Denver Essentials

View top spots in Denver for locals and tourists, from restaurants to entertainment

By: Douglas Brown

The Denver Skyline: Washington Park

The Denver Skyline: Washington Park

Photo By: Visit Denver

Visit Denver

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...

BUY GROCERIES

Whole Foods. There are four in Boulder and another 11 in the Denver area. Denver’s best is in the Tamarac area, 7400 E. Hampden Ave. It has an island ringed by a bar and chairs, where you can sit and order fresh pizza and other Italian food. Ditto for the seafood area. One rather large section of the market is dedicated entirely to smoked seafood. Barbecue? The staff smokes the store's own meats, and they have a barbecue station busy with employees cutting slabs of brisket and pork for customers.

If you’re not up for a Whole Foods experience — confronting such a pageant of opulence can intimidate or irritate (or both) — check out the city’s Safeway markets (one at 6220 E. 14th Ave., 303-355-7339). Many of them are trying to compete with Whole Foods by stocking much more organic foodstuffs, and by broadening their selection of gourmet products.

GET A BEER

Falling Rock Tap House 
1919 Blake St. 
If you like beer, then Denver is your nirvana. The state supports dozens of breweries and even more brewpubs. Falling Rock Tap House doesn’t brew its own beer, but it does gather in one spot as much Colorado beer as possible. The people who work the taps know their beer.

GRAB DRINKS WITH A YOUNGER CROWD

The Thin Man 
2015 E. 17th Ave. 
Hipsters, intellectuals and plain old partyers hang out at this Uptown bar, which is open to the sidewalk in the summer. It’s not a fancy place, and the food options are minimal, but the vibe is gold.

GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE

Pete’s Kitchen 
1962 E. Colfax 
If you’re aching for something chipotle or lemongrass, a smattering of things fish sauce, tamarind or confit, don’t come to this pocket-sized diner. But a late-night burger, a mess of home fries, a chicken fried steak, gyros plate or hot beef sandwich? Pete’s is your place.

SIP A LATTE

St. Mark’s Coffeehouse 
2019 E. 17th St. 
Plank floors. Eclectic music. Capacious interior. Good coffee. Amazing vibe. That’s St. Mark’s, in the Uptown neighborhood beside the aforementioned Thin Man bar. St. Mark’s is the funkiest coffeeshop in Denver. It’s a mish-mash; the art on the walls, the chairs and tables, the people. It’s the best place for people-watching in the city.

Kaladi Brothers Coffee 
1730 E. Evans Ave. 
This University of Denver hangout has the rough-hewn ambiance you might seek on a cold December afternoon, but it’s the coffee that will keep you coming back. The owner is a true coffee geek; he even travels to coffee-growing countries to scope out the beans and he roasts it himself.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...

HAVE FUN FOR FREE

Hang out in Washington Park or City Park. Denverites may not have beaches, working docks or sprawling ethnic neighborhoods, but they do have acres upon acres of parks. Washington Park and City Park are the grandest. The vibes are different; Washington Park is busier and seems to attract a more upscale crowd; City Park wraps around the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science and is more ethnically diverse, but both are worth repeat visits.

Attend one of the Denver Zoo’s free days. Don’t miss the lions roaming the glass-walled savanna, the white wolves or the indoor tropical biosphere. Most importantly, though, do stroll. Denver Zoo meanders. It’s lush with vegatation —a rarity along the Front Range of Colorado — and thick with wildlife.

Visit the Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway on the first Saturday of the month when it’s free. People from around the world visit the Denver Art Museum for its collection of art from the American West, and they also flock to the museum to see the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Increasingly, too, the museum is exhibiting contemporary art. The recent blockbuster by German artist Daniel Richter is one of many the museum has brought to Denver.

Walk the Cherry Creek path. Cherry Creek is a pleasant stream that flows 10 miles from a reservoir southeast of Denver into the heart of the Mile High City. A paved path follows Cherry Creek for its length. Walkers, runners, bikers and even unicyclists take advantage of the path year-round which cuts through downtown neighborhoods, suburbia and a reservoir alive with wildlife.

Check out the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge just north of the city at 5650 Havana St., Commerce City. Want to see an eagle? Herds of mule deer and elk? Coyotes? This 12,500 acres of wildlife preserve has all of that and more. Beginning in World War II, the arsenal was a hazardous chemicals factory making napalm and chemical agents. But the federal government has worked since the 1980s to decontaminate the land. A relatively small portion of the arsenal is open to the public but that sliver is stirring, especially when combined with wildlife sightings.

MEET NEW PEOPLE

Denver is a very bar-happy place. Most neighborhoods have at least one favorite bar. Find your 'hood's watering hole and spend a little time there. If bars aren't your thing, Denver also is blessed with a staggering number of parks. Bring the kids, the pooch or both.

TAKE A DATE

Shopping downtown: Larimer Square, between 14th and 15th along Cherry Creek River. This blocklong strip of downtown has charm, hinging in part on the density of historic architecture. Amid the crush of skyscrapers and lofts, Larimer Square feels somehow cozy. Some of the restaurants are superb, and the shopping is a draw as well, including places for hip Western clothing, jewelry, art and wine.

Shopping elsewhere: Cherry Creek North, which is just a few miles southeast of downtown, holds the city’s toniest shopping. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center is jammed with designer shops like Hugo Boss, Burberry, Michael Kors and Coach, and Cherry Creek North, the pedestrian area flanking the mall, is just as ambitious: Hermes, Oilily, fine men’s clothiers, jewelers galore. You'll find a wealth of dining options as well.

Urban stroll: Highlands Square on 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard. If Larimer Square is urban and Cherry Creek North is clubby, then Highlands Square is funky. The shops (a candle studio, a chocolatier, a cheese shop and so on) are local, the restaurants are interesting, and the architecture is 19th century and charming.

Nearby nature stroll: Bear Creek Lake Park, 15600 West Morrison Road, Morrison, Colo.

GO DANCING

LoDo, an area of downtown, is jammed with dance clubs. If you like dancing, your best bet is heading to LoDo and just walking around. You'll find plenty of places to get your groove on.

ENTERTAIN THE KIDS

Denver Zoo or Denver Nature and Science Museum. The zoo is described above. Fortunately, it’s flanked by City Park, one of Denver’s grand parks, and it’s a walk or quick drive from the Denver Nature and Science Museum, a massive edutainment complex. Dinosaurs galore, gemstones, the human body, space, the environment, and so on; it’s all displayed, explained, touch-screened and interactive. It’s fun, too.

SHOP AT A FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS

Wax Trax Records 
638 E. 13th 
It’s not the best record store in Denver, that honor probably goes to a place called Twist and Shout, 2508 E. Colfax Ave. But it sits within one of the funkiest areas of Denver, and it attracts plenty of funksters. Flip through the records and CDs, listen to music, and most importantly, people-watch.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...

ENJOY THE OUTDOORS

There are so many. One of the best — and nearest to Denver — outdoor attractions is Red Rocks Park, an 868-acre park filled with 300-foot sandstone formations. The views of Denver and the Great Plains are staggering, and the trails, which meander around the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, are enchanting.

TAKE FIDO

Denver has several off-leash dog parks, and all are free and worthwhile. But Earth Dog Denver may be the coolest of them all. It does cost $5 per dog, but the off-leash park has miniature mountains with tunnels for the dogs as well as a Fido swimming pool.

TAKE IN VIEWS OF THE CITY

Red Rocks Park 
18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison, Colo.
One of the best things about taking in the city view from Red Rocks is you can wallow in the lights if it’s night, or the citified landscape backed by a horizon of empty prairie during the day. The park itself is threaded, freckled and studded with enormous red rocks; those undulating spines of rock, isolated boulders, bunched together towers seem other-planetary. Altogether it makes for a stirring afternoon or evening.

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