How To Plan the Perfect Denver Vacation

I'm not exactly sure when I became enamored with exploring US cities - but it's something that I absolutely love.

The first trip that I planned with the goal of really getting intimate with a city and it's unique vibe was Austin, Texas. We were going for a solid amount of time and I got pretty serious about researching and plotting out our trip.

I'm a planner and a doer and I'm type-A for the most part. There are certain vacations where I am perfectly content sitting around tanning and eating. Cruises, all inclusive resorts, lake houses in the middle of nowhere - all great times for true rest and relaxation. But when I'm in a new city, I cannot sit still.

Before going to Denver to visit my best friend from high school, I planned A LOT. I did tons of research into what I wanted to accomplish during the 6 days I was there. But I was also warned by my extremely smart mama that, "Lauren you can't do everything." I don't like hearing that, but sometimes I absolutely NEED to hear it.

My Denver planning ended up being a 12-page Word doc and a Google map with 68 points of interest. In retrospect, I possibly crammed a little too much into my 6 days. But I'd rather leave exhausted than leave feeling like there was so much I still wanted to do and see.

I highly recommend a trip to Denver. And if you're a planner like me, read on for tons of ideas!

How to plan the perfect Denver vacation

I'm sure youknow someone who up and moved to Denver. Maybe you've even dreamed about it yourself. Everyone's always talking about how the weather is great, the access to nature is amazing and well, weed is legal. So how do you know if Denver is the right place for you? Or how do you explore all it has to offer on a vacation if you have no plans on moving there? I've done all the hard work for ya.

While I was there I realized that Denver is made up of lots of distinct neighborhoods. Unlike New York, these neighborhoods don't really flow into one another and therefore, people drive around a lot. There is a bus and light rail system, but the general consensus is that driving is best (or biking!)

I've listed everything we did during my trip based on the general city and neighborhood. Then, at the end, is a breakdown of the general itinerary for each day so you can see how we found the time to make all of this happen!

Denver

Congress Park

This is the neighborhood that my friend lives in. It's pretty residential with some local stores (pharmacy, hardware store, market) and restaurants. It's close to both City Park and Cheeseman Park.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

700 N. Colorado Boulevard
Daily 6:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. 
Additional locations around Denver

Hopped off the plane at DIA and...immediately went for brunch, obviously. Priorities. When you hear about Denver, you hear about Snooze. Either that, or everyone I talked to just really loves brunch (but then again, who doesn't?) 

Even on a Monday afternoon, we waited about 20 minutes to get a table. I had heard that they specialize in pancakes and eggs benedict. The best thing about Snooze is that they totally cater to indecisive people like me who just want to try EVERYTHING. 

First, we enjoyed a Benny Duo with the Benny Goodman (lox style salmon and cream cheese served over toasted rye and topped with poached eggs and cream cheese hollandaise blended with sun dried tomato and caper relish) and the Early Harvest Benny (griddled pesto grit cakes topped with broccolini and wild mushroom ragout, poached eggs and cream cheese hollandaise with roasted pepper coulis). Our waitress told us that we picked the best two - score! 

They were incredible - each was so different with tons of flavor! I was obsessed with the pesto grits and the Early Harvest had so much broccolini and mushrooms that I almost felt healthy eating it ;) Oh, did I mention the crispy hash browns? Those were great too. 

Snooze Brunch

Then, we split a pancake flight. Yep, that's a thing. 3 pancakes. All different flavors. Heaven! We got one Sweet Potato (sweet potato buttermilk pancakes topped with homemade caramel, candied pecans and ginger butter), Sticky Toffee Pudding French Toast (homemade date bread pudding drizzled with salted toffee sauce then topped with walnut streusel and whipped mascarpone cream), and the pancake of the day which was whole wheat batter filled with lemon cream and topped with a blueberry coulis and buttery crumble topping. Talk about SUGAR OVERLOAD. Everything was so rich and decadent but we didn't leave a bite on the plate. 

Denver Botanic Gardens

York Street Location - 1007 York St.
$12.50 Adults / $9 Students
Summer Hours: May 8 - Sept. 25, 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. (Grounds close at 9 p.m.)
Winter Hours: Sept. 26, 2016 - May 13, 2017, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., daily

I have never gone to the Botanic Gardens in NYC and didn't know if I would enjoy it in Denver. But the grounds were beautiful and it was a relaxing way to spend time chatting while being outside. I also had my DLSR with me and had a great time taking advantage of the macro setting. Close-ups of flowers always make me happy.

Denver Botanic Gardens

There isn't a ton to do besides walk around - there's one building with some "interactive" pieces but that's about it. There also wasn't a ton of information on what you were looking it. But $12.50 was reasonable for admission and I enjoyed the afternoon spent there! There's a spot to stop for food and drink if you want to make more of an outing of it.

Denver Botanic Gardens

The gift shop had a ton of cool things and Morgan and I each bought an eco-friendly Swedish dish cloth that's reusable and washable up to 200 times! Mine has asparagus on it and is super cute. Denver really had me feeling my hippie-side.

Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey also known as Pinche

1514 York Street (Congress Park) and 3300 West 32nd Ave (Highlands)
Monday 3 p.m.-10 p.m.
Tue-Sat 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Brunch Sat/Sun 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

We can't figure out the name, but I kept reading about it as one of the best Mexican spots in town. They have an all-day happy hour on Monday, and other happy hour specials every night from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. which means $4 margaritas! We opted for the just food route when we went, so I can't vouch for the margaritas.

I can, however, tell you that one of the tacos I ordered BURNED MY MOUTH OFF! It was so spicy I was crying. No bueno. I also can't tell you which taco it was, sorry.

The place was hoppin' even when we got there 20 minutes to closing.

Illegal Pete's

2001 East Colfax Ave. 
Monday - Wednesday 7 a.m. - 12 a.m. 
Thursday & Friday 7 a.m. - 2:30 a.m. 
Saturday 9 a.m. - 2:30 a.m. 
Sunday 9 a.m. - 12 a.m. 

Can we talk about the fact that so many restaurants in Denver open up nice and early in the morning and apparently a lot of people go out for breakfast before work? I LOVE THAT. 

Another random thing I love about Denver (and Austin) is that all of the bars, breweries and coffee shops have giant water jugs and cups out so you never have to ask for water. You just help yourself. Ah, the little things. 

Anyway, we ordered Illegal Pete's online on our drive home one night (it may or may not have been 10 p.m. and I may or may not have been drunk on life from Lakeside Amusement Park). 

I promised that in my review of Illegal Pete's I would tell if how it is - glorified Chipotle. But they were open late, so it was our only viable option. 

"This is bullshit Illegal Pete's." 

The Denver Bicycle Cafe

1308 East 17th Ave.
Beer Hall 3 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Coffeehouse 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Bike Shop 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Yeah that's right - the Denver Bicycle Cafe is part bike shop, part coffee shop and part beer hall - this place is 100% awesome. Everyone there was SO friendly, the space was beautiful, there was outdoor seating, free WiFi and even board games.

Can more places like this exist in the world? If you're looking for the chillest coffee shop or beer garden EVER - ya gotta make a stop here. Make sure you pick up your free "Bikes. Beer. Coffee." sticker.  It will look great on your helmet. Or travel mug. Or laptop. Or forehead.

More to do in the Congress Park Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • Nugg's Ice Cream
  • City Park (East of downtown on 17th Ave. and York St.) this beauty is 314 acres! Inside it lies the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Martin Luther King Memorial.
  • Cheeseman Park (1599 E. 8th Street)
  • Cerebral Brewing

Curtis Park/Five Points

This neighborhood was extremely unique - it has such a mixed-bag feel. There's people from every background and economic means. There are churches and abandoned lots, street art, trendy boutiques, coffee shops and breweries. I loved walking around this area.

Five Points Street Art

Stem Ciders

2811 Walnut St. #150
Monday - Thursday 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday 3 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Saturday Noon - 11 p.m.
Sunday Noon - 8 p.m.

My first brewery trip in Denver, land of craft beers, was actually to a cidery. Morgan and I both got a flight for $8 and tried 4 ciders each. I didn't LOVE any of them, but I did love the space AND that they had board games and kombucha on tap!

Stem Ciders

I would recommend checking their website before you visit - they do a bunch of fun events like trivia, bluegrass music and special food pairings. Go whatever the weather - both the indoor and outdoor areas are great.

Epic Brewing Company

3001 Walnut Street
Monday - Thursday 12 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 12 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Sunday 12 p.m. - 9 p.m.

This is a common spot for my friend Morgan and her boyfriend - and any spot that's frequented by locals is a good spot in my book. It was a very basic bar vibe but with tons of beer options, obviously. Epic specializes in high alcohol content beer, so pace yourself!

I tried their collaboration brew which was the Skeptic Barrel-Aged Peach IPA . I'm trying to get into the whole Untappd app to track the beers I try - it's pretty much IPA, IPA, IPA. 

If you're looking for a cute, trendy spot this probably shouldn't be your pick. But if you're looking for a no-nonsense bar with the games on TV and some real boozy beer - you'll like it here.

Crema Coffee House

2862 Larimer St.
Open every day 7 a.m. - 5 p.m.

This spot made it onto my radar because of their fancy-shmancy PB&J sandwich. The PB is actually a blend of peanut and almonds. The jelly is flavored with dates and balsamic vinegar. And the crispy, flaky baguette it's served on is sprinkled with goat cheese.

Crema PB&J Sandwich

Honestly, this sandwich was a little bit of a disappointment. I loved the flavor of the jam, but the rest was a whole lotta bread and not enough substance. The chickpea salad that came on the side was better than the sandwich. 

I can't speak for the coffee, or the rest of the menu, though things like bruleed grapefruit with field greens and a sweet potato waffle definitely caught my eye and made me think that Crema might be worth a second chance.

More to do in the Curtis Park/Five Points Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

Five Points Street Art

RiNo - River North Art District 

Artsy hood with lots of cool galleries, shops and restaurants. There's a lot of mixing industrial materials into chic and trendy spots. It's so "fetch."

Infinite Monkey Theorem

3200 Larimer Street
Monday - Friday 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. 
Saturday 2 p.m. - 10 p.m. 
Sunday 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. 

I would be lying if I pretended that the major appeal of this place wasn't the fact that there are MONKEYS on the wine cans. Yes, wine cans. This "urban winery" specializes in canned wine, but when you visit their space in RiNo you can also get wine on tap! With generous pours and a trendy vibe, this place was pretty awesome. I would have loved to do a tour to see how they make wine in the middle of a city! (They also have a location in Austin). 

They offer a few different touring options, with the most basic being $25 for a 60 minute tour including 5 samples (Tuesday - Saturday at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.). Be aware - you need to book online!

Also, did I mention wine. slushies?

The Source

3350 Brighton Boulevard 

If you want to get a feel for the RiNo neighborhood, head to The Source. It's a really unique space housed in a building from the 1880's that used to serve as an iron foundry. Now, it's filled with upscale restaurants, shops, bars and other vendors. 

The Source Denver

As soon as I walked in, I loved the space. Some might say it's super "hipster" but, I was a big fan. We spent our time at Morgan's favorite brewery: 

Crooked Stave Artisans

3350 Brighton Boulevard
Sunday - Tuesday 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. 
Wednesday - Saturday 12 p.m. - 10 p.m. 

Crooked Stave

Crooked Stave specializes in sour beers - something that I wasn't familiar with before our trip here. They tend to be fruity, are definitely sour, and overall I thought they were more refreshing than your typical beer. 

They also had kombucha on tap, which makes them automatically good in my book.

More to do in the RiNo Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • GrowHaus  - Ok, technically this is next door to RiNo in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood but this place sounds pretty awesome. It grows produce via aquaponics and hydroponics and offers fun events and food box subscriptions. They also offer free tours on Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. 

Berkeley 

This neighborhood was really charming - think book cafe that serves wine and beer at night.  

De Steeg Brewing

4342 Tennyson St. 
Monday - Friday 4 p.m. - 11 p.m. 
Saturday 2 p.m. - 11 p.m. 
Sunday 2 p.m. - 9 p.m. 

This spot is a little hidden away - you need to go around the back and through an unpaved parking lot to an unmarked door - but there's a little patio and it will look brewer-y to you. 

Unfortunately, I didn't like any of the beers we tried here. But I DID like that they had games, including CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY! We played for a good amount of time while eating handfuls and handfuls of popcorn from their FREE popcorn machine. 

Lakeside 

Lakeside Amusement Park

4601 Sheridan Boulevard
Hours are a bit wonky - best bet is to check their website before you make any plans! (We asked a worker on the night we were there, "What time do you close?" Their response was, "We don't know.") 

This lake-side amusement park (hm, I wonder where the name came from) has been operating since 1908. 

Let me just repeat that. 

1908. 

And quite honestly, part of it's charm is the fact that it looks like nothing has changed. 

The rides are terrifyingly old looking. They're carnival rides that usually pop up at summer festivals in towns across the country. Except these are permanent fixtures.  

Lakeside Amusement Park

The bathrooms are crumbling. The "food" they serve are snacks purchased in bulk from Costco. The lighting and signs are horrendously tacky. The ride operators are teens who you probably shouldn't trust with your life. The patrons are mainly low-income families out for a night of fun. 

But despite all of that, Lakeside was probably the most fun I had the whole trip. Morgan and I couldn't stop laughing. Couldn't stop wondering if we had entered the Twilight Zone. It's so rare as twenty-somethings for us to just laugh and scream and let loose. My stomach hurt from laughing. My throat hurt from screaming. We were so excited to play skeeball and Hungry Hungry Hippies and to win plastic friendship bracelets. We stood at the counter counting our tickets to see which measly prize we could claim.

Lakeside Amusement Park

 Parking was free and tickets were .50 cents each. I bought 10 ($5 worth) only to find out that NONE of the employees could be bothered to collect them throughout the night. (Okay, one ride attendant eventually asked us for tickets). 

Please, please, please stop by Lakeside while you're in Denver. Ride the Wild Chipmunk. Feel like you're about to be flung into the lake. Feel that adrenaline and laughter like you're 5 again. It's worth the risk. 

Civic Center/Capitol Hill 

Colorado State Capitol Building 

200 East Colfax Avenue 

Denver Capitol Building Mile High

I'm a sucker for photo ops when I'm on a vacation - so I had to stop by the Capitol Building for a picture on the 13th step - placing me exactly 1 mile above sea level! 

November Project

Wednesdays at 5:30 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. alternating between Civic Center Park Amphitheater and the Capitol Building Steps
Fridays at 6:15 a.m. at a changing location

Of course I needed to check out the Denver tribe of November Project during my stay! It just so happened to be their PR day, and it was NO JOKE. The stairs at the amphitheater are pretty damn far apart for someone with legs as short as mine, so it was quite the workout!

Denver November Project

I got my tag and was a happy girl, especially because I managed to drag Morgan out of bed bright and early to get there! 

CorePower Yoga

333 East 13th Ave. 

I lot of blogs that I read have mentioned CorePower Yoga as the class that finally convinced them yoga wasn't all that bad. Mainly, it's runners who swear that they got stronger from CorePower classes. They have studios across the country - but none yet in New York. 

Morgan and I were able to sign up for a free trial class and headed there after November Project on Wednesday morning. It was a hot yoga class, though not tooooo hot, and I just really am not sold on being so sweaty. Overall, it was a pretty good class, but still yoga to me. It didn't suddenly make me a yogi or make me want to sign up for tons of yoga. 

Liks Ice Cream

2039 East 13th Street
Open Daily from Noon - 10 p.m. 

Sometimes, you need to eat a lot a lot a lot of ice cream. And that's what I did on my last night in Denver. I had walked around all day and was pretty sweaty, so nothing sounded better than a giant cup of ice cream. I strolled up to Liks around 5:30 and there was a line out the door. 

Liks Ice Cream

Most people were getting their freshly baked waffle cones - some dipped in chocolate and decorated with nuts or candies. But I'm a cup gal, and I opted for a double cup for double the flavors and double the fun. Their Graham Cracker flavor was out of this world, with big chunks of Heath Bars inside. The other flavor I chose was Birthday Cake, a bright blue bursting with sprinkles. Both were exxxxtremely sweet but pretty wonderful. I definitely liked Liks ice cream way more than Sweet Actions! 

Civic Center EATS

Civic Center Park
Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. (during certain seasons) 

We stumbled upon this by complete accident - but it was totally my kinda thing. Food trucks galore with picnic blankets and corn hole. I was stunned by the R U CEREAL truck that lets you take classic children's cereal and add it to bowls with ice cream, frozen yogurt, milk, oatmeal and add toppings like peanut butter and gummy bears. 

Civic Center EATS Denver

Ultimately, I got Vietnamese spring rolls and at 2 for $5 they were a wonderful, refreshing option on a hot afternoon walking around. 

Big Blue Bear

700 14th Street 

Big Blue Bear Denver

This was another touristy photo op that I was determined to make happen. There's a huge sculpture of a big blue bear peering into the window at the Colorado Convention Center. The sculpture is titled "I See What You Mean" and has been there since 2005. It was created by Lawrence Argent and stands at 40 feet tall. You can read more about it here.

City O'City

206 East 13th Ave. 
Daily from 7 a.m. - 2 a.m. 

This spot has pretty much got it all. Killer brunch. Pastries, coffee, cocktails, a bar, lunch, dinner, happy hour, beer. Did I mention it's vegetarian? 

We went for brunch and I ordered the tempeh bacon hash (potatoes and caramelized onions, seasonal vegetables, tempeh bacon and kale, seasoned with herbs and smoked paprika. Topped with green chile and an egg). Their menu is customizable for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free peeps. 

City O'City Denver

I also ordered a biscuit and jam on the side which was BOMB. There were carrots and zucchini in my biscuit and the jam was apricot. It made me very happy. 

They're well known for their waffles too - they have a different waffle special every week along with their standard sweet & savory waffle options. 

More to do in the Civic Center/Capitol Hill Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • Jelly Cafe - famous for their donut holes filled with different flavors!
  • Voodoo Doughnut - you gotta check them out if you haven't already had them in another city! They're a little over the top, but the options are endless and fun!


Highlands

We didn't spend much time in this area, but from what I saw, it was super cute and given more time, I would have liked to wander around it's shops! It may have been my favorite 'hood given how great Habit and Root Down both were!

Habit Doughnut Dispensary

1553 Platte St. 
Monday - Friday 6 a.m. - Last Doughnut
Saturday & Sunday 7 a.m. - Last Doughnut

If you've been around Peanut Butter Is My Boyfriend for awhile, you know that taste testing doughnuts everywhere I go is kind of my thing. I knew I had to have at least one doughnut while in Denver, and while everyone suggested Voodoo, I had already done that while in Austin. 

So we decided to go with Habit Doughnuts. We got there late after our day in Colorado Springs, so there weren't a ton of options. I would be lying if I didn't tell you I was a little disappointed by the selection when we showed up. I wasn't wowed by any of the choices and was struggling to make a decision because nothing excited me. 

In an odd choice, I went with the Daily Chai doughnut (Chai Glaze, Brown Butter Streusel, Cinnamon Sugar). In retrospect, it was the best decision ever. I loved this doughnut. Their doughnuts are made with honeyed brioche but aren't so fluffy (I prefer my doughnuts on the denser, cakey-er side). The glaze was the perfect thickness and sweetness - sweet but not painfully so. Two big thumbs up from me and a pleasant surprise! 

Habit Doughnut Dispensary Denver

FYI - Habit Doughnuts is attached to Carbon Beverage Cafe - a unique sounding spot that lets customers use taps to customize their own drinks using coffee, wine, beer, cocktails, kombucha, syrups, salts and more. We didn't go in, but it sounds like a fun concept! 

Root Down

1600 West 33rd Ave. 
Happy Hour (bar only) Monday - Friday 4 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. 

This. was. delicious. Such a cute place (with some odd choices for what to display on the televisions...). They have a great happy hour which we took full advantage of. 

$4 beer, $5 cocktails and $6 wine. I had the Spicy Paloma because tequila + grapefruit = must order for this lady. 

We split a ton of small plates- each just $5 - and everything was delicious! Green Garlic Chickpea Fries, Jerk Duck Wings, Miso Eggplant, Organic Sweet Potato Fries, Roasted Baby Beets and BBQ Brisket Tacos. YUMMO. 

I highly recommend this spot - they also have a monthly raw food night, brunch, lunch & dinner menus. But those happy hour specials were killer. 

More to do in the Highland Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • Little Man Ice Cream - heads up, they're notorious for having a line! 
  • Linger - housed in a former mortuary - this place has a bangin' happy hour with $5 small plates and discounts on drinks. There's apparently a pretty cool vibe here with Lite-Brite bar tops and a roof deck but also sounds like it's packed!

Central Business District

16th Street Mall

In the heart of Downtown Denver is a mile stretch of pedestrian mall - filled with stores, restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters, etc. From what I saw of the 16th Street Mall, it's essentially the Times Square of Denver. A little crazy, very crowded, touristy, and filled with chains and souvenir shops. That being said, it's definitely something to check out while you're there.  

There's a free shuttle that runs up and down the 16th Street Mall and while I was there, I stumbled across a great Art Fair where I bought 90% of my "souvenirs." That included a cloth headband, bookmarks made out of board games, a pair of earrings made from bike parts, and little Japanese moss balls called Marimo that are my new strange obsession. 

Dikeou Collection

1615 California Street #515
Wednesday - Friday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. 

This was one of the things I was proudest of finding and putting on my to-do list. It's a pretty hidden spot, and I'm not normally interested in museums, but this art collection sounded intriguing when I read about it. 

It's a personal contemporary art collection housed in a bunch of offices in a random building just off of the 16th Street Mall. The pieces are engaging, interactive, and you can take a tour using your cell phone to learn about each of the exhibits. 

Dikeou Collection

Morgan and I had a great time exploring the space - and we were the only ones there! We were encourage to hold 3 Babe Ruth autographed baseballs, climb over a giant wooden block, and play music on hundreds of hanging glass bottles. I would highly recommend a stop here on your trip to Denver!

Washington Park

Sweet Action Ice Cream

52 Broadway
Sunday - Thursday 1 p.m. - 10 p.m. 
Friday & Saturday 1 p.m. - 11 p.m. 

I met up with a friend for ice cream at Sweet Action one night and I really had my hopes up - they have a ton of creative flavors and the line was out the door! The street also seemed really cute - tons of shops and people out and about. 

But sadly, I was a little disappointed with the service and consistency of the ice cream - it seemed a little watery or icy to me. I got a scoop of the tiramisu and another scoop that I can't seem to remember the name of. 

I would take a trip back though just to try some of their other insane flavors like ube, goat cheese beet swirl, and brown sugar fig. With flavors like that - I think they deserve a second chance. 

More to do in the Washington Park Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • Bonnie Brae Ice Cream
  • Aiko Pops
  • Washington "Wash" Park (Bordered by Virginia Ave. on the north, Downing St. on the west, Louisiana Ave. on the south, and Franklin St. on the east) this park has got it alllllll according to my online research. Including: two lakes, boat rentals, playgrounds, a rec center with an indoor pool, running and biking trails, a horseshoe pit, soccer field and tennis courts. Wow.

LoDo - Lower Downtown 

Union Station 

1701 Wynkoop St. 

Denver's Union Station isn't just a transportation hub - it's also the home to some fancy restaurants, shops and bars. Don't get me wrong - the inside was really nice, but, I definitely could have skipped the stop and not felt like I missed out on anything.  

Larimer Square

Located off of the 16th Street Mall, this is a historic district where Denver was founded. It's filled with independent shops, bars and restaurants that are all pretttty pricey. We wandered into

The Market

1445 Larimer St. 
Sunday - Thursday 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. 
Friday & Saturday 6 a.m. - 11 p.m. 

We stopped here for some coffee and were amazed at all of the unique food products from around the world. The pastries looked KILLER but we were full, unfortunately. 

Cherry Creek Trail 

40 miles of running and biking path?! So gorgeous. One morning I biked over to the start of the path in Confluence Park and went down for a few miles in one direction before turning around and heading back. It was beautiful and not too crowded. You go under a bunch of little bridges, where I proceeded to panic each time a bird flew underneath with me - but that's just because I'm weird.

Cherry Creek Trail

I was shockingly much more comfortable navigating the Denver streets on bike than I am in New York City - despite the fact that I was clipped into Morgan's bike! I definitely need to get my cleats adjusted, because clipping in and out was much more doable on her bike. 

More to do in the LoDo Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

  • Cruiser Ride - this sounded AWESOME and we attempted to fit it in but it just didn't happen. Throughout the summer, these "Cruiser Nights" are organized on Wednesday nights where hundreds of bikers dress up, meet at the Gin Mill or Little Machine Beer, and ride through the Denver streets to a secret location followed by music and beer! 
  • Wynkoop Brewing Company - known as being one of the first craft breweries in the area!

Boulder

I took two day trips outside of Denver during my trip and I knew that Boulder for SURE had to be one of them. To me, Boulder is the best of both worlds - small city AND steps away from nature. There was a ton to do and we made the most of our day.

Chautauqua Park & Flagstaff Mountain

9th Street & Baseline Road

Chautauqua Park

We went here to trail run but that really turned into some casual jogging and mainly hiking - the trails were a lot steeper than anticipated and elevation is no joke - I was SO winded and having trouble catching my breathe but it was worth it for the view at the top of the Woods Quarry Trail. When we got up there, people had built a lounge chair out of stone slabs which we lounged in for awhile looking down at Boulder below us.

Chautauqua Park has tons of amenities and trail options and the real draw are the incredible views of the Flatirons.  I obviously made Morgan take lots of (posed) trail running pictures but she did a great job, don't ya think?

Flatirons Trail Running Boulder

After our jaunt we drove up up up Flagstaff Mountain to try to find "Lost Gulch Lookout." The parking situation and map were a little confusing, and we didn't end up getting any spectacular view, but the ride itself was beautiful and we went for another little hike and discovered a wheelchair hiking path which was pretty awesome!

You can definitely use trail maps ahead of time to plan out your Boulder outdoor adventures better than we did - but it was also fun to just explore and see where paths took us.

Also, we saw TWO DEER so close to us! Yay, nature! 

Rush Bowls

1207 13th Street
Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Basic betches get acai bowls when they're in Boulder. These were pretty tasty, although I should have splurged on the additional $1 for sliced bananas on top. They had a huge menu with a variety of bowls and smoothies but just a heads up - there's no seating inside.

Rush Bowls Boulder

This street was packed with cute places and is close to University of Colorado's Boulder campus.

Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe

1301 Pennsylvania Ave.
Monday - Friday 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.

We stopped in here because I needed to do a little bit of work and it was a cute bookstore/cafe mashup. They also serve food. Pretty standard, but it was close to Rush Bowls which is why we ended up there.

Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour

4600 Sleepytime Drive (We saw prairie dogs as we turned in!) 
Free Tours Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Free Samples/Art Gallery Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Tea Shop Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

This was great! We opted for the 45-minute tour and though it was nice, Morgan taught me more from what her first tour guide told her months ago than what our tour guide told us.

The coolest part was the fact that the factory was operational as we toured it. And the mint room was pretty crazy. The mint is kept in a separate room because the scent is so strong that they can't let it contaminate the other ingredients and tea leaves. We stood in the room for a few minutes and as soon as you walk in, your sinuses clear, your eyes start to water - it was pretty intense!

Afterwards, you can shop around the gift shop where everything is less than retail price - it was so tempting to buy EVERY FLAVOR. But I wasn't sure what I wanted yet, so we went out to the free sample area and spent about 45 minutes trying everything we could ever want to try. You can really try EVERY FLAVOR! It was great. We were blown away by their chai lattes (made with whole milk and a concentrate) and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the ginger turmeric tea. After tasting to our heart's content, we headed back to the store to make a few more purchases.

I definitely recommend a stop at Celestial Seasonings if you're in the area - it's crazy how many different flavors they have and I did learn a lot about the differences between black tea, green tea, oolong tea, etc.

Avery Brewing Co. 

4910 Nautilus Court
Monday 3 p.m. - 11 p.m. 
Tuesday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. 
Tours Monday at 4 p.m. & 5 p.m. 
Tours Tuesday - Friday at 4 p.m. 
Tours Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. 
*Tours are free and should be booked online

This may have been my favorite brewery that we visited.  I loved the outdoor area - we sat on Adirondack chairs on some fake turf and played catch with the cutest little girl. They had soo many beers on tap (around 30!!) and I naturally drank only IPAs. Morgan was happy because they had sours. Apparently I only managed to check in 1 of the beers on Untappd - the Summer's Day IPA. 

Avery Brewing Co.

They had corn hole and a fun, laid back attitude plus, a food menu!

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

1770 13th Street
Daily from Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. 

The story behind this tea house is pretty cool - it was constructed in Dushanbe, Tajikistane completely by hand as a gift to their sister city, Boulder. Then, it was disassembled, packed up, and sent to Boulder where it was rebuilt.  

Boulder Dushanbe Tea House

Though we were pretty tea'd out after the Celestial Seasonings factory - I knew I wanted to see the inside of the tea house which is famous for being beautiful and intricate. We figured we could order an appetizer. 

We were seated and I was a little underwhelmed. Yes, it was pretty, but it was smaller and less magnificent than I had anticipated, not to mention it was just plopped in the middle of a regular old street. I had pictured it having beautiful Boulder nature views. 

To top it all off, we were completely ignored by the waitstaff. After 15 minutes we decided, "Heck we don't even want to eat here, we just wanted to see the inside!" And got up and left. 

boulder4.jpg

If you're actually looking to sit down and do a typical tea with scones this would be a beautiful place to do so. Otherwise, I wouldn't put it on your list. 

Pearl Street 

Pearl Street is a really cute street with shops, bars and restaurants and Morgan and I walked down it for a bit before hunger overtook us and we ducked over a block to find something a little less expensive. After dinner, we went back onto Pearl Street and though most of the stops were closed, it was pretty to see it all lit up. We went into a book store where we ended up browsing for wayyy too long. I bought a card that says, "You're like really pretty - Regina George" and I love it. 

The Mediterranean Restaurant

1002 Walnut Street
Open daily at 11 a.m. with Happy Hour from 3 - 6:30 p.m. 

Dinner in Boulder came as a recommendation from a friend and it couldn't have been more perfect. This space was gorgeous and also GINORMOUS. They had tons of outdoor seating, though we opted for a table indoors. 

The Med specializes in tapas-style dining which is my all-time favorite way to eat. Although we missed the happy hour specials, this whole dinner came to $18 each which blew my Manhattanite mind. During happy hour, tapas range in price from $3.50 to $8.95. There's a ton to choose from - Spanish, Greek, Italian, French and more. We went with the following: 

The Med Boulder

Pincho Moruno de Cordero - grilled lamb skewer / onions / peppers / tzatziki / flatbread

This was a pretty basic lamb skewer. Not anything special. 

Pastilla - phyllo wrapped chicken / pine nuts / cilantro / raisins / Ras el Hanout / cinnamon

These came out late so they took them off of our bill which was really nice. They were by far our favorite part of the meal. SO DELICIOUS and with the cinnamon and raisins plus phyllo dough it almost tasted like a dessert! 

Also, in case you were wondering, Ras el Hanout is a North African/Moroccan spice mix that translates to "head of the shop" meaning, the best spices at the store! It contains cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg and peppercorn. 

Med Sampler - falafel / garlic hummus / baba ghanouj / mixed olives / tomato & cucumber salad / marinated feta / artichoke tapenade / paprika flatbread

Oh damn was this a sampler to end all samplers. I was happy as a clam with the Greek god of a dish. 

Soup of the Day - chick pea / seafood

I'm not one to pass on soups when splitting with a friend and I'm glad - because this was very tasty and had a good amount of seafood in it! 

Polenta con Funghi - crisp herb polenta / wild mushroom ragout / julienned turnips and scallions

The elements of this dish didn't necessarily go together all that well for me - but I love polenta and I love mushrooms so I just accepted it. It's all going to the same place anyway, right? 

More to do in Boulder Neighborhood: 

I didn't visit these places, but they were on my master "list" 

Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs

This was the second day trip that I planned for my week in Colorado and I had no idea that I would end up liking Manitou Springs as much as I did. It's 6 miles west of Colorado Springs, so you can definitely combine the two really easily. 

Manitou Incline

Our first stop was at the Manitou Incline, another lesser known spot that I'm proud of myself for discovering. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was exactly what I imagined while I day dreamed about a trip to Colorado - outdoor adventure, challenging myself, feeling super outdoorsy and fit. Check check and check after our adventure at Manitou. 

I was a little nervous on our hour and a halfish drive there - I was feeling pretty sleepy and didn't know if I had it in me. Manitou Incline is no joke - you climb 2,744 stairs that brings you up over 2,000 feet in elevation over the course of less than 1 mile. 

Manitou Incline

The Manitou Incline used to be a railway track but once it washed out and closed as a railway in 1990 it became a fitness destination.  Seriously, people from the Army and Air Force bases along with athletes from the US Olympic Training Center down the road all come here for the cardio challenge.  

We saw the incline from the highway and I starting freaking out just a little bit. 

When we got to the trial head we were told that there was no parking due to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway in the same parking lot. We parked in the center of town and a free shuttle took us back up to the trail head. 

As we drove through town I couldn't stop freaking out about how cute it was. We didn't end up having time to walk around, but with touristy things like museums, zip-lines, shops, restaurants, etc. Manitou Springs is clearly a place you could stay for days exploring. 

Once at the trail head we stopped into a little cafe/gift shop to use the bathroom and started our trek to the top. It took us a little under 1 hour to climb the 2,744 stairs and let me tell you it was NOT EASY. At some points, the stairs are at a 68% grade and the next stair was up to my knee. My glutes and hammies were BURNIN' and I couldn't stop marveling at how one triathlete, Mark Fretta, made it to the summit in just 16 minutes and 42 seconds. BONKERS. 

Manitou Incline

There were very few people running up the incline, though I tried for one section. We took breaks every so often to breathe, turn around, and take in the magnificent view. There's a place about halfway up the incline where you can choose to bail. And beware, at one point you think you've reached the top only to see another HUGE portion of stairs up ahead of you. It was slightly traumatic... they call it the "False Summit." 

When we finally reached the top, it was chilllllly up there! It's considered bad form to walk back down the incline (plus, I would have been petrified of tripping and tumbling my way down all 2,000 feet) but when you reach the top you can connect to the Barr Trail which takes you down a much gentler 3 miler path.  

On our way down there was suddenly a loud crack of thunder and some rain and then...HAIL! It was kind of scary, but Morgan is the queen of the outdoors and she didn't seem to nervous so I didn't panic. 

Manitou3.jpg

We still had about a mile to go so we picked up the pace, running down for a while. The hail was a little painful at times, definitely chilly, but overall it wasn't too bad and we made it to the bottom in one piece. By then it wasn't actively raining or hailing but we were wet and frreeeezing as we waited for the shuttle to bring us back to Morgan's car in town. 

As soon as we got there we sprinted to the car and cranked the heat as high as it would go as we defrosted. 

Like I said - this was definitely a challenge but I felt so accomplished afterwards and LOVED seeing so many people of all shapes and sizes trying to conquer the incline. I highly recommend it! Just check the weather forecast before you start your way up - we really lucked out that the storm hit when we had already started on the way down! 

Ivywild School

1604 S Cascade Ave. 

This is an awesome community space that resides in what was once an elementary school. Don't ask me how I stumbled upon it, but it was the perfect spot to stop for lunch as the rain continued to fall. 

Ivywild School Colorado Springs

We were STARVED after the incline, and though there were less food options at the Ivywild School than I had imagined, we would have gladly eaten anything at that point. Luckily, what we got ended up being delicious. We ate at the Old School Bakery and ordered an appetizer of herbed goat cheese and lahvosh with pieces of apple and drizzled with honey that was YUM. As my entree I ordered and inhaled a chicken salad croissant with a side of amazing roasted veggies. 

Ivywild School Colorado Springs

We wandered around the space for a little while - there's also a brewery inside (Bristol Brewery), a little craft shop, a coffee shop, and a "gym" where community events take place. We couldn't tell because of the bad weather, but there's also a public square outside where things like farmer's markets take place on the weekends. 

This was written in my bathroom stall! 

This was written in my bathroom stall! 

It still felt very much like a school inside, and certainly looked like one from the outside. The bathrooms were covered with children's art and the stalls even had school-esque scribbles. A neat little space for sure. 

Garden of the Gods

1805 N 30th St. 
Winter Hours - 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
Summer Hours- 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. 

If my trip taught me anything, it's that I LOVE RED ROCKS! The red rock formations are just so interesting and beautiful to me. 

We drove through this park and while there is a TON to do (rock climbing, a visitor center, hiking trails, biking, guided tours) we toured Garden of the Gods the lazy way. I sat and took pictures out the window while Morgan drove around. 

Garden of the Gods Red Rocks

We were crunched for time and the weather wasn't making us too excited by the prospect of walking around - plus we were still hurting from the incline. We did get out for a picture with this cool "Balancing Rock." 

Garden of the Gods Balancing Rock

You should definitely check out their website and figure out how you want to tackle this gorgeous park. They even have a running group on Thursday night!

US Olympic Training Center

1 Olympic Plaza
Summer Tour Hours (June 15 – Aug. 15)
Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. 
Tours are conducted each half hour with the final tour departing at 4:30 p.m. 
Winter Tour Hours (Aug. 15- May 31) 
Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. 
Tours are conducted each hour. The final tour departs at 4 p.m. 
Cost: The website lists the tour cost as $12 but we only paid $5! This may have to do with the fact that when we were there, the visitor center was being renovated - typically the tour begins there with a video. 

I have a slight obsession with the Olympics. As a kid, that was the dream. I didn't know what sport I was going to the Olympics for, but I wanted IN. 

Morgan and I were both pretty excited for this tour, though we had been warned not to get our hopes up. Despite the pouring rain, we enjoyed our time walking around the complex and I wasn't at all disappointed. I think anything Olympics-related would make me happy! 

First we went into the gift shop where I freaked out about all of the gorgeous Team USA Nike gear. I left with a $5 Road to Rio headband instead of the $200 jackets that I wanted ;) 

The tour started off in the giant gym where athletes do their strength training. At the time, there were around 140 resident athletes living on the campus. These athletes' stays are typically funded by corporate sponsors of Team USA. While there, they train full time (some may be home schooled, too) with coaches on-site. The youngest an athlete can be is 16 (which is why the women's gymnastics team doesn't train here - they're all hopefully competing by 16 and have done the bulk of their training) and the average athlete is in their mid-twenties. 

US Olympic Training Center

Colorado Springs is used as the site of this training facility for one main reason - elevation advantage! This helps athletes make more effective use of the oxygen they're taking in as they're training at higher altitudes which = less oxygen. Or something like that. Science. Meh. 

We also saw the pool (no Michael Phelps unfortunately), a wrestling practice going on, and the shooting room. Did you know that the size of the "bulls eye" of a shooting target is HALF OF A PERIOD?! And Olympic shooters can hit it around 95% of the time. Crazy. 

I would have loved to check out the dorms and dining facilities but that wasn't part of the tour. We did see the athletic training/PT clinic which of course contained an Alter-G treadmill. I still want to try one of those out! 

If you like the Olympics as much as me (aka when the Olympics are on you are watching them 24/7), I would definitely add this to your list! 

Littleton 

The Big Wonderful

Check their website for schedule and locations
Tickets $5-$15

We drove a little bit outside of Denver to Geneva Park in Littleton (about 25 minutes) to check out "The Big Wonderful." It's a collection of different vendors, crafts and food trucks and you can listen to live music and drink (everything from wine, beer, cocktails, seltzer and kombucha!) 

We saw a ton of unique products - like Morimo moss balls (look it up), beautiful hammocks (when we both took a turn towards one we were disappointed by the "display only" sign), Wisconsin cheese curds, and candles that turn into hand cream when you burn them! I got a giant thing of kettle corn that was devoured in 2 days. 

The Big Wonderful Denver

When we went, it was the opening weekend and therefore, free. I would only recommend purchasing tickets for this if you are intending to stay and enjoy the music/drink/eat. We didn't go for any of those reasons, more to just look around, and I would have been  upset if we'd bought a ticket. There weren't that many vendors. 

Morrison 

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

18300 W. Alameda Pkwy 

When there's not a concert happening at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, chances are it's being used as a giant outdoor gym for tons of fitness fanatics. 

On the morning that we drove to Red Rocks, I was feeling pretty sluggish after a big brunch at City O'City. I told Morgan I probably wasn't going to be doing a whole lot of exercising which was fine by her. We had finished climbing Manitou Incline less than 24 hours ago. 

But yet when I found myself at the bottom of the amphitheater I knew there was only one way I was getting up - running. 

Red Rock Amphitheater Workout

What I loved about the layout was that you don't need to run up the stairs. You can run up one stair and then across - zigzagging your way up and across. I did some research and apparently Red Rocks' 69 rows of seats = about 3 miles of running this way.

I felt like a kid in a candy shop - which is so pathetic. At the end of each row I would pick a new exercise - dips, push-ups, planks - the options were endless! It was so fun watching other people get their sweat on and seeing how they chose to tackle the stadium. 

Red Rocks Fitness

I wish I could work out there every day! 

After I made it to the top (and after I made Morgan have a photo shoot) we checked out the visitor center which had some interesting info but wasn't a must-see. By the time I left "See a concert at Red Rocks" was firmly planted on my Bucket List. 

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Miscellaneous

I didn't do these, but read about them and was intrigued!

  • Casa Bonita - roadside attraction/tourist trap that sounds like it could be an entertaining trip! Their gimmick is a 30 foot waterfall that people jump off of and dive from, performing "shows" throughout your dinner. (Don't go because you're expecting quality Mexican food).
  • Bishop Castle - a bit of a drive but another roadside attraction.
  • Coors Brewery Tour in Golden - there is a light rail train that can take you there.

Daily Itineraries

As promised, here is how we broke it down day by day!

Monday

  1. Brunch at Snooze
  2. Denver Botanic Gardens
  3. Stem Ciders
  4. Epic Brewing
  5. Dinner at Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey aka Pinche

Tuesday

  1. Breakfast In
  2. Chautauqua Park & Flagstaff Mountain trail running and hiking
  3. Lunch at Rush Bowls
  4. Coffee & Work at Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe
  5. Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour
  6. Avery Brewing Co.
  7. Pearl Street
  8. Dinner at The Med

Wednesday

  1. Run to November Project
  2. Class at Core Power Yoga
  3. Run Home
  4. Breakfast
  5. Capitol Steps
  6. Convention Center Bear
  7. Dikeou Collection
  8. Lunch at Civic Center EATS
  9. Larimer Square
  10. Coffee at The Market
  11. Union Station
  12. The Source - Crooked Stave
  13. Happy Hour at Root Down
  14. Ice cream at Sweet Action

Thursday

  1. Breakfast In
  2. Manitou Incline
  3. Lunch at Ivywild School
  4. Garden of the Gods
  5. Habit Doughnut Dispensary
  6. Infinite Monkey Theorem

Friday

  1. Brunch at City O'City
  2. Red Rocks Amphitheater
  3. The Big Wonderful
  4. De Steeg Brewing
  5. Lakeside Amusement Park
  6. Illegal Pete's

Saturday

Saturday Morgan left bright and early for her flight to her sister's graduation. I took the day to wander around by foot.

  1. Breakfast In
  2. Bike along the Cherry Creek Trail
  3. Walk around Curtis Park
  4. Lunch at Crema
  5. 16th Street Mall Art Fair at the Pavilions 
  6. Walk to Denver Bicycle Cafe
  7. Walk to Liks
  8. Fly home on a red eye!

I hope this guide helps you make the most of your vacation in Denver, Colorado. 

Denver was an awesome city and you can tell that it is very up and coming. There's a ton to do within the city, though it seems that for many people, the real draw is being able to embrace nature on the weekends with trips to ski, hike, climb, etc. 

I didn't love the feeling of being landlocked or the reliance on cars, but there is a lot to like and it's no wonder so many people are moving there to start careers and lives.

6 days was definitely enough time to accomplish a ton - but this place is rich in unique experiences and you could be there for years without getting to it all. I hope this guide helps you narrow down some of the great things there are to do in Denver. Also, none of these experiences cost much (eating and drinking can add up, but it's possible to keep things relatively low-cost).

If you're thinking of renting a car while you're in Denver I caution you - be comfortable parallel parking on the street and carry lots of quarters for the meters - though often you can avoid paying for parking if you're willing to walk a few extra blocks.

If you have any questions or need any help planning your trip, I would be happy to help :)

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: