Doing Denver Right

Newbie? Native? Something in between? We have fun ideas for everyone in our annual love note to the Mile High City.

The Total Newbie

You just arrived from Cleveland. Or Philly. Or Dallas. All you really know is that Denver is a “mountain town” (well, not really) and therefore very snowy and cold (ditto). Get your bearings with these 10 activities.

Hikers at chautauqua
Courtesy Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau

Hike at Chautauqua
Don’t get us started on all the great hikes within an hour of Denver. Why recommend Chautauqua Park in Boulder? Because it has everything a newcomer could want: gorgeous views, trails to suit both the delicate and the intrepid in a variety of lengths, and, post-hike, the charming historical Chautauqua Dining Hall (dine on the porch, if you can) and a darling general store with homemade ice cream.

Drive to the top of Pikes Peak
The Pikes Peak Highway, to the top of Colorado’s most famous 14er, gives newcomers a crash course in Colorado’s changing topography, all the way up above treeline, with chances to gaze at bighorn sheep and other local fauna and flora. And if you want to stretch your legs “at altitude,” there are plenty of short hikes (two to five miles) off the road.

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Attend a concert at Red Rocks
You’ve been to New York’s Webster Hall and Hollywood’s House of Blues. Now see a concert the right way at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, built by Mother Nature herself in Morrison. Open since the 1940s, the stunning natural geological phenomenon hosts everyone from venerable music acts (John Prine this July) to local darlings like Gregory Alan Isakov.

Tabor Center at 16th St. Mall
Courtesy Visit Denver

Browse the Tattered Cover and 16th Street Mall
Anyone who thinks the American independent bookstore is a thing of the past needs to visit the Tattered Cover on the 16th Street Mall. Prepare to be amazed not just by the gargantuan selection of books but also by the worn wooden floors, cozy reading nooks, and literary soirées— all in homage to the printed word.

Have a burger at Cherry Cricket
Some people call it a dive. We call it a treasure. This modest-looking homegrown joint (there’s one in Cherry Creek and one near the Ballpark) has been serving up delicious burgers (with more than 21 toppings) and local brews to Coloradans since 1945. They’re clearly doing something right!

Ski Vail
Why Vail? Because it is the quintessential Colorado ski area, so huge it has anything and everything on the mountain that a neophyte could want (including seven bowls and tons of intermediate terrain). It’s also right off I-70, and if you don’t like snow sports, there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied.

Have tea at the Brown Palace
Walk in the footsteps of presidents and royalty at this 19th-century hotel. Afternoon tea has been a tradition at the Brown Palace for decades; sit in the atrium lobby, listen to the tinkling of the piano, order a “veddy proper” pot of English tea, and dine on scones with Devonshire cream and preserves, tea sandwiches, and tiny pastries. Open for tea every day from noon to 4 p.m. Reservations recommended. Pinkies up!

Have a drink at Williams & Graham
It’s been called one of the best bars in the world for a reason. There will probably be a wait, and the drinks aren’t cheap, but the ambiance! Enter through a sliding bookshelf, which feels reminiscent of Prohibition days, and enjoy fabulously creative cocktails and gracious service “away from it all.”

Tour the Molly Brown House
Unsinkable she may have been, but she was also lavish. The Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood was extremely modern for its time, with electricity, indoor plumbing, heat—even a telephone. After Molly and husband J.J. bought the house in 1894, they gussied it up even more. Saved from demolition in 1970, it has become one of the city’s most popular tourist spots, and a place that any self respecting Denverite must visit.

Illustration by Matt Wood
Illustration by Matt Wood

Eat a cone at Little Man Ice Cream
On a hot summer day, it’s a must to stand in line (and there will be a line) with the other locals outside the 28-foot-tall cream can in the Highlands for a scoop, cone, cup, ’wich, or sundae of freshly made ice cream, topped with hot fudge, rainbow sprinkles, or whatever decadent sweet your little heart desires.