Denver is a liberal, young place that enjoys having fun. You can see the mountains, hike, fish, and come back to the city to hit the bars and restaurants!
What can I say about Denver that will tell you just how nice a time I have every time I visit? That it’s perfectly situated among some of the country’s most spectacular scenery? That’s part of it, though not everything, and while it does indeed make a good “base camp” for exploring the region’s outdoor wonders, I want to let you know what it is about the city itself that’s great. That it’s unassuming, modest, proud but not showy? That’s closer to the mark. I think the main thing about Denver that always strikes me is that it’s such a no-nonsense city, a big city (but not some super-metropolis), with a lot of attractions, distinctive neighborhoods, and some great dining. People here go about their business as they pass you snapping photos of this landmark or that view spot, and they really don’t care whether you’re a local or a visitor, you’re just you. In many ways (you’ll see later why this is the ultimate compliment) it’s just an ordinary city, and that’s perhaps the thing I love best about it.
My first pleasant surprise is taking the train in from the airport. It’s so easy, in a way my always-expect-the-worst self would never have anticipated. In a little over a half hour, I’m at Union Station, the rail hub of the city and location of some fantastic restaurants (more on that later). From there, you can hop the free Mall Ride, which runs up and down the 16th St. Mall, a mostly car free stretch. While I wouldn’t suggest it if you have a ton of luggage, we’ve all learned to pack light these days, right? The mall rider is a super-easy way to get up and down 16th as you explore Lower Downtown, or LoDo in the local parlance (you’ll find that Denver has a lot of these SoHo-like acronyms, like RiNo for River North Arts District, or LoHi for Lower Highlands).
Of course, you can stay right in Lower Downtown (excuse me, LoDo) and you won’t even need the mall ride from Union Station. I love The Maven, located in a development called the Dairy Block, which contains one of my favorite food halls, the eclectic Milk Market. Denver has many of these “market halls,” scattered throughout the city, and they’re a great way to sample a lot of different cuisines in an informal setting—not your usual “food hall” kind of food! I was telling you about the Maven, though: its comfy rooms, many with great views, are chic and contemporary, there’s original art scattered throughout the hotel, and I love the unmistakably urban feel to the place, which is no surprise since it’s right at the heart of this urban area.
Also in LoDo is a brand-new spot, the Rally Hotel, which opened last March. Located next to Coors Field, it has, not surprisingly, a baseball theme and is located on McGregor Square, itself a brand-new development by the owners of the local baseball team who own the property. Even looking out your window, you can see a “Popcorn and Peanuts” sign outside the stadium.
Art lovers will, naturally, choose The Art, with a great location on Broadway (the Broadway Market, one of my favorites, is an easy walk away). Here the rooms are cheery and high-design, the staff is incredibly accommodating, and Denver’s main museums are just steps away.
For a true getaway in style, venture to the upscale Cherry Creek neighborhood for a stay at Clayton Members Club and Hotel. It’s at once sleek and comfortable, upscale and welcoming. The lobby’s wood floors, array of candles, modern art, and even a pool table set the clubby tone, and the friendliness and pampering of the front desk make a guest feel immediately welcome. The rooms are warm, nicely designed, comfortable, and blessedly quiet. Did I mention that I love this place?
“It seems like a new boutique hotel is opening every week,” comments Rich Grant, local writer and universally acknowledged expert on all things Denver. We’re sitting at Wynkoop Brewing Company, founded by John Hickenlooper (who later, of course, became Mayor of Denver and then Governor of Colorado). “This is probably the most historic spot in LoDo,” Rich comments (no one, by the way, seems able to explain why it’s called “lower downtown” when it’s NORTH of downtown). Wynkoop’s opening in 1988 started the process of revitalization of an area that had formerly been somewhat derelict.