Denver’s Old West charm mixed with modern attractions make it a solid choice for a long weekend. It’s the sort of city you can get to know over just a few days by exploring its museums, knocking back a few brews in its pubs, and of course visiting the parks and walking its trails. In this uber-fit city, it seems like everyone has an affinity for outdoor prowess.
It’s not uncommon to meet a lobbyist with a backcountry skiing obsession, or a grad student who is also a whitewater rafting instructor. Denver is also the perfect launch point for adventures in the Rocky Mountains and excursions to places like Boulder and Fort Collins. The city—and surrounding area— boasts a laidback style, multitude of microbreweries, and a distracting, ever-present Front Range backdrop.
Here are our top picks for ways to while away a long weekend in the Mile High City.
Browsing the shops on South Pearl Street
Denver’s favorite shopping district runs along South Pearl Street from Buchtel to Jewel Avenues. The district is crammed with hip shops and boutiques, as well as excellent pubs and restaurants. This is the place to visit for unique shops, great dining, and Denver’s best nightlife. South Pearl also hosts occasional festivals, farmers markets, and art walks.
This inviting strip of greenery at the convergence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek beckons families, sunbathers, cyclists and joggers. It’s a great spot for killing a few hours in the sunshine, taking a dip, or as a jumping off point for running or biking the South Platte River Trail or the Cherry Creek Trail. Nearby Confluence Kayaks offers whitewater kayaking lessons to beginners.
Denver’s most popular park is worth the trek outside the central city. Located southeast of downtown, Washington Park isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to accommodate skaters, cyclists, joggers, and just about everyone else. It’s a nice place to set up a barbeque pit, toss a Frisbee, read a book, or people-watch.
Molly Brown House Museum
Surprisingly, the Titanic chapter of The Unsinkable Molly Brown’s life is less interesting than many of her other ventures. One of Denver’s most famous citizens, Molly Brown was an activist, philanthropist, actress, and socialite. Her 1889 home is well preserved, as are many original furnishings and works of art inside the mansion.
Cherry Creek Trail
Biking the 40-mile trail is a fantastic way to get acquainted with Denver. Start at REI near Confluence Park and head south, through the Lodo and Capitol Hill neighborhoods as you venture further out of central Denver. Along the way, you’ll hit Four Mile Historic Park, Cherry Creek State Recreation Area, and an access road to Castlewood Canyon State Park.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
This big Denver Museum of Nature and Science will appeal to everyone. There isn’t enough time in a day to see the entire museum, but you’ll be impressed even if you only hit the highlights. I recommend the Gems & Minerals exhibit and the extensive Wildlife Exhibits, which includes over 90 wildlife and habitat dioramas. Don’t leave without heading up to the top floor for a panoramic view of the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains.
WaterCourse Foods: Denver has plenty of hearty dining options for carnivores, and WaterCourse is a refreshing alternative. The tasty vegetarian meals have Asian and Mexican influences.
Steuben’s: Diner-style fare with modern, upscale styling. Steuben’s takes the best of classic American cuisine and kicks it up a notch. The kitchen is solar-powered, too.
Izakaya: More than just your standard sushi, Izakaya serves inventive Asian fusion dishes tapas-style and rolls at reasonable prices.
Vine Street Pub: Reasonably priced pub food and an excellent selection of local microbrews make this one of the top picks in Denver for food and brews. Heads up though: They’re cash only.
Wynkoop Brewing Company: Denver’s oldest brewpub serves up reliably good food along with excellent beer. It’s also a popular hangout, with pool tables, shuffleboard, and darts.
Ale House at Amato’s: Come here for the food, the beer, or the fantastic views on the rooftop deck; no matter your motivation, you won’t be disappointed. Ask about the latest tap selections, especially if you’re into off-beat beers.
Boulder: Boulder is Denver’s hipper, hippier neighbor to the northwest. The university town is chock full of yuppies, hipsters, outdoors enthusiasts, and oddballs. A visit to Boulder is a study in subcultures, and people-watching is prime here. Browse the shops along pedestrian-only Pearl Street, where street musicians and street urchins gather. For outdoors experiences, head to the famous Boulder Flatirons or El Dorado Canyon State Park.
Fort Collins: Another university town worth visiting, Fort Collins was ranked as the “Best Place to Live” in the western U.S. among small cities by Money Magazine in 2006. Fort Collins’ Old Town boasts historic architecture, shops, and restaurants. Beer geeks will revel in the town’s five award-winning breweries: New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins Brewery, CooperSmith’s Pub and Brewery, and Big Horn Brewing. I recommend New Belgium for its excellent (and free) tour.
Rocky Mountain National Park: It’s no wonder central Coloradans have so much wilderness savvy. The national park’s big mountains, alpine meadows, and wide expanses of tundra are practically in their backyard. Even if hiking, mountain biking, and mountaineering aren’t in your skill set, Rocky Mountain is great for a scenic drive.
- Megan Hill