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From the moment you step off the plane in the Mile High City, you realize there's something a little different in the air. Well, the air is thinner, of course, and flatlanders notice it's harder to breathe at first. After boarding the shuttle to Denver International's baggage claim, you may recognize the catchy Western musical jingle signifying the tram stops. Or, maybe it's the person beside you wearing the Stetson hat who grabs your attention. The airport in itself is a local icon—the white billowing tent of a roof architecturally interpreting the snowcapped peaks gracefully looming in the distance.
This all adds up to a cosmopolitan city with a hint of the Old West and a healthy dose of awe-inspiring scenery. Colorful neighborhoods like LoDo and Cherry Creek present upscale dining, entertainment and shopping choices while world-class attractions include everything from art and cultural offerings to an 80-acre zoological park. And naturally, the majestic Rockies beckon outdoor enthusiasts to come play. Whether you care to hike, bike, climb, ski, kayak, play golf or drive rugged mountain passes, Denver's captivating Alpine splendor sets an impressive stage upon which to indulge in your favorite diversion.
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In DepthIt's hard not to think of the John Denver song “Rocky Mountain High” in tandem with Colorado. When you arrive in the Mile High City, not only will you see “high” in the soaring backdrop of snowcapped peaks, but you may feel it as a result of the temporary shortness of breath that comes with the 5,280-foot altitude. At one time, travelers arriving at Denver International Airport bypassed the metropolis and headed west for a bout of skiing or an excursion into Rocky Mountain National Park. But these days, Denver itself is a destination for those who wish to explore its culture, beauty and vibrant shopping and nightlife scenes.
In fact, Denver has the best of both worlds—urban sophistication complemented by easy access to a stunning alpine playground. Locals providing directions to lost tourists frequently advise, “If you get turned around, just look for the mountains and you'll know which way is west.” Denverites work hard in such industries as aerospace, telecommunications and energy research, but they like to play hard, too. While recreational pursuits like skiing, hiking and rock climbing are close by, city dwellers need not leave their own backyard to indulge in outdoor fun—they can play golf in City Park, bike on the Platte River Greenway Trail, ride horses in Cherry Creek State Park or fish one of the area's reservoirs.
Today sleek skyscrapers stand in place of the bustling frontier town of Denver City, which once lured prospectors into its saloons. Vestiges of the Gold Rush days remain in the refurbished Victorian storefronts of Larimer Square and in Civic Center Park, where murals honor wilderness pioneers and bronze sculptures depict such subjects as a bronco buster and a Native American.
Several chic urban pockets in addition to gracious neighborhoods have emerged from Denver's Cowtown beginnings. The LoDo (Lower Downtown) district, once chock-full of dilapidated warehouses, has been revitalized with loft apartments, galleries, and trendy nightspots and restaurants. The upscale Cherry Creek area, graced by lovely stone mansions, is a high-end retail mecca sure to inspire the savviest shoppers. Denverites delight in Washington Park's Victorian masterpieces and flower gardens.
Denver also celebrates diversity. Far East Center is the hub of the Asian population, Hispanic culture prevails in the La Alma/Lincoln Park sector and the black community thrives in Five Points. The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival's Asian marketplace and Cinco de Mayo Festival's carnival are ethnic celebrations that captivate all races and religions.
Sports fans find bliss at a variety of venues. Sports Authority Field at Mile High is the hallowed gridiron occupied by Denver's beloved Broncos, and Nuggets basketball sets Pepsi Center on fire. Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, reigns proudly over LoDo and is credited with its rebirth. A sophisticated classical entertainment scene at the Denver Performing Arts Complex mesmerizes opera, ballet and symphony aficionados, while the metro area's robust selection of innovative restaurants and trendy clubs entertain the masses.
By CarThe main access to Denver from either the east or west is via I-70 and US 40/287; from the north I-25 (US 87); from the south I-25 (US 87) and US 85 (all three are the same highway in Denver: the Valley Highway); and from the northeast by I-76.
Other major freeways are 6th Avenue (US 6) in west-central Denver; SR 470 south, east and west of Denver; I-270 northeast of Denver; and I-225, connecting I-70 in the east with I-25 south of the city.
Street SystemAll avenues run east-west. Streets generally run north-south except those in the downtown area, where arteries are one-way diagonals with numbered streets running southeast-northwest and named streets, courts and places running southwest-northeast. The Valley Highway (I-25) is the fastest southeast-northwest route, except during rush hours when it is usually congested.
The main east-west arteries are I-70 in north Denver; Colfax Avenue (US 40), 6th Avenue (US 6) and 8th Avenue in central Denver; Alameda and Evans avenues in south Denver; Hampden Avenue (US 285) in the southern suburbs; and Belleview Avenue and Arapahoe Road in the extreme south.
The main north-south highways are Wadsworth (SR 121), Sheridan (SR 95) and Federal (US 287) boulevards in the west; Broadway, from central downtown south to Englewood and Littleton; University Boulevard (which becomes Josephine and York streets, both one-way, north of E. 1st Avenue) in the southeast; Colorado Boulevard and Monaco Parkway in the east; Havana Street in the eastern suburb of Aurora; and Chambers Road in the extreme east.
Diagonal arteries are I-270 northwest to I-76 and US 36 to Boulder from I-25; I-225, east of I-70, from the southeast suburbs to south I-25; Speer Boulevard, from University Boulevard southeast-northwest to Federal Boulevard; and Leetsdale Drive, southeast from Colorado Boulevard and becoming Parker Road (SR 83) to the extreme southeastern suburbs of Denver.
Broadway, which runs north-south through most of the city, is the dividing line for the east and west designations of all cross streets. It is one-way south from the downtown area to I-25. Nearby Lincoln Street is one-way north from I-25 to the downtown area. Ellsworth Avenue, running east-west through most of the city, is the dividing line for the north and south designations of all cross streets.
The speed limit is generally 30 mph in residential districts and 25 mph in business districts. Right turns on red are permitted, unless otherwise posted, as are left turns on red from the extreme left lane of a one-way street into the extreme left lane of another one-way street.
Rush hours are 7 to 9 and 3:30 to 6. Ramp metering signals help control morning rush-hour traffic on the south portion of I-25 (the Valley Highway) in Denver and the south and middle portions of I-225 in Aurora.
ParkingParking is in accordance with posted signs. Downtown on-street parking is metered and limited; the cost is 25c per quarter-hour. Some meters have a “Tow Away Zone” sign; if you park too long, you are subject to a $25 fine. Commercial garages and lots are plentiful downtown, with rates ranging from $1.50 to $5 per hour or $5 to $25 per day.
About the City
Sales TaxColorado's statewide sales tax is 2.9 percent. Additional fees and taxes bring the total sales tax for the city and county of Denver to 7.65 percent. There also is a 15.75 percent city/county lodging tax, an 11.25 percent rental car tax and an 8.1 percent food and beverage tax.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(720) 913-2000
Fire (non-emergency)(720) 913-1311
Time and Temperature(303) 337-2500
HospitalsDenver Health Medical Center, (303) 436-6000; St. Joseph Hospital, (303) 812-2000; Porter Adventist Hospital, (303) 778-1955; Rose Medical Center, (303) 320-2121.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersDenver's major newspaper, The Denver Post, is published daily. The Denver Business Journal is available weekly.
RadioDenver radio station KOA (850 AM) is an all-news/weather station; KCFR (90.1 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationVISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau's Visitor Information Center 1575 California St. DENVER, CO 80202. Phone:(303)892-1505 or (800)233-6837
Air TravelDenver International Airport (DEN) is in northeastern Denver. There is a flat fee of $55.57 for taxi service to downtown. SuperShuttle ($25) provides van service to the downtown area. In addition, both RTD SkyRide buses and RTD's light rail A Line provide transportation to and from the airport for $9 each way.
Rental CarsMost of the numerous car rental agencies serving the Denver area have facilities both downtown and at Denver International Airport. Hertz, (303) 342-3800 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceUnion Station, 1701 Wynkoop St., (303) 592-6712, serves Amtrak.
BusesDenver's bus terminal complex at 19th and Arapahoe streets houses Greyhound Lines Inc., (303) 293-6555. The Regional Transportation District's Denver-Broomfield-Boulder Bus Service, (303) 299-6000, offers downtown shuttles and local service from the Market Street Station at 16th and Blake.
TaxisCabs in Denver can be requested by phone or, less commonly, hailed on the street. Major companies are Freedom Cab Co., (303) 444-4444; Metro Taxi Co., (303) 333-3333; Union Taxi, (303) 922-2222; and Yellow Cab Co., (303) 777-7777. Taxis are metered, with basic charges that vary from company to company.
Public TransportationThe Regional Transportation District (RTD) operates a fleet of buses in the metropolitan area. In general, buses run 5:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. One-way fare is $2.60. For information phone (303) 299-6000.
Free shuttle buses known as the 16th Street MallRide traverse the mile-long 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian promenade in downtown Denver. Buses run Mon.-Fri. 5 a.m.-1:21 a.m., Sat. 5:30 a.m.-1:21 a.m. and Sun. 6:30 a.m.-1:21 a.m.
RTD also operates 10 light rail lines including the A line, which travels between downtown’s Union Station and the Denver International Airport, with a stop at the University of Colorado. Other lines connect downtown with the suburbs of Arvada, Aurora, Golden, Littleton, Lone Tree and Westminster. Fares are charged according to zones. One-way fare is $2.60 for 1-2 zones; $4.50 for 3 zones; and $9 to the Airport fare zone.
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EssentialsSavor a heart-thumping panorama from the Mile High City's Cheesman Park (1599 E. 8th Ave.)—the view extends 150 miles from Pikes Peak to Mount Evans. Enormous shade trees, wide-open grassy areas and meandering walkways make this urban oasis a great picnic spot. The park's most recognized landmark is the neoclassical Cheesman Pavilion, which serves as both a lovely focal point for photographers and as the setting for events of all types, particularly weddings.
Relish the excitement of a Denver Broncos football game. Fans support their beloved Super Bowl champs by proudly donning orange and blue on game days at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (1701 Bryant St.). If you can't snag game tickets, consider a stadium tour to sneak an inside peek at such features as the TV production area, visiting team's locker room, press box and playing field.
Stroll through LoDo (Lower Downtown), a vibrant enclave dotted with historic Victorians as well as stylish lofts converted from early 20th-century warehouses. Larimer Square (1430 Larimer St.) serves as a gateway to this bustling hub of restaurants, shops, galleries and nightspots.
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Lunch in a quaint outdoor café or peruse upscale specialty boutiques in the tree-shaded shopping area known as Cherry Creek North (299 Milwaukee St.). If you're happiest in a department store, the adjacent Cherry Creek Shopping Center provides such high-end anchors as Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.
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Drive a scenic route. You can stop at any one of a number of parks on The Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway, which climbs up the Lariat Trail to stunning mountain vistas and descends into Bear Creek Canyon. If time isn't an issue, take the Colorado Heart of the Rockies drive trip on AAA.com to venture more deeply into the mountains.
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Hunt for souvenirs downtown along the 16th Street Mall. A free shuttle transports passengers up and down this nicely decorated thoroughfare, which presents a diverse selection of shops and plentiful dining options. Loaf in a comfy chair and sip a cappuccino at The Tattered Cover (1628 16th St.), one of the country's largest independent bookstores.
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Top Picks for Kids
Under 13Designed to engage kids under age 9, The Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (2121 Children's Museum Dr.) stimulates learning with an array of fun, hands-on exhibits including a real fire truck and an outdoor playground with tunnels, hills and a zipline. The museum even has an area dedicated to newborns and toddlers.
Lush, open aviaries; cage-less enclosures; and interconnected habitats keep the Denver Zoo (2300 Steele St.) interesting for both its diverse animal residents and young visitors. Gorillas and orangutans are zoo stars, as are the elephants, who have their own bridge allowing them to pass between habitats right above visitors' heads.
Science museums are deadly dull places filled with dusty displays and bored kids, right? Not if you're talking about the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Blvd.)! Inside dinosaurs stand poised for combat, a whale skeleton seems to swim overhead and silent Egyptian mummies captivate young imaginations. There are plenty of interactive exhibits to occupy antsy children, and the 4th-floor Sky Terrace offers picture postcard views of downtown.
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TeensIf your teen will watch anything on TV as long as it's on ESPN, then downtown Denver makes it easy to plan an entertaining itinerary, with three major sporting venues all within a few miles of each other. In addition to the NFL's Broncos, Sports Authority Field is home of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum (1701 Bryant St.), where the Centennial State's legendary athletes are celebrated. You can also go behind-the-scenes during the Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium Tours , which reveals the press boxes, club level and visiting team's locker room.
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Gear up for adventure in Colorado's mountains at REI Denver (1416 Platte St.) in the renovated Denver Tramway building. Whether its camping, cycling, hiking, skiing or just about any other recreational pursuit, REI has the latest gear and all-weather clothing. And the store's 47-foot climbing pinnacle will provide a challenge to any daredevil teen who loses interest in shopping.
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Winter not only means ski season in the Rockies, it's also when Denverites celebrate Mile High Holidays , which is held in various locales throughout December. Festivities include a parade, fireworks, wildlife-themed light displays at the Denver Zoo and cheerful holiday lights and decorations throughout downtown.
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ShoppingDenver's prime hunting ground for shoppers is concentrated in LoDo—that's Denverite speak for Lower Downtown. The Mile High City sprang forth from this 23-block district where Gen. William Larimer settled in 1858, and now it's retail history that's being made amid LoDo's hip urban scene.
The 16th Street Mall—a tad touristy, yet a definite to-do on your shopping list—serves as LoDo's hub, a pedestrian thoroughfare brimming with retail opportunities and graced with trees, flowers (in summer) and eclectic sculptures. Free shuttle buses whisk passengers along the mall between Union and Civic Center stations, alleviating the hassle and expense of parking.
Traveling south from the Civic Center, you'll encounter Denver Pavilions at 500 16th St., an outdoor complex that also indulges shoppers with dining and entertainment options, including Hard Rock Cafe, which offers a collection of rock ’n’ roll merchandise. The Shops at Tabor Center , Arapahoe and Larimer streets, is a three-level, glass-enclosed galleria flanked by the Westin Hotel. Across the street, brick walkways meander through a hodgepodge of stores and outdoor eateries known as Writer Square . Near the intersection of 16th and Wazee, cowboys and urbanites alike enjoy perusing the racks of spiffy Western duds at Rockmount Ranch Wear . Be sure to stop in the Tattered Cover Bookstore at 16th and Wynkoop, where you can settle into a cozy seat by the fireplace and ponder your book purchase.
As the state's colorful history maintains, LoDo gave birth to modern-day Denver, but it was Larimer Square that gave birth to LoDo. It all started here with Larimer Street being Denver City's main drag in the 1860s, housing the first bank and post office along with saloons and hotels frequented by weary (and sometimes rowdy) pioneers. Renovated storefronts offer a glimpse into the city's Wild West heyday in addition to providing retail recreation; shops tout a nice selection of crafts, Western wear and jewelry.
The Lower Downtown Arts District extends roughly from Larimer to Wynkoop between 14th and 20th streets. Those eager to score that extraordinary conversation piece for their home will have fun browsing the multitude of galleries scattered about, with many situated on Wazee Street. Art objects run the gamut from traditional to modern, including Western-themed paintings, Americana, abstract works, contemporary furnishings and sculpture.
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The Cherry Creek neighborhood, also south of downtown, is Denver's preeminent shopping destination. An outdoor shopping area dubbed Cherry Creek North provides a unique mix of boutiques, galleries, coffeehouses and cafes in a setting perfect for strolling. If scouting an indoor complex is more your style, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center is one of the Mile High City's best—standouts Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy's lure those with plenty of cash, but some 150 shops within the posh behemoth usually manage to satisfy all budgets.
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NightlifeWhether your idea of nighttime entertainment is listening to live music, doing some country line dancing or simply sipping a libation while people-watching, the Mile High City delights with a broad spectrum of offerings. Clubs providing entertainment usually charge a cover fee and may require drink minimums; phone ahead to confirm prices, opening hours, scheduled acts and dress codes.
Denver is said to brew more beer than any other city in the world, and individuals from all walks of life enjoy sampling the suds at the area's quality brewpubs. Try one of the handcrafted ales at Bull and Bush (4700 Cherry Creek Dr. S./303-759-0333), a homey neighborhood pub complete with leather sofas and a fireplace, modeled after its namesake in England. If you're interested in learning about the brewing process, take the tour at Great Divide Brewing Company (2201 Arapahoe St./303-296-9460); for connoisseurs, the offer of free samples before ordering offsets the rather sterile digs. At Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th St./303-297-2700), Denver's first microbrewery and one of the nation's largest, you can play darts or pool in addition to savoring such tempting selections as Cowtown Milk Stout and Patty's Chile Beer—and the pub grub isn't bad, either. Some aficionados define bliss as a pale ale paired with a tasty mound of nachos at Rock Bottom Brewery (1001 16th St./303-534-7616).
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If you come alive on a crowded dance floor, check out one of Denver's clubs. For the alternative rock/emo scene, head to The Church (1160 Lincoln St./303-619-9513), where you'll find 18-year-olds in addition to plenty of professionals in their 30s and 40s gyrating to the beat or having a nibble at the sushi bar. A 20s set wooed by hot DJs and techno/trance music moves to the thump of an unrivaled sound system at Beta (1909 Blake St./303-383-1909). All ages with an ear for country music amble up to Grizzly Rose (5450 N. Valley Hwy./303-295-1330) for live acts and the free line dance lessons on Sunday night.
Up-and-coming indie bands crank out their latest tunes at Hi-Dive (7 S. Broadway/303-733-0230), a friendly, trashy-trendy spot frequented by young, well-behaved hipsters. Herman's Hideaway (1578 S. Broadway/303-777-5840), a bare-bones club with a “come as you are” vibe, appeals to an age-diverse blend who like decent (and loud) rock ‘n' roll. Bluebird Theater (3317 E. Colfax Ave./303-377-1666), an intimate venue that opened as a movie house in 1913, hosts hometown bands as well as emerging national artists; the audience depends on the gig. Treat yourself to an independent film at Mayan Theatre (110 Broadway/303-744-6799), a 1930s art deco treasure.
Denver also has a healthy jazz and blues scene. For the stereotypical hole-in-the-wall joint serving up red-hot jazz nightly, visit cozy and usually crowded El Chapultepec (1962 Market St./303-295-9126), appreciated by all ages for its soulful sounds. You can grab a highly touted burrito or some chili if you're hungry. Dazzle (1512 Curtis St./303-839-5100), a funky retro lounge with a more mature following, offers a relaxed, supper-club setting and top-notch talent. Known for its smokin' house band, Jazz at Jack's (500 16th St./303-433-1000) is another Mile High City favorite, mostly appealing to post-30 Denverites; young professionals patronize Friday's live jazz happy hour.
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Performing ArtsThe Denver Performing Arts Complex, occupying four blocks at Curtis and 14th streets, is the second largest performing arts center in the nation: Its 10 performance venues seat a total of more than 10,000 people. During the main concert season from October through May, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra usually performs weekly in the Boettcher Concert Hall; Opera Colorado and the Colorado Ballet perform in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. “The Ellie,” as it's called by the locals, features an electronic screen on the back of its seats from which operagoers may view the current performance's text in eight languages.
The Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre features Broadway productions and ballet. The Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex hosts the Denver Center Theatre Company. The 12-acre complex also includes the Garner Galleria Theater and the Jones Theater.
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Family entertainment can be found at the Paramount Theatre, downtown at 1621 Glenarm St.; phone (303) 623-0106. If you prefer drama or comedy while dining, try a dinner theater.
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SightseeingWith aspects both Victorian and modern, Denver and its environs offer much to explore. Information about possible sightseeing itineraries can be obtained at VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau's Visitor Information Center and from AAA Colorado.
Gray Line offers a choice of sightseeing tours of Denver and the surrounding area; phone (303) 289-2841 or (800) 348-6877. Blue Moon Carriages, Denver Carriage and Irish Rose Carriages are operators that offer horse-drawn carriage tours of the city; phone (303) 489-7299, (303) 271-1065, or (720) 883-5325, respectively.
Driving ToursThe Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway
Industrial ToursHammond's Candies Factory Tours
Trolley and Van ToursThe Colorado Sightseer
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Denver in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Denver.
It's best to rent a car in the Mile High City, especially if you have time to explore the nearby Rocky Mountains. Most downtown attractions have parking facilities, and commercial garages and lots are plentiful. While riding the bus is an option, cabs aren't readily available on the street.
Day 1: Morning
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Day 1: Afternoon
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Within walking distance and crowned by a gold-leaf dome, the Colorado State Capitol overlooks Civic Center Park. As tour guides usher you across elegant marble floors, you'll notice such impressive architectural details as a grand staircase, rose onyx wainscoting and stained-glass renderings of state leaders.
Day 1: Evening
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The Mile High City presents multiple and varied nighttime diversions. Check out what's happening at the Denver Coliseum, known as the staging ground for rodeos, circuses and other events. Top-notch indoor concert venues include Fillmore Auditorium and the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Pepsi Center hosts popular entertainers in addition to area sports teams. For some outdoor splendor, Denver Botanic Gardens offers summer concerts, while the natural sandstone amphitheater at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is an otherworldly place to experience an evening show.
If you're in the mood for a cold one, Denver supposedly brews more beer than any other city in the world and brims with quality brewpubs. Stop by Wynkoop Brewing Company , one of the nation's largest.
Day 2: MorningBegin the day at the Downtown Aquarium on Water Street to view some intriguing creatures, both in and out of water. Fearsome sharks always captivate, as do noble Sumatran tigers. Displays tell the story of the world's ecosystems—playful otters and touch tank critters will mesmerize wee ones. You can further amuse youngsters under 9 years of age at The Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus , just a short walk across the street. They'll have fun directing their own puppet show or pretending to be shopkeepers.
Day 2: AfternoonYour best bet for lunch is to travel a few blocks east to historic Larimer Square. For classic dishes with an innovative twist, try Tamayo .
If you're in Denver during the warmer months (late April through October), spend an exhilarating afternoon at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park —it's about a mile and a half west of Larimer Square. Choose among such thrills as intimidating roller coasters, spinning teacups or pint-size rides for tykes. There's shows and other activities for those in search of laid-back endeavors. With a 10 p.m. closing time, you won't feel rushed.
Day 2: EveningIf you visited Larimer Square for lunch, you were on the western fringe of LoDo (lower downtown). Now it's time to delve deeper into this vibrant neighborhood, the epicenter of Denver nightlife.
There's no shortage of culinary delights here—you'll find a tantalizing array of hip restaurants tucked amid the area's historic structures. Standouts include ChopHouse & Brewery and Vesta .
After dinner, wander through the thriving district and poke into one of the trendy art galleries or sizzling nightspots. You may opt to sip a cappuccino and curl up with a book on an antique couch at the Tattered Cover bookstore. LoDo has undergone an urban renaissance of sorts, and many of its businesses are in fashionably restored warehouses.
Coors Field is in LoDo, so baseball fans might be able to catch the Colorado Rockies in action.
Day 3: MorningSpend today exploring City Park , an urban green space enhanced by views of distant Rocky Mountain peaks. Walking paths lead past a golf course, rose garden, lakes and monuments. Stroll toward the park's center to the Denver Zoo , where you can mingle with some 4,000 fascinating creatures, including polar bears, black rhinos and vampire bats. Be sure to witness the aerial antics of tree-dwelling monkeys in Primate Panorama.
Day 3: AfternoonThere's limited lunch options in City Park. If you'd like to venture outside park boundaries, Swing Thai is nearby and offers traditional Thai dishes as well as organic and vegan delicacies. Otherwise, you can have a snack in the café at your next stop, Denver Museum of Nature & Science , bordering the park's east end.
The museum's paleontological exhibit is marvelous—several frightening dinosaur skeletons will make your spine tingle. Egyptian mummies encased in wood boxes, a journey through space and a simulated mineral-encrusted mine all add to the intrigue.
Day 3: EveningThe Cherry Creek area, around 3 miles south of the park, is a great place to do some power shopping. Quaint boutiques, galleries and outdoor cafes prevail in this upscale enclave of Denver. Cherry Creek Mall houses larger, more prominent retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus along with tony specialty shops.
High-end restaurant diversions are the norm as well. If you're into celebrity sightings, you might just spy Super Bowl champion John Elway at his steakhouse, Elway's . Even if you don't encounter the legendary quarterback, the prime beef and nostalgic Ding Dong dessert won't disappoint.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Just as Denver's splendid outdoor scenery woos visitors, the city has two top-notch downtown museums that draw crowds, both AAA GEM attractions. Situated in City Park, a public playground dotted with flower gardens, lakes, monuments, fountains and walking paths, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is one of the nation's largest natural history museums. Trace Earth's evolution, learn how ancient Egypt preserved its dead in the mummy exhibit, explore the universe in Space Odyssey or experience the diversity of Native American cultures. Art aficionados flock to the Denver Art Museum, at the Civic Center's south end. The North Building is an impressive creation in itself, with more than a million shimmering gray tiles covering the 24-sided, two-towered exterior. Try to catch the museum tour at 11—with some 68,000 items running the gamut from sculpture, painting and design to architecture, photography and decorative arts, it's probably a good idea to get an overview. Be sure to have a look at the highly regarded American Indian exhibition.
Many of the cowboys who pioneered the Old West were African-American. The Black American West Museum, in the Five Points area, examines the impressive influence of these individuals as well as the contributions of black politicians, attorneys, soldiers and miners.
Coors, maker of “Rocky Mountain Kool-Aid”—or Coors beer—offers a couple of interesting Denver-area diversions. Visit the Coors Brewing Co., one of the world's largest, in nearby Golden to see how the facility creates the beloved concoction. Guides explain the malting, brewing, packaging and distributing process and those 21 or older can sample the goods. Coors Field Tours tantalize baseball fans with a behind-the-scenes look at the Colorado Rockies' home turf. Tours of the 76-acre ballpark occur during the off-season and include a peek into the dugout, visitor's clubhouse and the press, club and suite levels.
Several must-sees warrant a stop in the Capitol Hill area. Take a guided tour of the State Capitol, a AAA GEM attraction between E. 14th and E. Colfax avenues. It took 22 years to build the magnificent neoclassical structure—notice the majestic gold-plated outer dome looming above before you step inside to admire lovely stained glass, hand-carved white oak and marble floors from Marble, Colorado. The Molly Brown House Museum, once home to the spirited Titanic heroine, is in an elaborate mansion just a stone's throw from the capitol on Pennsylvania Street. Costumed guides educate guests about the namesake's sense of adventure and humanitarian service as well as the lifestyle of Victorian Denver's upper middle class. Denver Botanic Gardens, a great place to relax in the heart of downtown and a AAA GEM attraction, encompasses 23 acres between Cheesman and Congress parks. More than 45 fanciful plots include wildflowers, orchids, native grasses, herbs and vegetables. A Japanese garden offers summer tea ceremonies and the lush Tropical Conservatory brims with exotic specimens. For a peaceful respite amid vine-draped trellises, pause in the Claude Monet garden where water lilies artfully grace a pond.
Several of the Mile High City's attractions present nature-oriented endeavors complemented by the area's rugged Rocky Mountain scenery. Learn about such marvels as migrating birds, ponderosa pine forest, and indigenous plants and animals at Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve in nearby Golden. After stopping at the visitor center, connect with the great outdoors by observing wildlife on winding meadow trails, with distant snow-capped peaks providing a stunning backdrop. Relish the scenic drive to Lookout Mountain's crest, where the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave pays tribute to the adventures of frontier scout, showman and Pony Express rider William F. Cody. The museum exhibits Old West artifacts, including Cody's saddle, antique firearms and American Indian relics. Although unimpressive in itself, the gravesite provides a breathtaking panorama of Denver below. To glimpse towering red sandstone formations 250 to 300 million years old, head to Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison. An amphitheater geologically formed into the jagged sandstone monoliths is the setting for musical performances enhanced by natural acoustics.
Denver's abundant amusements keep the kids entertained as well. There's tons of fun to grab at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park , in the downtown area off I-25. Ride choices vary from the mild to the wild, from gentle family-oriented activities to a selection of thrilling roller coasters and gushing water attractions. The Denver Zoo in City Park, a AAA GEM attraction, provides an eye-widening experience for children, who delight in the antics of frolicking polar bear cubs, bobbing seals and swinging monkeys. A favorite is the Primate Panorama, a state-of-the-art facility where you will be equally enchanted by a 6-ounce pygmy marmoset or a 600-pound gorilla. Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides, departing from Chatfield State Park, mesmerizes all ages with a birds-eye view of southwest Denver—a clear day rewards passengers with an awesome view of the skyline. The excursion also presents glances of wildlife and a 130-mile panorama with sightings of Pikes Peak, Red Rocks and other scenic highlights.
Those intrigued by geology should drop by the Downtown Aquarium, a AAA GEM attraction in Quest Park. Displays tell a tale of two rivers—the Colorado and Indonesia's Kampar—by illustrating the various ecosystems they encounter along their courses to the Pacific. Frequently visited critters include playful sea otters, fierce sharks and stately Sumatran tigers. In the foothills west of town near Morrison, explore a trail of dinosaur bones and footprints from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods on Dinosaur Ridge. The self-guiding tour at this paleontological and geological site has reptilian-shaped signs pointing out these wonders, along with rock formations and plant and animal fossils.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
LoDo (lower downtown) contributes several culinary standouts to metropolitan Denver's dining scene. At first glance, ChopHouse & Brewery seems like an ordinary dimly lit, bustling pub. Once inside, you immediately start tapping your toes to Big Band sounds amid an upscale décor accented by dark, rich woods and a large bar. Located next to pro baseball's Coors Field in an old railroad house, this is the spot where local professional sports teams hold their victory parties. Cloth-covered tables include a sheet of white butcher paper stamped with the ChopHouse logo, upon which customers savor flavorfully grilled beef, chicken and seafood. Popular entrées include the porterhouse steak, planked salmon, a substantial dinner salad or the 10-ounce burger; you might want to accompany your selection with one of the micro brews. Brewery tours are available upon request.
The savory dishes and accomplished staff at Vesta certainly pay tribute to its namesake from Roman mythology—Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth. Situated in LoDo near Coors Field, the restaurant has a stimulating ambience that's glitzy and novel, yet warm and inviting. Unique touches include brass menus and glasses made from recycled wine bottles. While the chef encourages you to try the recommended sauces for each dish, you may choose three of your own instead. Entrées include such items as madras grilled venison, a rotating selection of hand-caught, butter-poached fish with heirloom tomatoes and chorizo spiced pork tenderloin. Finish your evening with one of the tempting treats, most notably the dulce de leche layer cake, Meyer lemon semifreddo or the Nutella tart.
Palace Arms, a fine dining establishment in the heart of downtown, is legendary with food and wine enthusiasts. Its location in the historic The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, Autograph Collection is the first hint of the elegant dining journey you are about to begin. Dark wood walls, refined dim lighting, antiques and gracious personal service meld together into an enchanting evening during which you seem transported back to the Napoleonic period. A well-trained staff caters to your every need and makes educated recommendations concerning the extensive wine list. The menu offers traditional, yet tantalizing fare with emphasis on wild game, prime steaks and seafood. Jackets are required. Expect to be pampered.
Even though New Saigon Restaurant is in a strip mall on South Federal Boulevard and ordinary in appearance, it continues to win local and national awards. New Saigon's flavorsome, authentic Vietnamese food has a devoted local following. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormous 21-page menu? The capable staff will happily assist you in making your selection, or choose one of the mouth-watering concoctions yourself based on the sufficient descriptions. If you prefer to play it safe, New Saigon also offers classic Thai and Chinese dishes. Just be ready for food that explodes with flavor. There also are several vegetarian entrees available.
Pete's Central One is a quaint, family operated neighborhood eatery south of downtown on South Pearl Street. Adorned with frescoes, Pete's offers plenty of charm along with authentic Greek cuisine. Start with saganaki (flaming cheese) or spanakopita, a puffed pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese. Main course winners include moussaka, souvlaki, dolmades and pastitsio. Combination plates allow a sampling of the best Pete's has to offer. Top off the meal with warm baklava and homemade syrup. Before you leave, don't be surprised if you find yourself shouting “Opa,” a term used in Greek culture to express joy.
Devil's Food, just southwest of the Cherry Creek area, earned its name by tempting the locals with tantalizing chocolate delicacies. Upon entering this eclectic Washington Park neighborhood café, you'll notice the display of picture-perfect pastries amid an aroma of sweet sensations and fresh-brewed coffee. Do not stop there; enjoy dining in this charmingly decorated space, accented by boldly painted walls and memorabilia from bygone days, with a twist of Colorado's natural side. Using the freshest ingredients, Devil's Food creates distinctive delights that include strawberry almond crepes; fried chicken and waffles; shrimp and grits with local goat cheese; huevos rancheros with smoked pulled pork; and just-squeezed orange juice. While you may be tempted to try this heavenly eatery only for breakfast or brunch, they do serve lunch and dinner. And the tea assortment is outstanding.
Suburban Denver presents an eclectic assortment of dining options, many frequented by the Denver Tech Center crowd in Greenwood Village. Named for British brothers Chris and Nick O'Sullivan, Brother's BBQ has two additional Denver locations. Voted “Denver's Best Barbecue” by locals, Brothers' renowned sauce offers a hint of sweetness with a jolt of spice, a perfect accompaniment to the succulent ribs. Smoked for 15 hours, the Memphis-style pork shoulder is often in demand. Order a helping or two of those side dishes—baked beans include little bits of pork and a dash of Brothers' tasty sauce, while the coleslaw recipe has been a family secret for many generations. The sweetened iced tea would make any Southerner proud.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Denver kicks off the year in romping, stomping Old West style at the National Western Stock Show , held at the National Western Complex in early January. Amateur and professional rodeos and livestock demonstrations take place at this event, one of the world's largest in this category. A petting farm, children's activities and a barn tour add to the down-home fun.
In honor of Denver’s mile-high altitude of 5,280 feet above sea level, the city celebrates its burgeoning culinary scene in late February and early March when more than 250 restaurants participate in Denver Restaurant Week ; multicourse meals come with the “mile high” price tag of $25, $35 and $45 per person.
Some 70 tribes honor their legacy at the Denver March Powwow , reputedly the nation's largest and most diversified Native American gathering. Jingling bells, beating drums and sweet herbal scents permeate the air of the Denver Coliseum, site of this colorful 3-day gathering. Enjoy tribal storytelling, singing and dancing, along with the opportunity to browse arts and crafts booths and sample Fry Bread, a traditional treat.
In early May, Denver celebrates Mexican culture at the Cinco de Mayo Festival . Civic Center Park comes alive with the rhythm of mariachi and salsa music, supplemented by parades, storytelling and dancing. Food and crafts round out the celebration, which draws a half million folks. Soon after, Civic Center Park also hosts the People's Fair Art and Music Festival during the first weekend in June. Subject matter ranging from politics and technology to herbal products makes for an interesting mix at this somewhat eclectic neighborhood fest. If face painting, massages, philosophical discussion and New Age pursuits aren't your thing, wander over to one of the several musical venues, ethnic food stands or more than 500 art displays.
Cherry Creek Arts Festival , with some 260 booths adorned with quality arts and crafts, occurs on a weekend near the Fourth of July. When you're not appreciating the goods, savor the entertainment on three performance stages or simply indulge in first-rate people watching at this event. The second weekend of July brings the Colorado Black Arts Festival to City Park. Dance troupes, a parade, and drum and drill teams entertain visitors, while museum, cultural and gallery exhibits serve to educate. A visual arts pavilion presents works created by African-Americans, including sculpture, painting and photography.
Also in July, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Sloan's Lake Park. The event showcases the culture and heritage of the city's Asian Pacific American citizens through performing artists, ethnic cuisine and arts and crafts as well as 2 days of dragon boat races.
Labor Day weekend means it's time for A Taste of Colorado . More than 500,000 flock to Civic Center Park to honor the region's diverse cultural and Western heritage. This 4-day extravaganza includes culinary delights from local restaurants, top-name musical entertainment, an arts and crafts marketplace and a kiddie carnival. Considered “the Napa Valley of beer” by connoisseurs, Denver upholds that distinction by hosting the Great American Beer Festival in October. Brew lovers from throughout the world travel to the 3-day spectacle at the Colorado Convention Center, where roughly 3,500 beers are on the sampling roster.
Denver celebrates all of the arts—performing to visual—during Denver Arts Week . This November event provides occasion to explore Denver’s neighborhood studios and galleries, and its world-class museums and events at the nation’s second largest performing arts complex.
Mile High Holidays rounds out the year's event schedule. Festivities, which take place in a variety of locations from mid-November through the end of January, include fireworks, visits with Santa, sparkling light displays, the Denver Christkindl Market and WinterFest. Area shops and restaurants, decorated in seasonal finery, add to the merriment by inspiring holiday shoppers.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Denver's Great OutdoorsIn the Mile High City, outdoor recreation is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping. And, skiing is probably the sport most notorious for providing a Rocky Mountain rush. Day-trippers flock to Winter Park and Loveland ski areas, both less than an hour away. About 80 miles west of Denver, Summit County's challenging slopes and wide-open terrain—namely Breckenridge , Copper Mountain, Keystone and Arapaho Basin—beckon out-of-towners as well as city dwellers eager for a weekend of downhill skiing or snowboarding.
In Littleton , Roxborough State Park's jutting rock formations create an otherworldly aura for cross-country skiers, while some 60 miles of trails lure them to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, less than an hour from Denver. Once spring arrives, horseback riders trot along these same paths to relish Golden Gate's vibrant wildflowers, and serious trekkers retreat to backcountry spots where small huts accommodate overnight stays. Anglers like to pull up rainbow trout from the park's nicely stocked streams—they also head to Strontia Springs Dam, southwest of Denver, to catch big ones of the rainbow and brown varieties.
Fairways framed by superb views of glorious Rocky Mountain peaks make Denver a natural stomping ground for duffers, with more than 50 public courses for the choosing. Families frequent the links at City Park , while awesome alpine scenery draws golfers to Arrowhead and The Ridge at Castle Pines. A 450-mile network of recreation trails connecting parks and wildlife areas keeps cyclists, joggers and hikers moving—Platte River Trail is the main path meandering through the metro area.
Locals prefer the gentle, rolling hills of Cherry Creek State Park's prairie environment for horseback riding and biking. Windsurfing, sailing and water skiing also are staples here, along with decent warm-water and ice fishing. You won't glimpse downtown's skyline from Chatfield State Park, a water sports mecca in Littleton that's a bit more isolated. Handsome foothills and nesting blue herons visually enhance the expansive reservoir, a haven for tubing, fishing, swimming, sailing and windsurfing.
Mountain bikers venture to Jefferson County's Mt. Falcon and White Ranch parks for diversified turf, just west of Denver. Mt. Falcon's well-marked trails mosey past streams and meadows, while riders blaze through forests and grassy plains at White Ranch. Littleton's Deer Creek Canyon also delivers its share of downhill biking fun—a rocky trail system follows a river and winds through lushly wooded foothills.
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Places in Vicinity