25 and a short jaunt to the west and you will arrive at Longmont, a place that beyond all explanation took me 13 years to visit. Longmont is a town of about 88,000 with unobstructed mountain views, loads of small businesses, fun restaurants, breweries and some delightful hidden gems.
First stop – the the place I had heard about for years – Prospect.
Prospect, became especially interesting to me after driving around Denver and Colorado with David (my Spanish husband) and watching him gaze confusedly at the I-25 urban sprawl, and then say, “But, where is the center? Don’t these towns have a center? Wouldn’t it be better if they had a center? Why don’t the developers build a center? Wouldn’t people rather live somewhere that had a center? Is there seriously no center?!?!” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Prospect is a newer development, but to David’s joy (and relief) it has a center – and not the gross one where only the likes of Starbucks and a burrito franchise are able to have a storefront in a thoughtlessly thrown up strip mall type contraption.
Recipient of the 1996 Governor’s Smart Growth Award, Prospect was built as the “antidote to conventional and sprawling suburban development, which is characterized by oversized front yards; wide, featureless streets; and inhospitable house fronts dominated by huge garage doors.”
In short: they aren’t hyper-depressing suburban sprawl. (My words, not theirs.)
Instead, “mature trees have been planted along Prospect’s streets and in its parks to provide the shade and privacy typical of an established community.”
The architecture at Prospect ranges from downright quirky to very traditional and they are all near, “A large community park surrounded by shops, a swimming pool, restaurants and offices comprise the town center — and all of this is within a five minute walk from Prospect’s homes.”
And, to David’s (and my) delight none of the shops or restaurants were chain. It is in fact, where Comida got its start.
Lunchtime was at Cheese Importers. Located a bit south of town in an old and charming warehouse, the Cheese Importers is part cheese shop (the biggest one in Colorado reportedly), part gourmet grocery store (we acted to slow and missed out on buying baguettes) and part, crazily good, café with fresh Mediterranean and French inspired dishes.
The Cheese Importers proved to be one of my absolute favorite experiences in Colorado in 2013, and for anyone looking for unique and charming experiences in and around Denver – it is an absolute must-do.
Looking for something to do on a Saturday or Sunday or right now? Go there.
The charming patio in the back will make you feel like you are not in a Denver suburb but a Parisian Café (assuming of course, you focus on the terrace and not the nearby parking lot, but I really think you will be able to).
Our Longmont wanderings also took us into Dickens Tavern. The locals will tell you different stories about the beginning of this historic restaurant and theatre. Some will tell you the original founders were related to Mr. Charles Dickens; others will tell you it was paid for via a grant from Ulysses S. Grant. Upstairs is the historic theatre with acts still playing there to this day and downstairs is the tavern (formerly a bank). Next time we go, we will be certain to get the table that resides inside the former vault – which is now converted into the wine cellar.
Longmont is home to two large and popular Colorado players– Oskar Blues Brewery (their anti-corporate headquarters (no words for how much I LOVE this), their restaurant and a new one on the way) and Left Hand Brewing Company.
I was sad to learn that Left Hand Brewery was not, as I had assumed all this time, named after my people – the other 10% of the population who understands living in a right handed world – BUT instead after a damn creek.
However, after finishing the day with a stop at their brewery and sampling one of their fine creations they were – immediately, and completely, forgiven. Certainly they must have above average love for us lefties, right?
The Books I Use to Find Places to Go & Things to Do in Denver & Colorado