Looking for the best things to do in Denver and Colorado? Here are 24 ideas. Looking for even more suggestions? Check out Best Things to Do in Denver #7, #6 or #5 or #4 or #3 or #2 or #1 for more CO love.
Best Luxury Weekend in Colorado, Part 1
There is a science, an art and an incredibly delicate balance to luxury. This almost impossible to achieve trifecta is accomplished by an infinitesimally small number of hotels and resorts around the world – one of them being the Sonnenalp.
Located in Vail, Colorado the Sonnenalp, is a 112-suite, 15 hotel room world-class luxury hotel, which began a century ago when a family opened a hotel in Bavaria. Four generations later, and since the 1970s, members of this same family have operated the Sonnenalp.
Consistently rated one of the best hotels in the world, the Sonnenalp offers renowned and unparalleled personal service, accommodations that transcend every wish for luxury and comfort, an authentic slice of European style, exquisite fine and fun casual dining experiences, and a spa no one will ever forget.
Best Luxury Weekend in Colorado, Part 2
Staying at the Sonnenalp, however, does create a serious quagmire. I mean, how do you choose between lapping up the luxury of one of the best hotels in the world versus going skiing or snowboarding a very short walk away from one of the consistently best rated (for good reason) ski mountains in North America. Vail has everything, and I mean everything, any skier or rider would want – and then some. A few examples:
1. It is over 5000 acres of ginormous.
To put this in perspective, I lived in Vail for two solid seasons, and there are still areas of the mountain where I have not spent significant time. To put this in more perspective Vail’s Back Bowls (yes, they are so legendary we in the CO consider them a proper noun) span seven miles plus Vail has the most groomed runs of anywhere – ON THE PLANET.
2. It is cush.
Vail is a go-to place for skiers that like the comfy sides of the sport. As just one of the many examples – their new gondola fits up to 12 people, has WiFi and, drum roll please, HEATED SEATS!
3. They have eating options for all culinary desires and budgets. (Seriously)
Ski mountains are not known as places that can please both the frugally minded and the culinarily astute. Vail however accommodates both crowds and everything in between.
Want the posher side of the Vail Mountain culinary experience with table service and an upscale atmosphere? Try the newly opened “The 10th”.
Want a wide range of eating options cafeteria style with five star views? Go to Two Elk Lodge.
Brought your own lunch you want to heat up in the microwave or on their complimentary BBQ – head to Henry’s Hut – a yurt at the top of Mountain Top Express.
4. An amazing apres scene.
Like the mountain, the Town of Vail has something for everyone. Want to hang out with the locals? Try The George located to the left and downstairs right after you cross the walking bridge or consider La Cantina the Mexican restaurant located inside the Vail Village bus station.
Want cocktails and upscale bowling, go to Bol.
Want a dining experience to remember? Go to Sweet Basil, Kelly Liken or Ludwig’s at The Sonnenalp. (Ludwig’s not-to-be-missed last wine dinner is this Friday, March 14th! Read about their Sommelier, the man behind Vail’s biggest wine list, here. )
Best Gourmet Tacos
Five words (plus a plus sign): Go to Machete Tequila + Tacos.
Eighteen more words: Get the quesadillas (I vote for shrimp with poblano salsa variety) and the chips with three kinds of salsa.
The Pizza that Will Save Your Day
After a solid 8 hours dealing with technical website problems and worse, technical “support” I beelined it out the door to the liquor store.
With a bottle of pinot noir firmly gripped in my mitts, the only thing separating me from it was a simple credit card transaction I was waiting in line to complete.
Enter a woman with the world’s most favorite insulated envelope – a big red one crammed full of pizza.
This miracle lady was from Patxi’s, a recently opened pizzeria on 17th and Franklin. To be neighborly, to announce their new location (and to save my whole day), she came into the store to give away free (and insanely good) deep dish pizzas.
Best Place to See Coyotes in Denver
True story: just on the other side of Denver’s border and a not-so-long bike ride from downtown – you can find wild coyotes, buffalo herds, deer, birds of prey – and completely empty hiking trails and space.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge has a not so pretty past which includes manufacturing chemical warfare for multiple military operations and a prisoner of war camp. (All of the historic details are described in their very well done visitors’ center.)
Today the Arsenal is a place of peace for both people and wildlife. The easy and unoccupied trails – make it the perfect escape for Denverites who want a serious dose of nature all within a 15 minute drive of their front door.
Denver’s Comeback Neighborhood
Who had hope for a Five Points revitalization? Not many.
While Denver residents flocked north, south, east and west of Five Points area, residents, the Five Points Business District and local politicians wouldn’t give up on it.
Amongst many other things, at the end of February, almost $500,000 in grant money was awarded to different entrepreneurs to improve the Five Point’s Welton Street corridor. Grantees include a bagel shop (a bagel shop!), funds for the redevelopment of the historic Rossonian (alas!), over 200+ residences and apartments, and 1000s of 1000s of square feet slated for shopping, dining and Five Points fun. Learn more about Denver’s Comeback Kid here.
Best Airport Food (Really)
Food choices at the airport basically come down to these: pre-made sandwiches assembled two states over four days prior or…a supersized bag of Skittles.
Then, Root Down arrived at Denver International Airport (DIA). Similar to Root Down’s original restaurant in North Denver, their DIA location attracts loads of foodies. It also draws anyone and everyone that is looking to say a long awaited goodbye to the rainbow of fruit flavors and HELLO to Root Down’s – “eclectic, fun, funky” and freaking fantastic food.
A Long Awaited Charmer Amongst the Chains
Finding authentic places to eat downtown can involve unfortunate challenges. High rent prices force many of the little guys out and bring the chain restaurants flocking in.
A few gems have managed to eek their way past Corporate Restaurant Inc. and land themselves in a great downtown location – Freshcraft being a perfect example. Located on Blake and 15th, Freshcraft’s gig is this: an extensive and thoughtful beer list, bar food with serious panache (BBQ crepes, crispy pork schnitzel, quinoa cakes) and a highly desirable (and often hard to find in the area) cozy neighborhood feel.
Best Cocktails Meets Best Ambience
Denver’s most brilliantly designed restaurant (I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say this – it was inspired by a love story between a woman who loved wine and a lumberjack) – is also THE place to go for wickedly creative cocktails.
Beatrice and Woodsley’s cocktail menu changes frequently (making it even more alluring), but their current offerings include: the Farmer in the Rye which is made with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, allspice dram, squash puree, muddled ginger, orange, and lemon served on the rocks or the Violet, You’re Turning Violet which is a house-infused violet vodka concoction (teas, blueberries, ginger, etc) and lemon juice – also on the rocks.
p.s. The contraption by which you wash your hands here is a must-see in and of itself.
Best Place for Dancing Queens
Who amongst us does not stop everything when they hear these Abba lyrics:
I don’t wanna talk
About things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play
The winner takes it all…
And what about the lyrics from Take a chance on me, Chiquitita, or Voulez Vous – AH HA!
For all of you who can’t get enough, which I will assume is all of you, Judy Cramer created something you want to check out – Mamma Mia, a musical with a plot built entirely around Abba songs.
Mamma Mia is 2 hours and 30 minutes (with a 20 minute intermission) of Abba happiness. It is currently off Voulez Vous-ing in other locales currently, but see what is showing now at the DCPA. May I highly suggest The Secret Comedy of Women, a two gal show based on the rarely discussed and completely hysterical realities of womanhood. A must for girls night out!
Best Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy
Located a bit off the beaten path on 26th in Jefferson Park, Sassafras serves up Southern-American comfort food in a converted Denver home. A must have is their Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy consisting of crispy cornmeal crusted fried shrimp, shredded lettuce, red tomato and house-made zesty remoulade. Put it on your to-do list.
Most Brilliant Bike Repair
Somewhere along the lines, a clever bicycle repair person had and AHA! Moment and realized maybe their customers want to do something other than read their back issues of Bicycling while the bike shop cleans their cranks.
If you are one of these customers, you want to check out the Denver Bicycle Café on 17th and Lafayette. Here getting your shifters adjusted and yourself caffeinated (or beer-ed) is a one stop shop. An outdoor terrace also awaits you if you want to soak up the sun with your beverage of choice.
Chocolate Spokes Bike Studio is also in on the brainier end of bike repair. Located on Downing and 28th, the seemingly ever cheerful staff (I hope the day when we arrived and the guy was wearing a bow tie was not just a fluke) is more than happy to help you with your bike AND sell you some of their locally made artisanal chocolate.
Cheapest Cappuccino in Denver
Denver’s cappuccino is, without fail, $3.24 or more – unless you go to St. Marks where those looking to save a quarter or two can enjoy cappuccino for under 3 bucks.
Best Indoor Ping Pong Tourney
It no longer suffices to ride our bikes to the bar for a beer. Now we want to ride our bikes to the bar for a beer and a round of bocce ball or skee ball or corn hole or what the hell? A ping pong tourney.
When it comes to beer + ping pong (but never beer pong, people) Ace on 17th and Pennsylvania have us all covered. One third restaurant-bar, one third indoor ping pong tables and one third outdoor ping pong tables Ace Eat and Serve let’s the games begin.
How have bars and beer companies spent so many hours and time mulling over designs, witty words, paper samples and printing costs when the best answer was so obviously – cut a piece of a cardboard box into coaster-ish size and stamp your logo onto it? Thank you, one million thank yous Crooked Stave for being so damn clever!
Best Flavored Vodka
There were days where I could drink substantial quantities of vodka. Then came the realization that hangovers were annoying, ruining your next day was a bore, the expense was absurd and well, I just – fortunately or not – grew out of it. I still however have a serious appreciation for vodka done exceptionally well such as Spring44’s Honey Flavored Vodka made right next door in Loveland, CO. I was so taken aback by its deliciousness I fear I would never have the words to describe it, so I will use theirs, “Light honey sweetness up front with floral notes, hints of lavender. Mid palate is creamy with warm vanilla and rich honey. Finish is long with notes of toasted nuts.” While trying it, different cocktails it could create were suggested but, I say do nothing to alter it, put it on the rocks, and revel in it.
Located in the old Izakaya Denver is the new Session Kitchen. Totally remodeled from the Izakaya days, Session Kitchen is a modern and hip (but not at all annoyingly so) restaurant offering “globally inspired, locally sourced” brunch, happy hour and dinner. The absolute not-to-be-missed are the lightly fried tallegio cheese corn bread balls that come with an apple shallot salad and kombucha hot sauce. Go hungry, you will want to fill up!